A History Of Wooden Canvases
by: Robert-Phillip Bazoiu
Painted furniture was born out of the necessity to decorate a piece of furniture without having to resort to sculpture, quality wood, or wood that was too expensive for most people. Painted furniture can be traced all the way back to the 16th century in most of Europe starting with Sweden, Switzerland, England, Normandy, Southern Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, to Transylvania, Russia and the Baltic countries.
Most northern countries’ motifs were rustic: stylized flowers, countryside homes around a church, crudely-painted farm animals, but northern Europeans also used motifs directly inspired from the French 18th century and Italian baroque Rococo's. The designs painted on 19th century English furniture was famously influenced by the time’s Victorian gardens: furniture covered in delicate contours detached on a sober or clear background. In Normandy, which produced in the 17th and 19th centuries numerous painted trunks and chests used for transporting fine fabrics or jewelry to the East, the most common motifs were the tulip, the rose, lengthened leaves and birds as a symbol of marriage, all on mostly sober backgrounds.
Italy, under the influence of its neighbors from Alsace, developed a certain style of painted furniture that included an elevated type of ornamentation for the rich and for clerics. The trunks had a perspective architectural finish. After a period such painted trunks were no longer fashionable, but painted furniture made a comeback in the 18th century with roses, wreaths, or landscapes that decorated dressers, closets, or harpsichords.
Germany adopted the unique and charming design of the Tölz Rose. Native to northern Bavaria, this little round rose curved around itself is displayed as wreaths or bouquets in vases.
Hungary’s and Poland’s signature design was achieved through the richness of the decor, charm of its colors, and the forms' originality. To furniture painters of this region empty space was the enemy of design. All the surface was covered in a dense manner: isolated flowers or bouquets, twin birds with geometrical shapes, precise design, often miniatures, with a more eastern than Slavic character. In Transylvania, painted furniture was brought by the Transylvanian Saxons who colonized the region and, having the dense, intricate design of Hungarian furniture, was very similar to that of southern Germany.
Roses and tulips were the flowers most favored by European history’s furniture painters. The tulip, symbolizing fertility through its closing form, commonly graced dowry chests. Bouquets and wreaths were rich in flowers more or less stylized, making for an absolutely charming polychromy.
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