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French Renaissance Furniture

1515 - 1610

The period of furniture design known as the French renaissance extends from the early sixteenth century into the early seventeenth century, through the reigns of Francis I (1515 - 1547), Henry II (1547 - 1559), Francis II (1559 - 1560), Charles IX (1560 - 1574), Henry III (1574 - 1589), Henry IV (1589 - 1610).

The styles of furniture, as well as sculpture, architecture, and art generally, associated with the French renaissance originated in the age of the Italian Renaissance, with its grand revival of the art forms of ancient Rome and Greece, and for much of the first half of the 16th century differed little from developments in Italy.

Armoire, 1580.

Italian craftsmen worked extensively in France and their ideas seeped into the work of local French artisans. French furniture, historically, was much more infused with the Gothic, or Romanesque, spirit and this lingered well into the early period of the Renaissance with French Renaissance furniture frequently showing Gothic traces, the only real difference from its Italian counterpart.

Around the time of King Henry II, however, we note the arrival of Mannerism, originating in the work of Italian painters, but becoming a distinctively French form. French renaissance furniture of the Mannerist type uses decoration that is more fluid, more sinous than in Italy with its characteristic features beign the arabesque, shields, scrolls, half figures, animal forms, cartouch, shell curved pediments, and twisted columns.

Sphinx Ornament on Furniture, circa 1600.

The main architect of this later French renaissance style of furniture was Androuet Du Cerveau who designed in an execptionally inventive and individual manner, having a large effect on styles of ornament in French furniture.

French furniture had a very developed tradition in the art of wood carving and there soon developed in the Renaissance era a certain boldness and freedom, with ornamentation that, for some, is somewhat coarse and heavy, which additionally marks French Renaissance furniture off from the more intricate, minute, and limited woodwork of the Italians.

Armoire Furniture
Armoire Furniture, 1600.

Inlays in exotic woods, ivories, ebony and metal were also used in France, although French cabinetmakers, as a rule, confined themselves to relief work and ignored the Italian colored marquetry and intarsia.

The history of the French Renaissance period of furniture is continued in Louis XIII furniture.

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