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Cromwellian or Puritan Furniture in England

The Commonwealth

In 1642 war broke out between the English parliament and King Charles I with parliamentary forces, who were later victorious, coming to be dominated by religious zealots, or Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell established a republic, or commonwealth, which lasted from 1649 to 1660.

The years of Cromwellian rule in the aftermath of the English civil war era were an austere, perhaps grim, time and this had a predictable effect on inclinations towards furnishing homes.

Puritan Furniture

Cromwellian or puritan furniture stands somewhat apart in the overall history of english furniture representing a holding action against the general trend towards the subsuming of gothic styles in England into the wider rebirth of ancient and classical forms of decoration, the European Renaissance, and against foreign influences generally.

Oak Settle
Oak Settle, circa 1650.

Characteristics

Puritan furniture had a sharp, angular, severe aspect, it frowned upon decoration, luxury, and ornament and made its appeal in a simple, practical styling. Wood carving and upholstery were little used.

Country Bed
Country Bed, 1650's.

A caveat to this, and an oddity of the times, was that turning of legs in chairs was still allowed and carried out as can be seen in Cromwellian chairs. There was a great revival of turned work in general, and bobbin and spiral turning brought a new grace to the legs and stretchers of chairs and tables.

Farmhouse Style

Puritan furniture in Cromwell's England was a very country style, farmhouse type of furniture produced in an atmosphere, a Calvinist one, where utility took precedence over comfort and pretty decorating, and men, "born in iniquity and conceived in sin", under a perfect god were not worthy of fine things. The inevitable reaction against it came in the Restoration period.

The Puritan Heritage

It is commonplace in these enlightened times to routinely belittle what the Puritans were, stood for, and did, however it can be said that their influence on English (and American) decorative arts was on the whole very positive. In the case of antique furniture making and design, while the craftsmen of the Cromwellian era abstained from much overt ornamenting, this did not prevent them from excelling in other areas. Cromwellian furniture design is notable for a certain refinement, in being more careful and thought out, in both design and construction. The later Restoration period was to see much energy lavished upon the production of quite ornate and beautiful things but the lessons of Puritan reserve were not entirely lost.









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