Framed panelling had been used in ancient times, as examples found at Herculaneum testify; its reintroduction in the Burgundian Netherlands at the beginning of the 15th century was an improvement that soon spread throughout western Europe. Panelled construction solved the problem of building large surface areas, as on the front of a chest or cupboard, which before this time had been limited by the size of individual planks. These planks, usually hewn with an adz, were heavy and liable to warp and split. Panels could be cut thinner, the main strain being taken by the framework, and the furniture was therefore lighter; moreover, if the panels were not fitted too tightly in their stiles, the wood was less likely to split if it did warp. Now that it was possible to construct larger surface areas, a new range of storage furniture, cupboards and chests in particular, was developed.
Characteristic of this style is the enrichment of every surface with flamboyant carved, turned, inlaid, and painted decoration, which strongly reflects the spirit of the English Renaissance. During Elizabeth I's reign there was a considerable and fairly widespread increase in domestic comfort, to be seen in improved construction, multiplication of types, and the tentative beginnings of upholstered furniture. A series of inlaid chests with perspective architectural scenes, often called nonesuch chests, were either imported from Germany or made by German workmen in England. They were influential in propagating the technique of inlaid decoration, which by the end of the century was being applied to every type of furniture.
France. The transitional phase in French furniture from Baroque to Rococo is called Régence. The heavy, monumental style of the earlier part of Louis's reign was gradually replaced by a lighter and more fluent curvilinear style. The leading exponent of the Régence style was Charles Cressent, ébéniste (“cabinetmaker”) to the regent Philippe II, duc d'Orléans. In his work the ormolu (a brass imitation of gold) mounts, so important a part of the design of French furniture in the 18th century, became equal to if not more important than, the marquetry decoration of the carcass. The curvilinear form was introduced not only to externals, such as legs and supports, but, in the bombé (rounded sides and front) commodes that first appeared during this period, to the case itself. High-quality marquetry in coloured woods replaced ebony.
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