Louis XIII style is best understood as the product of a more conservative and less wealthy time. The influence of the Spanish, Italian, and Flemish dominated the European fashion in both dress and furniture. Designs were greatly influenced by the Church and the Mannerism period of European art.
King Louis XIII was only eight years old when his father, Henri IV, was assassinated and his mother, Marie de Medici, was appointed his regent. While acting as regent, de Medici commissioned Peter Paul Rubens to paint two allegorical cycles for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, celebrating her life and that of Henry IV. It's Rubens arrival in France in 1621 that's generally considered the beginning of the Louis XIII style.
Louis XIII is still a Renaissance style, as Rubens himself had spent eight years in Mantua, Italy. However, with the Louis XIII style, the Italian taste is secondary to the Flemish one. Furniture design was more opulent as French designers were moving away from the Italian Renaissance to establish a style of their own.
Interior rooms became more numerous and specific. The emerging middle class fueled the demand for furniture, tapestries and textiles. Although they didn't live in Paris, many middle class people wanted nice furniture. Rustic pieces such as the trestle table, with its thick plateau top and graceful legs, reflected city styles but were made for a more relaxed rural life — hence the French Country look began.
For the first time, French people expected furniture to be comfortable as well as beautiful, as the concept of a comfortable place to sit and relax was just emerging. Fixed upholstery was one of the great inventions of this period. Leather, tapestries, and fine fabrics such as velvet were fastened directly to the chair’s wooden framework with large gold, brass, or silver-headed nails. Louis XIII style added arms to chairs and seats and backs were padded and usually ornamented with a short fringe. Stools also received upholstery.
Creative imagination was appreciated in both design and ornament. Goldsmiths and architects designed many pieces of furniture of the period and were very influential in the decorative arts.
Louis XIII furniture features massive, solid construction with geometric carvings. With a tendency toward the architectural, it's sturdy and heavy compared to later styles. The diamond point, pyramid patterns, and large bun feet on cabinetry are common decorative themes. Lathe-turning techniques and moulding also had an influence on appearance. Turnery was used for legs or stretchers, and the richly turned shapes (beaded, twist or baluster) created on a lathe help identify pieces as Louis XIII style.
Other typical design themes include putti, fruit, scrolls, flowers, swags, cartouches, ball and claw, chimeras, acanthus leaves, scallop shells, cornucopias, grotesque masks, bulging vases, and lion and ram heads.
Many forms of chairs and sofas became common, and the divan, lit de repos (chaise lounge) and console were products of this period. Louis XIII chairs, as a rule, were more comfortable and were more commonly used for ordinary domestic purposes. Chairs, sometimes made in sets, were high back with a round shape or low back and square in shape with elaborately turned legs and stretchers. Another common shape for stool and chair legs was the X shape, as depicted in the paintings of the Dutch masters. The os de mouton chair is the most notable example of the era, with legs shaped like those of a lamb.
Henri IV regularly patronized French cabinetmakers, so many credit him as creating demand and ensuring the popularity of the Louis XIII style. Woodworkers traded elaborate carvings for spiral and bead turning (legs and posts). Ebony was a favorite construction material, but cabinetmakers used oak, walnut, pear wood, and pine as well. Veneering also became a solid art during this period.
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