A History of Woodworking ~ Raymond McInnis

Usage of Term "Pattern Book" in English Language

A pattern book is one designed to contain samples of different patterns of furniture forms, fabrics and tapestries, wallpapers, ceramic designs, etc., -- and as you will note below -- enters the English language around 1775. (On the right is a page from the Chippendale pattern book of that period.) However, pattern books themselves forst appear in Northern Europe in the mid-16th-century.

chippendale design page

On the one hand, the woodworkers' manual can be quite detailed, often indicating not only the dimensions of each component part of the piece, but also shows how to actually make the part. Thus it is a book that lives up to its label as a "manual". On the other hand, "pattern book" -- because it emerged before the age of the amateur woodworker, is designed only to give a three-dimensional rendering of a furniture form. The pattern book's author knows that any cabinetmaker -- remember this is the Renaissance era in European history -- wishing to construct this piece already possesses the requisite skills for constructing the piece, skills acquired through a long apprenticeship program.

As you read both the sample usages directly below -- and the paragraphs that follow -- you will note from their titles that the books that are later called pattern books appear first in the latter half of the 16th-century, in Northern Europe, but it isn't until the latter-18th-century, after over two centuries have passed, when, as a term to identify these publications, "pattern book" appears in a printed text. In other words, the label for this genre of books is given later, or retrospectively. The term in the English language used to identify these publications is "retronym", where "retro" means "later", and "nym" means "word" or "name". In this case, "retronym" simply means, "later-name".

Selected Examples of Usage of Term "Pattern Book" From Oxford English Dictionary

1774 "Spent the evening with Mr. Longsdon, who gave me a pattern Book and desires me to do some business for him". Source: Nicholas Cresswell Journal of Nicholas Cresswell Thursday April 7, 1774 page 9:

1801 Rusterbuch [German word], n. [equals] pattern book [in English] Source: Nathan Bailey's Dictionary, English-German and German-English: Leipzig: F. Frommann, 1801

1818 On the shelf is a piece of cloth ready to be made into clothes, and also a pattern-book. Source: [Anonymous], Book of English Trades and the Library of Useful Arts, With Seventy Engravings London: Richard Phillips, 1818, page 396

1840 Furniture Pattern Book Source: The Cabinet Makers' Pattern Book ... Fourth series. [Eighty plates]. London: Furniture Gazette Supplement, 1884.

2014 Chippendale's illustrated book was both a way of attracting purchasers and also the first furniture pattern book for tradesmen thinking of making and selling chairs and sofas, beds and bookcases, tables and chests. Source: [Description of Museum Exhibit: "Georgians Revealed: Life, Style, and the Making of Modern Britain" British Library, London. November 8, 2013-March 11, 2014, The New Criterion March 2014, page 43.

The handful of examples of the use in print of the term "pattern book" gleaned from a variety sources above probably indicates that the use of this term is most likely as a "retronym"

What the Appearance of Pattern Books Implies

Important Pattern Books, 16th-Century
important pattern books 16th centurychippendale design page

Remember, the principle elements of Classical architecture are the Five Orders -- Doris, Ionic, Corinthian, Tuscan, Composite -- and a knowledge of these is considered essential to anyone with pretenses to designing a Renaissance building. While it may come as a surprise to today's cabinetmakers, as well as architects, works such as these pattern books are indispensable to furniture makers and carvers. Thus, it is not a mystery why, by 1537 a Flemish translation of the Italian architect Serlio's Fourth Book of Architecture appears in Antwerp. In turn, this translation and other publications like it inspired natives, such as the Flemish designer, Hans Vredeman de Vries, to prepare publications on the Five Orders – but translated into the needs of native craftsmen. Today, rather than having a working familiarity with the 16th-century Serlio and/or Vredeman de Vries -- as discussed below -- we are more likely to know about such famous 18th-century British pattern books as:

1762: Thomas Chippendale. The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director 1762: William Ince and John Mayhew. Authentic Georgian Furniture Designs: Universal System of Household Furniture, 1762.

1794: George Hepplewhite. The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide.
1794 pattern book illustrating 300 different chairs, beds, side boards, etc. 128 plates.
1853: Blackie & Son. Victorian Cabinet-Maker’s Assistant.

However, it is good to keep in mind that without the shoulders of these earlier giants -- Serlio, Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau, Vredeman de Vries -- such books as Chippendale's The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director probably never would have appeared.

The Birth of Perspective

jean pelerin's 1505 image on

Again, pattern books are indispensable to furniture makers of all types, because, for the craftsman, they present a method of representing the three dimensions of furniture on two-dimensional surfaces -- think of pages in manuals for building furniture such as pattern books like Chippendale's famous . Today, of course, we view perspective as so natural that we are unware of how difficult the initial efforts are as achievements.

As a method, the perspective system comes from early 15th-century Italy. Using example and precept, such Renassaince architects as Leone Battista Alberti (1404-72) and Donato Lazzari Bramante (1444-1514) and such painters as Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) and Piero della Francesca (1415-1492) help develop the techniques of perspective. Battista is the first to publish a treatise -- his 1435 De Pictura introduces the perspective concept.

Published in Milan circa 1480, for example, John Peckham's (1240-92) Perspectiva Communis is an early example of a treatise on perspective. But the first illustrated work on perspective is Jean Pelerin's 1505 De Artificiali Perspectiva (that is, "On Artificial Perspective"). A 1509 second edition includes in the title a couplet which draws attention to the usefulness of the book to craftsmen, while a plate -- in the table on the left -- of a furnished bedroom with truly revolutionary depictions of furniture is early evidence of how important perspective is to Northern Renaissance furniture designers.

