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Jacobean Design

Jacobean furniture craftsmen experimented with various forms of ornament; they overloaded here, refined there, and occasionally brought to light some new idea, such as the clumsy forerunner of the gate leg table. Their furniture was wonderfully decorative, and it appeared against interior backgrounds of panelling that were almost outrageously elaborate.

Drop leaf tables were known in the late Elizabethan period, and the reign of James I was to see considerable development of tables with fixed tops. Jacobean chairs of oak, simple enough in form, consisting of plain, turned front legs, plain, square sectioned back legs and rails, unshaped seat and sloping back, also contributed to the rich effect of rooms and Jacobean interiors, for the backs and heads were carved with panels of vigorous design: sometimes an arcaded panel would contain a figure, or a square panel would be filled by some floral motif, inlaid patternings occasionally taking the place of carving.

Oak Clothes Chest
Oak Clothes Chest, 1610-1640.
The design of the carved decoration suggests that it was made in the early 1600s. It is made with thin panels housed in a grooved framework, without glue, so that the panels can expand and contract without splitting. The framework is constructed using mortise and tenon joints, pinned with wooden pegs. This panelled construction produces furniture that is much lighter and stronger than pieces made from solid planks. The doors and upper part of the interior are fitted with 11 wooden pegs for hanging clothes.

Sgabello Design Armchair
Sgabello Design Armchair, 1625.
Has a scallop shell back based on the sgabello, an ornate form of hall chair widely used in Venice from about 1570. The arms, balusters and front slat are made of beech, the back and seat of oak. Chairs like this would have been popular with the select group of courtiers known as the "Whitehall Set". They were close to Charles I and shared his taste for the latest fashions from Italy and France.

Beds in the Jacobean age kept their ornate characteristics, and the bedheads in particular attracted the really imaginative craftsmen of the time, for they unloaded a wealth of grotesque fancy upon the enrichment of the bed head; the posts at the foot supporting the tester also came in for a share of lavish carving, but generally speaking there was more dignity in the design of these massive pieces of furniture in comparison to Elizabethan beds.

In general Jacobean design was more sober, square shaped, and heavy, even severe. A greater amount of good sense in the matter of decorative values is clear. The craftsmen were becoming craft conscious, and consequently their work did not reflect the instinctive love of ornament that in early Tudor times was expressed with such easy competence.

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