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To such a man a clock is something with a soul. To him one goes who will set the silent wheels moving and endow the dead clockmaker’s heritage with pulsating life. But—the word of warning cannot be too strongly sounded to all possessors of old clocks. Every year fine examples of old work are ruined for ever by ignorant repairers and restorers.
In their little day they have destroyed movements and parts which can never be replaced. Of all arts, the art of the clockmaker has suffered most at the hands of the modern destroyer of work he does not understand. The domestic clock—Its use as a bracket or wall clock—Seventeenth-century types—Continuance of manufacture in provinces—Their appeal to the collector. The form of the lantern clock is one that appeals to the artist. We love the candelabrum with candles, with its finely, fashioned brass forms, Dutch and English.
It adds a grace to the interiors of the old masters of the Low Countries. Nobody is especially interested in the gas bracket or the paraffin lamp. There is the picture of The Doctor by Luke Fildes, but here the lamp only adds to the poverty and anguish of the scene. It is realistic and had to be there, and it makes a great factor in the lighting.
But the chandelier with candles is the most beloved by the artist who inclines to the primitive, as we all do. The electric light must come into art and it does.
The cubist and the modern pseudo-scientific [Pg 46] realist revel in incongruities repellent to art. They seize these as their own, and make them in their presentation more repellent. Happily the clock has not received the attention of the modern sensation-monger. We are left with the heritage of the past undisturbed. He may gibe at the paint and canvas of old masters, he may deride the grace of the Greek in sculpture, but the simple mechanism of the clock symbolizing “the inaudible and noiseless foot of Time” mocks the charlatan of a little day, with oblivion tracking his scurrying heels.
The name of lantern clock may puzzle the modern collector, but its shape followed the lantern of the period, and, like the lantern, it was made to hang on the wall. We illustrate p.
It was doubtless used in the expedition round the North Cape. It is in the collection at Rosenborg Castle at Copenhagen. This lantern shape is found in German clocks of the period, and in English seventeenth-century clocks the same shape is continued. A fine example by Bartholomew Newsam is illustrated p. Not only the form but the usage determined the name. The lantern had spikes or metal hooks to hang upon.
The clock similarly was affixed to a wall, and we know it as a bracket clock, because, whether on a wall or on a bracket, it had chains and weights suspended beneath it, as it was not [Pg 49] in its early form capable of being placed on a table.
We think lovingly of it as belonging to a past that is something more than tapestry figures moving in a misty background. To watch the revolving pinions of a Stuart clock is to hear the echoes of the past reverberate. It requires no gramophone to reproduce dead voices, nor a cinema picture to recall bygone incidents and happenings. One can listen to the same monotone calling forth the departure of the seconds that awakened George Herbert from a reverie and beat rhythmically to his carefully wrought verse.
The same hand pointed to midnight that beckoned Lovelace from his revels. We are reminded of Justice Shallow’s “we have heard the chimes at midnight,”—an old man’s boast of rollicking gaiety.
The trite engraved words Tempus fugit drew a thousand sweet sounds from golden-mouthed Herrick, who sang of fading roses and counselled maids “with Daffodils and Daisies crowned” to make the most of their charms. Vanitas vanitatum , all is vanity; the sadness of it all, the flying hours that no man can recall, the long slow shadow that creeps across the grass—this is the message of the poets; and when they pause for a moment from the dance in the sunlight to think of time, it is Time the ancient reaper with the scythe, who cuts down the young flowers ruthlessly with the fateful sweep of his blade.
Its Use as a Bracket or Wall Clock. Such a clock usually went for thirty hours. That is, it was usual to wind it by pulling up the chains once a day, a method retained, in long-case clocks of thirty-hour duration, by provincial makers a couple of centuries later in England.
It is obvious that these clocks stand apart from the era of the spring as a driving force, being weight-driven, and are before the introduction of the pendulum as a regulator of the mechanism impelled by the weights. As timekeepers they never can bear comparison with the later type with the long pendulum. They stand as examples of early clockmaking, with fine brass dials, with artistic appearance, simple and unpretentious, but lacking the real scientific application of further developed principles of a succeeding period.
A clock that could only be used as a bracket clock or a wall clock with weights beneath hardly filled the requirements of an age when domestic furniture demanded luxury and exquisite taste. The personal clock—that is, the watch—offered more possibilities. The advent of the pendulum came just at a time when the art of the clockmaker required the necessary impetus to carry him to newer and more extended fields.
The invention revolutionized the domestic clock. As to the clocks used by the wealthy classes in England at the year , one recalls the death-bed scene of Charles II as described by Macaulay: [Pg 53] “The morning light began to peep through the windows of Whitehall; and Charles desired the attendants to pull aside the curtains, that he might have one more look at the day. He remarked that it was time to wind up a clock that stood near his bed. These little circumstances were long remembered, because they proved beyond dispute that, when he declared himself a Roman Catholic, he was in full possession of his faculties.
