Pocket CEU: Understanding Louis XIII, XIV, XV, and XVI Furniture

By John Kroger

Louis XIII (1610-1643)

'Louis XIII of France in Coronation Robes' by Philippe de Champaigne

Louis XIII style is best understood as the product of a more conservative (and less wealthy) time. Religious wars had consumed resources of France until the beginning of the Louis XIII era. Furniture was still characterized by heavy carvings, and was monumental in scale. Pieces like the bureau and sideboard featured molded paneling in geometric patterns. The cabinet placed on a stand was a new design for the period. Storage pieces were typical and reflected the need for a utilitarian function, even in the pieces made for the king and his court. Other typical design themes were the diamond point, pyramid patterns, and large-bunned feet on cabinetry.

Louis XIII style drew on mannerist and arabesque; the rolling scrolling lines of arabesque were usually two-dimensional and tended to lay flat as a decorative element. Mannerist strange figures echoed the Dark Age's connection to a world explained by superstition.

Chairs became more comfortable during the Louis XIII, as the concept of a comfortable place to sit and relax was just emerging. Louis XIII introduced turnery, a style feature new to the time. Turnery might be used for legs or stretchers, and these simple shapes created on a lathe can help identify pieces as Louis XIII style. Ebony and walnut were popular construction materials.

There is an organic quality to the Louis XIII style that the later styles lack. By reaching back to the 1500s for design elements, Louis XIII pieces are brooding and atmospheric. Their monumental design philosophy echoes the dominance of the church at this time. Soaring humanist ideas and energy had really not taken hold, as it would in later reigns. Louis XIII style drew heavily from the furniture styles of Spain, Flanders, and most importantly, Italy at this time.

Compared to the other three Louis periods, this style is more blunt and primal, and less bold. It probably has less in common with the other three later Louis styles that were styles until themselves versus an amalgamation of styles that had occurred since the beginning of the Renaissance.

This CEU was created with the help and expertise of Dan Garfink, co-owner of French Accents Fine Continental Antiques in Baltimore MD. It was published in the July/August 2006 edition of Fine Furnishings International Magazine and is presented here with the permission of the publisher.