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Charlemagne



Turning from Venice. During the latter end of the eighth century the star of Charlemagne was in the ascendant, and though we have no authentic specimen, and scarcely a picture of any wooden furniture of this reign, we know that, in appropriating the property of the Gallo-Romans, the Frank Emperor-King and his chiefs were in some degree educating themselves to higher notions of luxury and civilisation. Paul Lacroix, in "Manners, Customs, and Dress of the Middle Ages," tells us that the trichorum or dining room was generally the largest hall in the palace: two rows of columns divided it into three parts, one for the royal family, one for the officers of the household, and the third for the guests, who were generally numerous. No person of rank who visited the King could leave without sitting at his table or at least draining a cup to his health. The King's hospitality was magnificent, especially, on great religious festivals, such as Christmas and Easter.

In other portions of this work of reference we read of "boxes" to hold articles of value, and of rich hangings, but beyond such allusions little can be gleaned of any furniture besides. The celebrated chair of Dagobert, now in the Louvre, and of which there is a cast in the South Kensington Museum, dates from some 150 years before Charlemagne, and is probably the only specimen of furniture belonging to this period which has been handed down to us. It is made of gilt bronze, and is said to be the work of a monk.

For the designs of furniture of the tenth to the fourteenth centuries we are in a great measure dependent upon old illuminated manuscripts and missals of these remote times. There are some illustrations of the seats of State used by sovereigns on the occasions of grand banquets, or of some ecclesiastical function, to be found in the valuable collections of old documents in the British Museum and the National Libraries of Paris and Brussels. It is evident from these authorities that the designs of State furniture in France and other countries dominated by the Carlovingian monarchs were of Byzantine character, that pseudo-classic style which was the prototype of furniture of about a thousand years later, when the Caesarism of Napoleon I., during the early years of the nineteenth century, produced so many designs which we now recognise as "Empire."

No history of mediaeval woodwork would be complete without noticing the Scandinavian furniture and ornamental wood carving of the tenth to the fifteenth centuries. There are in the South Kensington Museum plaster casts of some three or four carved doorways of Norwegian workmanship, of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, in which scrolls are entwined with contorted monsters, or, to quote Mr. Lovett's description, " dragons of hideous aspect and serpents of more than usually tortuous proclivities." The woodcut of a carved lintel conveys a fail-idea of this work, and also of the old juniper wood tankards of a much later time.





















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