Albrecht Dürer's 1525 Underweysung der Messung is an influential treatise, while Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau's work is discussed below. By the mid-16th-century, such designers as Lorenz Stoer (1567), Hans Lencker (1567) and Wenzel Jamnitzer (1568), are adept in their use of perspective, but it is Hans Vredeman de Vries -- also discussed below -- who excels with memorable skill.

In 1581, further designs by de Vries – for ornamental motifs and for furniture – are published: Architectura. The first of their kind to appear in the Lowland Countries, they are of immense importance, for the influence of de Vries penetrates as far Britain and Sweden. In 1630 two similar volumes are published by his son and collaborator, Paul Vredeman de Vries, but the father's influence is much apparent. These contain designs for buffets, bed­steads, chairs, benches, chests, tables, and even for towel-horses, in which strapwork, masks and caryatids replace the earlier grotesques, and they were to become the main inspiration of the furniture makers of the Lowland Countries until well into the 17th century.

To traditional furniture forms, joiners and carvers begin to apply between classical columns such decorative features as carvings of grotesques. Such work, definitely, cannot have been easy. Towards the middle of the century, two Low Countries designers, Cornelis Willem Bos (c1506/10 — 1555) and Cornelis Floris (1514-1575), combine in their pattern books designs of grotesques with a new type of ornamental strap-work.

Sources: The plate comes from a reproducton byWilliam Mills Ivins, On the Rationalization of Sight: With an Examination of Three Renaissance Texts on Perspective New York: Da Capo Press, 1975, no paging; Simon Jervis, Printed Furniture Designs Before 1650 London: Furniture History Society, 1974, pages 17-18, 55 (but see also note by an author who signs himself/herself as "H.P.R.", "The Perspective of Jean, Called Pelerin, Canon of Toul", Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts 33, No. 197 June 1935, pages 32-33 and A Hyatt Mayor, Prints and People: A Social History of Printed Pictures New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971); ; Thomas Frangenberg, "The Image and the Moving Eye: Jean Pelerin (Viator) to Guidobaldo del Monte", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 49:150-171 (1986); Gordon Campbell, "Perspective", Renaissance Art and Architecture Kirsti Andersen, The Geometry of an Art: The History of the Mathematical Theory of Perspective From Alberti top Monge New York: Springer Verlag, 2007.

A History of Furniture Embraces Social History As Much As It Does Art History

Frans Franken 1606 painting,

In dating periods of any history of furniture styles, the customary practice is to couple the periods of furniture with the names or houses of kings, queens and/or emperors, or whatever a nation's leader may be called – examples are Tudor, Elizabethan or Queen Anne – but, as you investigate more deeply, it soon becomes obvious that styles in furnishing do not follow very precisely a birth or a death of the sovereign. Instead, your investigations soon make obvious that a history of furniture embraces social history as much as it does art history. Moreover, neither social history nor art history sort out into precisely demarked chronological periods. Too often, one period slops over into the next. Evolution means transition and overlap, and and our so-called “historical periods” are – to quote historian G. M. Trevelyan –

not facts. They are instead retrospective conceptions that we collectively form about past events and their detritus, useful to focus discussion, but very often leading historical thought astray.

Source: G. M. Trevelyan, English Social History: a Survey of Six Centuries: Chaucer to Queen Victoria London: Longman, 1942, pages vii-xii.

(On the left -- Frans Franken's 1606 painting, "The Living Room" -- is a room in the home of the artist, Peter Paul Rubens. The chairs, perhaps, are more simple -- turned or pegged frames enhanced by leather backs and seats -- the cupboard -- with its canted pilasters and built-up stand at the back -- is very Renaissance in feeling. Adapted from National Museum, Stockholm and the book, The History of Furniture London: Orbis, 1976, page 46.)

Defining the Term Renaissance

As a term in discourse in culture history, Renaissance – literally, “rebirth” – is sometimes used in the sense that it signifies a rebirth of artistic talent and activity. Such use of this term belies, of course, any high standards achieved in the ecclesiastical art of the earlier medieval era. More realistically, the things which are reborn are the original Classic Greek and Roman architectural forms, which replace the Gothic. In light of this revival of the Classic forms in building, energized alike are sculptors, painters, and such other craftsmen as joiners and carvers. Salient among the stylistic innovations that evolve are arabesques – think of stylized and/or naturalistic depictions of acanthus leaves -- often chosen to embellish walls as well as furniture.

And parallel with these departures in the decorative arts is, applied broadly, a taste for the discovery of knowledge, an emergence of a drive for the conduct of inquiry, in all branches of human endeavor.

In Italy, historically, as early as the end of the 12th-century, a desire to emulate antique statuary is manifest. Two centuries later – when Renaissance art is nearing its peak in Italy – the French king, Charles VIII, leads his troops in a victorious foray against Italy. On going home from his campaign, Charles induces several Italian cabinetmakers to come with him, whom he commissions to create furniture for the castle, Amboise. This is how French artists are introduced to Renaissance styles.

Before the Renaissance, except for work in churches, furniture makers are limited in the scope of their work. With the Renaissance, Continental joiners had an elevated status. In Northern Europe, styled sometimes menuisiers, usually huchiers, in every large town, they have a guild distinct from that of the charpentiers (that is, carpenters) , or mere joiners. Typical of guilds, European joiners serve a 6-year apprenticeship and, before he can start business on his own, for a jury of veteran craftsmen from his local guild, it is required that the budding journeyman execute a furniture form of prescribed theme and size.