He apologized to those who had stood round him all night for the trouble which he caused. He had been, he said, a most unconscionable time dying; but he hoped that they would excuse it. This was the last glimpse of that exquisite urbanity so often found potent to charm away the resentment of a justly incensed nation.
Soon after dawn the speech of the dying man failed. It was Bacon who wrote, a century before: “If a man be in sickness or pain, the time will seem longer without a clock or hour-glass than with it. The question arises as to what particular kind of clock was at the bedside of Charles II that he should notice that it required winding.
It may have been usual to wind it at that particular time every morning, being, as it undoubtedly was, a thirty-hour clock conveniently wound the same time every day. But it is more probable that the King saw that it wanted winding by the position of the weights. Seventeenth-century Types. At first it was placed in front of the dial and swung from the top. The illustration we give p.
The pendulum was next placed at the back see adjacent illustration, p. We illustrate several types of the lantern clock showing its changing form from a slender and graceful clock, with the dial in correct proportion, to the later type, when the dial projected beyond the body of the clock.
When the bell was placed at the top and ornamented by a brass terminal, the name applied to the clock was “birdcage,” and pictures by the old Dutch masters show birdcages of this shape hanging in ladies’ boudoirs. It will be observed that as a rule the dials are circular, consisting of the hour plate without the four spandrels. But we illustrate an example of a square dial by John Bushman, London, about , with crown and verge escapement, with short pendulum, and alarum with striking and going trains run by same weight.
It will be observed that these clocks have only one hand—the hour hand. In the example above mentioned see Frontispiece , the dial has an inner circle showing quarters of an hour. The hand, as illustrated, has passed one quarter and half of the next; it is therefore about twenty-two and a half minutes past three. There is also an alarum marked with arabic figures one to twelve. An enlargement of this dial is illustrated p.
The brass lantern clock illustrated p. It is a thirty-hour clock, with striking but no alarum movement. It has a short pendulum behind the back plate. The use of an anchor-shaped pendulum brought a winged screen into fashion to conceal its movement. The example illustrated p.
This also is a bracket clock with chains supporting the weights. But the bracket clock did not stop at this stage. On the introduction of the long or seconds pendulum this new mechanism was embodied in brass clocks, and the illustration p. A fine brass lantern clock by Thomas Tompion is at the British Museum, an illustration of which is given p.
Continuance of Manufacture in the Provinces. Examples are found by local makers up to the early years of the nineteenth century. In a measure this continuance of an obsolete form is parallel with the village cabinet-maker’s furniture. Generation after generation produced oak chairs and settles in Stuart form, and when Chippendale seized the world of fashion, it was not till long afterwards that village craftsmen made chairs in the Chippendale manner—but in yew, in beech, and in sycamore, never in mahogany.
Even Sheraton’s satinwood elegance in delicate tapered legs found an echo [Pg 60] in elm and beech. For instance, the marquetry of the village carpenter is always a hundred years behind the time. His engraving on dials is of the same character as that on his local coffin-plates or his tombstones.
His painted dials often exhibit native touches difficult to equal. Their Appeal to Collectors. As imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, a thousand replicas start up to supply a demand. The man of taste says that such and such a thing is unique in its art-appeal to him. The man of money seeks to prove that it is not unique and buys as many uniques and antiques as his distended banking account will allow.
We find this applies to lantern clocks. Birmingham has turned out thousands of these brass clocks in replica of seventeenth-century styles.
Sometimes as much as ten pounds is asked for them, and sometimes it is found that an old maker’s name has been added to the dial. There is no particular harm in any man having replicas of fine old objects of art in his house if he likes the styles and cannot afford originals. But it is a pity that any one should ever [Pg 63] pay more than replica price for a copy. That is foolishness, and outside the realm of collecting.
Perhaps it is a wise dispensation of Providence that the man of wealth can possess the originals and that the poor man and the man of taste must content himself with copies. It is the same artistic impulse which accepts the translation in lieu of the original. Through FitzGerald we read Omar. Horatius Flaccus, who appeals to the esoteric with his odi profanum vulgus , is filtered through a Western tongue.
Echoes suggest so much to those who have the inner spirit to conjure up the original. What is veneer? For some fifty years—that is, from about , the date of the secret treaty of Charles II with Louis XIV, to about the year , the early years of the reign of George I—there was a marked leaning towards colour in furniture as distinct from form.
