Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV…? Furniture styles.
The 17th and 18th centuries saw the production of numerous styles of furniture in France and they can easily be identified thanks to their specific characteristic details.
It is easy to identify and date a piece of furniture from the Middle Ages or the Renaissance. The lines were often simple and followed architectural styles. Thus a Gothic throne would be decorated with “broken arches” and a dresser from the 16th century would be decorated with entablature and columns in the style of Antiquity.
A major change occurred in the furniture trade in 1590. Furniture no longer followed architecture, and instead began to follow its own path. Furthermore, in the 17th and 18th century, furniture became an actual artwork in its own right, with each different style being named after the king of that particular period.
Then came the eclecticism of the 19th century: there was little new and innovative furniture design, but the Roman, the Gothic, the Louis XIV styles were all re-worked and adapted, and these styles were fixed definitively as references to be copied for eternity.
Louis XIII: comfort and wood turning.
Under the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643), furniture develops greatly in the context of comfort, but progresses little in ornamentation. Soft furnishings and padding are very common and furniture is characterised by the influences of foreign art (Spanish, Italian and Flemish) and lots of geometric designs.
The feet of wardrobes, armchairs and tables are generally made out of turned wood and are linked by parallel bars just above the floor. Tapestry is still very much present on the seats in this period.
You can see an example of wood turning on the table legs of the furniture in this 18th century chateau in the Loire region (ref 32124). In the living room of this chateau in the Midi Pyrenees there is also an excellent example of a Louis III wardrobe with its diamond pattern (ref 30225).
Louis XIV: sculptures, gilding and marquetry (inlaid work of various coloured woods or other materials)
Under Louis XIV (1643-1715) furniture becomes grand in order to celebrate the grandeur of the sovereign. Ornamentation is applied with numerous precious materials: copper and brass, pewter and gold leaf. These are used in marquetry, to form geometric designs or to make figurative tableaus. Different coloured woods are also used and suns and shells are the most common symbols to be found in the designs. The Louis XIV furniture is thus characterised by a large variety of ornaments and colours and is instantly recognisable due to its extremely over-ornate nature. In Ariege this chateau has a Louis XIV style room with a fantastic carved wooden fireplace: (ref 25403).
In addition the feet on cabinets and wardrobes of this period are highly crafted and the tapestry is always very dominant on the seating. The bars made out of turned wood that linked the chair legs on the Louis XIII furniture are replaced by bars made out of “sheep’s bones”. The Louis XIV style is very common in deluxe Parisian apartments, like these two for example, which both highlight the opulence and splendour of the Versailles look: (ref 30330).
The Regency Style: elegance and grace
Between the death of Louis XIV and the ascension of Louis XV, France is governed by the regent Phillipe d’Orleans. The Louis XIV style is not abandoned, but it mellows out a little: the proliferation of colour is avoided and shapes become more natural. Regency furniture is therefore generally made out of one material. The decoration is flowing and smooth, inspired by nature (this being the precursor of the Rococo style.) The piece of furniture that best represents the Regency style is the rounded commode. The arms of armchairs become lower and lower, in order to allow ladies to sit down in spite of their large dresses with panniers.
Louis XV: Rococo and small furniture
Under Louis XV (1723-1774) furniture becomes smaller and smaller. In fact, the aristocracy was looking for intimacy instead of the pomp of the Louis XIV style. Rococo begins to blossom: little by little furniture loses its Regency sobriety and is replaced with luxuriant motifs of vegetation such as acanthus leaves. At the end of the reign, however, the décor becomes purer: we can see a return to more symmetry and simpler motifs of pearls or ribbons. Commodes keep their rounded fronts, and wardrobes come into fashion. One could argue that this period sees a much more feminised style of furniture.
A fine example of a lounge in the style of Louis XV can be found in this chateau in the Nord region (ref 29145) and it also boasts beautiful 18th century woodwork in the dining room.
Or in this property there is an example of Louis XV furniture in the living room: (ref 12471)
Louis XVI: sobriety and uprightness
Under the reign of Louis XVI (1774-1792) the Rococo style is forevermore abandoned in favour of stricter lines, inspired by a popular throwback to antiquity. At this point the remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum had been uncovered, and Roman art was more widely recognised as it became the fashion of the day.
Ornaments are very plain at this time: we see pearls, pine cones, oval ornaments, rose shapes, fluting, baskets, and Greek style motifs. Furniture is defined by its straight lines and square forms, even if the feet and legs are sometimes slightly curved.
Director and Empire style: Rome and Alexandria
The Director style (1795-1799) continues to replicate numerous elements of the Louis XVI style but it is also further inspired by Pompeii, becoming even simpler. The use of tapestry and bronze is also abandoned.
The Empire style (1799-1815) is very close to the Director style even though it distinguishes itself profoundly by being strongly influenced by ancient Egypt. The motifs of the Ancient Regime (fleur-de-lys, shells, suns…) are replaced by eagles, sphinxes, stars, the letter N (for Napoleon) and bees.
In general the furniture is severe and straight cut, even if we can begin to see the appearance of softer forms, like beds shaped as boats or gondolas.
“Meubles d’epoque” or “meubles de style ?”:
The styles mentioned above have often been copied and therefore today, there exist hundreds of examples of Louis XV furniture that was not made in the 18th century. In order to differentiate in appellation between the real pieces and the copies, the original artefacts are called “meubles d’epoque” and the copies are called “meubles de style”.
France has still many craftsmen called “ébénistes” and if you don’t find the antique you like in France to decorate your French Property you can ask them for a meuble de style such as on this website: http://www.freres-allot.com/mobilier-meubles-style-louis-xiv-s-1.html
Tags: chateaux, french furniture styles, louis XIII style, louis XIV style, Louis XV style, prestige properties in midi pyrenees
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