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I. French Furniture in the Middle 
Ages and under Louis XIII 

II. French Furniture under Louis XIV 

III. French Furniture under Loujs XV 

IV. French Furniture under Louis XVI 

AND THE Empire 


(Previously published) 

I. English Furniture under the 

Tudors and Stuarts 
II. English Furniture of the Queen 
Anne Period 

III. English Furniture of the Chippen- 

dale Period 
IV. English Furniture of the Sheraton 

Each volume profusely illustrated with 

full-page reproductions and 

coloured frontispieces 

Crown SvOf Cloth, price 4s. 6d. net 

Cupboard in Two Parts 

(Middle of the XVIth Century) 





Translated by 



/ OS^'i S5 

First published, 1923 

Printed in Great Britain hy 
Woods &■ Sons, Ltd,f London, N. i. 


A CONSECUTIVE and complete history of French 
furniture — complete in that it should not leave 
out the furniture used by the lower middle 
classes, the artisans and the peasants — remains 
still to be written ; and the four little books of 
this series are far from claiming to fill such a 
gap. And yet they will perhaps usefully fill 
their modest place by giving some hints and 
ideas, as accurate as possible even though very 
elementary and simple, to those who appreciate 
the excellent work wrought by old-time joiners 
out of walnut trees and cherry trees and oaks. 

The present passion for those plain pieces of 
furniture that six or eight generations of the 
folk of Lorraine, of Provence, of Gascony or 
Normandy have polished by use and filled with 
their humble treasures, has more legitimate 
foundations than the mere craze for running 
after a fashion and the astute advertising of 
dealers : they are practical, their solid strength 
is proof against the lapse of years — if we dared, 
we might say their soul is dovetailed to their 
frames — their material the " bon dot's vif^ sec 
loyal et marchand^' spoken of in every article 
of the Statiits et ordonnances des maistres 
huchiers-menuisiers^ is often most admirable. 
Their lines and their naive ornamentation. 


despite their awkwardness, sometimes possess a 
real beauty, and nearly always have a most 
agreeable air. They never hide bad wood 
badly put together under a pompous raiment of 
ebony, tortoiseshell and brass, as do the most 
authentic cabinets by Andre-Charles Boulle, or 
under a glossy vermilion lacquering, like the 
vaguely Chinese tables of certain furniture 
mongers of to-day. What a splendid lesson 
they give us, and one of which we stand greatly 
in need, a lesson of good sense, and honesty, and 
professional conscience ! 

The aforesaid statutes and ordinances make no 
jest of malfeasance and bad workmanship. Let 
us read over the Lettres patentes octroyees par 
Henry^ Roy de France et de Pologne^^ h ses 
chers et bien amez les maistres huchurs- 
menuisiers de sa ville de Paris, Here are a 
few of their prescripts : — 

*^ The said works are to be well and duly 
made, both ornaments, architecture, assemblage, 
turnery, carving in the French, antique or 
modern fashion, the joints well and duly observed, 
fitted with tenons, pins and mortices . . . the 
whole of good sound wood, honest and mer- 
chantable, under penalty of ten crowns fine and 
the work to be burned in front of the workman's 

"Let none make hall sideboards, chamber 
dressers, cabinets to hold rings and trinkets, 
chamber tables, service tables, wooden bed for 
J Jienry III, in 1580, 


covering with velvet, green cloth, or any other 
colour or material, trestle table or other article 
of furniture that shall not be v^ell and duly- 
made, and the v^hole both in assemblage, turnery, 
carving in the French, antique or modern 
fashion, marquetry or other nev^ invention . . . 
the whole of good sound wood, honest and 
merchantable, under penalty of ten crowns fine 
and the work to be burned in front of the 
workman's dwelling." 

*' Let none make chair or stool (scabelle *), 
whether square, round, octagonal or triangular, 
placet* low-backed chair called caqiietouere 
. . . coffer legs {^pattes de bahiits) . . . that 
shall not be well and duly made and assembled 
with morticesand tenons." 

" Let none make aumries ' to keep clothes, 
papers, jewellery, plate . . . save that the feet 
and cross timbers be of fitting width and 

" Let none make bread cupboard or kneading- 
trough, hutch to keep bread or meat . . . strong 
boxes, bureaus, counters, bancs a couches^ bancs 
h dossiers . . . and other commodities within 
the province of the said hutcher-joiner's trade, 
for the use and profit of any and sundry persons 
of whatever sort, save they be well and duly 
made and assembled, with good sound wood, 
honest and merchantable, upon the penalties as 

This old wording is sufficiently quaint, and 
I Cupboards. 


the matter exemplary enough to excuse the 
length of the quotation.' What a contrast they 
make with the habits that rule in too many- 
workshops of to-day ! 

" All this is very fine and large," say certain 
pessimists, ^' but this furniture makes us think of 
the legendary steed of Roland : ' it has all 
possible virtues, but it no longer exists — or if it 
does, it comes out of the factories of the fakers. " 
Indeed and indeed, fakes abound in this depart- 
ment of antiques as in all the others, and it 
would hardly be possible otherwise to account 
for the incredible multiplication of antique shops 
in the last few years. But the profession does 
include honest brokers, and among the pieces 
called old there are genuine antiques. Many 
have long ago been swept out of sight through- 
out the whole of France ; but even these must 
be periodically brought into circulation through 
the agency of bequests and changing fortunes. 
And whatever anyone says, there is still a goodly 
muster surviving among the country folk in the 
depths of the provinces, except perhaps in 
Normandy, Brittany, and the Aries district, and 
they abound in the small towns. What pro- 
vincial middle-class family of any ancientry fails 

I These statutes, recast and confirmed in 1645, governed the 
body of tradesmen until the suppression of the corporations in 
1791, which was one of the causes that brought about the pro- 
found decadence into which the art of furniture making fell from 
that date. Similar statutes were in force in all the provinces ; 
but the artists lodged by the king in the galleries of the Louvre, 
such as BouUe, and those belonging to the royal manufactories 
were not amenable to them. 


to preserve monumental cupboards, big-bellied 
commodes, straw armchairs of the eighteenth 
century, or some " twist-legged " table (hpiliers 
tors) of the days of Louis XIV ? And how many 
of these families of folk once rich, or at least 
once comfortably well-to-do, are to-day faced 
with the cruel necessity of selling these family 
relics ? 

Everybody who served in the field in the late 
war was able to see for himself in rest billets, no 
matter where they might be, how many old 
pieces are still hidden in the farmhouses, in 
Champagne for instance, and Lorraine, dresser- 
sideboards and cupboards and other pieces in the 
Louis XV or Louis XVI style, and not always 
pieces of rustic make. 

If a personal reminiscence may be allowed, the 
writer remembers how in 1 91 8, when ''resting'* 
in the Vitry-le-Frangois region, he was billeted 
on an old peasant woman who, besides a side- 
board of the finest patina and a very ordinary 
Louis XVI commode, whose value she greatly 
exaggerated, possessed a charming little piece of 
the Louis XIV period in marquetry of coloured 
woods, with curving counterforts, which served 
as a tool-cupboard. The marble top had long 
since disappeared and been replaced by rough 
boards that were at that moment covered with 
a thick carapace of hen's droppings ; one of the 
feet, being worm-eaten, had given place to a stump 
fixed by two horse-shoe nails ; but after a wash 
and brush up and some discreet restoration it 



could have taken its place with honour in the 
most fastidious collection. And it could have 
readily been bought for ten francs ! Another 
time, in the heart of the ruins of Esnes, on the 
Verdun front, did we not see, half consumed in 
the fire by which a handful of territorials were 
warming their old bones, a Regency arm-chair leg 
with exquisite carving ? 

It goes without saying that middle-class 
furniture becomes more and more rare in pro- 
portion as we look for it from earlier periods, 
and that we never find peasant pieces before the 
end of the reign of Louis XIV, for the very 
excellent reason that in the seventeenth century 
a family of country labourers had no furniture at 
all, except for a rude bedstead, which has never 
been preserved, and one or two coffers devoid 
of ornamentation, which have also long since 
disappeared. Of the middle-class furniture of the 
Louis XIII period, or rather the Louis XIII 
style — for this style in reality persisted in 
middle-class furniture for a full century, and in 
certain provinces, Burgundy, and specially 
Guyenne and Gascony, even longer — there 
survive cupboards still in goodly numbers, side- 
boards, tables, arm-chairs, chairs, and stools. 

But if we proceed from the seventeenth to 
the sixteenth century, it becomes all but 
impossible to find cupboards, cabinets, coffers, 
seats, or tables belonging to the period, unless 
costly and luxurious pieces ; many are fakes or 
outrageously restored; and most of them are 


immobilized in museums or in great private 

As for the furniture of the Middle Ages, 
undamaged pieces dating from the fifteenth 
century are infinitely rare, and those of the pre- 
ceding centuries are, so to speak,non-existent. We 
know more about the objects that found a place 
in the home of an Egyptian under Rameses II 
than about the furniture of a subject of Saint 
Louis. Viollet-le-Duc has made a pretence of 
describing the latter for us ; but in these affairs 
that genial archaeologist was better equipped 
with imagination than erudition. If we omit 
the stalls in churches, the whole of France does 
not perhaps contain more than half a dozen 
pieces of furniture of the thirteenth century — 
coffers and sacristy cupboards. 

It is not hard to guess why sixteenth-century 
pieces are scarce and those of the Middle Ages 
almost beyond finding. Wooden objects, if 
they are made of the best material and perfectly 
wrought, will withstand a good two or three 
hundred years of wear and tear, or neglect in a 
loft, damp, drought, gnawing insects ; but it is 
vastly more unlikely that at the end of four or 
five centuries they should have held out against 
the agents of slow destruction and escaped the 
chances of brutal destruction, fire, war, or changes 
in taste and increasing demands for comfort. 
But that is not all. The population of our country 
was far smaller then than now, and the proportion 
of those who could own furniture was much lower ; 


and even they had very little furniture, especially 
in the Middle Ages, and that little was of a very 
special kind, in accordance w^ith the manners and 
habits, so different from ours, that prevailed 
among our ancestors down to the days of the 
last Valois kings. 

Instability and insecurity — those were two 
dominant characteristics of the lives of the French 
people in the Middle Ages. The only comparative 
quiet was behind thick walls ; and again, one had 
to be always ready for instant flight. The most 
powerful lords, masters of several castles, had 
only one single set of furniture, which went with 
them at every move — no one would venture to 
leave anything of value behind, no, not though 
it was in a fortress held by a strong garrison. As 
for the king himself, he had, in the fourteenth 
century, a summer plenishing and a winter 
plenishing ; and the one not in use was kept in 
Paris by his officer of the wardrobe, who had at 
his disposal four trunks and four chests to keep 
therein the courtepointerie * and chamber 
hangings, and to take them out of Paris at the 
terms of Easter and All Saints, wherever the 
sovereign might be. 

And so everything that a man owns is trans- 
portable, and every piece of furniture, if not a 
coffer, has to take to pieces or be small enough 
to go into a coffer. The only things that stay 
permanently at home are large, rude, un- 
ornamented pieces of furniture, such as bedsteads 
made of common planks barely roughly planed, 


tables that are simply boards set on trestles when 
they are wanted, and plain wooden benches ; in 
short, things that offer no temptation to pillagers 
or whose loss will be of no moment. On the 
return of the travellers, there will be brought out 
from the chests and bouges or leather trunks, 
which have followed on carts, or most frequently, 
because there are no roads, on the backs of 
sommiers^ pack mules and pack horses, the parti- 
coloured stuffs and the cushions that are to 
bedeck those rude oaken frames and make them 
a little more inviting. The structure and the 
decoration of most of the furniture wall largely, 
as we shall see, depend on these exigencies, and '; 
that down to the seventeenth century. 

These nomadic ways did in reality, in a certain 
measure, continue much longer than might be 
imagined. We read in the inventory of Catherine 
de Medici's furniture, with reference to the 
sumptuous town house that Jean ^ Bullant had 
built for her in the Rue des Deux-Ecus and the 
Rue du Four, that " when she desired to eat 
there or stay in it, which was very often, she had 
the necessary furniture brought in, and her 
officers carried it back after her departure." 
Louis XIV was the first of our kings to have each \ j 
of his royal mansions completely furnished ; N. 
which nevertheless did not prevent his annual 
comings and goings between Versailles and 
Fontainebleau from being immense '' flittings." 
In 1649, during the troubles of the Fronde, the 
court must needs leave Paris precipitately to take 


refuge at Saint Germain. An often quoted 
passage from Mme. de Motteville's Memoirs 
describes the state of destitution in which the 
royal family found itself on the first day in that 
magnificent but empty mansion. "The Queen 
slept in a little bed that the Cardinal had got 
out a few days before for that purpose. He had 
also made provision for the King's needs. . . . 
The Duchess of Orleans lay one night on straw 
and Mademoiselle also. All who had followed 
the Court had the same fate, and in a few hours 
straw became so dear at Saint Germain that it 
was not to be found for money." 

Since it is practically impossible to find 
authentic and complete furniture belonging to 
the Middle Ages, and almost the same may be said 
of the sixteenth century, and since, on the other 
hand, the scope of this work only covers current, 
simple furniture of everyday use, we ought strictly 
to omit everything earlier than the seventeenth 
century. Nevertheless, it seems necessary to 
describe very briefly the evolution of French 
furniture from the thirteenth to the sixteenth 
century, and to give a little more extended space 
to the history and description of the much better 
known furniture of what is called the Renais- 
sance ^ period. It will not be surprising, therefore, 
to find that nearly half this volume and nearly 

I It is doubtless unnecessary to set forth once more the reasons 
why this word — whether we are dealing with statues or churches, 
tapestries or sideboards — is as inaccurate as possible, like the 
word " gothic," but it is so consecrated by three centuries of use 
that we must needs use it, however vexing it may be. 


two thirds of the illustrations are devoted to the 
Louis XIII style alone : furniture of this kind — 
we do not say " of this epoch " — is fairly plenti- 
ful, especially in Burgundy, in the old county of 
Montbeliard, in the valleys of the Garonne and 
the Dordogne ; it is not yet falling to pieces, far 
from it ; and as at this moment it is far less in 
favour, with the public that is satisfied with 
blindly running after the fashion, than the 
furniture of the eighteenth century, it is possible 
to acquire perfectly genuine specimens at 
reasonable prices.^ 

I We here tender our thanks to the owners of old pieces and 
to the keepers of museums, to whose kindness we owe the 
illustrations in this volume, to the Mother Superior of the Hospice 
of Beaune, Mesdames Boujut, Dumesnil, Dumoulin, Egan ; Mile, 
de Felice; Mme. Roudier; Messieurs de Brugiere de Belrieu, 
de Charmasse, Clamageran, Desportes, Durbesson, Fichot, 
Hubert, Say, Lamiray, Laregnere, Loreilhe, Pascaud, Pauvert, 
Rigault : the Keepers of the Musee de I'Union centrale des Arts 
d^coratifs, the Musee Lorrain de Nancy, the Musee d'Epinal, 
and the Musee departemental d* Antiquites de Rouen. 


Arnaud d'Agnel (L'Abbe Georges) : " Le Meuble proven^al 
et comtadin." (Vol. I.) Paris, 1913. 

Bayard, 6mile : " Le Style Renaissance." Paris (n.d.) 
" Le Style Louis XIII." Paris (n.d.) 

BONNAFFE, Edmond : " Le Meuble en France au XVP siecle." 
Paris, 1887. 

Catalogues des Collections Bonnaffe, Paris, 1897: l^mile 
Gaillard, Paris, 1904.— Gavet, Paris, 1897.— Leclanch^, Paris, 
1892 —Martin le Roy, Paris, 1907.— Moreau-Nelaton, Paris, 
1900.— Rougier, Paris, 1904.— Seilliere, Paris, 1890.— 
Soltykoff, Paris, 1861.— Spitzer, Paris, 1891.— Stein, Paris, 
1886.— Waisse, Paris, 1 885. 

Champeaux, Alfred de: "Le Meuble" (Bibliotheque de 
I'Enseignement des Beaux- Arts). (Vol. I.) Paris (n.d.) 

Deshairs, Leon : " La Tapisserie et le Mobilier au XVI<= siecle," 
in the Hisloire dc I'Art, published under the editorship of 
Andr6 Michel. (Vol. V, part H.) Paris (n.d.) 

Funck-Brentano : " L' Ameublement frangais sous la Renais- 
sance." (Bibliotheque de I'Art d^coratif.) Paris, 1913. 

Havard, Henri: " Dictionnaire de rAmeublement et de la 
Decoration." Paris (n.d.) 

Molinier, 6mile : " Histoire g^nerale des Arts appliques." 

(Vols. II and III.) Paris, 1896. 
Vie a la Cainpague. Special numbers on I'Art rustique au Pays 

de France. (December, 1913, 1919, 1920, and 1921.) 

ViOLLET LE Due : * Dictionnaire raisonn^ des Mobilier franfais." 
(Vol. I.) Paris, 1858. 














INDEX 149 


Frontispiece, Cupboard in two parts (middle of Sixteenth 


1 . Cofer with Fenestrations or " Orhe-voies*' in Oak, Fifteenth 

Century I 

2. Coffer with Fenestrations and Pillars, in Oak. Fifteenth 

Century 2 

3. Buffet with Cant CornerSf Iron Fittings " a Orbe-voies" in 

Oak. End of Fifteenth Century 

4. Chair with Carved " Serviette" or " Parchemins Replies" 

Decorations (Linenfold) 4 

5. Chair ivith Coffer Scat, "h Claircs-Voies" and " Orbe- 

voicSf" in Oak. Fifteenth Century 5 

6. Very large Chair with Coffer Seat, with " Orbc-voies" and 

*' Parchemins Simples," in Oak. Fifteenth Century 6 

7. Small Bench with Opened End Pieces 7 

8. Coffer from Lorraine with EntrelacSf Oak. Sixteenth Century 8 
9 Cofer with small Panels, Walnut inlaid with Yellow Wood. 

Middle of the Sixteenth Century 9 

10. Coffer with Medallion Decoration. Middle of the Sixteenth 

Century 10 

11. Norman Coffer with Caryatids, Oak. End oj the Style II 

12. *' Archebanc-couchette," in Oak. Middle of the Sixteenth 

Century 12 

13. Cupboard in two parts, from Burgundy, Walnut. End of 

the Style 13 

14. Small Cupboard, of Walnut inlaid with Marble, in the style 

of the Ile-de-F ranee. Period of Henri 111. I4 

15. Cupboard with long Pillars, Walnut. Period of Henri HI. 15 

16. Buffet carved with Grotesques, Oak. Period of Francois I. 16 

17. Large Buffet with Pilasters, Walnut 17 

18. Expanding Table, Wahiut 18 

19. Small Table with fixed Trestle Legs carved with Griffins, in 

Walnut 19 

20. Table with six Legs, Walnut inlaid with Fillets of light 

coloured Wood. End of the Style 20 

21. Chair with Coffer Seat, in Walnut. Second half of the 

Sixteenth Century 21 

22 and 21. " Caquetoires" or Small Chairs with Arms, with 

Medallion Decorations 22 

24. "Caquetoire" with Balusters ") ^a 

25. " Caquetoire " with very high Seat} ^ 



26. " Vertugadin " Chair, in chased Velvet. End of the Style ") 

27. " Caquetoire " with Scroll Arms. End of the Style ) ^ 

28. " Caquetoire Garnie " with Consoles ") _ 

29. '* Caquetoire Garnie" with Plume Decoration) ^ 

30. Chair with Arms, in the Spanish-Flemish Style, Gilded 

Leather. Reign of Henri IV. 26 

31. Small Norman Coffer on its Stand, in Oak, Louis XIII Style 27 

32. Cupboard with four Doors and Small Panels, on its Stand. 

Normandy, beginning of the Seventeenth Century 28 

33. Large Cupboard with four Doors and Small Panels, in 

Walnut. Beginning of the Style 29 

34. Small Cupboard with two Doors, Oak and Walnut. Dated 

1659 (Modern Metalwork) 30 

35. Cupboard in two Parts from the County of Montbeliard, 

in Oak 31 

36. Large Cupboard in two Parts, Walnut,without its Pediment. 

Beginning of the Style. 32 

37. Small Cupboard in two Parts, with two Drawers, in 

Walnut 33 

38. Small Cupboard in two Parts with Eagle Feet, in Walnut 34 

39. Cabinet or Buffet with Balusters and Plumes, in Walnut 35 

40. Cabinet in two Parts with Cornice and "Pointes de 

Gateau" Decoration, in Walnut 36 

41. Gascon Cupboard in two Parts, elaborately carved. Walnut 37 

42. Gascon Cupboard in two Parts with Interrupted Pediment 38 

43. Gascon Cupboard in two Parts in Walnut (Modern Pedi- 

ment) 39 

44. Very large Gascon Cupboard with Cornice and Disengaged 

Pillars, in Walnut 40 

45. Gascon Cupboard with Diamond Point Decoration, Walnut 4I 

46. Cupboard with one Door with Flat Diamond Points and 

Circular Motives, in Cherrywood 42 

47. Small Cupboard in one Piece, from Burgundy, with Dia- 

mond Points, in Oak 43 

48. Gascon Cupboard ivith Large Cornice, in Walnut, partly 

painted black 44 

49. Large Burgundian Cupboard with Diamond Points, in 

Walnut 45 

50. Very large Gascon Cupboard with Diamond Points and 

Twist Engaged Pillars 46 

51. Large Gascon Cupboard with Detached Pillars 47 

52. Gascon " Buffet a Vaisselicr " (Dresser Buffet), Walnut 48 

53. Table with two Flaps and Twist Legs, in Walnut "^ 

54. Table with Moulding on Drawer and Twist Legs, in > 49 

Walnut ) 

55. Burgundian Table, in Walnut 50 

56. Small Table with Ornate Drawer, in Walnut ") 

57. Basset or Small Folding Table-Escabeau, in Walnut y ^ 



58. Cherry-wood Table with Turned Balusters *) 

59. Turned Table from Provence with X-shafed Stretcher, in\ 52 

Walnut ) 

60. Folding Table with Folding Under-Frame, coloured Wood 

Marquetry 53 

6r. Large Table with Folding Under-Frame, in Oak 54 

62. Folding Gaming Table, in Walnut 55 

63. Arm-chair with Bead Turnings, in Leather, originally^ 

Gilded [ 56 

64. Armchair with Bead Turnings, Modern Cover j 
6$' Arm-chair with Carved Busts ") 

66. Child's Arm-chair with Baluster Turnings] ^' 

67. " Vertugadin" Chair covered in Chased Velvets 58 

68. Arm-chair with Baluster Turnings y 

69. " Vertugadin " Chair with Bead Turnings, upholstered ^ 

in Leather 

70. " Vertugadin " Chair with Twist Legs, stretched with 

Leather ) 

71. Lono Chair with High Back, in Modern Needlework^ 

Tapestry f ^ 

72. Chair with Baluster Turnings, in Modern Needlework i 

Tapestry ) 

73. Basset Stool with Baluster Turnings ") , 

74. " Vertugadin " Chair with Movable Cushions} 

75. Sofa, Louis XIV Period, Modern Needlework Tapestry 62 

76. Rest-bed with Modern Upholstery 63 
}y and 78. Footstools, Point Tapestry 64 





Let us first of all confess that we are exceedingly- 
ill informed with regard to the furniture of the 
Middle Ages. Of what our ancestors used 
before the thirteenth century we know, in a 
manner of speaking, nothing at all. For the 
century of Saint Louis and the two next 
centuries our sources of information are the 
miniatures in manuscripts, paintings, which were 
very rare before the fifteenth century, though 
sufficiently numerous thereafter, but mostly- 
Flemish, and carvings in stone, wood or ivory ; 
ancient documents, and particularly contemporary 
accounts and inventories ; and lastly, the actual 
pieces that have survived. 

From these diverse sources we may draw only 
with very great caution. The admirable truth- 
fulness of the Van Eycks and the paintings of 
their school may inspire us with complete con- 
fidence ; but the illuminators of the preceding 
centuries misrepresented a great deal, simplified 
a great deal, and they were inspired by tradition 
quite as much as by direct observation, and we 
can say the same thing of the imagiers. 

The inventories, so captivating to read and so 
rich in information of every kind for anyone who 
can interpret them, give rise to strange blunders. 
Thus, an improvised archaeologist of the last 


century, reading that a certain bench was h 
coulomb es^ quite genuinely thought that pigeons 
were carved on it, simply because he lacked the 
knowledge that in the Middle Ages a coulombe 
or colombe was any column, stake or upright 
whatsoever, and in the particular, a bench leg ; 
while another, in commenting upon a text in 
which it was stated that the queen, in 1316, was 
followed in her removals by twelve coifers, two 
for the bed, two for the mattresses, six for the 
wardrobe, and two '^ pour les damoyselleSy^ 
thought it meant the trunks for the ladies in 
waiting, not chests to contain those '' demoiselles 
ci atourner^^ which were the dressing tables of 
the ladies of those days, a kind of round table 
with central pillar, surmounted with a feminine 
head of carved and painted wood, on which the 
coiffures were placed. 

Furthermore, the lack of precision in their 
vocabulary is often most embarrassing. What, 
for example, were les selles ? A great number 
of documents inform us : very simple stools with 
three legs or four. According to certain others, 
it is clear that they were also little benches " for 
the feet," and low trestles, on which laundresses 
set their washing tubs. But here is another text, 
which speaks of a selle '* eight feet long, covered 
with cloth of gold," another of a selle on which, 
at the crowning of the queen, six princesses of 
the blood were seated. And so on. 

Face to face with the pieces still existing in 
churches, museums, and private collections, the 


critical sense must be no less alert. Many are 
incomplete, many are — too complete, many have 
been denatured by old or recent restoration, 
over-decorated with more or less avowable aim ; 
they are now denuded of their paint — how 
can we know how far they were painted of old? 
Lastly, and above all, if suspicious specimens are 
once eliminated, the remainder are so few that it 
is almost impossible to steer clear of the rock of 
an arbitrary generalisation. 

In any case, here is the essence and the one 
thing certain — or practically certain. Down to 
nearly the middle of the fourteenth century 
there were only carpenters available to work in 
wood; it is the very utmost if there is a dis- 
tinction made among them of '' charpentiers de 
la petite cognee^^'' who execute work slightly less 
coarse than the squaring and assembling of 
beams, joists, puncheons, and roof ties. Joining 
of wood cut thin was almost unknown to them, 
and the coffers of the thirteenth century^ are 
constructed with thick boards, very rudely cut 
out, that only hold together thanks to the fine 
braces of wrought iron that (fover their whole 
surface with scrolls. Their wood was without a 
doubt painted red, or perhaps covered with hide 
or painted canvas, on which the ironwork stood 
out. In the same way also were made the 
sacristry cupboards of the same epoch.^ 

1 There is one in the Carnavalet Museum, another in the 
Musee de I'Union centrale des Arts decoratifs. 

2 See the Cathedrals of Noyon and Bayeux, and the church of 
Obazine (Correze). 



In the fourteenth century woodworkers are 
in possession of nearly all the tools of the present 
day, and distinct progress is achieved. We begin 
to see coffers that, while still continuing to be 
made simply of planks, are assembled in such a 
way that they can dispense with iron. If each 
of their sides is made of two pieces of planking, 
they are no longer merely glued together with a 
plain joint, but dovetailed into each other with 
tongue and groove, and the corners are made 
with that jointing with triangular pieces, known 
as ^'' en queue d^aronde " or swallow-tail, which 
everybody is familiar with, since it is always 
employed to join the front of a drawer to the 
sides. So now the sides of the coffer are set 
free for the carved decoration, a decoration en 
tatlle d^epargne^ or cut out of the thickness 
of the plank : the coffre de tatlle is born 
with its brothers the banc de tatlle and the 
buffet de tatlle} 

But soon after there comes a change of great 
importance in another manner. The coffer con- 
structed in the way just described had still very 
great faults. To be strong its walls had to be 
very thick, and so, even though it was rid of its 
iron carapace, it remained exceedingly heavy. 
If, for fear of its rotting, it was desired to raise it 
from the ground, people were reduced to the 
necessity of cutting out the bottom plank in 
front and back into the shape of feet, and this 
was far from strong. These thick planks, 
I Carved. 


alternately subjected to cold and to heat, to 
moisture and dryness, inevitably split. Some 
workman, or more probably workmen, in their 
own sphere men of genius no less than the 
master masons who created vaulting and the 
flying buttress, invented panelled furniture and 
woodwork. For full walls of uniform thickness 
they substituted a system of frames, made up of 
uprights and horizontal pieces of thick wood, 
joined with mortice and tenon; xht feutl hires, 
the inner edges of the frame, were given deep 
grooves, in which were fitted, so as to have clear 
play, a panel which could be quite thin, since it 
was nothing more than a containing shell, in no 
way contributing to the solid strength of the 
whole structure. In its slightly loose setting it 
could expand in wet weather and contract in 
dry without danger of splitting. A coffer built 
in this fashion, while it was lighter, was stronger 
and more solid, qualities of inestimable value for 
articles that were constantly being transported 
to and fro. 