Given the conditions, designs are shifting from Gothic to Renaissance, these forms typically combine elements of both traditions. (For conditions during this same period regarding furniture making, guilds, apprenticeship, things of a smilar nature as above, but as they are practices in Britain, see learning on the shop floor woodworking practices in the medieval and renaissance eras.)

Evidently for the French craftsmen, unlike their Italian brothers, a literal simulating of architectural themes is favored in furniture. In this sense, they might give a chair headrail the form of pediment, perhaps carve other parts of the chair to represent classic urns, or sculpture caryatids and pilasters on the faces of dressers or chests. [image] As yet the medium of the huchiers was invariably oak, and on occasion they would color the wood, as traces of pigment tell. But whereas the Italians would often leave a large surface flat, say on the front of a coffer, and paint there a genre picture, the Frenchmen appear to have regarded polychrome exclusively as a thing to enhance relief.

An Age of Oak Morphs Into an Age of Walnut

The introduction of walnut (see Appendix 10 for dates of Woodworking Epochs) infuses an urge among joiners to do finer work. Walnut, says furniture historian, W G Blaikie Murdoch, is nearly always chosen by huchiers for fine furniture in the second part of the sixteenth century. A fresh medium often brings a fresh urge to rare work, and thus it was with this introduction of walnut. Until the mid-1600th century, craftsmen, mostly follow the conventions which guilds impose as to the practices that should be employed for making different furniture forms. Now, conversely, men commenced to exercise their ingenuity and to utter their personal predilections.

At the time, trade links all Low Country cities – Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent – with the Italian states, which makes it no surprise that they are also influenced by the artistic flavor of Italian design of that period. In 1506, remember, Michelangelo sends his “Virgin and Child” to Bruges, while between 1516-1519, tapestries after Raphael's cartoons of the “Acts of the Apostles” are woven in Brussels. There can be no doubt that Italian works on architecture - such as Serlio's 1537 Tutu l'opere d'architettura c prospettiva -- simply Architettura – reach the Low Countries soon after publication. Yet Renaissance architecture in the Low Countries consists mainly of arches and other temporary structures (the Renaissance additions to the palace at Malines are excep­tional). But while a strain of conservatism encourages the retention of the Gothic style, the influence of the Renaissance becomes apparent in carved work. This attitude combined with a love of rich decorations and, perhaps, an association of Italianate with festal architecture, predisposes citizens of the Low Countries to welcome the ingenious elaboration of Mannerist ornament.

Brief note on use of "Mannerist" in our English language. A corruption of the Italian "maniera". Maniera – or more likely “mannerist” – is used in discourse during the Renaissance period in a number of grammatically different ways, and also carries with this use a number of different meanings: grace, learning, virtuosity, refinement and sophistication. Evidently, however, the meaning of Mannerism itself derives from one particular usage only: in all cases, “maniera” translates into the English word, “style”. While we may use this word in various ways, most often with some qualification, we most likely use it in the following way: for example, we can talk of Ruben's style, Renaissance style, abstract style, and so on. Out of this usage comes a descriptive mode that allows us to characterize the attributes of works of art. For example, in 1519 -- when Raphael Sanzio (1482 1520) and Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529) write their letter to Pope Leo x on the architecture of Rome – they famously say that Gothic style buildings are “devoid of all grace and entirely without style”. In this context, then – when the pointed Gothic style gives way to the more graceful, flowing lines of ancient Greece and Rome – their claims imply that the qualities of grace and maniera exist in the architecture of antiquity.

Derivatively, the concept maniera comes from the literature of manners, where originally its use is to suggest an existence of a quality - and very desirable quality - of human deportment. In turn the word's meaning morphs into something like savoir-faire, that is, effortless accomplishment and sophistication, or, above all, a sense courtly grace. And its opposite – and which are mannerisms to be avoided absolutely – is any revealed passion and rude naiveté. With its transference to the visual arts this meaning of mannerism survives today in its modern English equivalent, “style”. (My description of mannerism owes much to John Shearman's Mannerism Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967, pages 17-18; and Simon Jervis, The Facts on File Dictionary of Design and Designers New York : Facts on File, 1984, pages 319-320.)

They certainly seem to have responded less to Serlio's attempts to establish the pure forms of the classical orders than to the fantastic designs he publishes in the later parts of his book. And in the 1540s and 1550s the Flemish artist, Cornelis Bos (c. 1510-c.1566), publishes his complex ornamental designs – the so-called Netherlands grotestque – while the decade that follows similar designs are produced by Cornelius Floris de Vriendt (c.1513/14-1575).

Sources: W G Blaikie Murdoch, "French Furniture From The Sixteenth Century To The Early Nineteenth Century", Good Furniture Magazine 14 1920, pages 14-33; Gordon Campbell, Renaissance Art and Architecture New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, pages 32, 94-95, 163-164, 236.

As a tool for assisting cabinetmakers help clients make choices about their furniture "wants and desires", pattern books become a staple in the woodworking industry. With the widespread publication of pattern books in the 18th-century, furniture styles became an issue of fashionableness. Before that widespread use, pattern books are in use as guides to design of such forms as furniture, but the acceptance of a new furniture design is gradual, a process influenced by factors as diverse as how rapid new styles can be communicated, the extent of a patron's travels, how such leaders in style trends as the Court are followed, and – perhaps most important – the availability of craftsmen capable of executing the new designs in actual pieces.

Impact of the Invention of Printing

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But the method of exchanging ideas quickens with the appearance of a new technology: the invention of printing in Germany in the mid-15th century spurs a new sentiment for inquiry. As the 15th-century closes, the first French translations of classic writing by Virgil, Homer, and Plato are published. The French successors to Charles continue the infusion of classic design.

