The Stylistic and historical influences on Chippendale furniture
The Chippendale style of furniture is one of the most well-known and highly regarded styles in furniture history. Created by Thomas Chippendale in 18th century England, the three main stylistic influences on Chippendale's work were the Gothic, Rococo, and Chinoiserie (or Chinese style) furniture styles. Let's take a deeper look at these historical influences and see how Chippendale was inspired to leave a lasting impression on the furniture world.
Gothic - Tudor Furniture in 16th Century England
The "Tudor period" of England is named because of the rulers of England at the time. Starting with Henry VII in 1485 and ending with Elizabeth I in 1603, the dynasty of the House of Tudor transitioned England from the medieval period into the early modern period of history. This transition is seen in numerous examples across England's culture, including in the nation's preferred furniture styles.
Tudor furniture was bulky and heavy; inspired by the Gothic aesthetics found in medieval architecture, especially cathedrals, almost all of these pieces were made from oak and featured intricate details on the backs or arms. The style stuck around through Elizabeth I's reign, even as the English Renaissance went underway and furniture styles started to change. Part of the reason that the style lasted so long was that Henry VIII separated England from the Roman Catholic Church as the Italian Renaissance was happening. This meant new Italian styles wouldn't make their way into England until the reign of Henry VIII's daughter, Elizabeth I. Though Chippendale was undoubtedly inspired by Gothic architecture in his designs, it's also safe to assume that he was just as heavily influenced, if not more so, by this Tudor style of furniture that was originally only available to monarchs and other members of the nobility.
The influences of the Gothic style are clear in Chippendale's work: from pointed arches to wooden lattices and s-shaped curves to dark woods, the ornamentation and sense of grandeur that the Gothic period is known for stands out in Chippendale's furniture. Chippendale furniture is often distinguishable from other styles because of the intricate carvings found on his pieces, and if we trace the roots of those carvings back, we're sure to stumble across the Tudor period along the way.
Rococo - 18th Century France
The Rococo style originated in France during the 18th century, during which time the nation underwent many changes. Rococo period furniture is first and foremost characterized by a movement away from the more serious, regal style of the 17th-century Baroque period. Beginning with the reign of Louis XIV, who had a lot of say in the fashions of the time, French furniture was typically luxurious and extravagantly ornamental while also maintaining a serious tone and character. Louis XIV furniture was typically rigid, built with a lot of straight lines and right angles, and then covered in gold decorations.
After Louis XIV's reign was over, Louis XV was too young to rule, so the nation appointed a regent to rule in his place until he reached adulthood. Without the strict Louis XIV dictating furniture styles that were courtly in appearance, the French aristocracy started incorporating curves and nature motifs into their furniture styles. The Rococo period was officially ushered in by the time Louis XV came of age, and the aristocracy was comfortable in their lavish lifestyles.
Some specific characteristics of Rococo furniture that Chippendale drew on included the cabriole leg and nature motifs within the displayed elaborate carvings, which often included shells, leaves, and flowers. The cabriole leg is a leg that curves outward at the top and inward at the bottom; most Rococo pieces stopped there, but Chippendale also incorporated ball and claw feet, among other ornamental designs.
Chinoiserie (Chinese style) - China Cabinets
The influence of Chinoiserie on Chippendale's work isn't as obvious as the Gothic or Rococo influences, and that's because it was mainly limited to one piece of furniture: the china cabinet. Chippendale china cabinets often featured a pagoda-style pediment and glazing bars in a fretwork design. Some pieces of Chippendale furniture were "Japanned," which meant that they were covered in paint that imitated oriental-style lacquer. The history of the Chinese furniture style goes back thousands of years, but the use of lacquer that Chippendale was inspired by dates back to the Song dynasty.
The Chippendale style is very distinct, but while its impact on the furniture world is unmatched even to this day, it relies heavily on Gothic, Rococo, and Chinese style influences. The evidence of these influences can be seen in the intricate carvings, dark woods, curves, and embellishments that these pieces feature. Even though Thomas Chippendale found inspiration in history, he managed to create a long-lasting impression by taking elements from other styles and making them his own.
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