In fine, the new system of construction was 
in every way comparable with that which nearly 
two centuries earlier had transformed architecture. 
This stout enframement of thin walls, is it not 
like the buttresses of the wall of a gothic church, 
between which open the vast windows full of 
glass ? Or, if it is preferred, like the ribs of a 
gothic vaulting, the strong elastic armature that 
allows the panels of the vaulting to be as thin 
as the builder pleases ? The art of joinery was 


born : this was indeed the moment when the 
guild of the huchiers-me?iuisiersst^2ii2itt6.hoTii 
that of the charpentiers} 

Handin hand with this technical progress went 
artistic progress also, for to the logic and im- 
peccable good sense of the artists and craftsmen 
of the Middle Ages the decoration of any piece of 
work whatever must spring strictly from its 
material and the way it was constructed, and 
must show up that construction and draw strength 
from it instead of concealing it. Henceforth the 
front of a coffer, to keep to this primordial piece 
of furniture, will be full of life, endowed with a 
certain rhythm by the alternation of its panels, 
which will now be carved because they are more 
sheltered, and its uprights, which will be left 
plain because they are exposed to knocks, to the 
rubbing of the pack ropes and other dangers. 
They wiH act as the " rest " parts in the decora- 
tion of the piece. This method of construction 
brings about a diversity of planes which is 
decorative in itself and which necessarily entails 
the use of mouldings.^ In short, the impression 
of beauty must spring at the first glance from the 
actual construction : elegance and purity of 
shape are to be the essential thing, and the 
decoration proper, the local decoration, will only 
come second. In all this the craftsmen in wood 
are only following, whether consciously or no, 

1 Coffers continued, to save labour, to be made of planks 
joined a queue d'aronde; but this method was looked on as 
rude and coarse. 

2 Fig. I. 


the path traced out by the admirable workers in 
stone when they elaborated the gothic style ; 
whether it be hutcher or image carver or mason, 
the principles are the same. 

When life became something more secure and 
more sedentary, when all furniture was no longer 
made so as to be easily transported hither and 
thither, the solid frame became covered with 
carving in its turn, as in the little bench of Fig. 7, 
with its scaly legs ; or it became enriched with 
applied ornament, such as the spindled balusters 
and half balusters of the much restored coffer 
reproduced in Fig. 2, which is taken as originally 
coming from Domremy. 

One of the most salient characteristics __of 
me diaeval art is its unity. No style is more 
homogeneous tha n the gothic, because at this 
period religious architecture domir|fltpa lay 
architecture, and architecture reigns over^alLthe 
other arts. Not only do we find, over and over 
again7tHe~same decorative motives, but the very 
same forms — provided the material is not re- 
fractory — in jewellery, ivory carving, locksmithery, 
brasswork, woodwork, as are seen in the work 
of the masons. The gilded wooden frame of a 
painted triptych is a miniature facade of a church 
with triple nave ; a reliquary is a miniature 
chapel; the ornamental openwork frieze of an 
ivory comb or the pierced iron brace of a buffet 
is a reduced copy of some flamboyant balustrade 
of a triforium or a roof gutter. In the same way 
all the elements of a coffer of the time of 


Charles V, a buffet or chair e * made under 
Louis XI, are borrowed from contemporary- 

The Cluny Museum has a very fine fourteenth 
century oak coffer, the fagade of which is all 
carved work, and is made up of six arcades, which 
are completely and exactly in all details windows 
en tiers-point of that rather dry style which 
tradition insists on calling gothique rayonnant. 
Each is subdivided by a vertical mullion into 
two secondary arcades with the arch a redents, 
the whole forming twelve frames, in which are 
statuettes of the twelve peers of France armed 
and holding their shields. The ecoingons 
separating the points of the large arches are 
carved with bestions ^ and grotesque faces. It is 
impossible not to be struck with the similarity 
of this decoration to that of the king's gallery 
in a cathedral. 

In a buffet of the fifteenth century there is 
not a single detail that is not to be seen in the 
Church of the Trinity at Vendome, or in the 
apse of Saint Severin in Paris. The uprights 
are flanked by slender counterforts with flat 
sides, with ribs, pillars either prismatic or ribbed, 
the feet of which sink down and penetrate ^ into 
the talus of the base ; the finials are sharp- 

1 Small fantastic animals such as winged dragons, basilisks, 

2 The penetration of mouldings into one another, of the 
springing of the arches into the piers, the bases of little columns 
into the bases of pillars, etc., is one of the characteristics of the 
" flamboyant " style. 


pointed tiny steeples ; the cuh-de-lampe are 
made of sharp-angled mouldings ; the top of the 
framing of the panels is a " basket-handle " {anse 
de panier) or " bracket "-shaped ^ moulding, 
which sometimes penetrates into the vertical 
mouldings of the uprights. All this follows the 
complicated laws of the '' flamboyant " style, 
which the whole of France was borrowing from 
her English enemies at the very moment when 
she was driving them from her shores. 

But w hat is characteristic above all is the 
carved decoratjon_ _of the panels. Those w hich 
fall the most conspicuous places on furniture, 
such as the guichets or doors of buffets, the 
ta^ades ot cotters, the backs of tall chairs, are 
a lmost invariably tailles d orbe-voies ,^ TiT 
architecture there was opposed to the clairevote^ 
or pierced arcading, the orbe-voie ^ or fenetre- 
morte, an arcading or a simple blind arcade, in 
which the mullions were replaced by mouldings 
jutting out from the plain wall, which repro- 
duced the mulHons exactly in detail. The 
joiner-carpenters did not fail to adopt this form 
of decoration, complicating it at their own 
caprice and modifying it in a hundred different 
ways ^ ; but always in even the freest interpre- 
tation we can perceive the elements of a 
flamboyant window : in the lower part, the 

1 Fig. 6. 

2 Also said to be onvrcs h osteatix. 

3 Orbe means blind. 

4 Figs. I, 2, 3, 8, 5 and 6 show panels a orbevoie; Fig. 7 
displays panels k claire-voic. 


subdivision into narrow compartments by vertical 
mullions ; above, the flowing network tracery 
whose curves form soufflets (quatrefoils elongated 
upwards, with pointed lobes) and moucheties 
(elongated and wavy-outlined ellipses, with 
internal tracery). Frequently, near the apex, a 
gable* bracket-shaped with floriated point, 
stands out against a new series of vertical 
mullions ^ : once more, this is an imitation of 
the fronts of churches. 

The combination of soufflets and mouchettes 
is supple enough to lend itself to quite com- 
plicated designs, such as the large fleurs-de-lis 
seen on the canted corners of the buffet 
reproduced in Fig. 3. As a general rule, 
soufllets are decorated with four-petalled flowers,* 
and often there is a heraldic shield set in the 
network of the ribs.^ 

Polychromy accentuated the delicate richness 
of this decoration, the traceries of the fenestra- 
tion probably being picked out in gilding against 
a background of bright colours, which still 
further increased the resemblance to a stained 
glass window. Polychromy, and polychromy in 
very vivid colours, was, it must be borne well in 
mind, one of the fixed principles of the whole art 
of the Middle Ages : a coffer was variegated with 
azure, vermilion and gold, just like the saints of 
the church porticos and the little ivory Virgins. 
It was from their painters in ordinary that our 

1 Figs. 2, 3 and 6. 

2 Figs. I and 5. 

3 Figs. 2 and 3. 


kings ordered their chairs of state. In 1352, 
Girard d'Orleans, who may perhaps be the author 
of the portrait of John the Good preserved in 
the BibHotheque Nationale, furnished that un- 
lucky monarch with " deux chaieres oiivrees a 
orbe-voies a deux endroiz etpaintes^^^ and for his 
sons, '' chaieres ouvrees a orbe-votes a deux 
endroiz et paint es ii leurs armesJ^ In 1399, 
Perrin Balloches, the painter, delivers "pour 
Monseigneur Messire Loys de France, deux 
chaieres, d est assavoir Vune de salle, V autre 
de retrait^^ celle de salle painte de fines 
couleurs?"* Nearly a hundred years after, we 
have Master Jean Bourdichon, painter to the 
king, a person of importance (which did not 
prevent him from painting banners, daises and 
lances as well as illuminating the queen's book of 
hours), who furnished Anne of Brittany with 
" deux chair es tournissees^ par luy tainctes et 
toutes dories y 

Another motive, everywhere recurring, now 
on simple pieces,^ now associated with orbe-voies 
when it is a more costly piece,'* but in that case 
relegated to secondary places, is xh.Q parchemin 
replii or serviette} In its most elementary form 
this is a relief with bracket profile^; but the 

1 The >«//f was a great room of state; the retrait,?i smaller 
and more intimate chamber, which was used for ordinary- 

2 A kind of armchair turning on a pivot 

3 Fig. 4. 

4 Figs. 5, 6 and 7. 

5 We read also, for instance : " tin banc ouvrd h panncaux de 

6 Figs. 5 and 6. 


parchment or stuff which this ornamentation is 
supposed to represent may be folded several times 
on itself, and in many different ways.^ This 
motive is aWays a little dry and poor ; and we 
must confess that in the fifteenth century and 
the early sixteenth the joiners really did abuse it. 

Lastly, vegetable motives are displayed upon 
the panels, or wind their way along in the hollow 
moulding of the cornices. The most usual are 
the vine leaf ^ and the bunch of grapes, more or 
less conventionalised, and when the carving is 
very deeply cut, the thistle and the chou frise^ 
mingled or not mingled with real or fantastic 
beasts. These are, as is well known, the favourite 
vegetable motives of stone carvers in the period 
of the flamboyant style. As for the human 
figure, it is also met with, but only on exceptional 
pieces of furniture. 

The choicest furniture was made of " Irish 
wood " or oak from the North, the rest was of 
common oak ; but walnut, which is such a 
beautiful material, not so rough as oak, finer and 
closer in grain, soft to the tool and capable of 
the finest polish, was sometimes used, alone or in 
conjunction with oak, from the fourteenth 
century onwards. In the decree of approval, 
issued in 1371 by Messire Hugues Aubricot, 
Provost of Paris, for *' huchiers, presentemefit 
appeles menuisiers^'^ and confirmed by Parlia- 
ment in 1382, which is as it were the foundation 

1 Figs. 4 and 7. 

2 Fig. 3. 


charter of the new corporation, there is ah-eady 
a question of " aumoires a pans de hois de 
noyer,^^ A buffet in the Cluny Museum, which 
is still completely gothic in style, although it 
has no external braces, is made of oak, but the 
door panels are of carved walnut.'' 

Already one foreign and exotic wood was 
known, ebony, then called ybenus, of which 
were made boxes, knife handles, and other little 
objects ; there were, in France in the fourteenth 
century, small pieces of furniture inlaid with 
ebony and ivory. In 13 17, Queen Jeanne in the 
Louvre was in possession of '^two tables for 
eating, of wood ornamented with small pieces of 
ivory and ebony, of which one is in two pieces 
and a half and folding, and the other in two 
pieces, upon which table the Queen has her 
meals." Were these inlaid tables — ^hinged panels 
that were unfolded on trestles for meals — imported 
from the East, like so many other articles " of 
Damascus work," or did they come from Italy, 
and were they decorated with that certosma, 
that travail de Chartreux lately invented, they 
say, at Siena ? However it might be, it was not 
French work. 

The foregoing is a condensed description of 
the technique and style of the furniture of the 
Middle Ages. In fine, in spite of polychromy, 
and despite the fact that up to the sixteenth 
century many pieces, the majority without a 
doubt, were made of plain heavy wood intended 
I It must date from the early years of the'sixteenth century 


to be continually covered with painted and 
embroidered stuffs, they were mostly works of 
mouldings and carving, and never was wood- 
carving finer ; always attacked with admirable 
boldness, while sometimes it was caressing and 
full of subtlety, it is above all broad and vigorous, 
a manner especially proper for work in oak. 
Have craftsmen of any trade ever been known to 
possess more complete mastery of it than those 
who built and carved the miraculous stalls of 
Amiens Cathedral ? 

It remains now for us to make a rapid survey 
of the various kinds of furniture used by the 
people of the Middle Ages. The list is by no 
means a long one. 
^ The coffre or huche is the pre-eminent piece, 

f| the ancestor and prototype of the rest. No 
other takes its place, and it is capable, should 
need be, of supplanting all the others. The 
proof of its importance is the name of huchiers 
adopted by all furniture makers. There was a 
time, and in every period before the seventeenth 
century there were circles in which it was the 
only piece in existence besides the bench, and 
even on occasions took the place of the latter. 
In sacristies it held the priestly vestments, in 
the charter-room the archives, in lihrairies'^ 
the manuscripts not actually chained to the 
reading desks ; in the hall, the chamber and the 
withdrawing room of nobles or rich burgesses, 

I The library or study (estiide), the modern biblioiheque or 
cabinet de travail. 


a long coffer called a garde-robe held clothes 
without the necessity of folding them ; a lover 
might hide in one at a pinch ; another contained 
linen, another the hangings, the loose covers for 
furniture, the store of stuffs in the piece ; yet 
another — the coffre a denier s f err e — held plate, 
coined money, valuable papers, and this last 
coffer v^as put in the chapel if there was one, so 
that any theft might be aggravated by the guilt 
of sacrilege ; against the bed there stood a long, 
narrow, low coffer that served as a step to scale 
the heights of the couch. A piece of stuff, a 
flat cushion is laid on a coffer — behold a seat ! 
It is too high, of course, but there are little 
bench stools expressly made to rest the feet on.* 
With a mattress it can be turned into a bed. 
To the clerk it is a writing table, for the 
merchant a counter. In the kitchen it takes the 
name maie and bread is kneaded in it, and 
when baked kept in it. In a flitting it is loaded 
on to a cheval hahutier or put into a cart. 
Coffers specially meant for travelling were the 
leather bouges and malles^ coffres a fest^ which 
have a double sloped roof like a shrine, and 
especially the cofres a bahiit^ or bahitts, or 
again bahuts sommiers. 

What precisely is a bahut ? Since the middle 
of the last century an absurd habit has prevailed 
of giving this name to every form of panelled 

I This explains the existence of those Louis XIII style stools, 
too low to sit on comfortably, too high for foot rests if one is 
sitting on an ordinary chair. 



furniture, whether ancient or faked up in the 
ancient fashion, cupboards, under-cupboards, 
buffets, cabinets, coffers. And the habit is so 
deeply rooted that this twisted word is flaunted 
through one of the latest (and best) catalogues 
of the Louvre.^ Originally the bahut was a 
supplementary case or box, of no great depth, 
with domed lid, fitting on to an ordinary coffer, 
and so fitted when people set out on a journey. 
In it were put clothes and articles wanted while 
travelling, so that they could readily be got 
at without undoing the pack load or opening the 
coffer. The cofre a bahut v^di^ first of all a coffer 
equipped with this accessory, then a travelling 
coffer with domed top, lastly, any coffer what- 
ever was called a bahut^ but never any other 
piece of furniture.^ 

The coffre ouvre was carved ; the coffre 
tout plein was not ; the coffre vermeil was 
sheathed in red leather, others were covered 
with canvas glued down and painted over. 

By way of iron fittings, coffers may have, on 
the lid, two wrought and pierced braces, called 
bastons de fer ; or a single one in the middle, 
to the end of which is jointed the moraillon or 
hasp, whose auberon penetrates into the lock to 
be caught by the bolt. The hasp and the 

1 The catalogue of the Arconati-Visconti Collection, in which 
the celebrated cupboard attributed to Hugues Sambin is de- 
scribed as a hahut 

2 The arche or ark seems also to have been, at the outset, a 
box with domed lid; afterwards it was confounded with the 


palastre or case of the lock are sometimes 
veritable masterpieces of delicate forging and 
chasing: strange animals, fenestrations and other 
architectural motives, foliage, repousse and cut 
out in the iron beaten out thin under the 
hammer (for sheet iron v^as not yet in existence), 
and riveted on to the lock case, human figures 
and even complicated scenes are all carried out 
with marvellous v^orkmanship, if one considers 
the rudimentary tools with which the locksmith 
had to content himself. 

The coffer was far from convenient, since in 
order to open it you were obliged to remove 
whatever had been placed on its lid, which 
served as a table, and to get at anything in the 
bottom all the rest of its contents must needs be 
taken out. Little by little, therefore, it was 
driven out from noble and wealthy homes by 
pieces with doors and drawers ; but this only 
came about very slowly, and the coffer did not 
wholly disappear until the beginning of the 
eighteenth century. 

Nearly all the cupboards dating from the 
Middle Ages have disappeared. Those for lay 
use were most frequently part of the cham- 
brillage^ or wainscoting, of a chamber, and thus 
were not, strictly speaking, articles of furniture. 
In Paris there is still to be seen a large cupboard 
of this kind, still in the very place where it was 
made. Very interesting and curious, though 
greatly restored, it is fixed in the wall of the 
" treasure chamber " of the church of St. 


Germain I'Auxerrois.^ Above a projecting base- 
ment ornamented with serviettes repliees, which 
serves as a bench, there are six doors wider than 
their height, in two rows, with long worked iron 
braces. The whole is crowned with a pierced 
cresting. This cupboard dates from the second 
half of the fifteenth century. 

The buffet is a very ancient piece of furniture, 
but it began by being a coffer. Does not 
Benoit de Sainte-More, the twelfth century 
poet, in his Roman de Thebes make Polynices 
the son of Oedipus sit on a buffet ? In the 
sixteenth century it was usually a small cupboard 
in two parts, whose lower part was doorless ; it 
was called a buffet a armoire? But there are 
also buffets without the cupboard ; made simply 
of superimposed shelves, they are much like 
dressers {dressoirs) ; and also buffets whose lower 
part has guichets^ while the upper part has none ; 
others again, open below, have a cupboard in the 
middle, and on top a back equipped with one or 
more shelves or gradins^ used to display beautiful 
and costly objects, cups of crystal glass, 
aquamaniles (little basins for washing the 
hands after meals), noix d'Inde (cocoanuts), 
ivory boxes, goblets made of horn, bois madre^^ 
or goldsmith's work. This was a noble piece, and 

1 With its wainscoted walls, its old beams, its pavement, 
which is partly ancient, and in spite of a table which is a ridiculous 
forgery, this little room, worked in over the porch, is one of the 
most curious and interesting spots in Paris, and one of the most 
evocative of the past, as the phrase goes. 

2 Fig. 3. 

3 " Knot " or figured walnut or maple, much sought after. 


the number of shelves was strictly regulated 
according to etiquette ; a queen had the right 
to five shelves, a princess to four, a countess to 
three, the lady of a knight banneret to two, the 
wife of a plain noble to one only; a middle 
class female might not aspire to such a possession 
at all. 

The least uncommon type is built as follows : 
The ground plan is rectangular, or very frequently 
has canted corners. Above a base with short 
feet, or resting directly on the ground (and 
not even always present), is the open part, the 
back of which is divided into panels, decorated 
or plain ; the upper part is sometimes supported 
in front by two pillars, sometimes it has dummy 
doors ; it opens with one or two guichets or 
cupboards, below which runs a carved frieze. 
The oldest models sometimes have one or two 
layettes-coulisses^ or drawers.^ The ironwork 
on these buffets, sometimes exceedingly decorative 
and worked like a jewel, was nailed on over a strip 
of hide, of cloth or red velvet, which set off its 
delicate traceries, and their vertevelles ^ were of 
large dimensions and played an important part 
in the decoration of the piece. The huchiers 
of this great epoch had too much fine taste to 
disguise this indispensable ironwork. 

1 The layette was for a long time a box, a little wooden coffer 
placed in a large coffer, for small valuable objects, papers, etc. 
If it formed part of the coffer it was a chaitron. The layette- 
coulisse or layette qui se tire was invented about 1470, and 
drawers were known by that name until the end of the seventeenth 

2 The rings in which the bolts slid. 


We have very little to say of the table ; in the 
Middle Ages it v^as, so to say, a temporary and 
intermittent piece of furniture. When the hour 
came for a meal, the master of the house took 
his seat ''au chef de la table, en sa chair e^^^ the 
guests on the long heavy bench that had its 
permanent place along a v^all or in front of the 
fire-place ; the servants put trestles before them, 
and "set up the table," in other v^ords, laid on 
these trestles the table properly so called, which 
might be merely plain deal and made of boards 
set side by side, spread the cloth, then arranged 
the trenchers, which took the place of plates, the 
knives (there were no forks as yet), and the rolls 
of bread, while others went round with ewers 
and basins for hand washing ; lastly the dishes 
were brought on. The meal finished and grace 
said, the cloth was removed, the table taken 
down, the trestles carried away, and the diners 
rose. The tables were very narrow and one side 
left free for serving ; if the diners were too many, 
two tables were set up at right angles to one 
another, or three arranged in horse-shoe fashion. 

As may readily be conceived, the tables exist 
no longer, nor the trestles, which were of wood 
or iron or brass, and often folded. 

Tables for any other purpose but eating were 
hardly known, except the lectrin^ of which we 
shall speak presently, and the demoiselle^ whose 
use we have already described. Coffers and small 
seats, such as escabeaux, tlacets^ selles and 
M bassetSy took their place. 

BEDS 23 

The lectrin or lectern, and the pupitre (desk), 
the first for reading and the second more 
especially for writing, but both frequently 
confounded with one another, were the two 
articles essential for the estiide or study. Here 
may be noted a combination of the two : upon 
a pillar, carved like the screw of a press and 
furnished with a very solid base (which might 
take the form of a book- box), there was mounted 
a small round table that could be raised or 
lowered by turning it about ; on top of this was 
a desk with double slope. 

The basset was a very small square or round 
table, " made like a stool," but taller. 

Down to the end of the fifteenth century 
beds were either coarse things of carpentry, 
completely hidden by coverings of stuff, and 
over which, hung by cords from the roof beams, 
there was a tester whence curtains fell down, 
the dossier against the wall, 2indiX.\iQ gouttieres^ ; 
or else they were shut beds {lits clos), a kind of 
huge box made of wooden panels, with five walls 
(the sixth being replaced by curtains), inside 
which one could find refuge from the draughts 
that raged about the ill-enclosed dwellings of 
the olden time. Other beds had only a wall 
at the back and another along one side, with 
a slender carven shaft holding up the corner of 
the tester ; of this kind are the pair of beds 

I The {lonttibre was originally a scalloped strip of stuff 
round the pavilion of a tent, serving to throw off the rain. The 
same name was then given, by analogy, to this ornament of a 
bed tester, which was later to be called a pcnte. 


belonging to the Musee de I'Union Centrale des 
Arts decoratifs, and dating from the end of the 
fifteenth century. Needless to say that these 
pieces are extraordinarily rare. During the day 
the curtains were drawn together at the corners 
of the bed, lifted up on themselves and fastened 
so as to make a kind of big purse. 

There still remains the numerous company 
of seats. There were three noble seats: the 
faudesteuil^ the banc h dos (and still more 
noble, the banc a ciel), and the chaire. 

The faudesteuil (the English fold-stool), a re- 
mote descendant of the Roman curule chair, is 
not very well known ; it seems to have been the 
most honorific of the family of seats. The king 
sat in it, under his dais, in ceremonial circum- 
stances, but he sat in it also to have his head 
combed and to have his beard trimmed. It had, 
therefore, a low back. It was generally an 
X-shaped seat, with curving limbs, fitted with 
straps of leather and stuffs for seat and back, 
similar to the seats that are still fashionable in 

Let us imagine the back wall of a long coffer 
prolonged upwards, and the two sides also, but 
only by a foot, and we shall have an archebanc 
or coffer-bench. The earliest church stalls were 
made in this way. These pieces, meant for two 
uses, were greatly liked by our forefathers, and 
many old benches have a coffer for seat, with 
or without a lock and key. We might also have 
a backed bench that was not a coflfer, and the 


sides need not then have full walls ; it was then 
a banc a colombes or with legs. Benches are 
sometimes complicated with a marchepied dlong 
the front (for it is a good thing to protect the 
feet of the sitters from the cold damp pavements 
of the halls), and for great persons by a dais, 
which is usually a half vault. 

The banc ^2iiidi more especially t\iQ archebanc, 
is weighty and almost unmovable ; as we have 
said, its place is in front of the fire-place. In 
order to enable one to warm front or back at 
will, and at meals to sit, as the saying went, 
'* back to the fire, stomach to the table," the 
ingenious banc tournis was invented. This bench 
has, for its back, a frame that can play in a 
fan-shaped groove cut in the wall of the two side 
pieces, so as to shift now to the front now to the 
rear. But men find themselves more at ease on 
a bench with a back of a good height and a 
good solid thickness : they are sheltered thus, 
not merely from currents of air but from a 
treacherous stroke from behind. 

The archebanc may be an integral part of a 
bed, backed on to the side. It is then a seat by 
day, and at night it serves as a bed step, after the 
owner has laid his clothes away in the coflfer. 

Diminutives of the banc^ and pretty hard to 
distinguish from one another, are the bajicelle^ 
which seems to have been a light bench, with 
low back and side-pieces, or side-pieces without a 
back ^ ; the placet^ a name that appears at the 
I Fig. 7. 


very end of the Middle Ages ; the escabeau and 
the selle, which were sometimes made of a long 
plank, with two planks, by way of feet, more or 
less cut away and consolidated by means of a 
cross-piece, sometimes of a square, round, or 
triangular top, mounted on four or three oblique 
legs, or else on four or three solid boards put 
together so as to form a pyramid under the top. 
Simple as they were, these little seats could be 
highly decorated with carving. Lastly, the 
forme or fourme^ which is not necessarily a 
small hanc^ but a very simple one, without back, 
without sides, and on four legs. It is this 
"form" that later on is to become the banquette^ 
upholstered and covered with stuff. 

Let us go back once more to the common 
ancestor, the coffer. Suppose it fairly small, 
almost a cube in shape ; raise the two sides 
moderately and the back wall considerably, up to 
a height of about six feet; there you have the 
plan of the chaire or chaiere. This is the seat 
of the father of the family, the mark of his 
domestic sovereignty. Often there was only one 
in a house ; its place was at the head of the bed 
in the room of state. It is a thing of majesty 
and seldom budges. Is a proof wanted of its 
dignity ? We find it in Olivier de la Marche, the 
chronicler of Charles the Bold. "The cook 
within his kitchen shall command, order, and be 
obeyed, and shall have a chaiere between the 
buffet and the fire-place, to sit in and to rest if 
need is, and the said chaibre shall be placed in 


such a spot as he may see and take cognisance of 
all that is done in the said kitchen, and shall have 
in his hand a large wooden ladle, the which to 
serve him for two ends, the one to taste soup and 
broth, the other to drive the children out of the 
kitchen and to beat them if need is." 