In Flanders the Italian Renaissance repertory of decorative motifs had been accepted early in the sixteenth century. Such cities as Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges and Ghent were closely linked by trade with the Italian states and it is hardly surprising that they should have come under artistic influence from Italy. In 1506, it will be remembered, Michelangelo sent his Virgin and Child to Bruges, and between 1516 and 1519 tapestries after Raphael's cartoons of the Acts of the Apostles were woven in Brussels.

Appropos in this context is the title page for the book on the left, Joseph Moxon's Mechanick Exercises: Or The Doctrine of Handy-Works perhaps the first "how-to-do-it" book for joiners and cabinetmakers in recorded history. While coming as it does just at the end of the Renaissance, Mechanick Exercises illustrates very neatly how the appeance of book printing technology begins to shape thinking about art and new ways of explaining how to create art, including furniture.

Conditions That Prevail at the Dawn of Pattern Books: In the Covering of Walls, A Shift From Tapestry, Leather to Wood Paneling or Plaster. Tables and Chairs Shift From Luxuries to Essentials

trestle table late 16th-century britain

Up the end of the 1400s, to be considered comfortable, rooms are to be hung with leather or tapestry. But, it soon became evident, neither leather nor tapestry befits a background for the portraits in oils that are slowly acquiring vogue. It is this milieu – during the reign of Francis I (1494-1547) – in which a taste for paneling for walls emerges [image needed].

Before the accession of Francis I – the so-called “connoisseur king” – tables are infrequent, food instead is laid on planks on trestles; and benches predominate over chairs. Indeed, many houses having only one chair, intended for the exclusive use of the establishment's master.

Thus it is significant that in France and the Low Countries at the beginning of the 16th-century, it becomes the custom to view tables and chairs, not as luxuries, but as necessities. Already, chests, dressers and beds are furniture forms that are found in homes.

trestle_table_late_16th-c_britain.jpg

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As what today may intially seem an unlikelihood -- especially today, when we witness fashion trends to shift so quickly -- a feature of many of these furnishings in homes throughout Northern Europe is, in the 17th-century and earlier, the endurance of certain decorative styles. For example, many objects designed around 1600, or even before, appear time and time again in paintings of interiors by such Low Country artists as Claes Jansz. Visscher (c 1550-1612) and Thomas de Keysser (c 1596-1667) and of the late 17th-century. In Northern Europe, including Britain, during the era known as the Renaissance, styles in domestic furnishings change slowly. In Holland, for example, the conservative burgher wants comfort, quality, rather than the latest design. Moreover, this persistence of style reflects conditons that prevail as a result of the the guild system, which -- rather than invention -- emphasizes craftsmanship, and follows this tradition with little change where the system continues to use the same forms as prototypes until the close of the 17th-century.

The section below owes much to Herbert Cescinsky and Ernest R. Gribble's 1922 Early English Furniture and Woodwork :

Take, for example, the restoration of interiors and furniture in the 17th-Century Parham House: Top Image on the Left.

Prosperity for the expanding merchant classes of Europe and the American colonies in the 16th- and 17th-centuries becomes reflected in their emphasis upon domestic comfort. Stylistically, the most significant development is an adaptation of classical -- mainly Roman -- design. Orginating in Renaissance Italy, the Classical style is often loosely interpreted in Europe -- and later America -- as we are seeing throughout this entry, via pattern books.

Often, too, classical ornament is combined with Medieval ornament — especially Gothic. As trade with China and India increases, Asian styles of the decorative arts -- Chinoiserie -- become popular from the late 17th century into the 18th.

For decorative effect, on the main floor of the more grand of houses, 16th-century designers of domestic architecture incorporate both geometrically patterned marble, and/or hardwoods, marquetry and parquetry flooring, or bricks, tiles, flagstones, and unadorned wooden floorboards. (Limewash -- it traces back to ancient times -- consists of a mix of lime putty with water and linseed oil, but colored pigments could be added.)

High ceilings consisted of exposed beams and joists, filled in with lime-washed plaster panels. Likewise, in timbered houses, lime-washed and coarse-plastered stone walls and exposed studwork are very evident. Wainscoting is fashionable. Carved or applied decoration is also seen, with linenfold patterns, foliated arabesques, iron strapwork, and chip-carved roundels being especially favored. If used, untreated hardwood paneling is stained or oiled, while softwood paneling is flat-painted -- or “grained”, to imitate expensive hardwood.

Taken together, spiral turned legs on the gateleg table, turned legs on the bench, curved legs, arms, and uprights on upholstered chair, inlaid marquetry on the drawer and door fronts on chest in background (right), and all fabrics contain a wide range of different designs. From a rationalist’s point of view, in the mix of different designs and ornaments, it would be natural to hear an expert say “this mix doesn’t work!” Some how, though, it does work, a triumph of 17th-century “domestic architecture”.

Before they are employed purely for ornamental design purposes, historically, such features of interior decoration as wainscoting and linenfold panels often have functional purposes: e.g., wainscoting intended to protect the walls and wall coverings from the scuffing and marking of chairs and buffets -- and linenfold carving is employed to strengthen panels, either on walls or in cabinets.

Wainscotting of the walls of rooms, in secular houses, with wood, appears to be an innovation of the later years of the fifteenth century.

“The wainscotting of the walls of rooms ... with wood … [is] innovation of the later years of the 15th-century.”

Dating woodwork other than by its decorative features is difficult, which means that we can only say how “the earliest types of wainscotting” consist of narrow vertical boards, overlapping on their edges, or 'clinker-built' – to use the shipwright’s term – and attached to walls "with large clout-headed nails".

