The joiner’s craft was transformed during the seventeenth century, after wood ceased to be thought of purely as a constructional material. Until the middle years of the century, the colour and texture of the wood were disregarded, their decorative possibilities ignored, and their surfaces were made acceptable to the eye by painting, carving or inlaying. Interest in the natural color and marking of the wood was aroused by the rediscovery of veneering….
— Edward Lucie-Smith, “Furniture: A Concise History”
10 thoughts on “Disregarded”
I wonder if any improvements in interior lighting (in elite residences) became available at this time as well. Grain is hard to see in poor lighting, and a recent review of Make a Joint Stool from a Tree adeptly pointed this poor lighting out as a factor in the heavy carving of Follansbee’s work. Any historical lighting experts in the blogosphere?
I don’t think anything in this quote is true. But he sure does write pretty.
Ok OK I give up, I just spent some time defending my love of 17th century furniture on my blog this morning and then you come along with this statement and I cannot argue with it one bit.
However I will stubbornly continue along the path I’ve started walking. Disobey me.
When did exotic woods such as mahogany begin to be widely available in England? English furniture woods before that seems to have been limited to oak for the nice stuff and pine for the rest. I suppose beech, ash, and other woods were also used, but most of these tend to have pretty indistinct figure compared with the exotics, but I haven’t looked at enough pre-17th century English furniture enough to know for sure.
My understanding is that according to legend Mahogany arrived in England as replacement deck boards on the ships of Sir Frances Drake in the late 1500s. Queen Elizabeth liked the red color and the material carved well. This coincided with a freeze that killed much of the walnut stock across Europe, but Mahogany was primarily valued for its carving properties when it came on the market. It would be a different factor that spurred the popularity of brilliantly colored and figured veneers.
There was a lot of walnut, of course, and a lot of the “plain” woods were available in various sorts of figure, as well. I just can’t agree with Lucie-Smith’s statement at all. People have always been aware of wood’s great beauty — it’s varying colour, texture, and figure. Always. Much more so than today.
Wood could be used in a very simple and utilitarian way, but it could also be incredibly complex and beautiful. Always. I think the biggest changes from the 17th century were not in wood, but in joinery, such as the frame-and-panel. These developments led to design changes, which created different aesthetics. And Lucie-Smith also ignores all other cultures and woodworking traditions — the British and their colonies were hardly the epitome. And the golden age of veneer and fabulous crotches, burls, etc., didn’t take place until the very late 18th and early 19th centuries.
As with most simplistic and sweeping declarations, I call Shenanigans on Mr. Lucie-Smith.
I remember seeing pictures of art from Pompeii as a kid. Some featured very ornate and intricate wood furniture and objects.
Then there are the legends of The Cypress Of Lebanon.
Two references, and I don’t even study wood history in passing (admitted the second reference is iffy). 🙂
Texture, perhaps. But color was certainly considered. I’ve found pieces in the V&A collection with ebony & bone or ivory inlay back to the 1400s. And this inlaid game board is definitely making use of the wood’s colors… http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O134094/games-board-and/
Chris, is there a way on this blog to choose to follow a thread without making a comment? Sometimes I don’t have anything to add to the thread, but want to follow it. I haven’t found a way to do that.
From the UK perspective, politcs may have played a part. Earlyish in the 1600’s, we had a civil war – King had his head chopped off, republic formed instead by Puritans, who didn’t like decorations or fripperies of any sort. After about twenty years of that, the republic (well, Commonwealth as it was called) got knocked on the head, and we ended up with the political compromise of a Monarch as head of state and a Parliament. They sort of kept each other in check. Still do, to some extent.
Anyway, while all this was going on, people were more bothered about staying alive than designing fine furniture. Once things settled down after 1670 or so, people devoted more time to the finer things in life. Like furniture.
Not sure about European history. All sorts went on politically in Europe around that time. On North American history, I’ll defer to people better informed than I.
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