Early Middle Ages. With the collapse of the Roman Empire during the 4th–5th centuries, Europe sank into a period in which little furniture, except the most basic, was used: chairs, stools, benches, and primitive chests were the most common items. Several centuries were to pass before the invading Teutonic peoples evolved forms of furniture that approached the Roman standard of domestic equipment. Comparatively little furniture of the medieval period in Europe has survived, and only a handful of these pieces date from before the end of the 13th century. One reason for this is the perishable nature of wood, but more important is the fact that furniture was made in relatively small quantities until the Renaissance.
Other constructional improvements of the 15th century included the introduction of drawers into cupboards and similar storage furniture, and neater and more efficient joints, such as the mitre and the mortise and tenon. Panelling was frequently decorated with a flat form of ornament called linenfold, or parchment. Linenfold was widely used in the north of France, Flanders, Low Germany north to the Baltic, Scandinavia, and England. The linenfold of France, the Low Countries, and Germany is carved with a sharper definition and greater delicacy than was usual in England and elsewhere. Both panelled furniture and room panelling were decorated with linenfold. Other forms of carved decoration on furniture became more common during the 15th century, when surfaces were carved with tracery and other Gothic motifs. During the Middle Ages a great many pieces of furniture, including those with carved decoration, were painted and sometimes gilded, a practice that continued well on into the Renaissance (the present state of existing pieces, with their plain wooden surfaces, is misleading). Chairs, tables, and various types of cupboards were also frequently draped with bright fabrics, while chairs, settles, and other seat furniture were provided with cushions.
The Rococo Chinese taste had conventions of its own: pagodas, exotic birds, Chinese figures, icicles, and dripping water. The graceful bombé commode, often with marble top and two or three drawers, the surface enriched with finely modelled ormolu mounts, was popular. Under Cressent's influence the mounts predominated, though later in the century the marquetry decoration gained first importance. Commodes and other pieces were decorated with marquetry of floral or geometrical patterns, or sometimes with lacquer decoration, again combined with ormolu mounts. The most celebrated makers of mounts during Louis XV's reign were Jacques Caffieri and his son Philippe. Jean-François Oeben was made ébéniste du roi (cabinetmaker to the king) in 1754; a pupil of Boulle, he was the most celebrated cabinetmaker of the period.
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