"This clinker-boarding is seldom of more than dado-height and usually has a half-round or simple moulded capping."

The next stage in the evolution wall panels is a “framing of styles and rails, tenoned, mortised and pinned at the joints, with panels fixed in grooves. In the first examples of this kind there are top and bottom, but no intermediate rails, and the panels are moulded on their face, with either an embryonic or an actual linen-folding”.

Out of this rapidly we see develop the small framed panel, with intermediate rails … and the pattern of the linenfold develops at the same time.

Herbert Cescinsky and Ernest R. Gribble then speculate in considerable detail about why oak panelings make their appearance so late in the history of British woodwork, that is, toward the end of the 15th-century, and why oak paneling – which begins "with crude clinker-boardings – take so long to evolve "into properly framed panelings". In other words, in the progress of the decorative arts, the walls and ceilings also become furniture. If there is a secret, is it in the muted colors, especially the "browns" featured in the chair’s tapestry and the carpet, that -- in effect -- tone down the potential conflict of different shapes of "ornament?

Incidentally, try to overlook an anachronism in the Parham House image: the presence of the electric lamp on the table next to the upholstered chair.

The 17th-Century Dutch room (Het Scheepje, Haarlem) bottom image on the left

A fact that becomes apparent upon examining this room and comparing it with contemporary paintings and surviving interiors is the widespread use of certain designs. Identical elements of form and ornament often appear on objects that were not produced by the same workshop nor even in the same town. The main reason for this similarity is the profusion of printed pattern books that were used by woodworkers as well as other craftsmen. The patterns were rarely followed exactly but instead were modified by the craftsman to suit the project, which at times meant combining portions of designs from various books, sometimes by different pattern makers.

Sources of More Information: In an over 100-page-survey -- Chapter 9 -- of the evolution of wainscoting and linenfold paneling in Britain (and many photos), Herbert Cescinsky and Ernest R. Gribble, Early English Furniture and Woodwork London: Routledge, 1922, Volume 1, give many details about this important evolution in British cabinetmaking. Accounts of the emergence of concepts and practices for interior decoration, historically, are in Geoffrey Beard, Craftsmen and Interior Decoration in England, 1660-1820 London: Bloomsbury Books, 1981 and Michael Snoding and John Styles, Design and the Decorative Arts London: V&A Publications, 2004.

Early Signs of Models for Pattern Books

There can be no doubt that Italian works on architecture - such as Serlio's 1537 L'Architettura - reach Flanders soon after publication. Yet Renaissance architecture in the Low Countries is mainly an affair of triumphal arches and other temporary structures (maybe the Renaissance additions to the palace at Malines are the exception). A certain conservatism encourages the retention of the Gothic style, and the influence of the Renaissance is apparent mainly in carved work. This attitude -- combined with a love of rich decorations and, perhaps, an association of Italianate with festal architecture -- predispose the Flemish to welcome the ingenious elaboration of Mannerist ornament. They certainly seem to have responded less to Serlio's painstaking attempts to establish the pure forms of the classical orders than to the fantastic designs he publishes in the later parts of his book. And in the 1540s the Flemish artist Cornelis Bos began publishing ornamental designs of a wonderful nightmarish complexity, outdoing the Italians. Somewhat similar designs were produced by Cornelius Floris in the following decade.

It should not be supposed that these strange designs manifested a reaction against the classicism of the Italian Renaissance. Rather the reverse: they seem to have been regarded as improvements.

The First Pattern Books

The first pattern books evidently appear in Germany in the first half of the 16th-century, but their intent is not yet in the mode of what today we call a "pattern book". These so-called perspective "treatises" are for the most part practical handbooks, handbooks designed to address the needs of other artists seeking details about how to refine their skills in “drawing in perspective”. At bottom, these are simply albums of complicated geometric objects drawn in perspective. Nonetheless these early examples become the “model”, so to speak of the later pattern book designed for architects, huchiers, and joiners seeking ideas for designs of furniture forms. Particular mention is given the work of an artist, for whom little is known, a mysterious "Master HS", a 14th-century German metalworker.

Sources: Christopher S. Wood, "The Perspective Treatise in Ruins: Lorenz Stoer, Geometria et Perspectiva, 1567”, in Lyle Massey, ed., The Treatise on Perspective: Published and Unpublished (Series: Studies In The History Of Art – 59,Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts Symposium Papers XXXVI) New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003, page 235.

Hans Vredeman de Vries (1527-c.1604; also 1526-1609)

In the Flemish and Dutch provinces of the Low Countries during the Baroque period of the 17th-century – a period of prosperity -- domestic furniture and interiors of upscale houses undergo distinctive developments. And even earlier, in the late 16th-century, a house's living-room walls are often covered with oak paneling. Further, these walls themselves are sometimes divided by columns, pilasters and other architectural motifs, styles that come from the pattern books – beginning about 1555 – of the Dutch architect and decorative artist, Jan Vredeman de Vries. (As indicated by this exhibition catalog, Heiner Borgreffe, et al, Hans Vredeman De Vries und die Renaissance im Norden -- exhibit, Weserrenaissance-Museum Schloss Brake du 26 mai au 25 aou?t 2002 ; Koninklijk Museum vor schone Kunsten Antwerpen du 15 septembre au 8 decembre 2002 -- Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2002, Vredeman de Vries is one of the foremost artists of the renaissance in northern Europe.) His book, Differents Pourtraicts de la Menuiserie a Scavoir Portaux, Banes, Escabelles, Tables, Buffets Licts de Camp Propres aux Menuisiers de I'invention de Jehan Vredeman diet de Vriese, mis en lumiere par Philippe Galle (Antwerp), contains the widest range of furniture designs published in the 16th-century.