It is quite natural that this lordly seat should 
be given the most magnificent habiliments. 
Chair es are carved with serviettes (see Fig. 4) 
and h orbe-voies (see Figs. 5 and 6), lightened at 
the top by an open frieze (see Figs. 4 and 5), 
the upper part of the back being the part that 
is most richly wrought, because the lower part 
is hidden hy lYit parement of stuffs and cushions ; 
their uprights have florets for finials ; they are 
painted and gilded. Each has its own bouge of 
leather, made expressly for it, so that it may 
be taken on journeys. Persons of quality, 
with rights of high justice and low justice, are 
empowered to add a dais to the back of their 

These seats of the Middle Ages, such as we see 
them in museums, have a sufficiently repelling 
air of rude lack of comfort. In very deed, they 
were never very comfortable, on account of their 
vertical backs ; but they were better than they 
seem, because their wood was never left bare and 
naked. A carreau or flat cushion of *' camocas * 
(Voultre-^ner^'' of red leather *' wrought in the 
Moorish fashion," of red sendal * broidered with 
pearls, of azure veluyau^ was placed on the seat ; 
two others bestrode the arms ; a fourth standing 


up against the back " shored up " your loins ; or 
else there was a bear-skin thrown over the chair 
or a tapis velu from Turkey ; there were some 
even, from the fourteenth century, that boasted 
a permanent garniture nailed on with gilt nails, 
but this garniture was not stuffed ; the material 
covered a seat of stretched hide, lightly up- 
holstered with hair, or straps fitted with felting. 
For the rest, all furniture was decked out with 
bright-coloured stuffs : the bancs were covered 
with banqmers, the forms with fourmiers, 
escabeaux and selles with flat cushions, buflfets 
with Turkey carpet and touailles ; just as the 
walls and even the ceilings disappeared under a 
profusion of high warp tapestries, of '^ tartare 
vermeil changeant et raye cTor^'' or stuff 
^^(Tazur.^ brodee h pourcelez (little pigs) blancs^^ 
or " a bestes sauvaiges et h chasteaulx,^^ 




During the sixteenth century the slow trans- 
formation of manners and life continued. Con- 
ditions of security were gradually becoming more 
established — at least until the scourge of the 
wars of religion raged through the country — 
wealth increased, the expeditions into Italy 
brought the rude French to a knowledge of all 
kinds of ways of making life pleasant, ways they 
had had no idea of ; the taste for luxury spread. 
Thus the hiichiers had more and more work 
on their benches. The working man and the 
peasant continued to have no furniture, but 
middle-class people of every grade, always more 
and more numerous, grew refined, learned a 
taste for conveniences, even for beautiful things, 
and without aspiring to lead the Hfe of the gentry, 
desired to enjoy, at any rate in their own homes, 
all their ease and comforts. So there came into 
existence much more plentiful and more varied 
furniture, more stationary in its use, more 
delicate in construction. But the change was 
extremely slow in coming to pass. 

We have a very curious document on the 
menage or equipment of a house as it was 
towards the end of the reign of Francois I. This 



is a little book — ^in verse, if you please — of which 
one Gilles Corrozet, who kept a booksellers shop 
at the sign of the '' Heart and Rose," was both 
author and publisher. 

The title is : Les Blasons domesttques, con- 
tenantz la decoration d'une matson honneste^ 
et du mesnage estant en icelle : Invention 
I'oyeuse^ et moderne^ ^539- On le vend en la 
grand salle du Palais, pres la Chappelle de 
Messieurs^ en la boutique de Gilles Corrozet^ 
lib r aire. 

Our good Corrozet was no Ronsard, nor even 
a Marot ; but his verses, for all their remarkable 
flatness, have yet a very pleasant fragrance of 
simplicity, and, without being too indulgent, we 
might even find in them a certain intimate 
poetry. "You have here, my readers," he tells 
us in his preface," to recreate your gentle minds, 
the descriptions of the household goods and 
other things useful for domestic and familiar 
affairs, the which I dedicate to you for the 
purpose of affording you a pastime." Could 
anything be more amiable ? So let us follow 
Corrozet. * 

The house he is to bring us through from the 

La cave tenebreuse et obscure 
Cave dont Bacchus trend la cure 

to the garret 

Oil on met toutes les relicque% 
Des extencilles domtstiques^ 

X >t -^ , ^'-} I ft 



is the house he himself would fain possess, the new- 
fashioned house of a rich burgess. 

Noble maison de tons grands hiens garnye^ 
Riche maison de tons meuhles foiirnye. 

First of all the courtyard. It is paved with 
marble ; and it is embellished with medallions 

Et de figures magnifiques, 
Tafit de modernes que d' antiques. 
This marble, these antique statues, those 
medallions sculptured on the fagade, are the art 
of Italy, which is now beginning its invasion. 
Behind the house stretches the garden : 

Jar din plein de beaute native 
^ Ou so7it maints berceaux ombrageux, 

and through which run *' silver rills, full of 
various fishes," among 

, , , le lis^ la rose franche^ 
Loeillet, et i^aubespine blanche, 
La violette humble et petite, 
Le doux muguet^ la marguerite^ 
Le romarin, la marjolaine^ 
Le baulme qui faict bonne allaine 
Et aultres odoriferentes. . . . 

Let us go within. The house is no longer 
sullen, folded in upon itself, and only presenting 
to the street a thick wall as little pierced as 
possible, like the houses of the Middle Ages. 
Large windows open in the facade, through which 
penetrate air and light and gaiety ; good-sized 
rooms, " very clear and well-squared," take the 



place of the enormous sombre and chilling halls 
of the chateaux and seigneurial town mansions 
of former times, which were divided off into 
compartments as well as possible by means of 
tapestries, and the " rat holes and nests," as Henri 
Estienne called them, of the cramped houses of 
the middle classes, the bourgeoisie. 

Corrozet by no means neglects the kitchen ; 

On a beau voir une maison doree . . . 
Si on ne void une bonne cuysine, 
II n^y a rien eu la maison qui plaise. 
Car la cuisine esjouit etfaict aise 
Le corps humain, . . . 

However, we will spare our readers of to-day, 
and mount at once into the " salle et chambre." 
The '' commodites " — what w^e call comfort — 
make their appearance here, for 

Pour fair e un doux marcher 
On a embrisse le plancher. 

A wooden floor is a great novelty, and what an 
advance on the uneven, damp and chilly pave- 
ment of previous days ; but during the whole 
of the sixteenth century, and even later, it is a rare 
luxury. Furthermore, the chamber is, " nattee 
en toute place^^^ which means that the walls have 
been hung with rush matting ^ before hanging 
the tapestries on them. The tapestries 

I This is not; strictly speaking, a novelty, 

A POEM 35 

Oic on voit les ruses et tours 

D'armes, de chasses et d^ amours^ 

Les boys^ les champs et les fontaines. . . . 

Lastly, it is so snug that 

, . , le vent rude et divers 
N'entre jamais esfroids hyvers. 

It is further embellished with pictures ; it is 
"gilded . . . painted . . . with richest colours 
tinted " ; the doors, the ceiling, the window 
frames are covered with painted and gilded 

Now we come to the furnishings, and our 
bookseller-poet takes each article and makes its 
hlason^ an invocation and eulogy at the same time. 
And first of all the bed. 

Beau lict encourtine de soye^ 
Pour musser la clarte qui nuict^ 

whose couch is 

. . . ouvree de menuiserie 
D' images et marqueterie. 

The images are statuettes or bas-reliefs ; the 
marqueterie is an Italian novelty which is just 
beginning to be imitated in France. At the bed- 
head the noble chaire has its due and conse- 
crated place, the chaire^ " companion of the 

Chaire enlevee h personyiages^ 

on which the craftsman carved 


. . . maintes tables d attente* 
Fueillages^ vignettes^ frtzures 
Et aultres plaisantes figures. 

It is a coffer, too, that 

1 Chair e bien fermee et bien close 
\ Oil le musq odorant repose 

Avec le linge delye, 

Tant souef^fleurant^ tant bien plyL 

Then comes the banc^ ^''faict a petits mar- 
mouzetSy^ before which, just as in the full Middle 
Ages, the table will be brought and set up for 
meals, " on two trestles borne," an article of 
furniture that soon will assume such importance, 
such extravagant richness, but which is still quite 
modest and subordinate : — 

Ainsi que la femme prudente 

Est au Mary obediente^ 

Tout ainsi la table sejecte 

Vers le banc^ comme ci luy subjecte. 

The buffet or dressouer is made of " sweet- 
smelling cypress," it is ''low of shape," 

Soustenu de pilliers tournez^ 
De feuilles etfleurs bien aornez ; 

it has 

Deux guichetz de bonne taille^ 
Ayant chascun une medaille ; 

it is no longer painted, but made of well waxed 
walnut, for Corrozet insists on the sheen given it 
from being diligently well kept : this buflfet 


En clarte le beau mirouer passe^ 
Pour ce qu^on le tient nectement. 

It has none of the features of what we should 
call a dining-room piece, for it is 

, . , le tabernacle^ 

Le lieu secret et habitacle 

Oil sont les beaux Joy eux et bagiies} 

In short, it plays the part that is soon to 
belong to the cabinet. The cabinet does already 
exist in this ''house in Spain," if we may venture 
the phrase, of Corrozet's, and a vignette in the 
little book even gives us a portrait of it ; but it 
is as yet only a kind of little coffer shaped like a 
desk, with compartments, and two little layettes- 
coulisses or drawers ; in short, a mere embryo 
cabinet. It is the feminine piece in this chamber : 

Pare de veloux cramoisy^ 
De drap dor et de taffetas^ 

it contains antiquailles, antique objects, portraits 
of *' great and little personages," the musk- 
perfumed gloves of the lady of the house, pomade 
" to bring back lost colour," her 

Eaux de Damas^ doeillets^ de roses^ 
En fiolles de verre encloses ; 

her *' patenostres cristallines,"^ her scissors, her 
mirror, her book of hours. 

In the coffer, *' smelling sweeter than balm," 
are shut away "adornments, trimmings, robes." 

1 Baltics, jewels of every kind, and not rings only. 

2 Chaplets with beads of rock crystal. 


It is made of '' figured wood, yellow as wax , , . 
shining and well rubbed." 

The lesser seats are scabe//es, selles and 
Placets, the first " to sit at table for dinner and 
supper " ; the others more for the ladies' con- 
versation. The placet of which Corrozet speaks 
is a stool with four legs and a fixed tapestry 
covering. There are no caquetoires as yet ; 
they were not invented till thirty years later. 

Such were, in 1539, ^^^ " chambre et salle^^ 
of a handsome middle-class house, at one and the 
same time a bedroom, a reception room, and 
dining room. In more sumptuous dwellings 
the chambre and the salle were separate, the 
salle being reserved for feasts and ceremonial 

Our rhymester goes on to speak of the retrait, 
as to which 

// vaut bien mieiix queje me taise^ 

he assures us, which yet does not prevent him 
from speaking of it — a little too much, and 
with no delicacy whatever ; we are in the days 
of Master Francois Rabelais. Let us refrain 
from following his example, and confine our- 
selves to saying that with regard to this par- 
ticular point of hygiene and cleanliness the 
sixteenth century was distinctly behind the 
Middle Ages, as the seventeenth century was 
to be behind the sixteenth. 

Finally, like the good bookseller he is, he does 
not fail to celebrate as it deserves 


La bonne estude^ oil la philosophic 
Son throne tient et la se glorifie^ 

but in terms that are no less vaguely general than 
they are enthusiastic, and without giving us any 
detail on its furniture, which, in any case, would 
not have included anything particular, as lectern 
and desk had been long in existence, and special 
pieces, such as bookcases and bureaus, were not 
yet known. 

In short, more than the third part of the 
century has passed, and hardly anything has 
changed in the general aspect of the furniture in 
a house. Capital differences are already displayed 
in architecture ; but as for the furniture, the 
only changes to be seen are in the style of orna- 
ment and decoration. The only new articles'^' 
are cabinets, which have made a first and some- 
what timid appearance. In technique a novelty 
has arrived : polychromy is fading out, the cult 
of shining, polished, well waxed, and well rubbed / - 
furniture is becoming prevalent. There is a '• 
strong leaning towards the effect of reliefs, the 
play of lights and shades rather than that of 
colours ; it is the complete triumph of carving, 
which entails the supremacy of walnut ^ over oak. 
And as carving is no longer a costly rarity, furni- 
ture is less often hidden under many-coloured 

Lastly, marquetry no longer is seen only on 

I Walnut is a wood "good and kindly to work, to make fine 
pieces of work, because it is smooth and polished of its own 
nature."— Charles Estienne, liaison rustique. 


small objects of '* curiosity," curios imported 
from Italy or the East. Certosina^ with small 
geometrical motives, has long been dethroned 
across the mountains by mtarsia, which pre- 
tends to rival painting. But it will take a long, 
long time to become acclimatised in France. It 
had been from the days of antiquity a thing 
essentially Italian ; a veneer of some costly 
material, or imitating a costly material, set on a 
common material — marble or stucco over rubble 
in architecture, rare and costly wood on common 
wood in joinery — our French artists and crafts- 
men will turn away from it always, or for a very 
long time. Anne de Beaujeu, her inventory^ 
tells us, had a " handsome square table, made 
with marquetry, on which are several towns 
painted with inlaid pieces " — but this had been 
"made in Germany," for the Germans very soon 
had begun to imitate and even to counterfeit the 
works of the intarsiatori of Florence and 
Venice. Francois I had a bedstead with mar- 
quetry foliage in mother of pearl, but he had 
acquired it from a Portuguese merchant, and 
moreover, it was Indian work, " du pays 
d^Indye^ He had in his service a specially 
appointed fnarqueteur, but his name was Gio- 
vanni Michele rantaleone ; much later, in 1576, 
Henry Ill's was a certain Hans Kraus, whose 
name sufficiently indicates his origin. On the 
other hand, there is frequent mention, in con- 
temporary inventories, of marquetry '* in the 

I i.«., 1523 


Spanish fashion." It is true that the admirable 
work in inlaid wood that the Cardinal d'Amboise 
had made at Gaillon ^ seems to have been carried 
out by French workmen. 

But inlaying of composition, either white or 
coloured, in the Italian fashion — this process was 
called white Mauresque — was never to become 
acclimatised among us ; still less reliefs in com- 
position applique and gilt. Our huchters loved 
fine homogeneous and sound material too well 
for that. w * c 

The real novelties date from the middle of 1 [j^ 
the century. One of the most important was ^ •**" 
the transformation of the table, due to the 
increasing need for luxury and convenience. It 
is very inconvenient to put down ordinary objects, 
or the book one may be reading, on a coffer 
placed against the wall ; to leave the whole 
centre of a large room empty and void becomes 
impossible as soon as there is any care for an 
arrangement pleasant to the eye. What can be 
put in this space, except a table ? Once the 
table is promoted to this dignity, it must be 
handsome, decorative, important, and soon the 
Renaissance tables will be all three in perfection. 
The trestles yield place to a monumental affair 
of framework, pillars, and feet, upon which the 
table properly so called is permanently placed 
in position {assise). From the vulgar improvised 
article it had been, only appearing in the chamber 
or hall to be hidden under a table cloth, the 
I The remains of these may be seen in the choir at St. Denis. 


table became the piece in which decorative 
richness displayed itself with the greatest 
abundance and even extravagant excess ; you 
might think it shows some of the airs of a 

The table shares with the cupboard and the 
cabinet the inheritance of the coffer, which 
disappears very slowly. The cupboards of the 
days of Henri II are perhaps the most perfect 
things created by the sixteenth century, once the 
tradition of the Middle Ages had been com- 
pletely abolished. There were some, though 
not many, large ones, with only two doors ; the 
majority were small, in two sections with four 
doors, each of the superposed sections forming 
more or less an independent piece, easy to carry 
from place to place. 

The cabinet, which was not French by birth, 
enjoyed a great vogue, but what is curious is that 
it never attained a very distinctive personality 
in France ; it remains hard to define. Cabinets 
were imported from almost everywhere, from 
Italy, Germany, Flanders, Spain ; and often 
enough were of native make. In several provinces 
any cupboard was known as a cabinet ; in Paris 
itself we see in Catherine de Medici's mansion 
*' a cabinet of wood painted and gilt, of eight feet 
high by three feet wide, with four guichets "; 
this is a very narrow cupboard, of strange pro- 
portions, but beautifully carved. Another has 
only ^^un pied en quarre^^ — a coffer. Another 
has two feet. At the same period the Due de 


Roannez had one of "walnut wood with mar- 
quetry, six feet high, with four guichets,^^ and 
what is an interesting detail, "lined within, in 
the upper part, with deep crimson velvet and a 
ribbon of silver silk." This too is a cupboard. 
The only feature common to all of them is that 
they were costly and refined pieces, used to Jock 
away, generally in little interior drawers hidden 
by the doors, every kind of valuable. 

It was not cabinets only that came to us from 
abroad. Genoese furniture, of walnut inlaid 
with ivory, mother of pearl, lemon or some other 
light-coloured wood, much sought after from 
1550 onwards, included also arm-chairs, ^^ en 
tenaille " ^ and tables ; there were tables with 
marquetry "in the German fashion," others 
"Indian fashion," or again "Turkish fashion"; 
the first Florentine tables, '* marquetry of divers 
kinds and colours of marble, set upon their under- 
frames of gilded wood," which were sent to 
Catherine de Medici by her relative, the Grand 
Duke of Tuscany, roused general admiration. 
Under Henri III, there began to arrive from 
Flanders those large cabinets and small cupboards 
veneered in ebony, with wavy mouldings,* so 
highly prized by the French of the first half of 
the seventeenth century, and even bedsteads of 
ebony inlaid with ivory. The pamphlet entitled 
L Isle des Hermaphrodites^ which so shrewdly 

1 X-shaped with curving limbs, the seat and back made of 
broad leather bands. 

2 We shall speak later of this use of ebony. 


mocks the efFeminate, Italianate and musk-scentcd 
manners of Henri III and his favourites, makes 
them say : " As for wooden furniture, we would 
have it all gilded, silvered, and marquetry : and 
the said furniture, and bedsteads in principal, 
should be, if that be possible, of cedar-wood and 
rosewood and other sweet-smelling woods, unless 
it be preferred to make them of ebony and ivory." 
We have here a vivid picture of the progressive 
denationalisation, if the barbarous but useful 
word may be allowed, of costly and luxurious 
furniture in France, which was to continue in 
more and more aggravated form until the re- 
I action of the Louis XIV style. 

Let us not fail to remark that all this foreign 
furniture has a polychrome surface decoration, 
while the French huchiers^ in all that they turn 
out, remain faithful to carving in the plain wood ; 
we might even say that they abuse it, carry it 
J too far. 

*l But what passed out of fashion from the end 
! of the reign of Frangois I, and most regrettably, 
I was the handsome ironwork that made such a fine 
effect on the fagades of the buffets and coffers 
of the mediaeval style. Thenceforth hinges are 
tiny things; there are no more pentures^ or if 
there are, they are on the inside ; locks are nailed 
on inside the doors, inside the coffers, the key- 
hole plates, essential to prevent the key from 
damaging the wood, become a mere insignificant 

>:: A-.fc. ^cv **-»./ ■^-*-v->^ * "^ r- f-«.- 


There is not a ^' Renaissance " style in France, 
but several successive styles overlapping one 
another throughout the sixteenth century; one 
can even distinguish several provincial styles, but 
cautiously and v^ithout attempting to be too 
precise. As in the preceding centuries, it is still 
architecture that gives the tone, but now it is 
lay architecture ; and to each of the phases of 
its evolution there corresponds very exactly a 
period in furniture, for the huchiers continue to 
follow closely and faithfully in the footsteps of 
the builders of chateaux. 

Gothic art was of a surety neither dying nor 
even in its decline towards the year 1500, when 
there had just been built, or were actually in the 
middle of construction, such masterpieces as the 
chateaux of Plessis-les-Tours, Beauge, Mont- 
pensier, Meillant, the hotel de Jacques-Coeur at 
Bourges, the hotel de Cluny in Paris, the Palais 
de Justice at Rouen, the hotel de ville at Com- 
piegne, to quote nothing but lay edifices ; the 
old tree was full of sap when the Italian bough 
was grafted upon it ; and for pure technique, as 
for abundant decorative fancy, our master masons 
could have taught something to any Bramante or 
San Gallo. And thus the real native art made 
a good defence against the foreign invasion. 

Italian ornament, imitated more or less from 

the antique, introduced itself first, and took its 

place side by side with the moiichettes and the 

soufflets^ the cabbage-leaf, aconite, and thistle- 

eaf, in buildings whose structure remained 


purely gothic. This was seen at Solesmes and Am- 
boise under Charles VIII, then under Louis XII 
at the chateau of Blois, where the fine gallery of 
the court alternates on its wholly French pillars 
fleur-de-lis and heraldic ermines with panels 
showing candelabres*'^ gadrooned vases, acan- 
thus stems and symmetrical rinceaux in the 
Genoese or Milanese fashion. Among these 
sculptures some were the work of Italian artists 
in the service of the French king, others were 
ordered in Italy itself ; others besides, the most 
free and fanciful of these '* travaux de basse 
tailhy^ or bas reliefs, were made by the first 
French sculptors to be converted to the new 

Wood-working, with, as is natural, a few years 
delay, followed in the same path as work in 
stone. Then it was that in churches there were 
built composite chapels or choirs, the lower blind 
part of which, with panels of grotesques ^ is 
Italian-antique, while the upper pierced part is 
of the pure flamboyant style. This latter style, 
by the nervous elegance of its forms, the vertical 
or oblique lines soaring gloriously towards the 
skies, lent itself far better than the Italian manner 
to the effects of light claire-voies, slender finials, 
airy crestings, to which men were too well ac- 
customed to discard them between one day and 
the next. 3 A stall of this kind at the beginning 

1 See page 51. 

2 See page 51. 

3 And yet, on the contrary, a stall at Gaillon, gothic to a 
great extent, ends above in a horizontal entablature. 


of the century had, under the seat, a coffer with 
folded serviette carving, then a dosseret with 
grotesques copied from a vignette out of a 
Venetian book, a half-vauh dais with a frieze 
carved with Italian rinceaux, and, to crown the 
whole, a balustrade of the flamboyant style. A 
chaire had, similarly, above a servtette-cdiXYtd 
coffer a purely Renaissance back, with pilaster 
uprights and a horizontal cornice enframing a 
panel covered with motives of the new fashion: 
candelabrum, cartouche, medaille* putto,^ 
pleated ribbons. A frequent combination is 
that the framework of the article is in the 
French and the panels in the Italian style. 

It must be confessed that these hybrid pieces 
are often very charming ; the two styles are 
brought together with a fancy and an ingenuous 
ease that amuse the eye without shocking it by 
a too violent lack of harmoniousness. jCs^t^^t-< 

A little later, under Francois I,^ a prince much 

addicted to novelty, architecture becomes still 
further emancipated. It no longer sets national 
and Italian elements side by side, it mingles 
them intimately together ; and if the main 
forms remain, in general, French, many forms 

I It is convenient, and in accordance with tradition, when 
studying the art of the Renaissance, to divide the sixteenth 
century into four periods, which are made to correspond with 
the reigns of Louis XII, Francois I, Henri II and Henri III. 
This is very arbitrary, for Henri II reigned only twelve years, 
and between him and Henri III there interposed the ephemeral 
Francois II and Charles IX (who was king longer than his 
father), or some fifteen years; on the other hand, Henri III died 
in 1589. But on the whole this division corresponds with a 
certain reality. 


of the details and the whole of the decoration 
belong to the new style. Master workers 
still take symmetry somewhat at their ease; 
the four corners of a chateau are still rounded 
oif with feudal towers; the general silhouette 
is, as in the past, picturesque and full of move- 
ment, but the calm horizontal line and the 
right angle take possession of the fagade ; as 
yet there is no coldness, but a general calming 
down, contradicted by the riot of upward shapes 
that reigns, for example, over the upper parts of 
Chambord. Against the steep slopes of the slate 
roofs there still detach themselves the slender 
chimney stacks and the elegant white dormer- 
windows ; but the gables are now replaced by 
pointed pediments and crocketed spires by turned 
finials. The cabbage-leaf is now only for rabbits 
and the thistle for donkeys ; the olive, laurel and 
acanthus are triumphant. Now arises that 
strange notion which would have so much as- 
tonished the carvers of the thirteenth century 
capitals — and the great Lorenzo Ghiberti too — 
that there are noble vegetables, worthy of a 
place in decoration, and others that are unworthy. 
And now, at the same time as the latest of the 
flamboyant churches, the first Renaissance 
churches are erected ; the typical example is 
Saint Eustache, a strange edifice of undeniable 
beauty, strong and fine, French in Italian 
raiment. Here, as in Azay-le-Rideau, at Blois, 
or at Chambord, we may see the first serious 
attacks delivered among us against good sense ; 


the tall piers of the nave are plastered with 
pilasters and columns, each with base and capital, 
placed one above the other. 

This ' ' Francois P*"'' art is at bottom truly 
French^ vivid, varied, full of gaiety and fanc y, 
and yet almost always reasonable too, transform- 
ing in its own fashion what it borrows from 
strangers and everywhere showing the most 
delicate sense of elegance . French artists had 
not then lost, and were never to lose the 
assimilating genius, in the full meaning of the 
word, which they had already shown in the end 
of the fourteenth century, when they elaborated 
the Enghsh ''Decorated" style to make of it 
that completely French thing, the Flamboyant 

The art of furniture followed in the movement , 

and we might carry to considerable lengths the 

parallel between a buffet with canted corners 

belonging to this period, similar in structure to 

those made under Louis XI, but not one part of 

it now showing gothic ornament, and one of 

those dormers which, at a hundred yards distance, 

you would swear are flamboyant, but in which 

there is not a single element not carved in the 

Italian fashion. A chaire still has the stiff an d 

imposing forms that have not changed for a 

"hun dred years, but the back, for example, has 

pilasters fo r the upri ghts, and for crown a p edi- 

TStnx over a iri ezc"with canatix* or flutings ; 

its panel a nd those of the coffer that still form s 

the seat are decorated with a laureate medallion 
— g — 


and candelabra flanked by do lphins, whose tails 
end in rinceaux of acanthus. 

Of course furniture did not all, at a fixed date 
2Lnden hloc^ assume this new decoration and aspect ; 
there were ver y many bel ated pieces which, in 
1540, had not yet resigned themselves wholly 
to abandon their '' folded parchments " and scaly 
pillars with bases like a prismatic carafe. Also, 
and this is important, these pieces were neve r 
a copy of Italia n pieces. Our huchiers always 
created the architecture of their own works ; but 
for ornament they made use of everything that 
came before their eyes : bas-reliefs of stone and 
marble, bronze plaques, vignettes in books, en- 
gravings, book-bindings. Everything is good to 
them, and they show the utmost ingenuity in 
profiting by everything. 

