The Jacobean period of furniture style began 1603 in England with the reign of James I and ended 1688 with the reign of James II. During this time, America began to receive a migration of new people, first in Jamestown in 1607, then Plymouth in 1620. Jacobean is often described as the earliest form of furniture making in America. Categorized in a more narrow sense, it has been referred to as Pilgrim furniture. Due to the skills of the early colonists, the furniture was much more primitive than their English counterparts. Maybe a better term to use is Early American furniture. Colonial Sense wants to first start with Jacobean furniture in England since it inspired much of the colonial furniture in America. Then we will discuss the Early American furniture specifically made in this country and the skilled craftsmen whose work is highly sought after today in the antique industry. With the help of John Fiske and Lisa Freeman, we used dates in our article pertaining to when certain styles changed in the Jacobean period. These dates are the center of roughly a five year period and should only be used in determining if a piece is early or later in the period.
Jacobean furniture is known as the period between 1603 and 1688 in England. It started with the Stuarts reign of James I (1603-1625) and continued through Charles I (1625-1649), the Commonwealth of Oliver Cromwell (1648-1658), Richard Cromwell (1658-1659), the restoration of the Stuarts with Charles II (1660-1685), and finally James II (1685-1688).
A Jacobean Joined Oak Press Cupboard, Part 17th Century, Dated 1689, Sold at Christie's September 7-8, 2005
King Charles I took more interest in the furnishings of his mansions than his father, James I. His love of great art and paintings complimented the design his palaces. As the seventeenth century progressed, the Jacobean furniture became less heavier and more refined and light, essentially more poetical. Strength was no longer a factor, nor was furniture transported from castle to castle. The upholstered chairs received much more padding with finer embroidery. After all, this was the age when handsome fabrics were made all over Europe.
Jacobean Bedstead, Moreton, Salop, England
Design was influenced by Inigo Jones, the great architect and the inventor of the Palladian architecture in England. Jones was the Surveyor of Works to King Charles I. He swept aside all hints of Gothic ornamentation and replaced it with classic and pseudo-classic forms in a Jacobean room that lasted well into the mahogany age of the Georges' reign. The Italianate Renaissance architecture he brought to England significantly influenced the designers of furniture
There were three distinct periods of style during this time, Early Jacobean Period (1603-1648), Commonwealth or Cromwellian Period (1648-1660), and Restoration or Carolean Period (1660-1688). The Early Jacobean furniture was heavily influenced by this Elizabethan style of furniture.
Jacobean Cupboard, circa 1620
The earliest styles of furniture in England were influenced the Italian Renaissance introduced by King Henry VIII (1509-1547). English furniture borrowed traits from their European creations and molded their own traits into the style. It made its mark on England, for it lasted well into the Tudor reign of Queen Elizabeth I which ended upon her death in 1603. The early styles of Jacobean furniture were a combination of Tudor and Jacobean which lasted well into the seventeenth century.
Early Jacobean furniture was massive in size, squared or rectangular lines but very sturdy, and built to last. It was characterized by scrollwork, thick columns, and arches. It was assembled with mortise and tenon joints and pegged. Oak was the primary source of wood. Ash and maple were used for turnings. Iron hinges and lock plates were applied on case furniture with wrought iron nails. Turnings were used for balusters, melon-bulbs and spindles. Heavy bulbous feet and legs were introduced on furniture. There were a few upholstered chairs made for court and aristocracy in 1620.
Chair used by James I
Early Jacobean armed wainscot chair
In the Early Jacobean period, chairs were scarce and were used mainly by dignitaries. "Joyned" or joint stools were commonly used at the ends of refectory tables, with backless benches used on the sides. Wainscot chairs with scalloping on the lower edge of seat rails on joint stools were the earliest chairs based upon Elizabethan models Possibly they were developed from removing a wall board panel and attaching a seat board and frame to make it a chair.