This collection of designs appeared about 1580, and forms a most valuable record for those who desire to study the style of the early Renaissance in the Netherlands. It is noticeable that the change is not so much in the general form of the furniture as in the ornamentation.

Source: Esther Singleton, Dutch and Flemsish Furniture page 104

According to the furniture historian, Hugh Honour -- in Cabinet Makers and Furniture Designers London: Spring Books, 1972, pages 36ff -- the designs are of particular interest because of their practicality - they could all have been followed without difficulty by any competent woodworker. Vredeman evidently wishes not so much to show off his own skills nor any originality but more to produce a useful manual.

Vredeman also authors other books of architectural designs -- described by some as “popularisations in the worst sense of the word” -- which means the while he may not be a strikingly original artist, he does codify for for his contemporaries and for posteriety, and for this alone he needs acknowledgement for the useful service he performs.

Born at Leeuwarden in Friesland in 1526 or 1527, Vredeman trains as a joiner and/or glass painter, like a true renaissance artist, became well versed in many types of work. As an architect, he not only designs buildings but also fortifications, gardens, tapestries, chariots and numerous other structures. As a painter, he works in oils and in fresco; and, perhaps most importantly, he produces a large number of engravings showing architecture and ornament. (he also writes treatises on those subjects.) His main achievement, however, is the dissemination of the architectural and ornamental idiom of classical antiquity and the Italian renaissance. Moreover, this achievement stands out even more when we note that since he has never traveled to Italy, he has no firsthand experience of the principal monuments to be studied there but bases his knowledge on engravings and treatises by other writers who have firsthand knowledge of Italy, notably Serlio's 1537 Architettura.

In the Flemish and Dutch provinces of the Low Countries -- during the Baroque period of the 17th-century, a period of prosperity -- domestic furniture and interiors of upscale houses undergo distinctive developments. And even earlier, in the late 16th-century, a house's living-room walls are often covered with oak paneling. Further, these walls themselves are sometimes divided by columns, pilasters and other architectural motifs, styles that come from the pattern books – beginning about 1555 – of the Dutch architect and decorative artist, Jan Vredeman de Vries. (As indicated by this exhibition catalog, Heiner Borgreffe, et al, Hans Vredeman De Vries und die Renaissance im Norden -- exhibit, Weserrenaissance-Museum Schloss Brake du 26 mai au 25 aou?t 2002 ; Koninklijk Museum vor schone Kunsten Antwerpen du 15 septembre au 8 decembre 2002 -- Munich: Hirmer Verlag, 2002, Vredeman de Vries is one of the foremost artists of the renaissance in northern Europe.) His 1565 book, Differents Pourtraicts de la Menuiserie a Scavoir Portaux, Banes, Escabelles, Tables, Buffets Licts de Camp Propres aux Menuiziers de I'invention de Jehan Vredeman diet de Vriese, mis en lumiere par Philippe Galle (Antwerp), contains the widest range of furniture designs published in the 16th-century, and is the earliest pattern book.

vredemann de vries architectura (1577)

eleanor rowe strapwork low relief carving 1930

For furniture historian, Hugh Honour -- already noted above -- Vredeman de Vries's designs are of particular interest because of their practicality - as seen in the images on the left, they can be followed without difficulty by any competent woodworker. Vredeman de Vries evidently wishes not so much to show off his own skills nor any originality but more to produce a useful manual. Also interesting about Vredeman de Vries -- as an advocate of the use of classical forms -- is his stress on local adaptations, because, as he says, such adaptations reflect local conditions: they take the climate, light, way of life and availability of building materials of the region into account. Perhaps it is due to this practical approach that his treatise becomes so popular, passing through many editions?

Carving on furniture forms is profuse; it includes fruit and flower forms, acanthus leaves, grotesque masks, egg-and-dart (Fig. 2), gadrooning (Fig. 3), guilloche and fluting, all inspired by Classical sources.

In addition, strapwork, a low relief form of carving (occasionally used in openwork form), resembling the curving of leather straps, was introduced from Flanders and widely employed, specially in the early 17th-century. Of the period's pattern books from which these motifs are taken, the most influential is the 1581 Vredemann de Vries's Architectura.

(Images adapted from Maurice Tomlin, English Furniture: An Illustrated Handbook London: Faber and Faber, 1972, page 30; Eleanor Rowe, Practical Wood-Carving. Rowe's booklet is from the 1930s, but the image is adapted from the 2005 Dover reprint edition.)

Evidently it is common practice of this period's architects and craftsmen to incorporate into their decorative systems fixed wall benches, four-poster beds, sideboards and other items of furniture While in a real sense this style simply adapts the Italian Classical practice, through the use of coarser wood, principally oak, the furniture and woodwork in these designs acquires a distinctive character. For example, the large cupboard becomes a principal furniture form of the Low Countries. Architectural motifs are also evident in the earlier cupboards, but often with carved panels. Moreover, this kind of cupboard – as well as other furniture of a similar nature – displays an ingenuity by the individual craftsman. (A much fuller description – with several photographic examples – of furniture design of this era is available in Ole Wanscher, The Art of furniture : 5000 Years of Furniture and Interiors New York: Reinhold, 1967 on pages 137 and following; see also descriptive entries -- without images -- on Renaissance "furniture" in Gordon Campbell, Renaissance Art and Architecture New York : Oxford University Press, 2004.)