Renaissance decoration thenceforth was__in 
possession o f all its f ormulas, what we migTit call 
Its *' vocabulary." That vocabulary is made up 
of Italian elements, but Frenchified with the 
s a,_me unceremon i ousness as was displayed m 
changing a Bernardino of Brescia, an artist from 
the other side of the Alps in the king's service 
as " worker in wood and marquetry of all colours," 
into Bernardiyi de Brissac I It is now the 
proper moment to compile a very summary 
lexicon of this language of ornament.^ 

The pilaster ^ is found almost everywhere. In 

I. We will speak a little later of the motives borrowed direct 
from ancient architecture. 
2 Figs. 16 and 17. 


its most simple form it is reduced to a narrow 
vertical panel, framed by a moulding, in the 
midd le decor ated with a circle, and at the tw o 
ends with two semi-circles, or a lozenge and t wo 
triangles . Pay heed to this modest lozenge ^, it 
will make its way in the world, for it sometimes 
serves as base to a projection in the shape of a 
very squat pyramid, which is already the 
*' diamond-point " dear to the joiners of the next 

In a richer form,^ '' carved with enrichments," 
as they said, the pilaster, like panels,^ admits the 
whole family of ornaments called grotesques, or 
arabesques, for the two were and are still com- 
monly confounded. In reality the name of 
" arabesque " should be reserved for a surface 
ornamentation, very fully covering the surface, 
made up of more or less geometrical interweavings 
of a flat uniform band. A panel or a pilast er of 
grotesques is a decorative whole, most commo nly 
composed of rinceaux^ developed s ymmetrically 
on b oth sides of a vertical axis, formed by a 
candelabrum (a motive figurmg a kind of 
superpos ition of turned balusters so metime s 
terminatmgln a torch flame),* a vase^ra vasqiie , 
or by the cord of a chute, w hich proceeds from 
out of the mouth o f a masc aron^ a cherub^s 

1 Which is also found carved on panels (Fig. 12). 

2 Fig. 16. 

3 Figs. 9, 12, 16. 

4 Fig. 9, panel on the right(much simplified) 

5 Fig. 9, on the left. 

6 Fig. i6. 


head,^ or a kno t o f ribbon.^ The rtnceaux, whose 
slender stems carry acanthus leaves or smallag e, 
very greatly altered in shape, often end in hea ds 
ol animals ^ or cornucopias ] 

There enters besides into the composition of 
grotesques a vyhole real or fantastic fauna : swans, 
dolphins,^ chimseras and monstrous beings of 
every kind, sphinxes, sirens, griffons, and also the 
human figure in the shape of male or female 
torsos, with arms or without, ending in acanthus 
stems, out of which spring rinceaux ; and tar- 
gets ^ in the Italian fashion, rectangular cartouches, 
broader than their height, called ecriteaiix^ even 
when they are innocent of an inscription, and 
a crowd of other objects, such as the bobbin 
and the knife carved above the baluster-shaped 
supports of the buffet shown in Fig. i6. 

The capitals of pilasters are usually a very free 
rendering of the composite capitals o f the 
Roman s ; we recognise their upright acantlius- 
leaf and the volutes.^ 

Other motives are the broad oval, or tnirror^ 
often surrounded with entrelacs ^ ; the frieze of 
entrelacs^ the cartouche en cuir decoupe and 
enrolled ^ ; the garland of flowers, foliage, and 

1 Fig. 12. 

2 Fig. 1 6, in the middle. 

3 Fig. i6. 

4 Fig. 9. 

5 Shields of a particular shape. 

6 Fig. 1 6, 

7 Fig. 8. 

8 Fig. 8. 

9 Fig. 9, the middle. 


fruits (then called frinctage), often very thin ^ ; 
the perspective d^ architecture ^ ; the medaille 
or medallion, hig hly characteristic of the peri od 
o f Francois I . although it was already in favour 
under Louis XII ; witness the chateau de 
Gaillon and the hotel d'AUuye at Blois. This 
was a head or bust in profile ^ or full faced "^ of a 
man, a warrior helmed and bearded, like Hannibal, 
or of a woman. Certain of these heads, carved 
almost in alto-reUevo, seem to be leaning out of 
an oeil-de-bxuf. Their frame is generally round 
and composed of a wreath of foliage ^ or of a 
turned moulding,^ sometimes it is lozenge- 
shaped/ The CO quill ed or shell, most of ten 
serves to ornament the top of a niche . The 
bander ole turns and folds in a thousand ways ; 
it takes the form of an S,^ for instance, or 
becomes incorporated in a rinceau}^ In general, 
^* work with heads and figures ''was callea taille ^ 
and all ^^work of foliage, branching, rosettes '* 
was known as enrichissement . 

But we must confine ourselves within limits ; 
we should never come to an end of enumerating 
all the motives adapted so happily to their own 

1 Fig. 10, at the top of the left-hand panel. 

2 Fig. 16, greatly simplified, and reduced to an arcade whose 
uprights are figured in perspective. 

3 Figs. 25 and 26» 

4 Fig. 10. 

5 Fig.-a$, in this case curiously conventionalised. 

6 Fig. 10. 

7 Fig.-«6r 

8 Fig. 21, in the pediment. 

9 Fig. 21, on the sides of the pediment. 

\0 Syn^mit of back of the same chair, Fig, ^l, 


technique and to French taste by the " tailleurs 
de bois,'*^ the wood carvers of this delightful 

By the end of the reign of Frangois I a style of 
architecture that was no longer Franco-Italian, 
but already classical and tainted with the be- 
ginning of pedantry, had shown itself in the 
buildings constructed for the king. Fontainebleau 
and Saint-Germain are already very different 
from Chambord and Blois. In the first of 
these chateaux the oval court has a colonnade 
and a portico with a double row of pillars, like 
veneering, in front of a staircase ; the dormers 
are capped with correct Greek pediments, while 
within the Italians intermingled their stucco and 
painting all along the sumptuous galleries. At 
Saint-Germain we see a building that is more 
bizarre than beautiful cover itself with a flat 
terrace with a balustrade — a sheer absurdity for 
our climate. 

Some years later, and behold, the architects 
— no longer masters of the work, but architects, 
a Greek name that has a fine sound — ^have 
finally turned their back, alas ! for centuries, 
on the national tradition. With complete im- 
perturbability, burrowing in Vitruvius and 
pillaging Bramante or Scamozzi, taking as their 
models the monuments of the two Roman 
Decadences, they will make correct use of the 
orders — the five sacred orders. They will see 
in a column not a support, but a casual ornament 
to be clapped on top of anything, that may be 


redoubled and superimposed with no reason, or 
that can be magnified to gigantic proportions, 
and which carries nothing at all. Above their 
windows they will alternate indefinitely the 
eternal triangular pediment and the unescapable 
circular pediment. Incontestable masterpieces, 
such as that part of the Louvre which was by 
Pierre Lescot and Jean Goujon, and vigorous ll 
reactions, here and there, of the French good "• 
sense, do not prevent the fact that cold solemnity, 
monotonous common-place, tiresomeness, and to 
speak bluntly, untruthfulness, little by little took 
possession of the art of building, in which the ' 
French race had so triumphantly excelled for the 
previous four centuries. 

And what of furniture ? Costly furniture 
conforms itself, towards the middle of the century, 
to the new taste, but happily only very ap- 

It is now the structure itself which is pro- 
foundly modified. We can recognise, especially 
in the armotres— which, then, with cabinets, 
came to be the fashionable pieces, to the 
detriment of the buffets^ while the slow decay 
of the coffer proceeded — the greater part of the 
elements of this new architecture, which to-day 
we call classic. The pilaster continues to be 
much employed, but it is correctly fluted, set on 
a base and surmounted by a moulding that copy 
sufficiently closely the *' Tuscan" base and 
capital. Glance at the buffet with three doors 
reproduced in Fig. 1 7, which dates from the end 



of the sixteenth century ; is it not a reduced 
copy of the fagade of a building, with a covered 
gallery on the ground floor, two orders of pilasters 
one above the other, with their entablatures 
interrupted by consoles all alike ? Even in the 
detail of the carved decoration, do we not 
discover architectural elements, as cornices, 
triglyphs, bits of circular pediments ? Another 
very marked characteristic — it is above all a 
decorative piece ; the keyholes are disguised as 
much as possible, the hinges completely; the 
drawers are only betrayed by the little iron drop 
handles, then known as heurtoirs de layettes^ 
almost lost among the carving. 

The small cupboard in two sections, shown in 
Fig. 14, so fine, so pretty, and so pure in line, 
is likewise a miniature building in two stories ; 
its pillars with base and capital almost Tuscan 
swell in accordance with the rules, are set on 
stylobates, and in each story carry a kind of 
entablature with simplified consoles. The 
fronton entrecoupe, triangular or sometimes 
circular, is almost de rigueiir. A great number 
of these cupboards no longer retain it, because it 
was detachable and easily broken, or else it has 
been remade ; but we can perceive that they 
were intended to have this crown by the fact 
that we find the mortises in which the tenons 
of the pediment were inserted. When one 
considers it, this fronton entrecoiipe or hrise 
appears absurd ; it has a baroque air and presents 
a very angular and disagreeably jagged outline ; 


it was a wretched invention of the decadent 
architects of Italy, speedily adopted by our own. 
The break in it is equipped with a very tiny 
edifice with a niche, intended to shelter a 
statuette, and crowned in its turn with a pediment 
either entire or itself also interrupted. And 
the cornice too may be interrupted as well. We 
must notice that the pillars have no carrying 
function; they are like those on chateaux and 
churches, mere superadded ornaments, whose 
removal would in no way injure the solidity of 
these cupboards. 

Such a piece of furniture, '^ tout d'' archi- 
tecture^' according to the expression in con- 
temporary inventories, would be insufferably 
pedantic if the joiner had sought to conform to 
the laws of Vitruvius and Vignole ^ ; but he 
interprets them and suits them to his own notions, 
pushes the rules aside, changes proportions 
without scruple, so that his work remains living 
and personal. 

Pilasters and columns are not the only real or 

apparent supports made use of in this period in 

furniture making. Balusters, both round and 

flat, play their part too, but much more as table 

legs and supports or uprights of panelled furniture ; 

the different species of the genus caryatid, in 

I The age of architectural theory has begun. V Architecture, / \i\ 
OH art lie bien bastir, (ie Marc Vitruve . . . mis de latin en franfois ' > 

par Jean Martin, appeared in 1547, with an Epistrc an lecteiir and 
engravings by Jean Goujon, "student of architecture"; in 1568, 
\ht Rtgle generate (V Architecture dcs cinq maniiresdecolonnes . . , 
par Philibert de VOrme, conseiller et aulmosnier du Roy, et abbe de 
Saint-Serge; in 1570, the Trait<f d* Architecture de Palladia, etc, 


which we include, not merely statues bearing 
weight, but the terminals and the monstrous 
beings more or less copied from the antique,* 
sphinxes and satyrs, tritons, griffons, chimaeras, 
and all imaginable variations of these typical 
shapes, as well as their combinations with 
vegetable forms. The joiners in certain pro- 
vinces made much greater use than in others of 
these human and animal figures ; which leads us 
to say a word or two here about the provincial 
schools of joinery during the second half of the 
sixteenth century. 

In his book, h Meuble en France au XVP 
Steele^ Bonaffe was the first who, thirty-five 
years ago, took pains to establish a ''geography " 
of French furniture in the Renaissance period. 
His zeal as explorer was unbounded, and his 
method was by no means a bad one, but he 
wanted to prove too much, and showed himself 
over precise and categorical ; it would be rash to 
follow him in all his conclusions. It is more 
prudent to stop, as M. Deshairs did in his 
excellent chapter of Andre Michel's great 
Histoire de lart^ at distinguishing two great 
regions with vague boundaries, one of which 
would include the county of the Loire, the 
Ile-de-France, and if necessary Normandy, the 
other Burgundy and its surrounding districts, 
southern Champagne, Lyonnais, Franche-Comte.^ 

1 Figs. 1 8 and 19. 

2 We still find, to quote an example, a number of Norman 
coffers (see Fig, 1 1) which present certain features commonly 


In the first of these two regions taste is finer, 
more Attic, so to say ; the lines of construction 
are well marked, calm and rhythmic ; the structure 
is more logical, the sense of proportions often is 
exquisite. The carving is sober, localised, well ^f • 
distributed, contained within very firm enframing |/:"' 
lines ; the repos or plain surfaces enhance its // 
effect. It is usually in very low relief, and its (/j 
execution is of the most supple refinement. 
Panels in low relief are universal, with their 
long, fluid, nude figures, their draperies with a 
thousand soft folds, carved by artists dominated 
by the influence of Jean Goujon, while in the 
architectural part of the piece we can recognise 
the influence of Pierre Lescot, Jean BuUant and 
Philibert de I'Orme. 

In Burgundy — where the art of stonework 
produced so many vigorous masterpieces — and 
what may be called its artistic annexes, carving 
on furniture developed exuberantly, almost 
stifling the architecture under its own abund- 
ance ; everywhere with its accentuated reliefs it 
overflows the lines of construction. It was 
Burgundy that saw the triumph, as uprights and 
supports, of terminals with shafts twined with 
branchy foliage, and all the wildest monsters, 
chimaeras with enormously long necks, baroque 
griflBns made with a lion's paw, a woman's bosom 
and an eagle's head. The eye cannot find a 
square inch of surface to rest upon that is not 

ascribed to the Burgundian school; the use of caryatids at the 
comers the carving of flat arabesques on mouldings, 


" carven with enricliments " ; not a moulding, 
not a piece of turned work is left bare without 
the carver's chisel dealing with it. All this, it 
must be confessed, falls into a rather tiresome 
brilliance when the joiner was not a craftsman 
of the highest merit, and does not shine by the 
purity of its taste. A small cupboard from the 
Ile-de-France is like a perfect sonnet by Ronsard ; 
a good buffet of Dijon, carved under Charles IX, 
is like a page of Rabelais, whose unbridled spirits 
combine the worst possible taste with genius. 

But if their conception is not free from re- 
proach, the execution of the best Burgundian 
pieces is superb, full of life and feeling, of the 
keenest energy with unpremeditated turns found 
with the point of the tool as it moved, a fine 
freedom in the stroke of the gouge in the sub- 
stantial walnut. And when these qualities of 
workmanship are joined with a well thought out 
composition, with simple lines, as in the most 
perfect productions of the Lyons workmen,^ the 
piece then achieves a beauty superior perhaps to 
that of the most exquisite cupboards of Touraine 
or Paris, because it is impossible to reproach it 
with the least touch of chilliness. 

Dijon had one industrious kuc/izer, Hugues 
Sambin, ''^ architect eiir et maistre meniiisier^' 

I The student should see, in the Arconati-Visconti room at 
the Louvre, a walnut Lyons buffet of admirable harmoniousness 
and elegance, and compare it with its neighbour, a large cup- 
board in pine, all gilded and painted in polychrome, the richness 
of whose decoration is all but overpowering, and which probably 
came from the workshop of Sambiq. 


designer and engraver of ornaments, all at one and 
the same time. Unhappily there remains no 
piece that can with certainty be attributed to 
him ; his only authentic works are the enclosure 
of the Palais de Justice and a small door, at 
Dijon. In 1572 he printed at Lyons a collection 
of thirty-six plates engraved on wood, entitled 
Livre de la diversite des Termes dont on use 
en architecture^ rediiit en ordre par maistre 
Hugiies Sambin, architecteur en la ville de 
Dijon. This series of somewhat clumsy ter- 
minals, with shafts overloaded with ornament, 
had a very great influence in the district, and 
must have circulated for a long time in the 
workshops of the joiners. Sambin can be re- 
proached with a certain turgidness of style, but 
his chisel was endowed with the qualities of 
expressive and dramatic vigour in the highest 

That once said, at the very most we may add 
that a very bold, almost brutal execution, often 
inaccurate in its rendering of the human figure, 
seems to characterise furniture carved in 
Auvergne ; that the southern provinces de- 
lighted to carve knightly horsemen on the panels 
of their cupboards ; that Normandy made great 
use of oak, much more than the other provinces — 
and we had better stop at that. 

The provincial schools were of no long 
duration, and in the last quarter of the century 
a real unification of style was observed, due in 
great measure to the collections of engraved 


models that were multiplied and disseminated 
everywhere. If the best known are those of 
Jacques Androuet, called Du Cerceau, there 
were many others, often anonymous. Du 
Cerceau was not a specialist in wood like Sambin, 
but a theoretician and practitioner in archi- 
tecture, a designer and engraver of ornaments 
for every kind of craft. He published, like so 
many others, a Livre de P Architecture, a 
Petit traite des cinq ordres, a collection of 
Fragmens antiques^ but also plates of orna- 
ments for no special purpose : Grotesques^ 
Cartouches^ Fleurons^ Termes, Nielles\ and 
models for various crafts : Bijoux^ Serrurerie, 
Orfevrerie d''eglise^ Fonds de coupes^ Mar- 
queterie^ and lastly Meubles. His plates of 
furniture — buffets, cabinets, tables, beds and 
benches — do not, it must be confessed, make 
any very favourable impression ; they are both 
complicated and cold, and most frequently they 
are impossible to carry out. Still, it would not 
be just to reproach him either for the com- 
plicated nature or the impracticability of his 
engravings ; they are not models intended to be 
copied exactly as they are, but rather what we 
should call suggestions, ideas destined, as he 
^. himself puts it in one of his dedications, to 
i; "awaken the minds" of the craftsmen and not 
j \ to spare them the trouble of creating ; and if the 
ornaments are always so multifold and com- 
plicated, it was because he meant to give in the 
smallest possible space many motives that could 


be used on many pieces of furniture. In the 
next century the Le Pautres, the Marots and 
Berains will have no different conception of 
their part as designers of ornamentation. 
Accordingly, it is impossible to find any piece of 
furniture that is even a simplified realisation of 
a model by Jacques Androuet ; but there was 
hardly a workshop, from Burgundy to Normandy, 
and from the Ile-de-France to Languedoc, that 
escaped his influence. 

Among the motives ordinarily carved on the 
furniture of the second half of the sixteenth 
century, we must further note the plume^ an 
ornament elongated and standing upright, 
resembling, if you like, a bird's wing feather, but 
also like a leaf ; there might also be seen in it a 
conventionalisation and impoverishment of the 
acanthus ^ ; the masque of a woman standing 
out against a drapery ^ and decorating the middle 
of a panel, either plain or broidered with 
arabesques ; the mnfle de lion^ or lion's face, 
similarly placed ; the eagle with outspread wings, 
holding a garland in his beak ; the winged 
cherub's head,^ which becomes a design-of-all- 
work ; it adorns the middle of a bare frieze or 
softens its corners, under those of the cornice it 

1 Fig. 13, on the pedestals of the terminals ; Fig. 23, on the 
sidepieces ; Fig. 24, on the legs ; Fig. 30, on the flat baluster of 
the back. 

2 A masque was a human face seen full and offering no 
grotesque or monstrous features ; a inascaron was a head showing 
such features. 

3 Fig. 14. 


serves to make the capital of a pillar, to ring it 
round the middle, etc., etc. 

Under the melancholy reign of Henri II I, ^ 
France, devastated by her civil wars, saw all 
her arts undergoing a real crisis; architecture 
languished, and furniture was incontestably in 
decay. The carvers' inspiration and vigour were 
exhausted, they were repeating themselves and 
growing heavy-handed. Presently sculpture 
becomes impoverished, and the huchier calls on 
white inlayings (composition, bone, mother-of- 
pearl) to give him easier and coarser effects 
of richness ; now it disappears completely, and 
we see those pieces of an amazing dryness, 
which are nevertheless encumbered with useless 
and meaningless details, on which long-necked 
balusters crowd with neither rhyme nor reason, 
and frail and over-long pillars ; again, it grows 
heavy, becomes flabby and vulgar, in this betray- 
ing the Flemish influence which is beginning to 
make itself felt. 

The coming of Henri IV put an end to the 
wars of religion and thus restored some security 
to commerce. At once the importation of 
foreign furniture increased, cabinets from 
Germany and Flanders, Flemish seats and tables, 
and soon Spanish also. The charming art of 
the Renaissance was to prolong a precarious 
existence up to the end of the Louis XIII period; 
but it was already stricken to death by the last 
years of the sixteenth century. 

I 1575-1589. 


One of our good story-tellers of the sixteenth 
century, Noel du Fail, seigneur de la Herissaye, 
a gentleman of Brittany, in his Discours 
d^aucims propos rustiqttes, facetieux^ et de 
singuliere recreation, describes as follows a 
filerie, or spinning-room, in the Breton fashion : 
" The girls, with their distaffs on their hips, were 
spinning, sitting on a raised place upon a huche, 
in long rows "... while " Jehan, Robin, or 
some other gay bachelor, drumming with his feet 
on a coffer, said little nothings to Jehanne or 
Margot." So that coffers were still serving as 
seats, but this was in Brittany; where civilisa- 
tion was more advanced it was no longer usual ; 
" drumming with the feet " would very speedily 
have chipped off the carvings in high relief that 
were then lavished on them by the hiichiers, and 
would have knocked away the terminals or 
caryatids fastened on v^ith much expenditure of 
glue and dowels. 

These very ornate Renaissance huches, so large 
and so heavy, are no longer made so as to be 
easily transported ; they are state pieces ; but 
there are always plenty of coffres de bahut for 
travelling, kept in a galerie, a retrait, or in the 

65 E 


galetas (the garret). The king of Navarre, 
Antoine de Bourbon, the father of Henri IV — 
an orderly gentleman, it seems, and meticulously 
particular — had ten merely for the ''joyaux et 
pterreries de son cabinet^^ ; each had received 
a name : Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Job, Moses . . . 
and the boxes they contained v^ere labelled in 
their turn, the first was fe crois . . . the second, 
en Dieu . . . the third, le Pere . . . the 
fourth, tout-puissant . . . and so on. 

The better to show off the fine carved coffers, 
and so that it might be more conveniently 
possible to get at what was packed away in them, 
it became usual to raise them by means of a base 
or pedestal, the support de coffre^ or a low table, 
whose very short legs were carved like lions' paws, 
and hence they were called /a//^^ de bahut. 

The way of making them with narrow panels , 
divided by upright pieces either plain or sca ntily 
o rnamented.^ went out of fashion at the end of 
the reign of Frangois I . Thenceforth coffers were 
to have in their fagade rather a single large 
carved panel, flanked with two pilasters, engaged 
balusters or caryatids,^ or else a large panel 
between two narrow panels, the fagade then 
presenting four pilasters or caryatides ; or two 
similar panels and three pilaster uprights.^ In 
this last case, there seems at first sight hardly 
any difference between a coffer and a lower or 

1 Figs. 8 and 12. 

2 Fig. II. 

3 Fig. 10. 


upper cupboard, and it has happened that one 
has been turned into the other. 

Coffers of medium or small size, very ornate 
in more or less Italian style (carving, painting, 
inlaying, white mores que), provided with a 
rounded lid, and frequently mounted on four 
lion feet, are old marriage chests, the receptacle 
for the bride's presents. 

We have said that cupboards tended more and 
more to take the place of coffers ; which means 
that they are infinitely more convenient, and 
also much mgre decorative, more furnishing 
{7neublantes). The most finished type of Re- 
naissance furniture is the small cupboard in two 
sections, with four guichets and pediment 
entrecoupe,'^ which the workshops of the Ile-de- 
France and Touraine produced under Henri II 
and Charles IX. The upper part is a little less 
wide and less deep than the lower; the whole 
shape is quite architectural. These delicious 
cupboards most frequently have corner columns 
on each section, sometimes twin columns ; elegant 
pillars, with proper entasis, with bases and capitals 
almost exactly in conformity with the Tuscan, 
Ionic or Corinthian canon. But there are some 
without pillars, or with pillars on the upper part, 
and flat uprights on the lower. The one we 
choose for reproduction (Fig. 14) — one of the 
gems of the Musee des Arts decoratifs — is of the 
most refined artistry, and in proportions absolutely 
right. It might perhaps be reproached with a 
I Fig. 14. 


semblance of clumsiness in the figures of naked 
goddesses that adorn the doors. These doors 
are much wider than they seem, for they occupy 
the whole width of the fagade, the hinges being 
pushed back on to the sides, hidden behind the 
corner pillars. The piece is as though enlivened 
by the most delicate polychromy ; the pillars 
are turned out of a very dark walnut, all the rest 
is of light walnut ; twenty small plaques of 
black marble finely veined with white, surrounded 
with a fillet of lemon wood, are inlaid in the 
wood in places most judiciously chosen^ ; the 
pedestals of the lower pillars are decorated with 
the same lemon- wood fillets ; all the carving is 
gilt, and the gold, deadened by the lapse of time, 
and half obliterated in places, is of an exquisite 
softness and quiet ; the key plates and the 
little drop handles of the four drawers are of 
iron half denuded of gilding. 

There were of course other types of cupboards ; 
with two unequal sections, but of more squat 
porportions ^ ; cupboards narrow and high, with 
two equal sections, each with only one door and 
no pediment ; with two equal sections, broad, 
with four doors and no pediment ; these last are 
very like two coflfers one on top of the other, 
and that is their actual origin, which is recalled, 
in the French provinces bordering on Germany, 

1 These inlays of foreign material — a wholly Italian fashion — 
are very debatable in principle ; it must be admitted that in this 
instance the effect is a very happy one. 

2 Fig. 13, this one is incomplete, it should have been crowned 
with a pediment. 


by huge hanging iron handles fixed at the sides 
of the upper section as well as the lower ; 
cupboards in one single section with two doors, 
which are much rarer ; and lastly, those of a 
complicated and rather irrational architecture ^ 
which appeared at the end of the century. In 
general, it is possible to recognise those that 
never had a pediment^ by their more highly 
developed cornice. 

As for aulmoires a quatre estages, or even 
three, and those that had ten or more guichets, 
these were of course fixed cupboards, built into 
the garde- robe or clothes closet. 

The biiffet or dressoir — the wording of the 
inventories of the time proves that the two 
words were synonymous — also takes to itself the 
most diverse shapes. It is, in fact, a piece of 
all-work found indiscriminately in the hall, the 
chamber, the retrait, the study, or the kitchen. 
In principle it is a cupboard in two parts, low, 
and with no doors in the lower section ; by far 
the great majority are made in this fashion ; but 
others are buffets sans fenestres pour servir en 
salle, or buffets sans guichets, a simple super- 
position of three shelves upheld by pillars or 
balusters one above the other, the uppermost 
shelf thickened by a little cornice, the middle 
one by two drawers, the lower forming the base ; 
a meuble de montre only serving to display 

1 Figs. I and 5. 

2 For our vocabulary we may note that pediments were called 
fronlispices or chapiteaux. 


plate, not to lock it up ; others, on the contrary, 
are entirely closed, with four doors ; or else the 
doors are below and the open part above, but 
this last arrangement is very rare. 

Buffets of the first type might themselves 
assume very different aspects. The greatest 
diversity occurs among those belonging to Bur- 
gundy, a province in which the sometimes a trifle 
wild fantasy of the carvers bent the architecture 
of the piece to their own caprices. The Renais - 
sance buffet ordinarily has a base, sometime s 
fitted with drawer s, resting direct on the grou nd 
or on balls, ^ sometimes flattenecj, sometimes left 
roundr^uFes,^ or lions' paws. From the base 
rise two, three, or four uprights, which are , 
according to the Jegree of richness of the piece , 
and al so its o rigin, turned balusters with o r 
without carvi ng^; pilasters or pillars, either plain 

or fluted or carved ; terminals, chimaera-car y- 

atides. . . . The upper part is often subdivided 
into two unequal stories by a horizontal mould- 
ing of high projection ; drawers form the 
entresol^ so to speak, of the little edifice ; above 
are the doors, two or three in number, according 
to the width. Certain large Burgundian buffets, 
without corner uprights, have their upper part 
supported in the middle by a narrow cupboard, 
on each side of which chimaeras or other large 
carved motives, like those of tables, act the part 

^i Fig. 17. 

