Many of these chairs had exaggeratedly high backs terminating in elaborately carved canopies; some were freestanding, while others had their backs fixed to the wall in the manner of a church stall. Settles were also used for seating during the 15th century. An innovation on the Continent was the settle with a pivoted bar forming the backrest, which could be swung over to allow a person to sit on either side—evidence of the weight of the furniture of this period. Tables were mainly of trestle construction (with a braced frame serving as a support for the tabletop) with long rectangular tops that could be dismantled. During the 15th century on the Continent, smaller tables were made which could be more conveniently moved and, especially, drawn up to the fire. Various forms of cupboards, ambries, and dressoirs were developed at this time, panelled and decorated with linenfold or Gothic carved ornament. All these types were basically a chest with doors, of simple rectangular form raised on legs; elaborations of construction and decoration soon followed, as did the specialization of their functions.
The religious houses were an exception to this in that they enjoyed a certain security denied to the outside world. Much of the best furniture of this period was therefore made for use in churches and monasteries, and many of the ideas and developments that were later to add to the domestic comfort of Europe originated in the cloister. An example can be seen in the early development for ecclesiastical use of the various types of reading and writing furniture, such as lecterns and desks, that show ingenuity in construction. Throughout the Middle Ages and well on into the 16th and 17th centuries, all types of furniture remained scarce, and any reasonably good furniture belonged to the nobility and the wealthy merchants. The household equipment of the peasantry throughout Europe, even as late as the 18th century, was frequently crude in design and roughly constructed.
Woods and Ornamentation, A number of different types of woods were used during this period including rosewood and mahogany with rich graining. Some pieces had pine bases with mahogany veneers, and when crafted nicely together they had the appearance of solid wood. Those with simpler graining in the veneer usually fall into the cottage furniture category. Marble tops on tables were also popular during this period. Ormolu laurel wreaths decorated the sides and fronts of desks and cabinets to help to prevent scratching and nicks in the wood. High relief carvings included pineapples, cornucopias, acanthus leaves, and the statement-making caryatid. “The Sphinx, resembling a Pharaoh's head on a body of a lion with claw feet, enthralled everyone. Soon claw feet became an Empire icon bedecking everything from chairs to beds,” said Frank Farmer Loomis IV in Antiques 101. However, claw feet on American pieces were mostly carved while on French styles they tended to be ormolu. He also notes that legs for tables and other pieces were often fashioned like classically shaped columns.
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