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The Arts in The Middle Ages and at the Period of The Renaissance

400 pages
Library of Alexandria
We shall be readily believed when we assert that the furniture used by our remote ancestors, the Gauls, was of the most rude simplicity. A people essentially addicted to war and hunting,—at the best, agriculturists,—having for their temples the forests, for their dwellings huts formed out of turf and thatched with straw and branches, would naturally be indifferent to the form and description of their furniture. Then succeeded the Roman Conquest. Originally, and long subsequent to the formation of their warlike republic, the Romans had also lived in contempt of display, and even in ignorance of the conveniences of life. But when they had subjugated Gaul, and had carried their victorious arms to the confines of the world, they by degrees appropriated whatever the manners and habits of the conquered nations disclosed to them of refined luxury, material progress, and ingenious devices for comfort. Thus, the Romans brought with them into Gaul what they elsewhere had acquired. Again, when, in their turn, the semi-barbarous hordes of Germany and of the Northern steppes invaded the Roman empire, these new conquerors did not fail to accommodate themselves instinctively to the social condition of the vanquished. This, briefly stated, is an explanation—we admit, rather concise—of the transition connecting the characteristics of the society of olden days with those of modern society. Society in the Middle Ages—that social epoch which may be compared to the state of a decrepid and worn-out old man, who, after a long, dull torpor awakes to new life, like an active and vigorous child—society in the Middle Ages inherited much from preceding times, though, to a certain extent, they were disconnected. It transformed, perhaps; and it perfected, rather than invented; but it displayed in its works a genius so peculiar that we generally recognise in it a real creation. Proposing rapidly to pursue our archæological and literary course through a twofold period of birth and revival, we cannot indulge the belief that we shall succeed in exhibiting our sketches in a light the best adapted to their effect. However, we will make the attempt, and, the frame being given, will do our best to fill in the picture. If we visit any royal or princely abode of the Merovingian period, we observe that the display of wealth consists much less in the elegance or in the originality of the forms devised for articles of furniture, than in the profusion of precious materials employed in their fabrication and embellishment. The time had gone by when the earliest tribes of Gauls and of Northmen, who came to occupy the West, had for their seats and beds only trusses of straw, rush mats, and bundles of branches; and for their tables slabs of stone or piles of turf. From the fifth century of the Christian era, we already find the Franks and the Goths resting their muscular forms on the long soft seat which the Romans had adopted from the East, and which have become our sofas or our couches; changing only their names. In front of them were arranged low horse-shoe tables, at which the centre seat was reserved for the most dignified or illustrious of the guests. Couches at the table, suited only to the effeminacy induced by warm climates, were soon abandoned by the Gauls; benches and stools were adopted by these most active and vigorous men; meals were no longer eaten reclining, but sitting: while the thrones of kings, and the chairs of state for nobles, were of the richest sumptuousness. Thus, for instance, we find St. Eloi, the celebrated worker in metals, manufacturing and embellishing two state-chairs of gold for Clotaire, and a throne of gold for Dagobert.