2 Fig. 16. 

3 Fig- 16. 


^f consoles and redeem the excess of width in 
the upper part. This is not particularly success- 
ful. Finally, the buffet may terminate in a 
withdrawn cresting, a kind af dossier prolonging 
' the back wall, with a shelf on the cornice, or 
shaped like a circular pediment. A shape com- 
monly found at the very end of the style, and one 
that was to persist into the seventeenth century, 
I is that of the buffet with the upper part wide, 
low, and supported by two heavy balusters of 

Some one may perhaps be surprised not to 
find the credence in this enumeration. This 
word, like hahiit^ has for now nearly a century 
had a quite undeserved good fortune. Is it 
considered more elegant than hiiffet ? That was 
the opinion of the fops of the days of Henri III, 
who brought it into fashion because it was 
Italian. It was then gradually forgotten ; 
nevertheless Furetiere, at the end of the seven- 
teenth century, included it in his dictionary, but 
assigned it its proper meaning : " a buffet set up 
{qiCon dresse) in the houses of the gentry, on 
which is placed all their silver plate, on show, 
when they are at table." It was not, properly 
speaking, a true piece of furniture, but a 
temporary structure of shelves made of simple 
boards, altogether hidden under cloths, to display 
plate on days of " ceremonious dinners." In 
Basse-Provence alone — which is explained by 
the nearness of Italy — ^the word never ceased to 
I Fig. 39. 


be in current use to indicate low buffets of the 
type known as Arlesian. 

The cabinet is, like the credence, an Italian 
thing with an Italian name, but of earlier 
importation. The " cabinet-piece " and the 
" cahinet-meuhle " have this in common, that 
they are relatively of small dimensions, and both 
of them contain one's costliest and rarest 
possessions/ The smallest cabinets-meubles, as 
we have seen, are a kind of coflfer, opening either 
with two doors or a single flap, which is held on 
the level by bastons de fer or iron rods that 
pull out, and serves as a writing table ; the 
interior is composed of a certain number of small 
drawers. Other larger cabinets are coffers v^th 
two iron handles, and are placed on trestles or 
on an under-frame made for the purpose ; others 
are real cupboards in two sections, or buffets ; 
these latter can only be distinguished by actually 
opening them, for what characterizes them all is 
the elegance, the preciousness of their interior, 
and especially their subdivision into a quantity of 
small drawers, with frequently a tabernacle in 
the middle. Are they part of a widow's furniture ? 
In that case they are ebony outside, and inside 
done with black velvet with silver galoons and 
plaques. But they are never, so to say, quite 
altogether French ; made in the fashion of 

I We read in the Didionnairc of Nicot (the doyen of French 
dictionaries was compiled by the gentleman who introduced 
tobacco into France): "a woman's cabinet: all the varieties of 
ornaments, jewels and trinkets she has to accoutre and preen 



Genoa, or Germany, or Florence, they are inlaid 
with bone, with ivory, with mother-of-pearl ; 
Queen Louise, the wife of Henri III, had one of 
"lapis and agate, covered with carnation velvet 
and silver embroidery, with the said lady's 

When the table was made to remain per- 
manently in the hall or the chamber, it regularly 
assumed the following shape : the top, usually 
with extending pieces, is '^ assise " upon a carved 
ceintiire^ often this is a torus''*' or perhaps a 
quadrantal moulding with gadroons,^ resting at 
each end on a substantial fan-shaped support, 
very ornate, with undulating outline, made of two 
scrolls or two chimaeras back to back ; these sup- 
ports stand up from two patins joined by a 
massive cross-piece that serves as a foot-rest for 
the diners ; these tables are especially meant for 
meals. The cross-piece carries an arcading with 
pillars, or a heavy ornamental pierced motive. 
It is very decorative, but a little clumsy and 
*' loud." If the two ends are by far the most 
highly ornamented parts, it is because the rest 
was hidden by the placets^ escabelles and 
tabourets, which were put back under the table 
between meals, and which were looked upon as 
its accessories ; the phrase ran, *' a table with its 
escabelles.''^ . . . These were in turn hidden 
by a tapestry or carpet, the ends of which hung 
low over the long sides of the table, but left the 
two ends of the table clear and showing. 
I Fig. 18. 


Smaller tables present a similar arrangement, 
though simplified ^ ; others have as their supports 
pillars, whose bases rest on a kind of pedestal in 
the form of a double cross, if there are six pillars,^ 
and if eight, on a double cross potencee * at its 
two extremities ; this pedestal itself rests on six 
or eight ball feet. 
/ / Other varieties are : the round, square, or 
\ ^fl octagonal table with big central leg, altogether 
Itahan ; the camp table, '' placed on a trestle that 
folds up," and the table that itself folds up 3; 
lastly, the special table for games: '' a jeii de 
dames dessus " (chess table), and " cl jeu de 
tables,'' ^ 

To sum up then, the table, from 1550 to 1600, 
is generally more complicated than other piece s 
ot turniture, treer m composition, and above all , 
more Italian of aspect. " The reason is tha t 
huchiers^ where tables were concerned, were 

wi thout traditions to restrain them and to fight 
against the influence of the collections of some "- 
v^at wild models, such as those of Androuet du 

But that was a question of luxurious pieces, 
and it goes without saying that simpler tables 
were made when the movable top on trestles 
went out of fashion even in the homes of modest 
middle-class folk ; they were set on four piliers 

1 Fig. 19. 

2 Fig. 20. 

3 Foreshadowing the aspect of the seventeenth century tables, 
reproduced in Figs. 60 and 61. 

4 Trictrac. 

BEDS 75 

tournoyes (legs in the shape of turned columns), 
joined together at the bottom either by a rect- 
angular frame, or by a stretcher either H-shaped 
or X-shaped, with or without a centre column ; 
in short, already they were '* Louis XIII tables," 
just as the simple tables of the end of the seven- 
teenth century were still "Louis XIII tables." 

Let us^ dd^th^^ Renaiss ance tables are always ^ 
very high7 because ijtjp ^at7j2J_those da ys aT? 
appreciably high eF tha n those of to-day . 

The beds of this period are to-day so rare that 
we have hardly anything to say about them. 
Their tester was not hung from the ceiling, but 
carried by four pillars, which were highly or- 
namented with turnings and carvings,^ or even 
replaced by terminals, caryatides, for they were 
in full view ; the curtains, as in the Middle 
Ages, continued to be pulled back during the 
day. The dossier was always a piece of abund- 
ant and complicated decoration. It was only 
at the very end of the sixteenth century that 
people began to prefer beds, every part of which, 
including the pillars, was covered with the most 
magnificent stuffs. 

Let us go on to the seats. The great banc ^ 
dossier disappeared from private ptprinr^^ after 
the reign ot .b rangois j^ at least in its quality as 
seat ot honour ; banished from hall and chamber , 
relegated to the antechamber and the kitchen, it 
IS no longer embellished either with taille or 
enriclnsseJiients, But its diminutive, the banc 

I They were called color^ftes-catuielabres. 


with no dossier^ was very much used to sit down 
at table, and the banltt, or banc a coucher^ in 
the shape of the archebanc^ serving as both 
coffer and couch/ continued its good service, 
especially in the antechambers, for footmen and 
chambermaids ; the bed clothes quite naturally 
found their place during the day in the long 
coffer that served as a seat. 

The chaire, which unde r Francois I preserved 
itSTnassive build, began m the next reign to grow 
somewhat lighter. The dossier, completely 
straight, is still always very high, about six feet, 
and would be exceedingly uncomfortable, with 
its carving in high relief, if drapings, and 
especially flat movable cushions,^ which every 
sitter could dispose of to his own mind, did not 
give a certain softness. As many as four cushions 
were placed on a chair e ; one to sit on, one for 
the small of the back,^ two astride the arms ; and 
in this way, but for the tombstone rectitude of 
the back, one would not really have been badly 
seated. On the front, a step, the estrier^ was 
often part of the structure of the chair e. 
Sometimes the back was movable ; by the help 
of pivots or hinges it could be lowered forward, 
and supported on the arms could turn into a 
bed-side table, uncovering too a little cupboard 
hollowed out of the wall. 

1 Fig. 12. 

2 Called cancaii.x. 

3 It was almost impossible to lean the shoulders back, because 
of the ruff or the enormous collar-. 


It was in the accotoirs or side-pieces that the 
great monumental thing first became lightened. 
From full walls they became an open frame with 
a row of balusters ^ ; the arms, freed in this way, 
were curved, became supple, terminated in a 
volute or the head of a ram or a lion, and soon | 
people spoke of a " chatre a bras^ Next, it was \ 
the seat that ceased to be a coffer, through the Aj 
disappearance pf its front wall, then of the other ^ 
three ; the back became lower, and at last was 
pierced, and side by side with the great ckaire 
of traditional architecture, seat of honour and of 
state, which down to the end of the reign of 
Henri IV continued to mount guard in its un- 
changing place by the bed, under the name of 
chair e de salle^ there were to be found in the 
hall and in the chamber several chaires dc bras 
capable of being moved about as wanted for 
conversation or various occupations, which could 
be grouped near a window, or before the fire, 
around a gaming table or about the bed for the 
** caquets de V accoiichee " (gossip with the lady 
in bed). These were called chaires h femmes^ 
for the men of the sixteenth century were rude 
creatures, and had, except they were Henri the 
Thirds or Saint- Megrins, practically no care for 
comfort ; the escabeaii was completely sufficient 
for them. 

Of these chaires or chaises ^ so lightened, 

I Fig. 21. 

2,Called indiscriminately, under Henri III, cliayin\ chairc, or 


some were made square in plan,^ and their legs, 
simple uprights square in section with chamfered 
arrises,* or slender columns with slight entasis 
and a moulding suggesting base and capital,^ are 
joined at the bottom by means of substantial 
cross-pieces generally put together in the shape 
, of a rectangular frame,'* sometimes H-shaped,^ 
which gives the chair a much more informal 
aspect. It was long before joiners emancipated 
their chairs from these low cross-ties. For they 
always had in mind frequent flittings with all 
their attendant risks ; and furthermore, as long 
as the earthenware tiles and stone pavements 
with all their unevennesses had not been replaced 
by wooden floors, the legs of the chairs were 
bound to be continually knocking against these 
rough points, which would speedily have dis- 
located them but for these strong reinforcements. 
The back, if not absolutely upright, was barely 
sloped at all in the oldest types ; it was full, and 
its panel was most commonly carved with a 
medaille ^ ; it was then reduced to a frame and 
the space occupied by turned balusters,^ a carved 
vertical splat, sometimes of the outline of a flat 
baluster,^ or, as we shall presently find it, by a 
stuffed garniture. The arms had, from the 

1 Figs. 22, 26, 27, 28. 

2 Fig. 23. 

3 Figs. 22, 24, 26, 28. 

4 Figs 22, 27, 28. 

5 Figs. 23 and 26. 

6 Figs. 22 and 23. 

7 Fig. 25. 

8 Fig. 27. 



very beginning, a sinuous line, more or less 
accentuated, and terminated in a volute some- 
times complete,^ sometimes hinted,^ which is both 
the most graceful shape possible and the one 
best adapted to the human arm that is to rest 
on it. These arms were upborne by prolongations 
of the front legs, baluster turned ^ or already 
carved into the similitude of reversed consoles, (| 
as they were to be for the next two centuries.'* 

Other chairs with arms are trapeze-shaped, the 
back being much narrower than the front and 
the arms curved ; others were constructed on a 
polygonal ground plan — something like an 
octagon cut in two — with four or six legs ^ and 
elbowed arms ; this last model, it must be 
admitted, is very ugly. Besides, another defect 
common to nearly all these chairs is that their 
limbs are frail and slender as the legs of insects. 
We may, last of all, mention chaises h bras 
tournantes^ mounted on a pivot supported by a 

Two varieties of chair with regard to which 
historians of French furniture can hardly agree 
are the caquetoire and the chaise di vertiigadin. 

One thing certain is that the picturesque name 
of caquetoire was given to a light chair, easy to 
move for the convenience of conversation ; in 
other words, to the chaise a femme. Speaking 

1 Figs. 27 and 28. 

2 Figs. 22 and 23. 

3 Figs. 22 and 27. 

4 Fig. 28. -: 

S^Figs. 24 and 25. 


of the women of his own time, the humanist 
Henri Estienne says, in his Apologie pour 
Herodote^ printed in 1566: ^'It nowise appears 
that they have their mouths frozen, at any rate 
I will answer for it on behalf of the ladies of 
Paris, who could not refrain from calling their 
chairs caquetoiresy But of what shape were 
they ? Certain students (Bonnaffe, Molinier) 
say, following the dictionaries : it was a low- 
seated chair, with high back and no arms. 
But it was in the Dictionnaire de Trevoux that 
they found this definition, and this belongs to 
the early eighteenth century ; the date is rather 
a late one for the validity of the authority. A 
quarter of a century earlier Furetiere had written : 
" a low, convenient chair, that serves for sitting 
by the fire " ; he did not say that it was a chair 
without arms. Other writers, like Havard and 
Champeaux, relying on the inventories, think 
that it was merely the smallest and lightest 
variety of the chaise a bras ; and the texts 
seem to justify them. In a period when it was 
a rare exception for a chair to be without arms, 
and the circumstance never was omitted from a 
description, we find commonly written: '' une 
petite chaire hasse^ autrement dicte caque- 
toire,^^ . . . Elsewhere: ''six petites chayres^ 
autrement dit caquetoyresJ^ And again: " trois 
aultres chaises caquetoirs^ semhlahles aux 
trois chaises cy-dessus " ; now these last-men- 
tioned are " h hras^ toutes garnyes de velourz 
noir^ . . . But, it will be said, the chairs that 


are known to-day as caquetotres^ in the language 
of amateurs of old furniture, are not low chairs, 
but the contrary. The difficulty is perhaps only 
an apparent one; might not a low chair {chaise 
basse) mean a low-backed chair ? One of 
Havard's passages seems to indicate this: "six 
large caqiietoires^ with one arm-chair a haut 
dossier y In fact, we know of no armless chairs, 
with low seat and high back, dating from the 
sixteenth century; while chairs with arms, low 
back and high seat, are not very uncommon. 

And the chaises a verhigadin — farthingale 
chairs ? The same controversies arise over them. 
The verUigadin or vertiigade (the word is 
Spanish like the thing itself) was the arrangement 
of hoops that lined women's skirts, that incredible 
amplitude and cylindrical shape out of which 
emerged the inverted cone of the bust, a fashion 
that lasted in France during the reigns of Henri 
III and Henri IV, and in Spain much longer. 
Certain writers believe that the chaise a vertu- 
gadin was distinguished by a kind of pad that 
made the back more comfortable ; others have 
ingeniously said that as these voluminous petti- 
coats prevented women from sitting down on a 
chair with arms, the chaise a vertugadin was 
nothing else than the chair without arms, 
invented expressly on the appearance of that 
very ugly fashion. Havard, who is of this 
opinion, seems to have brought together in his 
dictionary texts that completely prove it : " Three 
chairs with arms and back, two forms and 


two chaises a vertugadin, , . . Nine chairs of 
gilded walnut, five a vertugadin and four with 
arms. . . . Six chaises a vertugadin of painted 
wood, covered with coarse stitch tapestry, and 
three chairs with arms," etc., etc. Later, when 
the word fauteuil takes the place of the ex- 
pression chaise a bras, it is the fauteuil that is 
quoted in contradistinction to the chaise a 
vertugadin : *' six chaises a vertugadin and 
tvfo fauteuils, covered in tapestry." ^ 
^i4'UM/(^ I^ t^^ sixteenth century the fauteuil is not 
yet the same thing as the chaise a bras ; as in 
the Middle Ages, it is a seat of state, a '' chere 
brisee^'' or folding chair, either in reality or in 
seeming, but always made a tenailles, in other 
words, X-shaped with curved limbs and low back. 
A contemporary writer describes its structure 
very accurately, when he says of a man wi'^h 
hands joined that he has " his fingers interlaced 
one within the other in the manner of a chair e 

Lastly comes the commonalty of seats with 
neither back nor arms : escabeau and escabelle^ 
forme ^ placet, basset, selle, bancelle and 
tabouret, . . . They resemble one another and 
are very often confounded ; they hardly undergo 
any modification from one century to the next. 
Square, rectangular, round, even triangular, 
standing on legs or solid boards, they abound 
everywhere ; no other seats are known for sitting 
down at a table ; in ordinary circumstances only 
I Inventory dated 1652. 


women have seats with backs . . . and yet ! 
Look at the two little pictures of the time of 
Henri III in the Louvre, both representing a 
ball at court. The king, the queen and Catherine 
de Medici are in faiidesteiiils, but there are 
great ladies, in the most sumptuous toilette, 
sitting plump and plain on wooden escabeaux^ 
to which a minimum of comfort has been added 
by means of cushions. The race is very hardy 
and has a strong backbone. 

However, as the seventeenth century draws 

near, we find the number of sieges garnis 

increasing. The Middle Ages, as we have said, 

were by no means ignorant of them, but they 

remained very rare down to the period of 

Charles IX and Henri III ; and people were 

satisfied with movable garnitures, cushions and 

tapestry. The tabouret alone was regularly 

provided with a stuff, a tapestry, a piece of 

leather nailed on and covering a layer of hair, 

flock, or even feathers. The chaise a bras and 

the chaise h vertugadin ^ might have their 

seat and their back also fitted in this way. 

Certain seats were garnis with leather and 

converts with, stuff ; on the frame there was 

stretched a strong piece of bull hide serving as a 

support (like webbing or straps also) for the 

stuffing, which was covered with a stuff. 

The woven fabrics for covering chairs were 
matched with the garniment of the bed ; they 
were velvets either plain or figured, damasks, 
I Figs. 26, 28, and 29. 


embellished or not with embroideries, appliques^ 
or enframings in gold or silver cloth, or reseuil, 
which was lace, also of gold or silver, silk fringes 
with trimmings of precious metal ; there was 
tapestry" in coarse or fine stitch, or Hungarian 
stitch ; or quite simply red or yellow serge. 
The leather, when it was visible, was crimson 
morocco,^ or lemon-coloured, either plain or gilt 
with the little bookbinder's stamps, or contre- 
pointe, or yet again it was cuir de boeuf 
ecorche, in this case simply stretched, by means 
of gilt or silvered nails, over the frame of the seat 
and the back, without any other garniture. 

Chairs with garnished arms, of the kind shown 
in Figs. 29 and 30 — characterised by the broad 
flat arms, with scroll ends, the uprights of the 
back terminated by a reversed console ornament 
with acanthus leaf, and by the very ornate 
cross-piece that joins the front legs, and also, 
sometimes, the back legs — date from the reign of 
Henri IV ; some were made in France, but the 
majority were imported, and the style is de- 
finitely Hispano-Flemish. 

Other chaises a bras, rudimentary in structure, 
were '^ toutes garnies,^^ with a nailed-down 
velvet covering all over, to the very legs.^ This 
fashion was to have a long vogue, since if we are 
to put faith in Le Brun's tapestry, Louis XIV 
and the Infanta Marie Therese, at the ceremony 

1 Then called cuir de Levant or cuir de Turquie. 

2 See in the Louvre the small full-length portraits of Charles 
X and Louis de Balzac d'Entragues. 


of their marriage in 1660, had for seats chaises 
a bras with low backs, coarsely made with round 
sticks of wood and full-covered with azure velvet 
sprinkled v^dth gold fleur-de-lys. 

Let us add that the inventories teach us (for 
none of these common chairs has survived), that 
in the south of France, and presently in Paris, 
from around 1580, chairs had begun to be done 
with straw. 

But perhaps the most frequently used of all 
seats were the carreaux^ or flat squab cushions, 
everywhere found in great numbers, which were 
equipped with a big silk tassel by which they 
could be carried, and which were placed on 
chaises a bras, escabeaiix and placets, when 
there were any, or on the corner of a coffer or 
quite simply on the ground. Middle- class folk 
were content to have them stuffed with straw. 
At court *' the custom was to sit only on the 
ground when the Queen was present." The 
inventory of Catherine de Medici shows no less 
than 381 carreaux (only the covers, of course) 
in one single coffer, some of tapestry stitch, 
others of gold and silver embroidery on silk, 
or cloth of gold. Many of them had been 
embroidered with her own royal hands : **she 
spent her time, after dinner,'' Brantome tells us, 
" in dihgently toiUng at her silk work, in which 
she was as perfect as could be possible." 



Sometimes we hear of a so-called " Henri IV 
style." In reality it is over-subtle to try to 
distinguish two distinct and successive styles in 
the period stretching from 1594 (the beginning 
of the effective reign of the Bearnais king) to 
1660 (the start of Louis the Fourteenth's 
personal government). In this long and rather 
confused epoch — let us say, for the sake of 
simplicity, in the first half of the seventeenth 
century — something decays and dies, the art of 
the Renaissance, and something begins to establish 
itself, v^hich vdll be the Louis XIV art ; both 
coherent and easy to define ; betv^een them 
interposes an art that has a claim to recognition, 
and v^hich may v^ell be called Louis XIII, but 
which lacks a clearly defined physiognomy, 
because it is full of contradictions, and, taking it 
on the whole and with certain exceptions, does 
not possess a frankly national character. 

It was, as has been often said, one of those 
moments of French civilisation when France 
received more than she gave. The Italian in- 
fluence and the Hispano-Flemish influence cross, 
supplant or overlie one another. The reign of 
Louis XIII comes between two regencies : his 



mother was a Florentine, and had sought to 
impose a Concini on France ; and yet, when she 
wanted a palace, it was the good Frenchman 
Salomon de Brosses who had built her the 
Luxembourg, and to decorate its galleries she 
had chosen Rubens, while, they say, Richelieu 
advised her rather to have Josepin the Roman. 
She continued to pay a pension to the Flemings, 
Pourbus and Bril, as Henri IV had done. Anne 
of Austria was a Spaniard ; when Regent she had 
as her first minister, favourite, and even more, 
Giulio Mazarini, a passionate lover of art, who 
would fain see nothing around him but work that 
was Italian, either by origin or in style. When 
she is to have her new apartments in the Louvre 
decorated, she will turn to the insipid Romanelli. 
An all-powerful Louis XIV with a Colbert beside 
him were needed, so that national art might 
receive the encouragement of the State to the 
exclusion of rivals. 

The greatest artists of the time, in painting at 
least, were they really French ? Poussin himself, 
a native of Andelys, in Normandy, with his mind 
after Descartes and his soul after Corneille, 
Poussin makes Rome his real fatherland ; he lives 
there for forty years, and dies there after 
becoming more than half Italian. Claude Gellee, 
born in Lorraine before it became a French 
province, always lived in Rome, never went to 
Paris, never looked on himself as a subject of the 
king of France, any more than did his com- 
patriot Jacques Callot. Philippe de Champaigne, 


a native of Brussels, whose portraits of Jansenists 
are so French in their " intellectuality " and by 
the shade of Christianity they express, spends all 
his life at Paris, but preserves more than one 
characteristic of his race. Others, the ready 
decorators, fluent and empty, the La Hires, the 
Vouets, the Perriers, represent that art, as inter- 
national as Jesuit architecture and living on a 
fund of Italian common- places, which is 
practically identical with itself from Spain. to the 
Low Countries and from Paris to Boulogne. As 
for the pale Le Sueur, that painter so prodigiously 
overrated that the simple-minded dictionaries of 
sixty years ago still referred to him as the 
" French Raphael," he never was in Italy at all; 
it seems that the substance of his art was almost 
all borrowed from the engravings of Marc 
Antonio, the Marco Dentes, the Agostino Vene- 
zianos, and, in spite of the dainty grace of his 
celebrated Muses, he is decidedly too weak for it 
to be possible to declare that he represents the 
true French school. Alone in their modest 
corner, not altogether despised, since they were 
all three members of the Academic de peinture 
in its earliest days, but without influence and 
relegated to a category of painting regarded as 
inferior, the mysterious brothers Le Nain, 
with their scenes of peasant life, awkward, 
without brilliance, and so movingly true, are 
French of the purest metal with no trace of 

The art of the carver and sculptor is more 


national in quality. The Italian gran gusto 
doubtless is rampant in it, especially in the 
decoration of churches and palaces ; but for one 
Francheville, a Fleming disguised as F^^ancavilla^ 
how many honest artists there were, touched 
with something of clumsiness, but also, in default 
of genius, endowed with a probity and respect 
for life that compel our esteem, men like Simon 
Guillain, like Warin and the anonymous authors 
of so many memorial statues that are life-like 
and convincing. 

Architecture, which will presently bring us 
to furniture, is highly prosperous and very mixed 
in character. After the critical wars of religion, 
great fortunes were built up or restored, the 
need for ease and comfort increased, and at the 
same time a feeling of greater security and 
stability. On the other hand, a marked renewal 
of Catholic piety was clearly manifested. The 
result was the construction of a great number of 
mansions in Paris and the towns throughout the 
kingdom, chateaux in all the provinces, convents 
and churches everywhere. 

Churches keep departing more and more, in 
their actual structure, no longer merely in 
decoration, from the pure gothic tradition. 
Saint Peter's at Rome and the Gesu were the 
models imitated throughout the whole of 
Christendom ; the architecture known as Jesuit^ 
Italian in origin, is as cosmopolitan as the order 
that gave it its name. A few churches, like 
Sainte-Marie of Nevers with its inconceivably 


complicated facade, even copied the Hispano- 
Flemish rendering of the trans-Alpine style. 

To set off against this, in the domain of lay 
architecture — not that of the royal palaces, but 
that of the hotels and the chateaux of the 
nobles, the members of the parliament and the 
financiers — the resistance to the Italian invasion 
remained strong and effective ; French good 
sense protested against the passive adoption of 
building methods appropriate to another climate 
and different habits. There wsls a great deal of 
building for private persons in the Paris of 
Henri IV, of Marie de Medici, of Louis XIII 
and Anne of Austria ; the Place Royale drew up 
its line of tricoloured hotels — slate, stone and 
brick, with their high-pitched roofs ; quantities 
of new homes rejuvenated the Marais ; the 
whole of the He Saint-Louis, the old He Notre- 
Dame, saw its bald meadows transformed into 
streets and quarters with ^' /ogts de qualite^^ 
such as the hotels Chenizot, Lambert de 
Thorigny, Lauzun ; there were whole new 
parishes to the north of the Tuileries, and west 
of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. . . . This first half 
of the seventeenth century was a period of 
extraordinary activity for architects, and 
Corneille can write almost without the least 
hyperbole : — 

Toiite une ville entilre avec pompe b&tte 
Semble d^un vteuxfossi par miracle sortie. 

This private architecture had the great merit 



of forming itself without deliberate preconception 
or pedantry on the needs and the tastes of a 
clientele that were perfectly aware of what they 
wanted, and imposed that on the artists they 
employed, however it might be at the expense 
of Vignole and Palladio.^ 

Now these people, although serious, pious and 
genuinely severe in manners taken as a whole, 
had a continually increasing taste for social life 
and intercourse. They were still rude, and 
physically hardened by war, the chase, and the 
rural life they led during a considerable part of 
the year. And so they were not very exacting 
with regard to comfort ; in a hotel of this period 
the part intended for private personal life was 
sacrificed; everything was for ''receiving," 
entertaining. It has often been said that the 
differentiation of special rooms (salon, dining hall, 
bedchamber, study, etc.) had not come into 
existence till the beginning of the eighteenth 
century. This is true on the whole ; but nearly 
a hundred years earlier certain very complete 
houses of refined appointments, such as the town 

I It is perhaps superfluous to say that the anecdote, so often 
repeated unchallenged since Tallemant des Reaux told it first, 
of the Marquise de Rambouillet turning architect herself and 
one fine evening, by sudden inspiration {Quick, faper ! I have 
found out the way io do what I wanted!) a new method of 
arranging suites of rooms, is nothing but legend. A legend too 
is the great novelty of her famous blue room ; one has only to 
read a few inventories of the period to know that there were 
rooms hung with blue long before that of the incomparable 
Arthenice. One has to be a school pedant to believe in this 
dominating importance, in the domain of social life and manners, 
of the people talked about in the manuals of literary history. 


house of president Tubeuf, already contained a 
winter dining-room and a summer dining- 

Sauval gives us, in the Antiquites de la ville 
de Paris, a detailed description of this fine H6tel 
Tubeuf, which was a completely typical example 
of the town house. It was built on the plan 
then in fashion ; a main building between the 
court and the garden, with two wings to right 
and left of the court, reaching to the street. 
The president's suite, on the ground floor, was 
sufficiently modest : it included a hall, a study, 
a chamber with an alcove and a small chamber ; 
then, still on the ground floor, there were the 
two dining-rooms we have just mentioned, the 
kitchen, the offices and other common apart- 
ments. On the " bel etage,^'' after ascending an 
immense staircase, you came to the far more 
spacious suite of Mme. la presidente : a ^* grande 
salle ^ with arched wooden roof, a state chamber 
with an alcove and a gallery, occupying all of 
one wing " ; the galerie was indispensable for all 
who prided themselves on '^ proprete,''^ as it was 
then called, that is to say, elegance. This was 
the entertaining suite. A second suite, much 
smaller and intimate, " so convenient," Sauval 
says, " that it is much more often occupied than 
the other, as being not so vast and more retired, 
while the first one seems only made for luxury 
and receiving," was composed of a vestibule, a 

I The word salon, borrowed from the Italian, was not to come 
into ordinary use until the last quarter of the century. 


chamber, a cabinet and a clothes-closet ; it was 
served by a small private staircase. 

