Restoration and Baroque Style
During the Commonwealth, England had suffered a period of almost complete artistic stagnation. With the restoration of Charles II to the English throne in 1660 after almost ten years abroad, there came with him the introduction of foreign, particularly French, modes. Fashion in the home becomes for the first time of almost equal importance with convenience in the arrangement. The interior decoration makes his first appearance.
The Great Fire of London in 1666 resulted in the speedy development of a new London. The architect Sir Christopher Wren took up the challenge of the redevelopment of the city, and devised a plan for London houses which remained virtually unchanged until the coming of the flat. At street level there was a small entrance hall, a dining-room and parlour; on the first floor a large state room and principal bedroom; above were more bedrooms and closets and below ground was put the basement kitchen.
The interior walls were covered in panelling, as was the common practice in earlier periods, but the panels were of better proportions. The cornice was introduced to fill in the gap between the ceiling and the woodwork. The mouldings were richly carved, and festoons of naturalistic fruit, by or in the manner of Grinling Gibbons, graced the fireplace and nearby panels. The resulting effect was a well-proportioned heaviness.
A taste for the grandiose infected a number of European monarchs in the early 17th-century, impressed as they were by the ostentatious magnificence of Louis XIV’s Versailles. Baroque masterpieces like Wurzburg, the Winter Palace and Blenheim Palace, the latter designed by playwright/architect Sir John Vanbrugh, were built during this period. Sir Christopher Wren was the leading English architect of the Baroque style, and his design for St. Paul’s Cathedral (1675-1710) in London is a masterpiece of the style.
Ceilings became canvasses depicting Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, lovingly depicted by Tiepolo, Lebrun and Verrio. Pillars and columns were used as supports or as decorative devices in their own right. Staircases writhed and curled, and every inch of wall space was covered with trophies and busts in marble, gilt, plaster or shell-work.
The ability to use architectural forms for purposes which they had never been intended - either for dramatic effect or to suggest movement - was the whole secret of Baroque. Vast flights of steps, innumerable statues, elaborate fountains were all used for impressive effect. The Baroque architect did not hesitate to twist columns until they looked like barley sugar, cover cornices in folds of imitation drapery, extend façades until they were twice the height of the buildings they masked, and paint vistas of staircases or colonnades he was unable to actually build.
The layout of Baroque homes was similar throughout Europe. The better the visitor was acquainted with the occupants, the farther into the house or palace he could penetrate. The size of the rooms diminished as one progressed through the rooms, but the decoration and furniture became richer. The ultimate destination was the closet or “cabinet” room beyond the bedchamber which would contain the finest velvets, porcelain and paintings.
The arrangement of furniture was formal, with no furniture set in the centre of the room. Chairs were placed in regimented rows with their backs to the wall and were only pulled out when they were being used. Beds were placed with the head against the wall so they projected into the room, and important beds were often set on a raised dais. In France they often had a balustrade.
Despite the grandeur of these palaces, in practical fact they were difficult places to live in. Monsters to heat, and with dining areas hundreds of yards away from the kitchens, the inconvenience and expense of these castles of conceit soon drove monarchs and nobles to build smaller, although still luxurious, residences in the parks of their main palaces.
This passing passion for pomp and glory did have an influence on the future art of decoration. The main staircase acquired an importance, and the taste for vistas of columns and arches led to the introduction of tromp l’oeil whereby the desired effect could be obtained at a fraction of the cost. This remained a popular form of wall decoration for many years, and is currently enjoying something of a revival. Most importantly, the decorative artist acquired a freedom without which the rococo style of the next generation could never have been devised.
There had been other reasons, both political and religious, for the spread of French influence in decoration. The national religion of France was Roman Catholicism, but most French artisans were Protestants. The French Protestants, called Huguenots, enjoyed religious freedom under the Edict of Nantes, which was issued by King Henry IV in 1598. In 1685, Louis XIV took away the Huguenots’ freedom by cancelling the edict. Most of the artisans then fled to the Netherlands or to England. There, they worked among the nobles and wealthy merchants and so established a taste for French design in the two countries.
Daniel Marot became one of the most influential Huguenot artisans both in the Netherlands and in England. Marot worked for William III, who was a Dutch prince before he became King of England in 1689. Marot also designed the interiors and furniture for Hampton Court Palace. His designs created a demand in the late 1600s for high-backed chairs with French-style upholstered seats and backs. Marot’s work also led to a fashion for state beds with drapery even more luxurious than used in France.
Baroque in brief:
- Era of the emergence of the English style;
- Rooms panelled in oak and pine, often painted to imitate marble and wood finishes;
- Mouldings often gilt and carved;
- Doors panelled, carved, painted and gilded;
- Ceilings with plaster work in round and oblong shapes worked in fruit and flowers;
- The cornice first appears.
Baroque Furniture and Fabrics
In England, materials were expensive, as most fabrics were still imported and were all handmade. Because of the expense, upholstered furniture was carefully protected with removable slip-covers, while beds had protective “case” curtains and wall hangings. It was usual to have rich hangings such as tapestry or velvet in the winter, and lighter silks in the summer. The upholsterer, during this period, brought a unified look to rooms long before architects designed all the elements of a total scheme.
Cushions were a great luxury and a sign of high status. They were often fringed and had ornate tassels at the corners. Cane or rush seats were softened with cushions, sometimes attached to the chairs by ribbons. The Moorish use of cushions on the floor was adopted in both France and England.
As the century progressed, farthingale chairs, with padded seats and backs, appeared. They were the first chairs with fixed upholstery, and often had nail patterning and were covered in leather or “Turkeywork” (a form of imitation Oriental carpet). By the 1670s comfortable easy chairs had been developed. These were well-padded armchairs with cheeks and wings and, sometimes, adjustable backs. X-frame chairs were used as chairs of state and would have been covered in silk damask or silk velvet. By the end of the century, horsehair was being used to fill mattresses and to pad furniture, held in place by buttoning or quilting.
Furniture was increasingly designed for comfort and practicality. Walnut became the fashionable wood, often inlaid with marquetry, and silvered furniture and Oriental lacquer were also very popular.
Baroque Furniture and Fabrics in brief:
- Luxurious in style. Ideas from the Continent;
- Cabinets-on-a-stand very popular, often lacquered or laid over with marquetry;
- Walnut becomes main wood;
- Chairs are high-backed with twist-turned uprights and scroll legs;
- Tables have scroll or twist-turned legs and X-framed stretchers;
- Mirror glass, in fashion with frames of carved fruit and flowers by Grinling Gibbons;
- Silk, damask, velvets;
- Fringes appear on upholstered furniture;
- Tapestries from Mortlake.
- Generally rich and sombre;
- Fashionable to use contrasting colours for effect;
- Combinations included gold with bright blue; green and violet; deep pink with white; red and green; olive green with yellow; crimson with ivory or white;
- Cream the most popular background colour.
- Curtains simple in style;
- Holland blinds.
- Parquet or marble;
- Oriental rugs sometimes used.
- Carved or painted woods with naturalistic flowers.
- Metal and glass chandeliers;
- Wall bracket candelabras;
- Rush lights all lit by candle power.
Ham House, Tredegar House, Dyrham Park, Sudbury Hall, Chatsworth, Castle Howard, Blenheim Palace, Boughton House, Burghley House (Restoration interiors), Hampton Court Palace, Belton House, Fenton House, Kensington Palace, Petworth.
© Adrienne Chinn - London