In 1565, as well as Differents Pourtraicts Vredeman de Vries publishes a volume entitled Architectura which, despite the title, is probably also intended for other craftsmen, including carvers and painters. Architectura includes elaborations of the classical orders and designs for strapwork. Architectura reveals how Vredeman de Vries thinks classical ornaments can be "improved", namely by multiplying ornamental motifs. For him, even the Corinthian order is insufficiently rich, so he devises a new type of capital and a series of grotesques interlaced to cover every square inch of the entablature -- that is the upper part of an Order, which consists of architrave, frieze, and cornice -- but still retaining classical proportions. Vredeman de Vries's designs for caryatids and relief work show a free hand, especially where he makes use of the motifs of a human -- or more usually subhuman figure -- imprisoned, so to speak, in a curving scroll from which his head, legs and arms project. [need image]

Woodcarvers may, perhaps, have taken motifs from these engravings. But craftsmen needed rather simpler patterns demonstrating how household objects could be embellished with up-to-date ornaments. These Vredeman de Vries provided in his Differents pourtraicts which illustrated everyday objects like stools and tables, beds and cupboards, sparsely decorated with Mannerist ornament. It is now difficult to assess to what an extent these designs were original. Some of the stools are of types which appear to have been in use since early in the sixteenth century. He seems, indeed, to have taken over a large number of stock patterns

In 1549 he helps design of triumphal arches for the entry of Charles V into Antwerp. He is not known to have practised as an architect but he begins to produce volumes of architectural ornament before 1560.



Sources include: Hugh Honour, Cabinet Makers and Furniture Designers London: Spring Books, 1969; .

Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau

As the 16th-century progresses, among French huchiers and woodworker joiners in other parts of Europe, an almost unanimous, but unspoken, conviction appears to finally eliminate Gothic design from the decorative art on furniture forms. And with this renunciation of things Gothic, another conviction arose: to incorporate more and more of decorative art themes from the Italian Renaissance. Put bluntly, says Blaikie Murdoch, “a love of Italian work fast grew stronger and stronger”.

Several causes can be cited but the primary ones are thought to be that the fondness for Italy was given by two famous master craftsmen of the time, Du Cerceau and Hugues Sambin, and in fact French furniture, of the later fifteen hundreds, is sometimes spoken of as divisible into two classes, reflecting respectively the influence of these two men whose fame (and that of their pupils) has lived up to our own day. Accounts suggest that Du Cerceau (b ?Paris, c. 1515; d ?Annecy, 1585) never actually makes furniture. His real profession is architecture, evidently, and to study this profession, he goes to Italy about 1535.

It is said that upon seeing the old Classical buildings in Rome, he acquires an enthusiasm for the antique. Upon his return to France, Du Cerceau spends most of his career in Paris, where his energies are mainly given to producing albums of prints, all engraved by himself, and with brief letterpress from his own pen.

From the wide circulation of prints, from the work of architects who studied in Italy and from Italians working in France, Du Cerceau is certainly familiar about both contemporary developments in Italy and Classical architecture. Back in France, it becomes his primary aim to disseminate the heritage of Classical art and propagate the style of the Italian Renaissance. He achieves these goals by making Classical designs accessible without any need for travel to Italy by incorporating them into pattern books for architects, painters, sculptors, designers, craftsmen, cabinetmakers, goldsmiths and jewellers. His first book, the 1549 Exempla Arcuum, a series of 25 imaginary triumphal arches based on antique prototypes, appears in Orléans. In the early 1550s he publishes works on antique monuments (Fragments Antiques, Moyens Temples), domestic buildings (Petits Habitations ou logis domestiques) and stylized ornaments (Petites Grotesques, Les Vues d’optiques, Compositions d’architecture). But it with his Premier Livre d’architecture contenant les plans et dessaigns [sic] de cinquante bastiments tous differens (1559) that he creates a new mode of publication, the first so-called pattern book. In the first of three pattern books, Du Cerceau sets forth a series of plans and façade elevations for fifty different town houses.

These pattern books also introduce a system of measurement and present a variety of geometric options. Intended as a practical guide, they are perhaps influenced more by economic than aesthetic considerations.

In his Second Livre d’architecture (1561), Du Cerceau provides a collection of inventive designs to enrich a house's interior, including its surrounding courts and gardens. Designs for mantelpieces, dormers, portals, fountains, wells and pavilions are included. The work which makes his name a household word among huchiers is Meubles, which contains upwards of sixty pictures, including twenty-four suggestions for tables, twenty-one suggestions for cabinets. For cabinets had begun, by Du Cerceau's time, to take the place of dressers.

Hugues Sambin

Although the year of Hugues Sambin's birth is unknown-- speculation has it "about the beginning of the 16th century" -- records suggest that, as a huchier, in 1549 he begins a business in Dijon, in the province of Burgundy. Now although Burgundy resists the Italian invasion of the Renaissance style for a time, according to the furniture historian, Esther Singleton, the Renaissance style reaches, perhaps, its most brilliant development, after Italy, in this French province. Moreover, she continues, "it is generally conceded that the Burgundian style owes its character to the architect and master carpenter, Hughes Sambin". Evidently sometimes Sambin supervises interior decorations, and he is known to have practiced architecture. A building designed by him, Besancon's Palais de Justice, is considered Sambin's most important work. This building features several features that champion his talent: a noted wooden door carved either by him or under his direction. And as a huchier, the Besancon museum has a table and cabinet made by him.

But his wide renown with the huchiers is not won purely by his work in their craft. Instead, his annotated book, Oeuvre de la Diversite des Termes, Dont on Use en Architecture, Reduict en Ordre, par Maistre Hughes Sambin, architecteur en la ville de Dijon, Lyon: I. Durant, 1572. This work consists of prints of caryatids that can be executed either on furniture or on buildings. Sambin's book shows that he is both adept in the Renaissance style and dedicated to the study of antique monuments.

