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From A.D. 476 to 1453



The history of furniture is so thoroughly a part of the history of the manners and customs of different peoples, that one can only understand and appreciate the several changes in style, sometimes gradual and sometimes rapid, by reference to certain historical events and influences by which such changes were effected.

Thus, we have during the space of time known as the Middle Ages, a stretch of some 1,000 years, dating from the fall of Rome itself, in a.d. 476 to the capture of Constantinople by the Turks under Mahomet II. in 1453, an historical panorama of striking incidents and great social changes bearing upon our subject. It was a turbulent and violent period, which saw the completion of Rome's downfall, the rise of the Carlovingian family, the subjection of Britain by the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans; the extraordinary career and fortunes of Mahomet; the conquest of Spain and a great part of Africa by the Moors; and the Crusades, which united in a common cause the swords and spears of friend and foe.

It was the age of monasteries and convents, of religious persecutions and of heroic struggles of the Christian Church. It was the age of feudalism, chivalry, and war, but towards its close a time of comparative civilisation and progress, of darkness giving way to the light which followed; the night of the Middle Ages preceding the dawn of the Renaissance.

With the growing importance of Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Empire, families of well-to-do citizens flocked thither from other parts, bringing with them all their most valuable possessions: and the houses of the great became rich in ornamental furniture, the style of which was a mixture of Eastern and Roman, - that is, a corruption of the early Classic Greek developing into the style known as Byzantine. The influence of Christianity upon the position of women materially affected the customs and habits of the people. Ladies were allowed to be seen in chariots and open carriages, the designs of which, therefore, improved and became more varied; the old custom of reclining at meals ceased, and guests sat on benches; and though we have, with certain exceptions, such as the chair of St. Peter at Rome, and that of Maximian in the Cathedral at Ravenna, no specimens of furniture of this time, we have in the old Byzantine ivory bas-reliefs such representations of circular throne chairs and of ecclesiastical furniture, as suffice to show the class of woodwork then in vogue.





















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