The state suite was arranged '^ en enfilade^'* 
the doors, far larger than in the sixteenth century, 
opening with double leaves one over against the 
other, the windows, enormous, without mullions, 
allowed abundant light to enter through square 
glass panes of large size and almost perfectly- 
transparent. The ceilings, arched and sub- 
divided into compartments, were ornamented 
with paintings and high reliefs of painted and 
gilded stucco ; the walls were stretched with 
goffered leather, gilt and silvered, Flemish 
tapestries, and silk stuffs, or they were covered 
with painted wainscoting and gilt in panels made 
with large high mouldings ; the fireplaces, always 
monumental, made of stone and marble in the 
large rooms, often of wood in small rooms, as a 
rule had their overmantel adorned by a painting.* 
All this decoration was rich and pompous, heavy 
in its details ; sometimes quite the contrary, of 
the most sober severity; the fine and almost 
winged grace of the Renaissance was far away now. 

That, in its main lines, is the frame within 
which we must imagine the furniture of the 
Louis XIII style. A room thus decorated, even 
if unfurnished, never seemed void ; by way of 
furniture nothing was put into it beyond what 
was necessary, and that was very little. 

Let us take up our period from its earliest 
days. The entry of Henri IV into Paris after 
I Most frequently a portrait. 


his abjuration, and then the Edict of Nantes, put 
an end to the wars of religion, the '^ frenzies " of 
the Ligue, and the Spanish peril, which had 
dispersed and disorganised everything, threatened 
the very existence of France and thrown all the 
arts into a kind of stuporous sleep. The great 
reconstructor that the first of the Bourbons was 
in every department was most careful — though 
personally he was apparently without any taste 
in such matters — not to neglect these trivialities, 
as Sully called them grumblingly ; *' /adre vert " 
as he was, if we are to believe d'Aubigne, a 
"stingy fellow,'' he understood the value of 
sumptuary spendings and helped artists with his 
pennies at the same time as he encouraged to the 
best of his ability the industries of art. 

In 1608, by letters patent, which inflicted a 
serious blow upon the privileges of the guilds — 
whether for greater good or for harm to the in- 
dustries of art this is not the place to discuss — 
he granted certain privileged artists and crafts- 
men lodgings in the great gallery of the Louvre, 
by which means they escaped from ordinary 
jurisdiction, and consequently from the regu- 
lations of their trade guild. They had power to 
train apprentices, who became masters in their 
turn, " both in Paris and in the other towns of 
the realm, without being called upon to execute 
any masterpiece, to take letters, to present them- 
selves for mastership, to invite, when passed, the 
masters of the said towns, or give a feast for 
them or anything else whatever." There in the 



Louvre, on the ground floor of the gallery 
along the river, there were mathematicians, 
damaskeners, tapestry makers, embroiderers, 
painters, sculptors, and joiners also ; thus in the 
first list, that of 1608, there figures Laurent 
Stabre, *' joiner and carpenter in ebony, maker of 
cabinets to the King." 

This title is in itself of a w^hole revolution in 
luxury carpentering in France. We have in- 
dicated the increasingly marked taste at the end 
of the sixteenth century for furniture in v^hich 
the sober effects of reliefs broadly or delicately 
cut in solid walnut were replaced by the more 
showy and easier effects of a polychromy obtained 
by the juxtaposition of different materials. It 
was a foreign trick, ''German fashion," or 
"Genoa fashion," or "Spanish fashion." At 
the beginning of the new century it is all over ; 
all luxurious joiner's work, or nearly all, is 
ehenisterie ; the glorious and characteristically 
French tradition of the carvers in oak and walnut 
is in danger of dying out. Moderate furniture, 
if the phrase may be permitted, that belonging 
to the plain middle classes or to that part (the 
very great majority) of the nobility which 
cannot follow the fashions of the " great," still 
continues indeed to be made of massive home- 
grovni wood ; but when it is carved it is in a 
common-place fashion, with neither invention nor 
character ; the joiners confine themselves to 
clumsily copying Renaissance motives that had 
become mere stock common-places. 


Ebony was the triumphant material before the 
importation in large quantities of coloured woods 
from the two Americas. Hard and capable of 
a perfect polish, it is brittle and very prone to 
splitting and chapping ; it could not be used in 
large masses, and the supports of the seventeenth 
century cabinets are generally made of blackened 
pearwood. The technique of this funereal wood, 
as practised under Henri IV and Louis XHI, is 
half-way between that of solid wood and that of 
veneering. Upon a substructure of common 
wood, of vulgar deal even, were glued sheets of 
ebony of sufficient thickness — about eight 
millimetres — to allow of carving in very shallow 
bas-relief. These sheets formed compartments 
geometrically framed with those delicate wavy 
mouldings, invented, they say, by the German 
Hans Schwanhard, which had such a great vogue 
in the Low Countries. ^ Those surfaces which 
were not carved were often engraved with 
incised rincemix and flowers. As for the carvings, 
which were very flat, they were scenes of 
mythology or religious subjects, so complicated 
and of such heavy exuberance that they betray 
their Flemish origin, or the imitation, made in 
France, of Flemish models. This technique 
excludes aD curving surfaces ; and thus furniture 
made in this way — cabinets, and sometimes 

I On this subject we might remark that most of the paintings 
of the Dutch school were meant to be framed in ebony with 
waved mouldings, not in gilt wood carved in high relief; the 
way they have been framed for the last two centuries is a pure 


cupboards in two sections — necessarily are of a 
simple, square, massive structure. In spite 
of the gloomy aspect and uniformity of the 
material, these all-ebony cabinets are very 
sumptuously splendid. But the shimmer of the 
black polished surfaces too often kills the 
modelling; in this respect ebony is by far 
inferior to walnut. 

On other cabinets ivory was wedded to ebony, 
or else bone; these were ''German" cabinets, 
which does not mean that they were all made 
beyond the Rhine ; they were made also at 
Antwerp and in France itself, but it is a difficult 
matter to attribute with any certainty their 
proper origin to those that have survived, unless 
it is disclosed by an inscription, by a coat of 
arms, or by the dress of the persons represented 
in the decoration. 

France continued also to import from Flanders 
and from Spain (but in this case the Spanish and 
the Flemish styles intermingle so as to be com- 
pletely indistinguishable, which is not at all 
astonishing) those chaises a bras and a vertti- 
gadin fitted with leather fastened on to the 
wood with big decorative gilt or silvered nails, 
which we saw make their appearance under 
Henri III ; these also were copied among us, and, 
just as for the cabinets, it is difficult to establish 
the actual place where they were made. 
Generally speaking, howeve\ .^hen they are 
*' a piliers tors^'' with legs and uprights turned 
to a spiral, the spiral more drawn out and a 


softer profile in the turning indicate a Hispano- | 
Flemish origin. 

Thirty or forty years after the first in- 
stallation of artists in the galleries of the Louvre, 
this slightly humiliating subjection of the French 
furniture industry to that of the Low Countries 
still endures, for a certain Jean Mace or Masse, 
joiner in ebony and a native of Blois, receives his 
lodging- v^rarr ant in 1664 " on account of his long 
experience in that art acquired in the Low 
Countries and the proofs he hath given thereof 
by the examples of cabinet-making in ebony and 
other woods of divers colours which he presented 
to the Queen Regent." Note by the way these 
" woods of divers colours " ; we have come to the 
moment when Holland and Flanders are pro- 
ducing and exporting large quantities of those 
cupboards, bureaux, and tables (cabinets of this 
species are uncommon) on which flourish very 
full and overladen motives of flowers represented 
"to the life," in marquetry of wood inlaid on 
an ebony ground. In the interval there had 
worked for the king, as tnenuisiers-ebeniers^ a 
Van Opstal, an Ostermayer, an Equeman, whose 
names tell their origin sufficiently clearly. 

As for Italy (although the second wife of Henri 
IV, the regent during the minority of Louis XIII, 
was an Italian), the productions of that country 
had less vogue than those of the Low Countries, 
and it is incontestable that the whole of French 

I The word cbcnistc was not to be accepted finally until the 
end of the seventeenth century. 



decorative art is much more Flemish than ItaHan 
down to about 1645. At the same time, alongside 
cabinets of Flemish origin or in the Flemish style, 
the inventories do not fail fairly frequently to 
note others that are "of lapis and agate," in 
other words, imported from Florence, or ^^ filetes 
d^ argent a la mode d' Italie " ; but they are 
the exception. Similarly, beginning from the 
moment when the influence of Mazarin in such 
things was established over Richelieu — who had, 
it is said, entrusted him with his purchases of 
works of art of every kind — and then over Anne 
of Austria and thence over the whole court, there 
was no sudden change in the fashion, but the 
ratio between Flemish and Italian furniture was 
gradually reversed. 

We have very little knowledge of the artistic 
riches brought together by Richelieu in his 
Palais-Cardinal — the Palais-Royal of to-day — 
and in his immense Chateau de Richelieu ; they 
were doubtless very similar to those which, a few 
years later, Mazarin was to accumulate with all the 
passion of a collector. The inventory of Mazarin's 
furniture and possessions has been preserved ; it is 
a prodigious accumulation, overwhelming almost, 
of furniture, goldsmith's work, jewels and price- 
less fabrics. It will never be surpassed in magnifi- 
cence except by the furniture of the Crown under 
Louis XIV; and the latter will surpass it infi- 
nitely in artistic value, for it seems that Mazarin 
loved above everything richness of material and 
a luxury that was more showy than refined. 


He possessed more than twenty cabinets with 
niches, statuettes, busts, balustrades, pilasters, 
pillars, terminals, bas-reliefs, on which were 
brought together every imaginable kind of 
precious material, from gilt brass to mother-of- 
pearl, from cornelian to lapis lazuli, from ebony 
to tortoiseshell, from ivory to silver, from 
tableaux de inignature to mosaics of precious 
stones. Here is a description of one : " A cabinet 
of ebony, of the Ionic order, adorned with six 
pilasters of lapis with fillets and capitals of gilt 
brass, in the base of which there are three 
pictures in miniature representing three parts of 
the world. In the first stage there are two niches 
with two figures of gilt brass, one representing 
Force and the other Temperance, and in the 
middle a picture in miniature in which is 
depicted Rome triumphant ; the upper stage is 
composed of three pictures similarly in miniature 
representing three Roman legends, the said stage 
being ornamented with two satyrs in gilt brass, 
carrying on their heads baskets of fruit, and 
serving as pilasters. The pediment, adorned with 
two large cartouches and cornice of ebony with 
lapis lazuli inlay, between which is painted a 
miniature dial, in the middle of which is a Venus 
holding a heart in her right hand, and before 
her is a Cupid. The whole outlined in gilt 
brass, and all the said pictures surrounded with 
a small festoon also of gilt brass." Ebony, lapis, 
and gilt brass ; that must have made a harmony, 
or rather a dissonance of unparalleled crudeness. 


Another of Mazarin's cabinets was decorated 
with niches containing ebony vases holding silver 
bouquets, and by lapis pillars with silver bases 
and capitals ; the doors and the fronts of the 
innumerable drawers we.^^ covered with cor- 
nelians, agates, jaspers set in silver ; elsewhere 
silver inlay outlined cartouches and rinceaux. 
Another had its facade overladen with garlands, 
fruits, flowers, pots a bouquets , pictures of 
flowers and birds, all inlaid with stone, lapis, 
cornelian, chalcedony, jasper and yellow marble. 

Among these bedizened monuments some 
most certainly came from the workshops of 
Tuscany ; others had been executed in Paris by 
Italian lapidaries suborned at immense cost by 
the minister, whom Louis XIV was later to take 
into his own service, and whose names have been 
preserved ; these were the brothers Ferdinando 
and Orazio MigHorini, Luigi Giacetti, Branchi 
and others. The carving and chasing were 
carried out by Domenico Cucci and Filippo 
Caffieri, the founder of the illustrious dynasty 
that was to become so completely French. 

Nearly all the stipi of this period — to give 
them their Italian name — ^were destroyed after 
the end of the seventeenth century, so contrary 
were they to French taste ; there is one, how- 
ever, in the Cluny Museum which will give an 
idea of the kind of thing they were. It is 
shapeless and of extraordinary ugliness. 

Many also, in the Mazarin collection, were the 
tables of stone mosaic or pierres de Florence^ 


real mineralogical pictures on a black ground of 
touch. Upon one, shields with ciphers ; on 
another, " trophies of Turkish weapons " ; a third 
was over-flourished largely with flowery rmceaux ; 
on it there might be seen '' an oval, from all 
four sides of which spring bouquets of divers 
kinds of flowers, foliage and fruits, with sundry 
butterflies and birds on the branches, filling the 
ground of the said table, and in the midst of the 
said oval a basket of flowers, all the said flowers, 
fruits, foliage, branches, birds, oval and basket 
being of divers stone inlay, to wit, cornelian, 
chalcedony and lapis." 

The frieze and legs of these tables began to 
be generally made of gilt wood, in spite of the 
formal prohibition of this issued from time to 
time by the king ; we know that the usual and 
characteristic fate of sumptuary laws is never to 
be enforced. 

Anne of Austria's favourite was in other 
respects, in spite of his very natural taste for the 
things of his own country, an eclectic ; he no 
more scorned the furniture of the Low Countries 
than his compatriots hesitated to have their 
portraits painted by a Flemish artist. He had 
enticed from Holland a cabinet-maker called 
Pierre Golle, and from him he ordered cabinets 
that were perhaps a little more sober, but still 
quite sufficiently garish ; one was of ebony 
^'profile aetain^^^ which means that the surfaces 
were divided into compartments outlined with 
inlaid tin filleting; it displayed the inevitable 


niches flanked by small marble pillars with 
capitals of gilt bronze and inhabited by alle- 
gorical statuettes ; the support was composed 
of twelve gilt terminals displaying the signs of 
the zodiac. Another was ornamented with 
" squares, lozenges, triangles and ovals of tortoise- 
shell " outlined in waved mouldings. Here we 
see the principal elements — tortoiseshell, tin and 
gilt bronzes on an ebony ground — of the art 
with which the name of Andre Boulle has become 
inseparably joined, but which was not invented 
by Boulle. 

To finish with the Mazarin furniture, which is 
of the highest historical importance, let us take 
at random the description of a bed. These are 
only stuffs now, the wooden parts are completely 
clad over, the curtains, cantonnieres* pentes* 
and soubassements ^ are crimson velvet em- 
broidered with silver flowers, alternating in 
stripes with silver cloth embroidered with gold 
flowers, the whole lined with crimson taffeta and 
edged with a gold and silver fringe ; sheaths of 
cloth of silver surround the bed posts, which 
terminate at the top with vases covered with 
crimson taffeta and each containing a bouquet of 
solid silver flowers. 

This furniture is unique in its own day for 
richness, but it is not exceptional in style. 
Fouquet's furniture (and he could almost rival 
Mazarin in taste for splendour as in the squander- 
ing of public wealth) is completely similar, though 
the Surintendant des Finances seems to have been 


rather more refined in taste than the minister ; 
and many other inventories are available to prove 
that all the most super-luxurious and costly 
furniture, down to 1660 or 1670, had the same 

What was there really French in all this ? 
Nothing, or hardly anything. The wholesome 
and honest tradition of France, which would 
fain have the beauty of a piece of furniture, like 
that of a building, depend first and foremost on 
the frank expression of the use it was meant 
for, on the method of construction and the 
qualities of the material, that tradition is broken. 
The part of the Louis XIV period is gradually 
to restore it. 

But it was in princely furniture that the 
tradition was lost. It was happily diflferent with 
less costly pieces. 

The chronology relating to those of the latter 
that can be called Louis XIII in style is almost 
impossible to ascertain. Let us say simply that 
the oldest may have been made under Henri IV ; 
as for the most recent, in certain regions they 
come down at latest to the end of the eighteenth 
century. One of the most constant and best 
known characteristics of this style is the use of 
turning, and especially of spiral turning. Now, 
if beds and tables " ci piliers tors " had been 
made from the end of the sixteenth century, 
on the other hand, at Paris to the end of the 
seventeenth, and still later in the provinces, 
nearly all the seats and the tables in ordinary 


sets of furniture still had their legs turned in 
this fashion, and a goodly number among the 
royal furniture itself. Let us take two examples, 
the first that come to hand. The billiard table 
of Louis XIV, about 1700,^ had baluster legs, 
joined by spiral cross pieces ; the portrait by 
Ferdinand Elle^ of Mme. de Maintenon with 
her youthful niece Frangoise d'Aubigne shows 
us the foundress of Saint-Cyr sitting, about the 
same date, in a large gilt arm-chair, "very 
Louis XIV " in its back and arms, but with 
spiral turned legs. 

Carving on furniture is in a style that is no 
other than that of the Renaissance in its decline, 
but overloaded and so to say vulgarized ; it has 
something heavy, borrowed, unoriginal, that 
makes us regret the light grace, the delicacy in 
the harmonies, the Attic rightness of the 
proportions, and also the fancy, that indescribable 
touch of fineness, sprightliness and happy 
invention and improvisation, that enchants us in 
the best productions of the preceding age. This 
style is akin to that of opulent Flanders, but 
without falling into the flabby turgidness which 
is unendurably found in the decorative parts of 
the cartoons executed by Rubens' studio for 
Phillip IV, now in the Louvre, the Iriumph of 

1 See Trouvain's engraving. 

2 At Veraailles. In her celebrated portrait by Mignard (in 
the Louvre) Mme. de Maintenon is seated on a chair the back of 
which, the only part visible, with its fringed velvet surrounding 
the uprights, and its turned brass vases, is in the pure Louis XIII 
style. Now the portrait was painted somewhere about 1690. 


Religion and the Prophet Elijah, The architect 
Blondel seems to us to have given an excellent 
definition of the Louis XIII decorative art when 
he noted in Jean Le Paultre (who engraved his 
plates of architecture and ornaments about the 
middle of the seventeenth century) " that air of 
heaviness ... in which we nevertheless remark 
a masculine, firm and well sustained expression." 
What are the principal motives ? The period 
invented hardly any at all. Here is the plume,' 
everywhere repeated ad nauseam^ and a whole 
gamut of motives half-way between the plume 
and the acanthus leaf ^ ; the acanthus leaf, which 
is retailed, so to speak, by the fathom as a 
running ornament,^ or shapes itself into consoles 
modilHonSj^ the feet of pieces of furniture ^ ; 
running rinceaux^\ entrelacs enclosing in their 
loops rosettes or half rosettes, and employed as 
running 7 motives or to decorate a rectangular 
panel ^; the winged cherub's head^; the flower 
vase, the she]l,^° the oval or miroir^^ the eagle's 
talon clutching a ball, called pied aaiglon,^^ 

1 Figs. 36, 39, 41, 43- 

2 Figs. 37 and 38. 

3 Fig. 37. 

4 Figs. 35—38, 41. 

5 Fig. 34. 

6 Fig. 35. 

7 Fig. 74. 

8 Fig. 36. 

9 Figs. 34 and 36. 

10 Fig. 36. Observe the interesting awkwardness with which 
a rustic joiner has interpreted in his own way the Renaissance 
motives on this cupboard in two sections from the Dordogne 

11 Fig. 34. 

12 Fig. 38. 


eagle's foot, which serves as a foot to certain 
cupboards. None of all these are novelties. 
We may add the eagle with outspread wings, the 
garland or festoon of flowers and fruits, at this 
time compact, thick, and made up of vegetable 
elements treated in a sufficiently realistic fashion ; 
drapery arranged in festoons or swags ; crossed 
palms ; gadroons, etc. 

The great majority of Louis XIII furniture, 
of the kind with which we are concerned, was 
decorated not with carving but with turnery; 
never was this method of working wood, which 
is quick, easy, and highly effective with little 
trouble, more in use. Not merely were the legs 
and stretchers of tables ^ turned, the feet of 
coffers and cabinets,^ and all parts of chairs,^ but 
also corner columns, purely ornamental, for cup- 
boards ^ ; similar columns, either entire ^ or split 
down the middle,^ were glued on the central 
upright,^ whether true or false, of large cup- 
boards with two doors. The most rudimentary 
form of turning was called en chapelet^ \ the 
most frequent was spiral, sometimes plain,'' and 
sometimes embellished with a fillet in the bottom 
of the groove.^° A spiral cross-bar was often in- 

1 Figs. 53—62. 

2 Figs. 31, 32, 39. 

3 Figs. 63—78. 

4 Figs. 37, 38, 40, etc. 

5 Fig. 51. 

6 Fig. 50. 

7 The partie dormantc. 

8 Figs. 31, 62, 63, etc. 

9 Figs. 37, 38, etc. 
10 Figs. 40, 44, etc. 


terrupted in the middle by a certain length of 
plain circular turning.^ The legs of many tables 
from Burgundy are composed, in a rather curious 
fashion, of two parts, one spiral and the other 
singularly like the air-cooled radiator of a 
Hotchkiss gun.^ Small cupboards of finished 
workmanship may have twisted columns with 
ends carved with a kind of tuft of leaves or a 
tulip. ^ A more refined form of turnery, and one 
that may be really a work of art, because the 
outhnes are capable of infinite variety, according 
to the fancy of the craftsman, is turning en 
balnstre,^ It lasted longer than the piliers 
tors^ and most of the tables in which it appears 
are of the Louis XIV period; but the regal 
balusters in the shape of a carafe which serve 
as supports to the buffet or cabinet, reproduced 
in Fig. 39, are highly characteristic of the 
Louis XIII period. 

The legs of tables and seats were turned out 
of pieces of wood square in section, and this 
square form was left intact in places where the 
maximum strength was necessary, and so the 
greatest possible amount of the material was to 
be preserved, that is to say, at the joining points 
(by tenon and mortise) of the frieze or the 
cross-bars of the stretcher ; and as almost always 
happens, out of this technical necessity there was 
evolved a very happy shape.^ These prismatic 

1 Figs. 53, 65. 

2 Fig. 55. 

3 Fig. 37 

4 Figs. 32, 58, 59. etc. 


parts are much pleasanter to the eye when the 
turner was satisfied with chamfering off the angles 
and left the faces plain than when he fancied he 
must embellish them with a kind of rosace carved 
into the wood. 

Ornamental pieces were also made by turning, 
such as those pommeSy vases, or toupics that 
decorated either the middle of the longitudinal 
cross-piece of an H -shaped stretcher, or the point 
of intersection of the two bars of an X-shaped 
stretcher * ; such again as the little square panels 
with concentric mouldings that decorate the 
doors of certain cupboards.^ 

Symmetry — and we know to what extent the 
seventeenth century was enamoured of it — 
demanded that pairs of twisted pillars flanking 
the fagade of an armoire, and the legs of a table, 
taken in pairs, should have their spirals turning 
in opposite directions. This arrangement is 
nevertheless rare, and is only found on pieces 
of very refined workmanship.-* Almost always 
the spirals turn from left to right, like a bind- 
weed stem ; really a matter of the turner's 

Mouldings have very close kinship with turnery, 
or rather the work of the lathe is merely a com- 
bination of circular mouldings ; the play of light 

1 Figs. 53, 69, etc. 

2 Figs. 54, 59 

3 This motive is common on Breton panelled furniture, much 
less common elsewhere. It had been occasionally used ever 
since the sixteenth century. 

4 Figs. 37 and 38. See also the sofa, Fig. 75. 


and shade is the same on a turned column as on 
a moulded upright, and hence the perfect unity 
of a cupboard on which these two elements of 
woodworking are combined. Louis XIII and 
Louis XIV moulding — for it is all one and the 
same thing — is less fine, but more ample, more 
strongly expressed and much more developed 
than that of the Renaissance ; certain seventeenth 
century pieces of furniture, and not the least 
handsome, have only mouldings as their sole 
decorations. It was then that cupboards were 
crowned with those noble cornices, complicated, 
overflowing, on which the horizontal lines were 
multiplied to infinity, cornices matched below 
with bases symmetrical with them and almost as 
strongly projecting ; the light seems to stream 
and pour over them with shimmering ripples 
like a sheet of water over the steps of a garden 
cascade in the French style. Other mouldings 
in large numbers enframe the doors, the drawers ; 
others strongly mark the general divisions of 
the whole piece and the subdivisions of its 

It is not uncommon for the decoration of 
somewhat narrow surfaces to be entrusted to 
moulding designs hollowed in the wood, as, for 
instance, to the right and the left of the doors 
of the pretty cupboard in two parts seen in 
Fig. 42. These vertical mouldings very happily 
clothe the bareness of the neutral parts of the 
facade, while redeeming the width of the drawers. 
I See in particular Figs. 48 and 49-51. 



Sometimes the drawers have their front entirely 
covered with horizontal mouldings.^ 

But the following are the two most usual 
ways in which the surfaces were embellished in 
these pieces, which are the triumph of pure 
joiner's work. Sometimes they were covered 
almost all over with a very wide enframement 
made up of bevels and mouldings, Hke the frames 
of the mirrors of the period, which only leaves 
plain, in the middle, a small projecting plateau, 
rectangular ^ or with a quarter circle hollowed out 
of the corners ^ ; sometimes the doors of cupboards, 
their lateral faces, the fagades of table drawers,'* 
are subdivided into several surfaces of geometrical 
outline. In the simplest types, which are also 
the oldest,^ each door of a cupboard is divided 
up into four small panels by means of an upright 
and a traverse crossing it, which enclose them; 
otherwise it is a lozenge cut in the soHd wood 
and accompanied by four small triangles. It is 
this last combination, or that made up of tri- 
angles grouped in fours, and separated by a St. 
Andrew's cross, which is used to decorate the 
sides of cupboards. 

Suppose the bevels of one of these lozenges to 
be indefinitely increased at the expense of the 
projecting central table-ground. It will then 
go through the intermediate stage displayed on 

1 Figs. 39, 43, 54. 

2 Figs. 35, 39, 44, upper section ; 48, the little panels to right 
and left of the door. 

3 Fig. 38. 

4 Fig. 56. 

5 Figs. 32 and 33. 


each of its doors by the cupboard of Fig. 42 ; 
then in the end the Httle central lozenge would 
be reduced to a point, and we should have a 
low pyramid with quadrangular base ; this is the 
pointe de diamante or diamond point. In the 
sixteenth century and the beginning of the 
seventeenth, when brilliant-cutting was invented, 
pointe naive was the phrase for a diamond 
naturally crystallised in the shape of a regular 
octahedron — two square-based pyramids set base 
to base. There are also natural diamond crystals 
whose shape is a pyramided CMht, that is to say, a 
cube each face of which carries a low pyramid ; 
this is precisely the " diamond-point " of our 
cupboards properly so-called. Four small tri- 
angular pyramids flank the lozenge pyramid ; the 
whole is cut into a slab of thick wood. 