Charles I Jacobean Early Jacobean wainscot chair, Derbyshire. The fleur-de-lys on the crest of the chair was commonly used in early Jacobean chairs, but the chair conforms to Charles I period prior to the Cromwellian period
Jacobean Farthingale chair
By 1610 the Farthingale chair made its appearance. The dress length on a woman began to change during the Elizabethan period and continued through James I period. Farthingale hoops were worn to create voluminous skirts. The oak chairs were made to accentuate the farthingale on a woman. The arms were removed on a Farthingale chairs which had a low solid back which was padded. The legs were straight and rectangular. The seat which was usually upholstered sat higher. The upholstery was either a fancy embroidery, Turkeywork inspired by Turkish or Persian carpets, or expensive velvet.
Jacobean Cromwellian chair dated 1649 with barley twist turnings
Strapwork, the interweaving of repeating geometric and scrolled bands, which was first introduced in 1570 appeared on early Jacobean furniture until it started to decline in1630. Caryatids and Atlantes that were introduced in 1560 begin to decline the same year. Carytid is a woman figure used a a pier, column or pilaster. Atlantes is the man figure supporting the same. The joint stool rails and front seat rails on wainscot chair changes with little or no scalloping. Inlay was not used as frequent.
Jacobean Oak Refectory Table, sold at Sotheby's October 24, 2002
By 1635, chests began to disappear and were being replaced with chest of drawers with applied moldings placed on the drawer front. At the same time spiral turnings began to appear on furniture. Lozenge, a diamond shaped motif, was very fashionable.
Guilloche and Roseace introduced in 1560 began to go out of fashion by 1640 but were used in northern England as late as 1700. Guilloche is a ornamental pattern carved in low relief and consisting of two or more interlacing bands or ribbons which is repeated in a series of circles. Generally it was used on friezes as a decoration for flat surfaces. Applied split-balusters and pearl and bone inlay appeared during the same year. Boarded ends replaced paneled ends on coffers. Square chairs largely imported from Holland with a leather back and seat appeared and were known as Cromwellian chairs. The leather was encircled with brass headed nails which were made in England. There was nothing fancy about these chairs for they were a product of the Puritan's deliberate discarding of things sensuously appealing.
Jacobean Oak Chest from Derbyshire, circa 1680-1690's
During the Commonwealth period, the change in the style of furniture was in a holding pattern due to Puritan influence of Oliver Cromwell. By 1650 wood carvings were discouraged and figural carvings disappeared. Upholstery was used little; however, leathered upholstered chairs made their presence. The Jacobean furniture took on a much simpler look and feel with simple straight turnings and applied moldings. English furniture was not influenced by the European Renaissance or any other foreign trends during the Commonwealth period. The only decoration that gained popularity in 1650 was the great revival of turned work in general. Bobbin and spiral turnings can be seen on Cromwellian chairs and legs and stretchers of chairs and tables. Backstools also become popular particularly in northern England until 1700.
Once King Charles II came into power, he brought luxurious methods of furniture making with him after living in exile in France for eleven years. This was known as the Restoration or Carolean period. No longer was the furniture design held back to Puritan characteristics. Instead the furniture was heavily influenced by the migration of Flemish-Huguenot craftsmen and design books on Flemish Baroque design. The wife of Charles II, Queen Catherine of Braganza brought her Portugal Oriental ideas into the furniture style. All of the Restoration influences including Dutch, French, Spanish, and Italian created a vast change in the fashion and form of English furniture.
Charles II Oak Press Cupboard, circa 1680, sold at Sotheby's, May 22, 2002
Another influence of the furniture making was the rise of two gifted artists, Christopher Wren and Grinling Gibbons who was discovered by the great seventeenth century diarist, John Evelyn. Wren the master architect and Gibbons the master woodcarver transformed the design of English architecture and furniture. Both men were instrumental in transforming the Cromwellian period into the Restoration period.
The furniture became much lighter, more ornate carvings grew even finer in workmanship, characterized by intricate carved stretchers and colorful upholstery decorated with tasseled fringes. Chair backs also grew narrower and higher. Caning was retained, but seats were upholstered or cushioned. Walnut, which is a softer, richer toned wood and more easily carved came to be the most used wood. Ebony and other woods were used as inlay. Curved forms appeared on chair backs and in the legs of chairs and cabinets. The cabriole leg with its gentle S-curve form began to appear. Round tables came into use. Very elaborate carving was not unusual and was sometimes lacquered or gilded.