In regard to Sambin, the 19th-century French historian of furniture, Alfred de Champeaux, says:

In truth, it is the taste for caryatides and grotesque figures surrounded by garlands, and supporting broken pediments that predominate in all his compositions. The result is a certain character of heaviness and bizarrerie that is more conspicuous in the buildings contributed by him than in his furniture, for the material of the latter, less cold than stone, Allows more scope to the original fantasy of the artist. The furniture inspired by Sambin's designs does not exhibit the ponderous grace of the armoires and buffets made in Paris; the lines are not traced with the same tasteful harmony ; but it must be recognized that no school equals the vigour and the dramatic expression of the Burgundian artists of this period. The Ifigures of the caryatides and chimerical animals that support the various parts of their furniture and conceal the uprights, are animated with a brutal energy that only skilful chisels can create. Moreover, the walnut wood of which they are carved has been clothed with a warm tone that sometimes equals that of Florentine bronzes.

Sources: Alfred de Champeaux, Le Meuble I Antiquete, Moyen Age, et Renaissance Paris: Quantin 1884-1885, page 188; Esther Singleton, Dutch and Flemish Furniture , 1907, pages 85-86 (Passage above translated by Esther Singleton.)

Nature of Early Pattern Books on Furniture

During the 18th-century, Georgian period, fashion influenced furniture design. Rather than endanger his chance of a sale, the master cabinetmaker who “made for stock” did not make pieces in out-of-date styles. Likewise, patrons seeking the advice from cabinetmakers inevitably ended up with a recommendation to order the current fashion, because such an order will not necessitate a departure from the existing work shop methods.

The decline of marquetry on furniture in the later part of the 18th-century, for example, would mean the gradual extinction of the marquetry cutter, and we cannot imagine a craftsman, especially an employer of labor such as Chippendale, for instance, going out of his way to suggest an extinct fashion to his patrons when all the difficulties of execution are considered.5

Sources: Cescinsky, “The Influence of the Architect on English Furniture”, The Burlington Magazine, Volume 36 March, 1920, pages 138-140. Support for Cescinsky's claim comes from Patricia Kirkham -- even though her focus is on a different aspect of the history of marquetry -- in "Inlay, Marquetry and Buhl Workers in England c. 1660-1850", The Burlington Magazine 122, No. 927 (Jun., 1980), pages 415-416+419.

Until 1700, furniture is designed almost exclusively by architects:the Italian Serlio, Du Cerceau, The Flemish Vredeman de Vries. After 1700, several pattern books are authored by such master cabinetmakers as Batty Langley (1696-1751), Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779), George Hepplewhite (1727? - 1786) Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806) and Robert Manwaring (b & d dates not known), William Ince (b & d dates not known) and John Mayhew (b & d dates not known)’s Universale System of Household Furniture in 1762-72. With his pattern book, The Gentleman and Cabinetmaker’s Director -- Chippendale elevates the status of the cabinet maker.

As if a genre-specific template exists, it is the practice of 18th-century master cabinetmakers who author pattern books of furniture designs to begin with an illustrated treatise on the Greek and Roman five orders of design.

Pattern books of this era reflect the current style as well as the speciality of the shop operated by the pattern book’s author. But the implications of these pattern books are wider than bringing customers to the cabinetmaker’s shop. Chippendale, for example, published three editions of his Director -- certainly a testament to its popularity -- and when customers outside London or scattered around the world, say in America, demanded the latest Chippendale styles, with the Director in his shop, a cabinetmaker could create furniture according to precise Chippendale standards.

When Sheraton published his 1802 edition of Cabinetmaker and Upholsterer’s Drawing-Book so many similar pattern books have appeared that, to distinguish himself from other cabinetmakers and “prove himself a literary critic as well as a designer and arbiter of taste”, he is compelled to include in the front matter brief critiques of the earlier ones. Among these are Ince & Mayhew’s Universal System of Household Furniture, Robert Sayer’s 1760 Household Furniture in Genteel Taste and Thomas Shearer’s 1788 The Cabinet-Makers’ London Book of Prices. For Sheraton, Chippendale’s Director and Hepplewhite’s Guide are either “wholly antiquated and laid aside,” or “already having caught the decline”.

As well as being a pattern book, Sheraton also claims that it is a guide to geometry, perspective, and drawing, fields that -- among an increasing number of his contemporary craftsmen and designers -- are receiving more and more attention. In the next chapter, for example, see the discussion of Peter Nicholson, 1812 Mechanical Exercises, his 1826 Carpenter And Joiners Companion, and his 1848 Principles of Architecture; Comprising Fundamental Rules of the Art, with their Application to Practice: Also Rules for Shadows and For the Five Orders.6

[6 Beverly K Brandt, The Craftsman and the Critic: Defining Usefulness and Beauty in the Arts And Crafts-Era in Boston Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press; see Peter Nicholson, Mechanical Exercises, 1812; Peter Nicholson, Principles of Architecture; Comprising Fundamental Rules of the Art, with their Application to Practice: Also Rules for Shadows and For the Five Orders. London: Bohn, 1848; Peter Nicholson, Carpenter And Joiners Companion London: J. Taylor, 1826 [connect with Peter Nicholson chapter 4.]

At the turn of the century, nationally, Britain began to develop a sense of doubt about the standard of design in the decorative arts, including furniture forms. After much debate, legislation that created the Design Schools is passed, the implication being that the occupation of professional designer is created. (The founding and impact of the Design Schools is covered in Chapter 4.)

Pattern Books Become "Mainstream"

More to come