The Early English Renaissance and Its Effects on the Furniture Style Known as Early American Colonial FurnitureHistory of Early American Colonial Furniture

The effect on early American Colonial furniture of the isolation during Italian Renaissance was beginning to be felt in this country when the disowning of Papal authority by Henry VIII (known as the Reformation) caused England, except during the brief reign of Queen Mary, to be practically cut off from all intercourse with Italy for the greater part of a century. The erection of ecclesiastical edifices, which in previous centuries had found occupation for a large proportion the population, also suddenly ceased, and, by the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, craftsmen versed in the old Gothic arts hardly existed and even e traditions of the building industry of that period were almost forgotten.

During Elizabeth's long reign the country gradually became more settled d prosperous; the dissolution of the monasteries caused wealth to circulate many new channels; with the downfall of the Hanseatic League the wool d cloth trades suddenly developed, and the discovery of new Continents stimulated maritime enterprise and brought riches to the merchant adventure­rs, so that England seemed ripe for a new style of architecture to fulfil altered requirements. The Netherlands was then the recognized centre of art in Northern Europe; her traders travelled everywhere and were well acquainted with the developments of the Renaissance movement in Florence, me, Genoa and Venice. The Flemings, however, possessed the tradition past glories in Gothic art under their Burgundian rulers, and they could not or would not (like their French neighbours), accept forthwith the new is forms to the entire exclusion of their former taste. The result was the angling of the two styles, as may be seen today in the Town Halls of old cities of Belgium. With the persecutions of Philip II, many thousands their best citizens sought refuge in this country and addition to establishing ­numerous trades, taught us their architecture and furniture design eventually on early American Colonial furniture..

Records show how much our great nobles were indebted to these Flem­for assistance in the ere6tion of such palaces as Burleigh, Hatfield and Teat; but the merchants and traders, then becoming rich and important, accepting the semi-classic art of the Netherlands as their authority, to rely more upon local conditions and talent. Prosperity had given an s to building and, by the accession of James I, practically a new architecture was established, a style which has been aptly termed the "Early Renaissance.”

From whatever sources or influences this new style had on early American Colonial furniture was derived, and whether the carving and ornament were due to Flemish or to English craftsmen, it is certain that nothing we possess is more characteristic of this country than the houses (and especially the small manor-houses) erected during this period.

The accompanying views illustrate a room typical of the principal apart­ment or living room of an English house built during the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth or under the early Stuart Kings and its effects on early American Colonial furniture.. Of the various coats-of­arms which ornament the chimney-piece in the room, the centre one was borne by King James I, and those on either side by the Chartered Com­panies of Merchant Adventurers and Spanish Traders respectively, illustrating the loyalty and occupation of the owner. These characteristic carvings and the elaborate surrounding ornamentation show the importance always attached to the decoration of the English fireside. Examples of chimney­pieces so ornate as the one referred to are naturally somewhat rare; another specimen also carved in oak is therefore given on page 5, as typical of less important work at about the same date.

Chimney-pieces at this period were as frequently made in stone as in wood, the carving in both cases being equally elaborate. Probably the original intention was always to paint and gild such stonework, although no doubt in many cases, owing to troublous times or lack of means, this work was omitted; but so many traces of old gilding and painting are found that, considering the early Renaissance love of bright colours, it would seem probable such was the case; this applies not only to the chimney-pieces but also to plaster ceilings and friezes, as well as oak panelling, chests and other furniture of the period. The fact of such colouring being usually executed in distemper would account in a great measure for its subsequent disappearance.

Occasionally in districts where chalk is found, early Jacobean chimney­pieces are met with carved out of this most suitable material. The one here illustrated still exists in an old manor-house in Wiltshire; another well-known example is at Stockton, the detail of ornament on both being so similar possibly they were carved by the same craftsman who founded the colony’s early American Colonial furniture makers.

The variety of the patterns of oak panelling, with which the principal rooms were wainscoted, is remarkable. The designs display co originality and illustrate the various influences which then affected English art. The subject of wood panelling, however, is dealt with in a separate chapter.

fireplace in early renaissance period

Design  fireplace  in early renaissance period and its effects on the furniture style.

fireplace in early renaissance period

Chimney-piece (carved in chalk) circa 1600

Chimney-piece (carved in Oak)

Chimney-piece (carved in Oak) circa 1600

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