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

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

Table of Contents:

1300-1700 Renaissance


From the beginning of the Renaissance in the early 15th century, there were changes in furniture forms that were to spread over Europe. The growth of a wealthy and powerful bourgeoisie caused the building of more substantial houses and a demand for good furniture.

Italian Renaissance furniture shows a strong architectural bias, and the purpose of the piece, as in Roman furniture, was subordinate to its form. The furniture of the early Italian Renaissance is often restrained, with beautiful, simple designs carved in walnut.  For more elaborate work, sculpture in low relief and stucco modelled in intricate patterns were much used. The stucco was usually gilded all over and picked out in bright colours.

The cassone, or marriage coffer (hope chest), was a form on which the craftsman’s skill was lavished. In addition to elaborate relief work and gilding, these coffers often were painted on the front and sides and occasionally inside the lid as well, with appropriate biblical or mythological scenes. Motifs popular with the Italian carver included cupids, grotesque masks, scrolled foliage, and strapwork.

The fixed writing desk is the forerunner of the writing bureau, which became an indispensable article of furniture as writing became more general.

A type of chair called a sgabello was much favoured at this time in Italy. The seat was a small wooden slab, generally octagonal, supported at front and back by solid boards cut into an ornamental shape; an earlier variety was supported by two legs at the front and one in the rear; a solid piece of wood formed the back.

Another chair of the period was the folding X-shaped chair, sometimes called a Dante chair.

Tables were generally oblong, supported by columns, consoles (brackets), or terminal figures, with a long central stretcher running from end to end.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Furniture: History  (online April 2017)

The Italian Renaissance furniture had a palatial rather than domestic character. Its carving fully expressed the spirit of the Arts revival, to such an extent that cabinet-makers from all over Europe came to learn from their Italian counterparts. Thus, furniture styles on the continent were heavily influenced by the Italian Renaissance.

The cabinet-makers of the Renaissance partially abandoned the coarser oak, and began to use walnut, chestnut, and other woods.

As opposed to Gothic, which was using subjects taken from saints’ lives, Renaissance carving had mythological, allegorical, and historical subjects.

Following the architectural lines, earlier cabinets and paneling took the forms of palaces, the fronts of cupboards often representing miniatures of basilicas' façades.

During the 16th century, the number of chairs increased. Beside the carved, rectangular, high-back chairs, there were the X-shaped curule or Savonarola chairs. This type was a smaller and more comfortable chair. It was carved, sometimes gilded, and could have a wooden seat with a cushion placed on it.

Toward the end of the century, chairs were occasionally upholstered in silk, leather, or tapestry.

The typical Renaissance table was rectangular and supported by solid carved consoles connected by heavy stretchers, with the legs terminating sometimes in a scroll. The tops could sometimes be slabs of marble or mosaic, while the ornaments of the tables were carved or gilded.

Chests were common, particularly the cassone, used mainly as a marriage chest. Their ornamentation varied, they were carved, painted or gilded. The forms also varied, from the sarcophagus to chests with rectangular sides.
- Palazzo Vecchio Museum

Renaissance Spell:  Italian Renaissance Furniture  (online April 2017)

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 Architecture on the Comparative Method, by Sir Banister-Fletcher, New York, 1950

English design tends to be far more complicated then its Italian and French counterparts lacking the clear lines of demarcation they exhibit. Styles overlap each other and/or continue to develop side by side.

The 22 miles of the English channel and England’s natural conservatism act as a wall to continental influence so that when the Renaissance finally arrives in England it is as the fully developed style (as seen in the work of Inigo Jones) without a transitional period.

The "law of primogeniture" in which the estate goes to the first born son prevents the break up of the great estates and lessens the need to develop new styles. Renaissance style characteristics are for the most part simply overlaid on English Gothic forms to produce a form completely English. This is a period marked by increasing trade and commerce, the rise of the middle class and corresponding decrease in feudal power, the break with the Catholic Church and the growth of the English colonies in the Americas. It is also a period in which religious warfare and conflict between the King and the new upper classes ultimately lead to civil war and an England in which design will follow a separate path then that of the French lead continent.

Elizabethan: Lavish rooms with brilliant color, high and low relief carving, painted surfaces, elaborate textiles and greater use of classical motifs and Pattern book detail..

Jacobean: Same as Elizabethan but with mild simplification.


Pieces are heavy and tend to bulbous legs and floor level stretchers on chairs and high chests. Motifs used at various times include strapwork, gadroons, arabesque, lozenge patterns, applied pendants and split balusters. Legs tend to be turned, chamfered or fluted with square or bun feet and low stretchers. In most rooms the furniture will be placed against the walls when not in use. Storage pieces begin to be lifted above the floor to help protect their contents.

Chairs - Turned, X-form and Wainscoat with increasing use of upholstery.

Settees- Wide chairs with upholstered backs and seat cushions.

Day beds - Long chairs with a fixed or adjustable side cushion. Later examples have sides at both ends.

Stools, Benches and Settles, some with high paneled backs and arms.

Tables: Permanent tops, leaves and gate legs.

Storage: Heavily carved chests and cupboards.

Beds: Boxed and 4 posters with rich textiles.

Materials: Oak is the wood of choice, but Walnut is introduced toward the end of the period.

Textiles: Rich, heavy and colorful: Wool and Silk velvets, damasks, satins, painted and dyed cottons, needlework and imported fabrics and tapestries used as hangings, bed hangings, curtains, drapes cushions etc. Extremely colorful with Gold, Silver, pink, yellow, green, purple, blue, crimson and russet as well as blacks and whites Embellishments include braid, tape, fringe, cord, embroidery and tassels. Textiles in the home are used as a means of showing ones status and rank in society.
- College of the Canyons:  English Renaissance (online April 2017)

English Renaissance Revival Style Furniture was popular during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I, James I,  Charles I, and the Commonwealth period.

See History, Architecture and Furniture Outline: France, England and America

Jacobean Furniture styles, - Reprinted from Colonial Furniture in America, by Luke Vincent Lockwood, 1926

1460-1600 Renaissance examples:

1850-1880 Renaissance Revival

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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