There is the starting point. Soon this faceted 
motive was diversified and complicated at the 
same time. Here is a cupboard^ with four 
guichets on which the lozenge is subdivided 
into four triangles ; altogether the square panel 
carries eight equal triangular pyramids, or twenty- 
four facets turned in eight different directions, 
thus having eight different light-values ; the 
effect is exceedingly happy. Here again is 
another whose facade perhaps goes wrong for lack 
of simplicity. Two of the panels have triangular 
pyramids ; but the slopes of these are concave, 
which makes the play of Hght more delicate. 

1 Figs. 45, 50, 51, in the lower part of the doors. 

2 Fig. 43. The same motive, in thi^ instance elongated, is 
found on the door of the cupboard in Fig. 47, 


The square panel of the middle has in its centre 
a tiniest square pyramid surrounded hy four L- 
shaped motives, which are fairly frequent ; they 
often enframe a narrow rectangular panel. We 
also meet with a lozenge elongated vertically 
and flanked by six triangles, the whole being 
outlined by two St. Andrew's crosses . . . and 
many other combinations as well. 

One of the most usual and most agreeable is 
a kind of star,^ on a square panel, made of eight 
grooves marking off eight pyramids, four of which 
have triangular bases ; the other four have an 
irregular quadrilateral for base ^ ; all the apexes 
are turned towards the centre, which is marked 
by a round button. Here there are twenty-eight 
facets and twelve different orientations. This 
arrangement is called pointes de gateau; the 
expression conveys a picture, and indeed the whole 
effect is not altogether unlike a square tart cut 
into eight sections. An additional refinement 
was to replace the triangles by a species of arrow 
heads ^ ; taken in fours they form a cross of the 
order of the Saint-Esprit. 

If the bevels of an elongated rectangular panel 
are increased, they will come together and in that 
case result in a solid mass known as a tas de 
sable or sand heap. It is not an uncommon 
motive among these faceted decorations, 
and we see it in the middle of each door of the 
monumental armoire shown in Fig. 51. 

1 Figs. 40 and 44. 

2 A rhomboid, to give it its proper name. 

3 Fig. 51. 


The furniture with diamond point ornament 
of which we have spoken up to the present was 
made by Gascon joiners ; nowhere else was this 
motive so high in favour, employed in such 
perfection, or so long in going out of fashion as 
in Gascony and in Guienne. It was largely used 
in Burgundy as well, but in a different spirit. 
Sobriety, clear-cutness, purity of lines, were 
never qualities of the Burgundian style. There ^ 
pyramids on lozenge and triangular bases were 
too often used as a surcharge, so to speak, upon 
rectangular panels with hollowed corners, giving 
a certain clumsiness of effect, and later, well into 
the eighteenth century, even on those panels 
with curved outlines belonging to the Louis XV 
style, which was indeed one of the worst errors 
in taste that a craftsman could commit. It made 
it necessary to curve the sides of the pyramid, 
and so to destroy its characteristic trenchant 
firmness, which one may not specially like, but 
which is the foundation for the quite special, 
slightly harsh, flavour of this style. 

Great horizontal cornices, parallel mouldings 
regular spirals, triangles and polyhedra, a frequent 
total absence of curved lines, sharp arrises, angles 
of every opening ; all this is precise, geometrical, 
abstract, intentional, strict and severe in correct- 
ness, without fancifulness, and therefore in 
harmony with the general spirit of the period of 
Descartes, of the Arnaulds, of Nicole, of Poussin, 
of Philippe de Champaigne. 

I Figs. 47 aud 49. 


it In 

the seventeenth century the decay of the 

coffer still progresses. It is still indeed, in 

modest homes, the essential and often even the 

I only piece of furniture ; but it is ceasing to be a 

I thing of elegance — except of course the marriage 

coffer (or corbez7/e), small, highly decorated, 

i very refined, on which a Boulle will not disdain 

j to lavish all the resources of his art. As with 

; other pieces of furniture, the fashion under 

I Louis XIII is to conceal coffers under stuffs; for 

• this express purpose there were made tapts ci 

\ pentes, that is to say, with four pieces each 

! prolonging the side of a rectangle ; these pieces 

hung down to the ground and came together 

I exactly at the corners, or they were often even 

[ buttoned edge to edge. Sometimes a garniture 

of stuff or tapestry was nailed upon a coffer of 

plain wood. Thus, in the house of Marie Cresse, 

wife of Jean Poquelin, the king's tapissier^ and 

mother of Moli^re, "a large square coffer hahiit^ 

with lock and key, covered with needlework 

tapestry, with flowers, with its frame and legs in 

walnut." But most frequently these bahuts, 

which continued to serve as trunks upon occasion, 

were clad in red or black leather and covered 

with gilt-headed nails forming decorative designs. 

I That is to say, with flat lid and not arched as was the bahut 
properly so-called. 


Large or small, coffers were, even more usually 
than in the preceding century, placed as we have 
just seen upon frames with four legs or on real 
tables made for the purpose and fitted with 
drawers,^ or again on a kind of special trestle; 
we find in an inventory of 1654, "a large coffre 
a bahut covered with black leather with nails, 
sitting upon two little walnut seats." 

In the meantime the coffer resting on the 
ground and capable of being used as a seat was 
still in existence, especially in antechambers, and 
that even in the king's household. Mme. de 
Montpensier relates in her Memoirs how at 
Fontainebleau Turenne came one morning to 
pay his court to her as she was about to " take 
her chemise "... and had " to wait half an 
hour in the antechamber sitting on the coffers." 
That is a consecrated phrase that shows that 
such a way of being seated was still customary. 
But coffers were very speedily to come to seem 
very old-fashioned among the great folk. 

The cabinet, on the contrary, was now at the 
height of favour, it was the last word in elegant 
furniture. It was a point of honour to possess 
one of the finest taste, just as it was to have a 
handsome state bed. They were brought, as we 
have seen, at great expense from Germany, the 
Low Countries, or Italy ; there are some to be 
found of every size, from the little coffer of 
embroidered velvet placed on the corner of a 
table to the monumental piece held up by twelve 
I Fig, 31. 


terminals ; of every material from engraved 
mother of pearl and gilt repousse iron to ebony, 
tortoise-shell, ivory, v^ith fine stones set in silver 
gilt. Some are of unheard-of richness, and 
others, among the middle classes of moderate 
wealth, quite plainly made of walnut. These 
last are very like buffets, and to speak correctly, 
the word " cabinet " in the seventeenth century, 
especially in the provinces, denotes not costly 
pieces filled with small drawers, but buffets or 
even real cupboards. 

The cabinet or buffet from Guyenne, repro- 
duced in Fig. 39, is a very typical example, with 
its big turned carafe-balusters for supports, its 
two guichets with bevelled high projecting panel, 
its sober decoration of upright plumes, its hinges, 
keyhole plates, and drawer handles still very 
small. As the style evolved, these metal fittings 
gradually become larger, especially the hinges 
on pins, and assumed a decorative value ; the 
handles ^ and the buttons on rosettes ^ cut out of 
sheet-iron were to give place to flattened ^ or 
gadrooned^ knobs and to drop handles, often 
made of two dolphins ^ set face to face ; the key- 
hole plates took what was to remain the tra- 
ditional shape down to the period of Louis XVI, 
a winged dragon more or less recognisable.^ 

These details — on the supposition that the 

1 Figs. 36 and 39. 

2 Fig. 38. 

3 Figs. 40 and 44, 

4 Fig. 45. 

5 Fig. 48. 

6 Figs. 44, 46, 48, etc. 


metal fittings have not been changed from the 
original ones — are still the least uncertain data 
for fixing the date of pieces belonging to this 
style, a date that in any case is very much an 
approximation only. 

But it was above all the cupboard that \y 
triumphed among middle-class furniture in the j 
seventeenth century. There is, so to say, neither * 
shape, nor arrangement, nor size of cupboard ij 
that is not found in the Louis XIII style. // 

Now that life had become more stable, and 
that seats were to be found everywhere, the 
cupboard dethroned the coffer, and took its place 
as the fundamental and essential piece of furni- 
ture. It served, in divers shapes, as refuge for 
all that one possessed and that was worth locking 
up : clothes, linen, plate, silver, for books 
among the lettered, for tools among workers ; in 
the kitchen it served as a buffet . . . indeed, was 
there anything it did not serve for ? 

Its varieties are legion. To begin with the 
most ancient types, there was the square cup- 
board with four doors, with small flat panels, 
monastic in its simplicity. Modest in its 
dimensions, it sometimes squats on a frame with 
four turned legs, Hke a coffer^ ; if larger it rests 
on flattened balls.^ It looks like a mural cup- 

1 Fig. 32. 

2 Fig. 33. This one has a cornice that is too small (less 
projecting than the base) for it not to have originally been 
crowned with a pediment Nearly all these pediments, which 
were fixed and fragile, have disappeared or been replaced. 
When the cornice projects boldly (Figs. 35, 40, 44, etc.), it forms 
a sufficient crown and there never has been a pediment. 


board (one built-in) that has been detached from 
the wall. 

Then we have a shape recalling the Renaissance 
by its restricted dimensions and the setting back 
of its upper story, the small cupboard in two 
parts with two doors, often delightful for its fine 
proportions, the delicacy of its decoration made 
up of mouldings j turning, and pierced iron fittings. 
We give two good examples of this type. The 
first ^ of these, with two superimposed drawers, 
is remarkable because it is complete and com- 
pletely untouched by the restorer — a very rare 
combination ; it has preserved its graceful pedi- 
ment with the little platform for a statuette or 
turned vase ; the carving on it is far from 
commonplace, with its curious rendering of the 
plume and the acanthus leaf ; the pillars are 
very pretty. The second ^ has unfortunately lost 
its pediment; its eagle's talons are of excellent 

Next comes the tall narrow cupboard, with 
two doors and two parts duplicating one another, 
or at any rate of the same width, and separated 
by a drawer ; we reproduce two specimens — 
one^ with diamond points, or more strictly 
pointes de gateau ^ corner columns and a hand- 
some boldly projecting cornice ; the other ^ com- 
pletely covered with carvings, pretty naive in 
execution, made in the south-west of France 

1 Fig. 37. 

2 Fig. 38. 

3 Fig. 40. 

4 Fis- 41- 


but slightly Flemish in aspect — which are a very 
harmonious pair. 

More squat in shape, the cupboard of Fig. 42 
is full of character ; we have indicated above the 
interesting use the joiner made of mouldings to 
decorate its surfaces. The pediment (except the 
turned vases) is old and curious, with its two 
great palms or ostrich feathers carved in the 
thickness of the walnut planking. Note the 
asymmetry of the drawers ; only the one on 
the right shuts with lock and key, but a kind of 
inside wooden bolt, that can only be worked on 
pulling out this first drawer, allows the one on 
the left to be fastened. This economy of one 
lock displays a rather pleasing rusticity ; it is far 
from uncommon. The ball feet of this pretty 
cupboard are relatively small, very slightly 
flattened, and disengaged ; which is an almost 
certain proof that the date of its making is much 
earlier than that of the cupboards with highly 
developed feet, very flattened, shaped like rather 
ugly cushions,^ which seem intended to spare 
the sharp and delicate corners of the base from 
a knock with a broom, a chair-leg, or perhaps a 
man's boot. 

Among the cupboards in two parts with four 
doors, more advanced in style than those with 
sixteen small panels, of which we spoke at the 
beginning of this chapter, some continue to have 
the two parts equal in width, which gives them 
a heavy square-shouldered air that is, at the first 
I Fig. 48, and especially Figs. 44 and 49. 


glance, by no means agreeable. Such cupboards 
were made practically everywhere, in Normandy, 
in Auvergne, in the south-west, but chiefly in 
the east, in Burgundy, Bresse, Franche-Comte, 
and more especially in the county of Mont- 
beliard. The Montbeliard cupboards, which the 
present-day jargon of the dealers calls armoires 
trotestantes^ "Protestant cupboards," doubtless 
because there are many Lutherans in this region, 
are very curious.^ They are composed of two 
superimposed sections, separated by two drawers, 
and flanked or not flanked by spiral pillars ; the 
panels are most frequently a table saillante 2LndL 
the sides equipped with four large iron drop 
handles, as though they were really two separate 
pieces of furniture, two coffers with doors set 
one on top of the other and made for frequent 
journeyings. The carving on these is heavy and 
thick, especially on the pediments, which are 
composed of big rinceaux in open-work, and 
more Teutonic than French in manner ; in fact, 
the Germanic influence was for a long time 
much stronger in this country than the French 
influence, for the county of Montbeliard was a 
part of the Empire and under the Duchy of 
Wurtemburg before 1792. The cupboard we 
have chosen for reproduction Ms of a somewhat 
uncommon elegance, thanks to its pretty cornice 
and the rinceaux of a certain fineness carved 
upon it. 
The Gascon type in this category of cupboards 
I Fig. 35. 


uniform in width is sometimes less squat in 
shape, because they are provided below with a 
large drawer that forms a soubassement. 

But the greatest number of the Louis XIII 
cupboards in two parts have the upper part 
narrower than the lower, the difference being 
greatest in the oldest examples. Certain very- 
wide pieces, for instance, the cupboard with such 
amusingly naive carvings reproduced in Fig. 36, 
have a middle part with three drawers, and a 
neutral piece, between the doors, of excessive 
size, which makes them far from convenient. 
The cupboard in question looks mean at the 
top, as though beheaded ; it should have a 
pediment. There are slenderer ones whose doors 
hinge on narrow uprights, and which have only 
a small square- fronted layette coulisse between 
two drawers,^ or else two drawers only ; others 
have two pull-out shelves as well. And lastly, 
the most elaborate and complicated have four 
drawers, like the monumental piece shown in 
Fig. 44, so tall that it is impossible to reach the 
top shelves of the upper part without standing 
on a stool. 

We have lost the habit of cupboards in two 
parts, and that is why to-day they are generally 
regarded, and used, as buffets ; and indeed they 
serve very well in that guise. The narrow cup- 
board with only one door was also known, as we 
see by the one shown in Fig. 45. Gascon in 
origin, typical with its soubassement fitted with 
I Fig. 43. 


a drawer and its large and very austere diamond 
points. The one shown in the next figure, with- 
out a drawer and larger in its proportions, is 
more complicated in decoration but has less 
mouldings ; the flat enframement of the door, 
contrasted with the mouldings on the body of 
the piece, gives it a quite different character 
from that of the cupboards in Figs. 45, 47 and 
48 ; it was certainly made in Brittany. The 
Burgundian cupboard of Fig. 47 is, so to say, 
chopped up to the last degree, and offers not a 
single plane surface, no rest for the eye ; in that 
it is very much of its native land. The one 
that follows (Fig. 48) is from Bordeaux, and has 
a most elaborate fa9ade, highly tormented in its 
composition ; the narrowness of the door is note- 
worthy. It is made of handsome light-coloured 
walnut with what is a somewhat uncommon 
feature, some of its mouldings enamelled in black. 
The cornice is an imposing thing. 

And lastly, the largest and most majestical are 
those with two doors shutting, either one upon 
the other with a false neutral portion,^ or on 
a fixed upright.^ We give illustrations of two 
from Gascony and one from Burgundy ; and here 
again the style of the latter appears confused 
and overloaded when compared with the fine clear 
definiteness of the others, especially of the one 
in Fig. 51, whose main lines, as well as the 
composition of the panels, are beyond reproach. 

1 Fig. 51. ' — ^ 

2 Fig. 50. 


The large drawers below are a veritable certificate 
of origin. 

The subdivision of the doors of large cup- 
boards into three panels by means of traverses — 
division into two panels also was to be known — 
was to become classic in subsequent periods. It 
was by no means a decorative fancy, but a 
necessity if those great doors were to be sub- 
stantial, and especially to keep their shape. 

If we examine attentively these two cupboards, 
with twist pillars, we will perceive the two ways ^^^^^^^^^^ 
in which these pillars were used. Sometimes 
a rectangular section was cut out of them all 
along their length, and they were glued on the 
arrises which fitted into the gap thus left in 
them ^ ; sometimes they were left intact and 
fastened at top and bottom, but disengaged, 
standing in a place prepared for them by cutting 
away the upright for the purpose.^ 

We have said that cupboards in two parts 
served from the very beginning, and still serve, 
as buffets, either intact or reduced to the con- 
dition of under-cupboards {bas d''armoires) by 
the disappearance of the upper part. Then, 
from the end of the seventeenth century, under- 
cupboards in the Louis XIII style were made 
by themselves, and lastly, at an undetermined 
period, they sometimes had placed upon them 
vaisseliers or dressers with two or three shelves, 

1 Fig. 50. 

2 Fig. 51, also Figs. 37, 38, 40 and 44. This last method is 
much to be preferred. 


surmounted by a moulded cornice.^ Let us add, 
for the sake of completeness, that in the pro- 
vinces, where the diamond point long remained 
in favour, we find armoires d'encoignure, later 
called encoigntires^ or corner cupboards, of tri- 
angular plan, dating from the eighteenth century. 

Tables of the Louis XIII style that while 
simple are yet slightly ornamented, can hardly 
have been made before the second half of the 
seventeenth century, since the fashion up to that 
time was to have them hidden, during meals 
with tablecloths, at other times with tapestries 
that covered them down to the ground.^ Those 
that really belong to the Louis XIII period — 
and there are practically none now surviving — 
have turned legs shaped like swollen pillars, all 
plain, and carried on a rectangular frame with 
stout cross-bars, on which the feet were set while 
one sat at table, because the chairs were very 
high. This frame was itself supported on four 
ball feet. 

A little later tables were the proper and 
peculiar domain of the turners : here they dis- 
played all the resources of their art. The legs 
were turned as plain pillars,^ spirals,^ en chapelet ^ 
(beaded), or baluster-shaped.^ This last type can 

1 Fig. 52. 

2 We are not referring here, of course, to the show tables 
with tops of stone mosaic, or wood marquetry, or metal and 
tortoise-shell. There were no special dining-tables in existence 
any more than dining-rooms. 

3 Figs. 56 and 57. 

4 Figs. 53, 54, etc. 

5 Fig. 62. 

6 Figs. 58 to 61. 


be by far the most elegant and graceful ; we 
find some the outline of which is deliciously 
fine. The H -shaped stretcher is the most j\ 
common ; its cross-piece has in the middle either 
a simple ornament that forms an integral part of 
it,^ or a vase, a knob or some other motive 
fastened upon it.^ Some more complicated tables 
have, carried at the middle point of this cross- 
bar, a supplementary pillar-leg, and four long 
turned pieces [candelahres) fixed underneath the 
table properly so-called, and hanging down, like 
stalactites ; this is a last memory of the arcadings 
that embellished the under-part of the fine 
Renaissance tables. 

A gracefuUer type, lighter of aspect and later ft 
in date, is the table with X-shaped stretcher,^ j] 
which nearly always belongs to the period of // 
Louis XIV. The curving branches of the X are 
cut out of a plank ; their ends are not mortised 
into the piliers ; they 'are carried by four 
flattened balls and support the legs in their 
turn. The intersection is adorned with a piece 
of turned work and sometimes rests upon a fifth 
foot in the shape of a ball/ 

The most ornate tables of solid wood have the 
frieze carved with gadroons or arabesques; more 
frequently the quadrantal moulding of the top 
is incised with a running ornament of demi- 
rosaces ; the front of the drawer, when it is of 

1 Figs. 53 and 56. 

2 Figs. 55, 58, 62. 

3 Figs. 54 and 59. 

4 Fig. 54. 


a certain depth, may be decorated with raised 
panels, lozenge and triangle-shaped like those we 
have seen on cupboards. 

The seventeenth century saw many varieties of 
tables, if not actually born, at least come into 
current use. As for their shape, they were almost 
all rectangular. At the same time, some were 
made round, oval, or octagonal. The round 
table, the shape of which, as everyone knows, has 
the advantage that it does away with all difficulties 
with regard to etiquette, is supposed to have 
become pretty common in Paris, in imitation of 
the one round which Mazarin used to assemble 
his guests. The oldest round table of carved and 
gilded wood that has come down to us,^ is, they 
say, the last flotsam of Foucquet's furniture at 

To be able to diminish or increase the size of 
the table at pleasure, we saw that from the 
sixteenth century there had been tables brisees^ 
or tables ployantes^ and tables qui se tirent. 
We reproduce in Fig. 53 a small table brisee 
with two flaps, and in Fig. 57 the small hybrid 
piece, half bench and half low table — in short, a 
basset brise — which an inventory of the time 
describes as follows : " a little walnut table which 
folds in three, iron-shod and set on a frame." 
The gaming table of Fig. 62 is a very curious 
piece : folding in three, its surface doubles 
when it is opened out ; it has a hole in the middle 
to hold a basin, meant to receive the stakes, 
I In the Louvre, 


which is one of those platters of repousse latten 
made in Germany and Flanders, the central 
decoration of which is so often, as in this case, the 
wonderful bunch of the grapes of Canaan carried 
by the two Hebrews. 

Other folding tables have not only the top, 
but also the under-frame '' qui se brtse " ; for 
example, the very pretty marquetry table with 
six legs seen in Fig. 60 ; unfortunately the 
photograph does not show the elegant rinceaux 
of inlaid wood that cover the top and edge of the 
table itself. The next plate (Fig. 61) shows a 
table with '' broken frame," the two large flaps of 
which, when lifted up, more than treble the sur- 
face. Four of its baluster legs have been sawed 
down the middle, and the halves come together 
when the table is shut. 

The table s* allongeant^ or table qui se tire 
par les deux bouts or table tirante — and other 
names as well — was the table a rallonges, or 
extending table of the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries. In the sixteenth century the most 
magnificent were of this kind ; those that date 
from the seventeenth are simpler and have a pro- 
nounced southern character. Four great baluster 
legs, sometimes diverging, are joined together at 
the bottom by a rectangular frame of stout cross- 
bars ; they carry a thick top, often parquetted 
like a floor ; two supplementary leaves are con- 
cealed under the first one; when these are 
pulled out, an arrangement of slanting grooves 
slides them up to the level of the fixed top, at 


each end of which they come into place ; the 
length of the table is not quite doubled in this 
fashion. Cabinet-makers and furniture dealers of 
to-day call these leaves rallonges a Titalienne, 
An important invention of the joiners of this 
period was the bureau. Is it a specialised table ? 
Or is it a transformation of the cabinet ? It is 
both, and in any case this affiliation is of small 
moment. The bureau was first of all a stuff, a 
kind of bure ; then a table cover made of it, 
next a table kept covered with such a cloth, and 
lastly a table specially made to write at con- 
veniently, with drawers for the escritoire and 
papers. Cabinets being high in favour, a com- 
bination of cabinet and bureau was devised. 
Sully tells us in his Memoirs, " He (Henry IV) 
desired me to have made for him a kind of 
cabinet or large bureau elegantly wrought and 
entirely fitted with drawers all shutting with lock 
and key, and lined with crimson satin." Some 
of these very luxurious cabinet-bureaus have been 
preserved. The Cluny Museum has one, known 
as " Marechal Crequi's bureau." This is a 
cabinet of very simple lines, quadrangular, with 
numerous drawers of marquetry on a background 
of tortoise-shell, sitting back on a table support 
fitted with larger drawers ; the difference in the 
depth of the two parts permits of a writing desk 
in front. Another type, more akin to a table, if 
one may say so, has no cabinet above, but two 
series of superimposed drawers on either side of 
a space left for the legs of whoever sits down to 

BEDS 133 

write ; it is the direct ancestor of the " bureau 
ministre/' This was known as a bureau f agon 
de table. 

We have still less to say about Louis XIII 
beds than about the beds of the sixteenth 
century; in the seventeenth they were more 
than ever, from the sub-basement to the vase- 
shaped knobs that adorned the corners of the 
tester, hidden and buried under an incredible 
pile of stuffs. Neither the more modest ones 
under their red serge, nor the most sumptuous, 
covered with velours nuance with gold back- 
ground, three-coloured damask, and other 
*^ grandes estofes " edged with a ^^ passemeni 
luysant de Tours^^^ ^ or, in summer time, with 
Dutch Hnen cloth with stripes of " reseuil,^''^ none 
of them showed as much as a square inch of wood 
Thus they had no claim to be preserved ; there 
have been none of them, so to speak, in existence 
for the last two centuries. It would be easy to 
make exact copies of them ; but who would be 
willing to sleep in those hermetically sealed boxes 
of stuffs ? 

There remain the various forms of seats. And 
here there arises a small but irritating problem. 
What, in the first half of the seventeenth century, 
was a fauteuil and what was a chaise h bras ? 
In the sixteenth century there was no difficulty; 
the faudesteutl, as we have seen, folded Hke 
pincers ; the chaise h bras was rigid, square, 

1 Coloured silk lace. 

2 Guipure or embroidery on filet. 



very high ; the caquetoire was smaller and lighter. 
Under Louis XIV every chair v^ith arms and a 
back is a fauteuil ; but under Louis XIII — ? 
We find, in inventories and other contemporary 
documents, at one tvcci^ fauteuils 2indL at another 
chaises a bras. The most probable answer is 
that the chaise a bras had a high back, and the 
fauteuil a low back. And in fact we see, in an 
inventory of 1628, six "chaires a vertugadin " 
. . . four '' chaires , , . a dossier ^ fa^on de 
fauteuil,''^ and three " chaires a bras et a dossier." 
But in many other cases no sign of any difference 
can be discovered. 

Another difficulty presents itself when we turn 
over the collections of plates, invaluable in the 
highest degree for our knowledge of habits, 
costume and furniture under Louis XIII, that 
Abraham Bosse etched with a needle somewhat 
too proper and bourgeois, but exceedingly 
elegant. In none of the interiors he delineates 
with a great deal of fancifulness as regards 
architecture, and an evident exactness as to 
furniture, do we find a single chair with a high 
back. In 1661 arm-chairs with low backs were 
in no wise as yet superannuated ; it was in this 
kind of chair that Louis XIV and Marie-Therese 
sat at their marriage ceremony. It seems likely 
enough that in the days of Henri IV it was 
perceived that the tall vertical back of the chair e 
a bras was the enemy of the huge ruffs and the 
great stiff collars the ladies wore ; arm-chairs with 
low backs were made, at first alongside of the high 


backed 'chairs, but from about 1625 they held 
the field alone. After Louis XIII the back 
became higher once more and at the same time 
more sloping, without the fauteuil losing its 
name, and after a short eclipse the chaise a bras 
was seen reappearing under this usurped name 
oi fauteuil. But it was by that time already a 
Louis XIV seat. 

The Louis XIII arm-chair, properly so called,* 
is then a seat with arms and a low back, stiff and 
poor in line, as must be confessed, square at all 
points, and the back very slightly or not at all 
sloped backwards. The legs of arm-chairs and 
" vertugadin " chairs were sometimes simple 
pillars standing on a square frame carried on four 
balls,^ sometimes they were turned en chapelet^'^ 
en spirale,^ or en halustre} The back legs may 
well not be turned, for the sake of economy.* 
The cross-pieces of the stretchers are put together 
in the form of an H ; nearly always there is a 
supplementary cross-piece joining the front legs 
above ; this both strengthens and decorates at 
the same time. It should be noted that the legs 
have often been slightly shortened. ^ The period 
with which we are now concerned is the one in 
which chairs became gradually lowered to the 

1 Figs. 63 to 65, 68. 

2 Fig. 67. 

3 Figs. 63 and 64. 

4 Figs. 65, 69 and 70. 

5 Figs. 68, 71 and 72. 

6 Figs. 64, 69. 71, 72. 

7 Figs. 63, 70. The same may be seen in tables {cj. Fig. 62) 
as the height of these was closely related to that of the seats. 


height to which they rose again in the nineteenth 
century, after having been a trifle lower in the 

The back is regularly rectangular, much less in 
height than in width ; the arms of arm-chairs are 
horizontal, turned like the legs, and rest upon 
consoles d^ accotoirs^ which are a continuation of 
the front legs ; they end in a simple turned 
button or, when there is a little carving, in a 
lion's head or ram's head. A motive that is far 
from rare is a female bust serving as the upper- 
most part of the console ^ ; the end of the arm 
is mortised into the back of the head. 

