Renaissance Revival Style - Architecture ... ..... Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary

Furniture - Renaissance / Renaissance Revival Style
1460-1600 / 1840-1890

Table of Contents:


1460-1600 Renaissance

The Renaissance, meaning rebirth, was an intellectual and artistic movement that started in the numerous Ducal courts of the area (especially in Florence) that was to become, in the 19th century, the modern state of Italy. The spread of ideas among writers and artists in the late 15th century soon crossed national boundaries and gave rise to Renaissance furniture and decorations throughout Europe.

Architectural forms in furniture

The significance of the orders in furniture design lies in the application of architectural forms by Renaissance designers. Case furniture of all types was profiled with base and cornice moldings, and increasingly the column form was used ...

Vertical members like table legs were made into miniature columns ....

This idea of trying to make a piece of furniture resemble a scale model of a building reappears in every revival of classicism. In contrast is the homogeneity of the design whose ornamentation is an essential part of the whole structural method, exemplified in Gothic and French Rococo furniture.

- "The New Encyclopedia of Furniture," by Joseph Aronson. Crown Publishers, 1967

Renaissance furniture pieces are characterized by the following:

Many pieces incorporate porcelain, bronze, or mother-of-pearl plaques, as well as decorative motifs such as cartouches and caryatids and architectural elements such as pediments and columns.

Italian Renaissance furniture has a combination of restrained classical Greek and Roman design blended together with refined Byzantine high-relief ornament. The wood is universally walnut, oiled or waxed to a deep, rich tone. Proportion is architecturally large and stately, proper to large rooms. Most furniture is overlarge and uncomfortable by modern standards. Northern European furniture is austere and simple, while the Italian is based on classical proportions with repetitive geometric moldings, with romanticized carving.

French Renaissance

Paris, as the capital of the newly consolidated Kingdom of France and as the center of the brilliant court of Francis I, attained preeminence in art and literature. This resulted in the adoption of one national architectural style which emanated from Paris and the schools in the vicinity; while the valley of the Loire became a highway along which, in response to new social conditions, the famous chateaux of kings and courtiers sprang up and formed models for other parts of the country.

This influence was largely augmented by the presence, at the court and in the schools, of such Italian artists as Leonardo da Vinci, CeUini, Serlio, Vignola, Rosso, Primaticcio, and Cortona, and was further spread by Italian craftsmen who, traveling from place to place in the district south of the Loire, there erected many picturesque buildings.

The kingly power was gradually becoming absolute, owing largely to the policy of Cardinal Richelieu and his successor, Mazarin,in the reign of Louis XIII (1610-43).

- A History of Atchitecture on the Comparative Method, by Sir Banister-Fletcher, New York, 1950

1460-1600 Renaissance examples:


1850-1880 Renaissance Revival

Proportions Medium to large.

Essential elements Rectilinear shapes. Prominent Renaissance and Neoclassical motifs such as columns, pediments, cartouches, rosettes, and carved masks; also plaques in porcelain, bronze. mother-of-pearl. Occasional Egyptian motifs. Veneer panels often framed by applied molding. Inscribed linear decoration. Turned or cutout parts on factory pieces; carving or elaborate inlay on finer examples. Forms sometimes adapted in cast iron.

Woods Walnut; also ash or pine for less expensive pieces.

Notable forms Upholstered chair and sofa. Stool. Bed. Extension and center tables. Pedestal.

- Marvin D. Schwartz, American Furniture: Tables, Chairs, Sofas and Beds. 2000

The Renaissance Revival style is often considered a reaction to the Rococo Revival, even though it was in use as early as 1850.

It is characterized by an eclectic use of both Renaissance and 18th-century Neoclassical motifs on straight-lined forms loosely based on 16th-century French models.

Porcelain, bronze, or mother-of-pearl plaques were popular embellishments on pieces within scribed, linear classical motifs.

The Renaissance Revival styles of the 1860s and 1870s marked the first period in which fine designs were used for mass-produced furnishings.

Furniture from the 1870s ranged from works made in shops employing skilled craftsmen to the products of large Midwestern factories. The New York shops, in particular, produced work with elegant detail and elaborate inlays, while the factories, centered primarily in Grand Rapids, manufactured pieces with turned and cut elements that could be produced more readily in volume and at lower cost. Since the Renaissance Revival style was based on rectangular shapes and prominent motifs, it could be successfully interpreted with either type of production.

Walnut was the most popular wood, with some veneer introduced as surface decoration. Light woods were favored in reaction to the prevailing dark woods of the Empire and Rococo Revival styles.

Common motifs were flowers, fruit, cartouches, medallions, contoured panels, caryatids, scrolls, classical busts, and animal heads, as well as architectural elements, usually without any structural intent, such as pediments, columns, and balusters.

Upholstery was prominently featured on chairs and sofas. Ornament from the then current Louis XVI Revival - popular with elegant New York cabinetmakers, who favored ebonizing and ormolu - was sometimes incorporated in the work of the 1860s. The Neo-Grec (or Neo-Greek) and Egyptian Revival styles were elaborate and exotic substyles of the Renaissance Revival.

Renaissance Revival furnishings were used in Italianate villas and other classically inspired houses.


1880-1900 Late 19th-Century Revival Styles

Trends affecting furniture design in the 1880s and 1890s were complex. While the
Eastlake approach was adopted by many makers, there was also renewed interest in styles of the past. Previous mid-century revival furniture, however, was dismissed as inauthentic by many designers and their patrons. Historic styles were now carefully studied and collecting antiques became a serious pursuit in America.

Architects of the grandest homes of the era (in the so-called Beaux Arts style), inspired by Europe's more palatial buildings, designed or commissioned equally grand furnishings for their interiors, from Renaissance-style Savonarola chairs to Louis XVI-style beds and settees.


Renaissance Revival examples in Buffalo:

Other examples:


Photos and their arrangement © 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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