Jacobean Oak Hall Chair, 17th Century, sold at Christie's September 20, 2005
Jacobean cabinetmakers invented the gateleg table. By 1660, the long tables of the Early Jacobean period began to subside with the gateleg table becoming so useful and practical that they continued to be made well into the twentieth century. Draw tables which were oblong in shape with a square-sided flap pulling out from either end to prolong its length were no longer made. The carvings on bedsteads were declining.
In 1660, Spiral turnings influenced by Portuguese and probably due to an East Indian source were in style. Caning on beech and walnut chair seats and backs with carved crestings, sides, and underbrace became fashionable. As the years progressed, the spacing of the caning mesh became smaller. Applied decorations such as split balusters, pendants, bosses, tulips, roses, grapevines, acanthus, laurelling, and mitered moldings were in high fashion. Drawers with wooden pulls in tables became common. In the later Carolean period, the pulls became refined with pendant drops of brass. Due to the common habit of tea and coffee drinking during this time, different sized tables became common. Flat stretchers became fashionable, especially on small tables. Bun feet appeared by 1660.
Jacobean Gateleg Table, 1680
Cromwellian chairs were being replaced by high-backed chairs by 1665 which stayed in fashion until 1700. Pendants replace turned supports on top tier and press cupboards. Then a pitiful event happened in London which destroyed much of the treasured Jacobean furniture of the period. The Great Fire of London of 1666 destroyed so many public buildings, and with them the ancient Halls of the City Guilds. There were 13,000 houses and as many as 89 churches and their contents that were destroyed.
Charles II Carved and Turned Beechwood and Oak Armchair together with a Jacobean turned Walnut Stool, Late 17th Century, Sold at Sotheby's January 18, 2003
After the destruction, Continental craftsmen came into the country to help with the revitalization of furniture which made London the center of furniture manufacturing. Under the direction of Sir Christopher Wren, many of the city's churches and palaces including St. Paul Cathedral were rebuilt. The wood carvings work of the master woodcarver, Grinling Gibbons, consisted of mostly natural garlands and swags of flowers and foilage, fruit, or birds or cherubs' heads. His favorite wood for intricate work was limewood. For church paneling and choir stalls, he used oak, and in his medallion portraits he used pear or boxwood.
The ball, and ball-and-ring turnings start declining by 1670. Loop drop handles were not used as much. Plain knobs could still be seen. "Restoration chairs with crowns and cupids came in fashion. A common chair decoration during the reign of Charles II would be a crown supported by cherubs while James II would be a crown and palm leaves. Chest of drawers started to replace coffers, most notably in southern England. Applied geometric moldings were standard decoration for drawer-fronts and some panels on chests and doors. Low dressers appear. The Flemish scrolled leg and the gracefully curved scrolled leg which ended in the Flemish scrolled foot replaced the straight turned leg carved in oak earlier. Although sometimes the curved Flemish foot ended attached to a straight turned leg. The S-scroll decoration remained popular until 1700 when it was replaced with the cabriole leg of William and Mary.
James II Jacobean chair with a cane back and seat, turned legs, and a saltier
By 1675 the Double S-scroll and marquetry appeared. By 1680 serpentine stretchers, most commonly saltiers which was an X-form were being produced. Baluster-turned stiles were used on chair backs. Applied split-bobbin molding remained popular until 1700. Oyster veneering, a method made from the the transverse slices of the boughs or roots of the walnut and other trees, became popular. Candlestands also started to appear. By 1685, upholstered wing chairs appear. Pearl and bone inlay declined.
Charles II Jacobean open high back chair, finely carved legs and saltier with a stuffed seat covered in old Spanish silk damask
In October 1685, Louis XIV declared Protestantism illegal with the Edict of Fontainebleau, commonly called Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. This caused thousands of skilled French cabinetmakers, glass workers, carvers, and textile workers to flee France and and to seek employment in England. The end of the the Carolean furniture period and the formation of the Queen Anne English school was affected by this edict.
It can never be underestimated the importance of Sir Christopher Wren and Grinling Gibbons in the design of seventeenth century English architecture and furniture. Their genius over architecture and wood carving dominated the period of walnut and extended not only into the Restoration period, but well into William and Mary, Queen Anne, Chippendale and the Georgian furniture period.
Source: Text and Research by Bryan Wright
Fiske & Freeman
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