The small arm-chair, loftily perched upon 
splaying legs, which allows a child to sit at an 
ordinary table,^ then made its appearance, as 
well as the one with short legs on which it could 
sit down without help on the ground level. 

About chairs there is nothing to be said ; they 
differ from the arm-chairs solely by the absence 
of arms ^ ; but it has become a habit to assign the 
Louis XIII style to large chairs with high backs 
completely covered and with seats nowlow^ (about 
^l^ ^g^ 35 centimetres) and now of ordinary height^ (45 
^, centimetres). To be quite truthful, it is exceed- 

1 We are here anticipating a little in using this expression, 
which was to enter the joiners' vocabulary when this part of the 
arm-chair commonly presented the shape of an architectural 

2 Fig. 65. 

3 Fig. 66. 

4 Figs. 67, 69, 70. 

5 Fig. 71. These low chairs are called chauffcuscs; the word is 
quite modern. 

6 Fig. 72. 


ingly hard to decide their exact period ; but it 
is very probable that this tall upholstered back 
with no space between it and the seat dates only 
from Louis XIV. The chair reproduced in 
Fig. 74 is a very pretty one, and very original. 
It is all of wood ; the raw simplicity of the frieze 
and the top of the legs, while all the rest is finely 
carved, shows that it was meant to have a flat 
cushion with long fringes or valances ; the back 
is merely an empty frame ; it has been filled up, 
in the museum where the chair has found its 
last refuge, with a plain sheet of cardboard 
covered with velvet. In short, we have here a 
very refined variant of the humble wooden chair 
of the Lorraine peasants ; the characteristic 
accolade shaping is found in the lower part of 
the back. This is an escabelle a dos; it was a 
very real and distinct kind of seat. 

The ordinary escabelle in Fig. 73 is a very 
agreeable model ; it is rather, from its height, a 
basset, that small piece with two ends, a seat on 
occasion, an occasional table at all times, the 
folding variety of which we have already seen. 
To come to an end of the kinds of seats without 
backs, there remains to be noticed the family of 
tabourets and placets, whose height varies 
between 20 and 50 centimetres, and among 
which even the lowest served to sit on as well as 
for a foot-rest.^ 

The rest-bed seems to have been invented 
about 1625 or 1630 ; we mention it here because 
I Figs. 77 and 78. 


from its earliest days it commonly served as a 
seat. Mme. de Motteville, describing the arrest 
of the Prince de Conti, in 1650, writes: "The 
Prince de Conti did not say a word. He remained 
still seated on the small rest-bed that was in 
the gallery, and displayed neither fear nor 
vexation. . . ." And six years later, according 
to the great Mademoiselle, in the Chateau de 
Chilly, " the Queen of England sat upon a rest- 
bed, and her circle was larger than it had ever 
been, all the princesses and duchesses in Paris 
being in it." The rest-bed was made with either 
one or two dossiers, and with six or eight 
turned legs like the legs of arm-chairs. From it 
the canape or sofa was to issue before long, 
meant mainly for sitting and, as a secondary use, 
for lying down ; but it did not exist before the 
Louis XIV period. The canape of Fig. 75 is 
interesting as evidence of the long survival of 
the Louis XIII style in middle-class furniture ; 
the manchettes or arm cushions testify to the 
end of the reign of Louis XIV, perhaps even the 
Regency, as the date of its making. 

The greatest change that took place with 
regard to seats in the seventeenth century was 
that on most of them the movable upholstery of 
square cushions, round cushions, and tapestry, 
was replaced by fixed upholstery nailed on to 
the frame-work. It was perhaps not so great an 
advance in comfort or ease as might be imagined, 
but it was a great advance in handiness in use. 

The simplest form oi garniture was made of a 


thick ox hide, stretched on the frame of seat and 
back by means of big decorative nails with gilt 
brass heads. These seats, as we have said, were 
Spanish or Flemish in make, or indeed made in 
France in imitation of imported examples. 
Nothing can be more Spanish than this decoration 
of big nails ; witness those that in the Peninsula 
adorn so many ancient church doors, and are 
sometimes real masterpieces of metal work. The 
hide was either plain, ^ or stamped with gilt 
tooling,^ blind tooled, escorchie^ courtepointe, as 
in the preceding period ; the nails, of different 
sizes and shapes, lend themselves to very 
decorative combinations.' 

Goat skin was not sufficiently thick or strong 
to be stretched by itself, without backing or 
support ; but courtepointe leather was frequently 
morocco. The most sought after skins were 
bright red or yellow, and came from Asia Minor 
and Syria ; they were grained in France, at 
Rouen in special. Red morocco was mounted 
with gilt nails, and yellow with silvered nails. It 
was not unusual to match a certain number of 
seats, arm-chairs, forms, tabourets, and later, a 
sofa, with a six-leaved screen, all in the same 
morocco, and this collection made up a 
'^ meuble,^^ 

1 Figs. 69 and 70. 

2 Fig. 63. The decoration of this back is a classic : in the 
middle, armorial bearings with highly developed crest and 
lambrequins; around this a framing of rinceaux and in the 
comers ionv flcnrons. 

3 Figs. 63, 69 and 70. 


Certain very magnificent seats had a gorgeous 
dress of the goffered leather, gilded and painted 
''in the Moorish style," that made such hand- 
some wall coverings, especially in antechambers. 
This came from Spain, from Flanders, from 
Holland ; it was made also in France. 

But seats covered with morocco or gilded 
leather were most usually fitted in the same way 
as those done in stuffs. Upon an ox hide or on 
straps there was spread, not a regulation 
"' embonrriire " but a simple layer of horsehair, 
of no great thickness ; on this there was stretched 
a stout canvas or sheep's leather,* and lastly the 
skin, the stuff, or the tapestry for the outer 
covering, which was nailed on either with clous 
touchans^^ or with big nails spaced out on a 
galoon of gold or silver or silk ; or again, small 
nails were grouped en marguerites^^ daisy 
pattern, on this galoon. 

All too often old seats have, in the nineteenth 
century, been fitted with the ugly modern 
garniture with springs ; every amateur worthy 
of the name who becomes the owner of a chair 
or arm-chair thus disfigured will have it stripped 
of its springs and re-upholstered in the ancient 
manner ; if it is a question of a rest-bed or a 
sofa, the movable mattress will be the only 
possible thing. 

During a century, from 1570 to 1670, or 

1 The phrase was " un fautetUl garni de ctiir, ct convert cie 

2 Small nails touching one another. 

3 Figs. 67, 69. 


thereabouts, a great proportion of all seats, like 
the beds, were covered completely, including 
their legs, with a nailed-on stuff that was usually 
velvet ; the wood of which they were made was 
common, rudely put together, and all, it goes 
without saying, have been destroyed. Such were 
the arm-chairs, in blue velvet covered with fleurs- 
de-lis, of Louis XIV and Marie-Therese we men- 
tioned above. The great advantage of these 
upholstery trappings was that, for a ceremony to 
take place at a distance, such as that royal 
marriage in 1661 at Saint-Jean-de-Luz, they <y 
were carried along all prepared, and any joiner 
could knock up the wooden arm-chairs on which 
they were nailed. Taken off after the ceremony, 
they served again when a new occasion arose. ^ 

Stuffs for seats were, in principle, the same as 
for beds. There was a bed in each of the im- 
portant rooms of a suite, and a few seats matched 
this bed, in particular the arm-chairs ranged on 
either side of the alcove. We find recorded, for 
instance, " the seats and arm-chairs of the bed in 
crimson damask." The Cluny Museum possesses, 
almost intact, one of these suites, called in the old 
days ^' emmeublements^'' ^ which have become 
excessively rare. The hangings of the bed (said 
to have belonged to the Marechal d' Effiat ; but 

1 We find, in the Mazarin inventory, "Three garnitures dc 
fautetiils, each composed of eleven pieces, covered with plain 
embroideries, two serving as back and valance and the others 
serving to cover all the wood of the arm-chair, etc." 

2 A complete cmmciiblcvtcut included also stools, folding 
stools, square cushions, table covers, all in the same stuff. 


we know how such ascriptions call for caution) 
are of crimson chased velvet and pink silk with 
applique embroideries, alternating in wide stripes ; 
the arm-chairs are covered with the same two 
stuffs in compartments. 

Seats were dressed also in stuffs of " plain " silks, 
that is to say, without pieces laid on or applique; 
plain and wrought velvets, damasks, satins, 
brocades, taffetas, gros de Nwbles and de Tours, 
and many others, and if they were of the simpler 
kinds, in moquette, Orleans or Aumale or Mouy 
serge, red, green or yellow. These stuffs were 
often embroidered, sometimes even en plain ^ so 
that they disappeared entirely under the stitchery 
of wool, silk, or gold ; the Hungarian stitch, h 
bastons rompus, was in high favour. They were 
also manure es with gold or silver cord — the 
modern word would be souiachees. Lastly, 
needlework tapestry, in coarse or fine stitch, or 
both combined, was patiently wrought in the 
various households, even the highest, even the 
King's, by women who, despite the progress of 
worldly life and manners, had long empty hours 
to fill in their homes. 

The favourite motives for embroidery and 
needlework were large flowers and fruits done in 
natural colours. We know that the Jardin du 
Roi, the Jardin des Plantes of to-day, was 
expressly established under Henri IV, by the 
gardener Jean Robin and by Pierre Vallet, the 
i\ king's embroiderer, to provide the embroiderers 
both male and female with new models inspired 


by exotic plants. Gaston d'Orleans, the brother 
of Louis XIII, also had at Blois his garden of 
rare plants, which were drawn and engraved by 
Robert, his embroiderer and painter in ordinary. 

To finish off these garnitures the com- 
partments were outlined with galoons, the 
surfaces bedecked with lace, gold fringes and 
edgings hung around the seat and the lower 
part of the back, frangeons or mollets* followed 
the other contours. Certain seats were even 
surrounded, in imitation of beds and tables, with 
a jut)e^ or petticoat, composed of four valances 
of stuff that fell from the four sides of the frieze 
to the ground. 

As several of these stuffs were extremely costly 
and very frail — white satins embroidered au 
passe, taffetas " dying-rose "-coloured, Venice 
brocatelles with flame-coloured background — and 
as the persons accustomed to make use of seats 
were excessively dirty ^ — however splendid they 
were to look at — armchairs and costly chairs 
were continually protected by loose covers. 
These were serge, or even in more lavish homes, 
such as Mazarin's, for instance, or Nicolas 
Foucquet's, or the Marechal d'Humieres', they 

I There are the fullest proofs of the incredible dirtiness of the 
people of the seventeenth century, even up to the very summit 
of the social scale. Heroard, the doctor to the Dauphin, the 
future Louis XIII, writes in his Notes about the young prince, 
under the date October 3, 1606: "At a quarter to nine, his 
clothes taken off." (This refers to the little Dauphin, then six 
years of age.) " His legs were washed in tepid water, in the 
Queen's basin: it was the first time." A manual of polite 
conduct, published in 1640, recommends its reader to wash " the 
hands every day, and the face nearly as often." 


were made of silk stuffs such as velvet or taffeta 
of one plain colour, with gold galoon at the 
corners and fringes on the lower part. To take 
off the loose covers was decouvrir; this was only 
done in well defined cases, and it was an important 
problem of etiquette to know for whom they 
were to be removed, and for whom they were 
ii not. 
^Lm/f^^ The reader may wonder perhaps that we do 
Kz::^:^^ not mention here the seats whose backs were 
made of a narrow '^ caned " panel framed with 
very full pierced carvings, and whose seats also 
were caned, with the twist or console-shaped legs 
joined in front by a broad cross-piece covered 
with carving. In the old furniture trade, in 
many a sale catalogue and even in recent books 
on the French styles, they arecalled " LouisXIII." 
Now these chairs " de dot's de caiifie a Jour,'* ^ 
as they were described, are neither French in 
origin or in spirit, but Flemish or Dutch, nor 
are they Louis XIII in period or in style. It 
was only at the very end of the seventeenth 
century that they were made in the Low 
Countries, then imported and finally imitated in 

On the other hand, straw seats were common 
from the end of the sixteenth ; but it appears 
that it was only towards 1660 that, thanks to 
the flat movable cushions or the silk loose covers 
with which they were provided, they found a 
place elsewhere than in convent cells or kitchens 
and offices, and that they were given a slightly 


more refined structure. There are none in 

existence, so far as we know, which can claim 

date or style before the last years of the reign of 

Louis XIV. We are enabled to learn with 

complete exactness the fashion of such chairs in 

convents, from a picture by Philippe de 

Champaigne, the double portrait of Mother 

Catherine-Agnes Arnauld and Sister Catherine 

de Sainte-Suzanne ; they are merely very 

ordinary kitchen chairs without the shadow of a 


# * * • * 

How can we to-day make use of Louis XIII 
furniture ? In Paris, in those small bright boxes 
in which, with rare exceptions, we are reduced 
to living, and which all, alas ! pretend to some 
vague eighteenth century style, it is very difficult 
to find a way of using them, for it is mostly 
large and sombre. 

At the most we might make a homogeneous 
ensemble with, for instance, a walnut or ebony 
cabinet, or an under-cupboard, a cupboard in 
two parts if not over large, a table or two with 
twist or baluster legs, a few arm-chairs covered 
with hide, or with plain velvet, perhaps with old 
pieces of needlework tapestry, but 7iot with those 
scraps of low-warp tapestry, known as " verdure 
de Flandres^' with which dealers have for some 
years had a regular mania for furbishing them. 
The proper place for these verdures is, as far as 
possible, on the walls. In the seventeenth 
century no one had any scruple in fixing pictures 


and mirrors on the tapestries by means of nails 
driven through them ^ ; not yet were they hung 
by cords from the cornice. Mirrors and pictures 
must have wide and very simple frames, made of 
dark walnut or ebony with wavy mouldings. 
For lighting there must be an old Dutch lustre 
with a big brass ball ; on the floor one or several 
carpets, oriental, of course ; they have never 
ceased to figure in French interiors from the 
fifteenth century to the nineteenth; whether 
ancient or modern, they do not '' date," and 
accommodate themselves to the neighbourhood of 
every style. To make this severe ensemble a 
little brighter we may place here and there, still 
remaining scrupulously '' within the note of the 
period," all the Eastern and Far-Eastern objects 
we please ; already they were being collected in 
the days of Richelieu and Mazarin, and more than 
one shop of "Chinese wares" in the galleries of 
the Palace set out its quaint baubles among the 
booksellers' quartos and the Venetian guipures of 
the lace vendors. Add a dish or two of Manises 
f a'lence with the ruddy coppery sheen ; they were 
sought out by the name oi porcelaine doree; 
lastly a bottle, a cornet^ or a plaque in delft ; 
always under the name of porcelaines, the ad- 
mirable pottery of Abraham de Kooge and 
Albrecht de Keiser and their fellows gleamed 
with all the lustre of their incomparable glaze in 
all the houses that had any claim to elegance in 

I Abraham Bosse's engravings prove this to the full. 


But the real place for these old pieces is a huge 
provincial mansion — there they will be a marve 
of fitness. They are accused of gloominess. Oh, 
of course, they have none of the gay smartness of 
the Louis XV bonheurs du jour and bergeres. 
But the light smiles and twinkles more than one 
thinks upon their polished wood ; everywhere it 
clings in dancing sparkles to the high points of 
the turned parts, and the facets of diamond- 
point mouldings kindle geometrical lights in the 
very darkest corners. The walnut of cupboards 
and tables sometimes remained light in colour, 
and many were fashioned out of cherry-wood that 
with the lapse of time has taken on a warmth of 
tone rivalling mahogany. 

In the ancestral home of many an old Gascon 
family there is an imposing Louis XIII cupboard 
in two parts, serving as dining-room buffet for the 
last two centuries, while an under-cupboard with 
facetted decoration plays the part of service table. 
It would not be very difficult to complete a set 
by adding to these a massive table " pulling out 
by the ends " ; this will come from another 
province, but that will be of no great consequence. 
Chairs or even armchairs with twist legs, very 
simple ones, will make good table seats ; their 
rather pinched lines and low backs will not make 
serving difficult. It will not be easy to find a 
certain number of these seats all alike. But 
nothing in the world — and the dealers know 
this only too well ! — is so readily copied as a 
Louis XIII table or chair ; in the work of the 


lathe there is always something mechanical and 
impersonal that allows absolute exactness in re- 
production, while a piece of carved work is almost 
quite beyond imitation. Here again, a Dutch 
lustre in the ceiling, and Flemish verdures on 
the walls. We must not imagine that in this 
way we shall have a faithful restoration of a 
dining-room of 1650, since at that moment there 
were no dining-rooms, and every meal was taken 
in one of those rooms-of-all-work, the main piece 
of furniture in which was a bed. 

Neither were there any " drawing-rooms." A 
strictly Louis XIII drawing-room, therefore, 
cannot be. One single point of comfort would 
suffice to make it impossible; the seats of the 
period were far too unwieldy and uncomfortable. 
But isolated pieces of furniture belonging to our 
style can be mixed without clashing with Louis 
XIV pieces, since in strict reality they are not 
two different styles ; and we can see quite reason- 
ably in the great drawing-room or the living hall 
of a big mansion or a simple country house, a 
grandiose cupboard with diamond-point decora- 
tion and spiral pillars, and tables, with carafe- 
baluster legs ; while in a smoking-room, serving 
as a cabinet for tobacco, liqueurs, the para- 
phernalia of bridge, even side by side with 
comfortable deep English arm-chairs in morocco 
leather, what could be better than a pretty little 
cupboard in two parts like those shown in our 
Figs, 37 and 38 \ 



F;o. 5. 






'. s 



b'^ \ 

X^. Ln. <iL, J^e^r^^fTvcA^ -^ 



































Fig. 44. 


f,,,^,^^^ Cf J&^^^ 







1^ jHJi 















FlO. 54. 












Acanthus leaf, decorative 

motive, 48, 109 
d'Amboise, Cardinal, 41 
Androuet, Jacques, architect and 

designer of ornament, 61 
Arabesques, 51 
Archebanc, 24, 25 
Arm-chair, Louis XIII, 135 
Aubriot, Hugues, Provost of 

Paris, his decree quoted 

(1371), 14 
Azay-le-Rideau, 48 

Bahut, 18 

Balloches, Perrin, painter, 13 

Balusters, $7 

Banc a colombes, 4, 25 
toumis, 25 

Bancelle, 25, 82, 83 

Bancs, Renaissance, 36, 75 

Banderole, decorative motive, 53 

Basset, 23, 82, 83, 137 

Beaujeu, Anne de, her marquetry 
table, 40 

Beds, early forms, 23 
Louis XIII, 133 
Mazarin's, 106 
Renaissance, 35, 39, 75 
shut (lits clos), 23 

les Blasons domestiques, poem 
by Gilles Corrozet, describing 
a l6th century house, 32-39 

Blois, chateau of, 46 

Blondel, architect, 109 

Bonafife, writer on French fur- 
niture, 58 

Bosse, Abraham, engraver of 
Louis XIII period, 134 

Bouge, 17, 27 

Bourbon, Antoine^ de, King of 
Navarre, 66 - - V 

Bourdichon, Jean, court painter 
to Louii XII, 13 

Branchi, Italian lapidary in the 

service of Louis XIV, 104 
Buffet, Burgundian, 70, 71 

Louis XIII, 127, 128 

Renaissance, 70 

varieties of, 20, 69 
Bureau, 132 

Marechal Crequi's, in Cluny 
Museum, 132 

"fafon de table," 132, 133 

Cabinets, Catherine de Me- 
dici's, 42 

ebony, 99, 100 
elaborateness of, 1 19, 120 
Flemish, 105, 106 
from Flanders, 43 
"German," 100 
largely imported, 42 
Mazarin's, 103, 104 
new in 1539, 39 
Renaissance, 72-73 
Roannez, due de, 43 
vogue of, 42 
Caffieri, Filippo, Italian artist, 

Camocas,* a fine silk, generally 
imported from the Far East, 
and highly prized in the Mid- 
dle Ages, 27 
Canape, 138 

Canaux,* vertical flutings form- 
ing a frieze somewhat like a 
frieze of triglyphs, 49 
Candelahrc, a Renaissance 
motive, baluster-shaped and 
greatly elongated, 46 
Cane, for seats, 144 
Cantonnieres,* part of the hang- 
ings of a four-post bed, the 
strip falling down the outside 
of the post covering the open 
ing between the curtains, I06~ 




Caquetoire, 79, 80, 81, 134 
Carreaux, flat cushions, 85 
Carving, Burgundian, 59, 60 

in wood, 59-61 

under Louis XIII, 91, 92, 
99, 108 
Cerceau, du. See Androuet 
Certosina, Italian inlaying in 
wood with little geometrical 
designs, 15 
Chair backs, 78, 79 

a vertugadin, 79, 81, 82 

arms, 78, 79 

caned, 144 

straw, 144, 145 :, , 
Chaire or chaiere, 26 , ^ ^f 

« ferns, 77, 80, 84,85, 133, 134 


de salle, Yl 

later, 76 

under Frangois I, 49 

Chambord, 48 

de Champaigne, Philippe, 
painter, 90, 91, 145 

Chute, decorative motive, 5 1 

Claire-voie, II 27 

Cluny Museum, 10, 45, 132, 141 

Coffer, a bahut, 18 
decoration, 8, 9 
in Cluny Museum, 10 
in 17th century, 1 1 8- 1 19 
marriage (corbeille), 1 18 
panelled sides, 7 
pre-eminence of, 16, 17 
slow to disappear, 42 
solid walls, 6 
the, 6 
varieties of, 16, 17, 18 

Consoles d'accotoirs, 136 

Coquille, decorative motive, 52, 

Corrozet, Gilles, author of poem 
describing a house and its 
equipment in 1539, 32 

a Coulombes, bench, 4 

Credence, 7 1 

Cucci, Domenico, Italian artist, 

Cupboards, 19 

Louis XIII, 121-128 
perfection of, in 1 6th cen- 
tury, 42 
" Protestant," 124 
Renaissance, 67 
varieties of, 68, 69 

" Damoyselles," 4 
" Demoiselles a atourner" 4 
Diamond point, moulding, I15 
vogue in Gascony, 1 17 
vogue in Guienne, 1 17 
Dressoir, See btiffet 

Eagle, decorative motive, 63, 

Eagle's foot, decorative motive, 

Ebony, 15, 99 
Ecriteaux, 52 
Emmeitblement, set of hangings 

and covers for bed, chairs, etc., 

all to match, 141 
Enrichissement, decoration, 52 
Entrelacs, decorative motive, 52, 

Escabeau, 26, 82, 83 
Escabelle, 82, 83, 137 
a dos, 137 

Faudesteuil, 24 

Fauteuil, 133-135 
Flamboyant style, 46 
Fontainebleau, 54 
Forme, 26, 82, 83 
Francois I, his bed, with mother 
of pearl marquetry, 40 
period of, 47-54 
Furetiere, his dictionary, 71, 80 

Gable,* a very pointed species 
of pediment over doors and 
windows in the Gothic style, 12 

Gaillon, chateau de, 41, 53 

Garniture for chairs, 83-85, 138- 

Gellee, Claude, painter, 90 



German cabinets, so-called, lOO 
Giacetti, Luigi, Italian lapidary 
in the service of Louis XIV, 104 
Golle, Pierre, Dutch cabinet- 
maker, 105 
Gothic masterpieces, 45 
Goujon, Jean, sculptor, 55 
Gouttieres, part of bed hangings, 

Grotesques, 46, 47, 51 

Henri III, period of, 43, 47, 64 
Henri IV, style, so called, 89 
Hcurtoirs cie layettes, drawer 

handles, 56 
Huchc, synonym for coffre'' 
Huchiers-menuisiers, guild of, 8, 


Ile-de-France, furniture in, 

Intarsia, 40 
Ironwork, 21, 44 
Italian influence, lOI, 102 
Italian ornament, 45, 46 

Kraus, Hans, marqueteur to 
Henri III, 40 

Lapidaries, Italian, 104 
Layette-coulisse, 21 
Leather for chairs, 139 

goat-skin, 139 
Lcctrin, 22, 23 
Louis XIII, period of, 89-96, 107- 

T ^^ 

Louvre, artists lodged in, 97, 98 

Lozenge, 51 

Mace or Mass6, Jean, loi 

Malic, 17 

Marquetry, loi 

Mascaron, 51 

Mazarin, a bed belonging to, 106 

cabinets belonging to, 103, 
104, 105-106 

his collection. 102 

Medaille,* decorative medallion 
with a head carved in bas- 
relief, 33, 36, 47, 53 
de Medici, Catherine, Florentine 
tables, 43 
her cabinet, 42 
Migliorini, Ferdinando and 
Orazio, Italian lapidaries in 
the service of Louis XIV, 104 
Monpensier, Mme. de, her 

Memoirs quoted, II9 
Motives, early, 11-14 

for embroidery and needle 

work, 142, 143 
gothic, 45-46 
grotesques, 46 
Italian, 46 
Renaissance, 50-54 
under Louis XIII, 109-IIO 
Mollet,* very short fringe, 143 
Mouchettes, 12, 45 
Mouldings, 112-117 
in Burgundy, II 7 
Louis XIII, 113 
Louis XIV, 113 
pointe de diamant, II5 
pointes de gateau, II6 
Renaissance, II3 
tas de sable, II6 
Muflc de lion, decorative motive, 

LE Nain, brothers, painters, 91 

"Orbevoie," 11,27 
d'Orleans, Girard, painter and 

decorator, 13 
Oval, decorative motive, 52, 109 


marqueteur to Francois I, 40 
Parchemin replie or serviette, 

"linenfold " decoration, 13 
le Paultre, Jean, designer, 63, 109 
Pente,* a strip of stuff hanging 

down around the tester of a 

bed, 106 
Pilaster, 50, 55 


Placet, 25, 82, 83 
Plume decorative motive, 63, 109 
Pointes dc gateau, moulding, II6 
Polychromy in decoration, 12,44 

dying out, 39 • 
Pomme, turned motive, 112 
Poussin, artist, 90 
Provincial schools of joinery, 

Putto,* child's face, an Italian 

decorative motive 

Renaissance decoration, 50-54 
Rest bed, 137, 138 

Saint Eustache, typical Re- 
naissance church, 48 
Saint-Germain, 54 
Sambin, Hugues, huchier, 60, 61 
Sauval, his Antiquites de la ville 

de Paris quoted, 95, 96 
Selle, 4, 26, 82, 83 
Sendal, silk, a kind of thick 

taffeta, highly esteemed in the 

Middle Ages, 27 
Serviette or parchemin replie, 

Soubassement,* the valance 

round a bed hanging down to 

the floor, 106 
Souffle ts, 12, 45 
Stipo, Italian name for a cabinet, 


Straw, for chairs, 144, 145 
Stylobates, bases of pillars, 56 
le Sueur, painter, 91 

Tabouret, 82, 83 
Tables, d'attente,* rectangular 
panel mount to hold an in- 
scription, 36 
extending, 131 
folding, 130, 131 
general use, 22 
Louis XIII, 75, 104, 105, 128- 


mosaic, 104 
pierres de Florence, 104 
Renaissance, 36,40-42, 73-74, 
transformation in 1 6th cen-' 
tury, 41 
Tas de sable, moulding, II6 
Torus,* round convex moulding, 

Toiipie, tamed motive, 112 
Trevoux, his dictionary, 80 
Tubeuf, the H6tel, 95, 96 
Turnery under Louis XIII, IIO- 
en balustre, III 
en chapelet, IIO 

Under-cupboards, 127 

Vegetables, noble or ignoble, 
as decorative motives, 48 

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