Thursday, November 6, 2014

Dating antiques: Late 19th-century style

As the century progressed, and countries such as Italy and Germany became unified, a sense of nationalism pervaded in Europe. This led to a revival of the dominant styles of the previous 500 years, including Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo. New methods of mass production made goods more affordable and available but it also provoked the Arts and Crafts movement as a reaction against it.

Motifs from architecture

The first of these revival styles was Neo-Gothic. Motifs taken from architecture, such as pointed arches, latticework and quatrefoils, and heraldy, were used on furniture, fabrics and tablewares. Stained glass was revived for domestic use.

In France and Italy, there was a return to the Renaissance style. Oak and walnut furniture was carved with spindles and fretwork. Meissen and Sèvres produced porcelain decorated with classical figures, grotesques and scarabs. In Britain, many factories began making a form of richly glazed ceramic known as ‘majolica’. Its name was based on that of maiolica, a type of tin-glazed earthenware produced in Italy from the Renaissance period.

Neo-Baroque furniture – based on 17th-century Baroque pieces – was carved with foliage and elements from classical architecture, such as pediments. Decorative technique from that era were revived, including Boulle marquetry (inlaid bronze),  marquetry (inlaid wood) and pietra dura (inlaid marble). The Rococo style also enjoyed a revival. The Industrial Revolution had brought advances in veneer cutting, carving and metal casting. This enabled Rococo furniture to be produced at a fraction of what it had cost in the 18th century.

Meissen excelled at production porcelain encrusted with floral ornament and heavily decorated with gilding and enamel.

A mix of styles

Neoclassicism, which had been popular at the beginning of the century, was revived. The driving force behind this styles was the new Emperor of France, Napoleon III, who ruled from 1848 to 1870. Some pieces were direct copies of examples from the 17th and 18th centuries; others combined details from several styles, often at the expense of decorative cohesion.

New industrial techniques reduced the cost of furniture and decorative arts, enabling them to be sold far more cheaply to the growing middle classes. The Arts and Crafts movement, which emerged around 1880, rejected mass production and called for the balance between art and craftmanship. The English writer and art critic John Ruskin and designer William Morris led the movement, which encouraged a return to the skills of medieval craftsmen. Arts and Crafts pieces were simple and functional. Ornament was sparse but included Celtic motifs, enamelling and a wide variety of new ceramic glazes.

The sinuous Art Nouveau style was also a reaction to the glut of revival styles in the late 19th century and a desire for a fresh approach. The style has spread from Paris to the major cities of Europe by 1895 and the rest of the world by 1900. 

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