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Summary Article: Louis period styles
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

1610–1793, succession of modes of interior decoration and architecture that established France as a leading influence in the decorative arts.

Louis XIV

During the reign of Louis XIII (1610–43) there was a transition from the baroque style, strongly influenced by Italy, to the classical dignity of the period of Louis XIV (1643–1715). The Louis XIV [Louis Quatorze] style, established after the king took personal control of the government in 1661, was molded by the chief minister, Colbert. He established manufactories of tapestries, textiles, furniture, and ornaments; assembled leading artists and artisans in the royal service; and appointed Charles Le Brun director of the Gobelins manufactory and decorator of the palace of Versailles.

Colbert worked in close cooperation with J. H. Mansart, achieving interiors of great splendor, in which the decoration was closely integrated with the architectural framework. Neutral backgrounds were often used to emphasize the strong, rich colors of Gobelin, Aubusson, and Beauvais tapestries, Savonnerie and Oriental rugs, velvet or brocade upholstery, hangings, and large paintings on walls and ceilings. Such ornaments as scrolls, acanthus leaves, caryatids, busts, and full figures with festoons of flowers and fruit were employed. Large mirrors decorated the walls. Furniture scaled to the huge proportions of the rooms was made of ebony or covered with silver, gilt, or lacquer and decorated with carving and with marquetry in the manner of A. C. Boulle.

Regence

In contrast to the heavy, massive members and curves used in the period of Louis XIV, the régence style, established during the regency of Philippe II, duc d'Orléans (1715–23), began to employ delicate lines and intricate curves. Finely sculptured bronze reliefs became the outstanding mode of furniture decoration under the leadership of the cabinetmaker Charles Cressent.

Louis XV

The Louis XV [Louis Quinze] (1723–74) style was characterized by free curves and the use of rococo ornament and chinoiserie. Rooms were smaller, specialized, and arranged for convenient use. Colors were delicate. Tinted wood, veneer, lacquer panels, marquetry, mounts by Caffieri and Pierre Gouthière, and porcelain plaques of Sèvres ware distinguish the designs. The style in its later phase was more restrained.

Louis XVI

The restraint of the later Louis XV style presaged the strong reaction of the Louis XVI [Louis Seize] (1774–93) period, during which simplicity replaced excess and the classic revival influenced decorative motifs and brought a return to straight lines and symmetry. Slenderness of proportion was emphasized in furniture. Colors were light in tone; ornament was delicate and in low relief, embossed, or painted. Furniture details included slender fluted legs, convex moldings, and rosette, leaf, and flower motifs in the carved frames often painted white and touched with gilt. Upholstery and hangings used varied fabrics. The Revolution abolished the guilds, which had maintained high standards of craftsmanship, and weakened the practice, instituted under Louis XIV, of cooperation between artists and masters of the various crafts in producing fine furniture and decorative accessories.

Bibliography
  • See Ricci, S. de, Louis XIV and Regency Furniture and Decoration (1929).
  • G. Souchal, French Eighteenth-Century Furniture (tr. 1961).
  • J. Viaux, French Furniture (tr. 1964).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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