The solid English oak of early days and the later intricacies of walnut were dependent solely on form, either in carving or in elaborate turning, as in the Charles II and James II period, when the so-called “barley-sugar” pattern and other elaborate “corkscrew” turned legs added grace and beauty to furniture beginning to take its place beside the work of great European craftsmen. In flattering imitation of continental schools, but more particularly the Dutch, English cabinet-makers [Pg 68] commenced to inlay their furniture with ivory and coloured woods, and designs embodying conventional birds and flowers became of frequent use.
A considerable amount of skill was employed in adopting this new art, which necessitated the careful laying of veneer. In comparison with the ordinary Dutch cabinet-work, this derivative English furniture exhibits, in a measure, finished work of a high degree in regard to the exactitude of cabinet-work which surpassed the prototypes.
The English craftsman was working in a new medium, and he apparently was exceptionally careful in handling its technique. In the reign of William of Orange, as may be imagined, with his Dutch retinue and the Dutch influences at Court, the style received a great impetus and the country was flooded with Dutch art.
This impress of the House of Nassau is left upon Hampton Court, with its canal, its avenues, and its formal gardens. What Charles II and his exiled cavaliers brought in spirit from The Hague, William brought in reality when he landed at Torbay in It must be remembered that in and in the immediately succeeding years, owing to the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV, fifty thousand Huguenot families fled from France to escape a horrible fate at the hands of their Roman Catholic fellow-countrymen.
In vain the Archbishop of Canterbury directed the clergy not to dwell on the sufferings of the French Protestants, and in spite of James II, whose sympathies were with their [Pg 69] persecutors, the sum of forty thousand pounds was collected in the English churches and handed over to the Chamber of London. This was a great sum in those days to be raised thus voluntarily. Three years afterwards James ignominiously fled to the Continent and a second Revolution ended the Stuart dynasty.
Thousands of skilled workmen settled in London. At Spitalfields they erected silk-looms; they represented the best type of artist craftsmen, silversmiths, woodworkers, glass-blowers, cabinet-makers, designers, and other artistic industries. Their advent was an artistic asset to this country. The Duke of Buckingham ten years earlier had procured a number of expert glassworkers from Venice and had established the manufacture of glass and mirrors at Vauxhall. What is Veneer?
It has a long record before it reaches what we now know as veneering. To make a rapid survey we must commence with the art of inlay. This art may be in metal upon metal, as in damascening; stone upon stone, as in pietra dura ; porcelain, terra-cotta, enamel, or coloured glass, as in mosaic work; or wood upon wood, as in intarsia; which subsequently became marquetry.
The inlays in all these techniques are cut into cubes, hexagons, triangles, or other forms, often of very minute size, to form broad designs, as in marble pavements, or surfaces of great area such as the dome of St. Mark’s at Venice, the choicest home of mosaic work in the world.
From these grandeurs to the Tunbridge ware trinket-boxes with their intricate patterns, or [Pg 70] the nicely fitting lids of Scottish snuff-boxes, is a far cry, but they embody the same principle. Veneering may therefore be comprehensively described as overlaying or inlaying one body with portions of another. A veneer may be plain, without inlay or marquetry, such as a plain panel of mahogany affixed or laid on to a body of oak or some other wood.
But in practice it has been so much used as a groundwork for the art of inlay and marquetry that it is difficult to separate them. There is a prevalent idea that veneer has a sinister meaning. The comparison has been made between solid and veneer, as though the former were true and the latter something false, parallel with the distinction Pope made—.
There is every reason why such a notion should be held as true. It is true of modern cabinet-work of the shoddy type, where pine is veneered with mahogany and walnut and passed off as solid. But the collector is dealing with a period when veneering was an art adopted for sound decorative and technical reasons and not solely for purposes of gain.
The old craftsman found it impossible to make cabinets and other pieces of furniture of rare wood, such as ebony, tulip-wood, rosewood, satinwood, and others. It was not always workable in such fashion; its weight was one factor against its employment in the solid. But in introducing panels [Pg 71] and fronts of these richly decorative woods the cabinet-maker of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries brought colour into his work and employed the highest artistry.
The sound construction of these old veneered cabinets was before the days of machinery; veneers or slices of the wood to be laid on were cut by hand, and were one-eighth of an inch thick, hence their stability. Nowadays sheets of veneer are saw-cut and knife-cut, and with modern machinery the former vary from twelve to fifteen to the inch, and the latter average about forty sheets to the inch, although sheets can be cut, incredible as it may seem, of the thinness of a cigarette paper.
What is Marquetry? We have already seen that other inlays have their respective techniques and names. But there is the question as to the application of the old word “tarsia,” which apparently in the early days included both wood and metal inlays.
By means of woods, either of their natural colour or stained, woodworkers produced pictures in wood. Great Italian masters drew for the Italian school of artist craftsmen. Just as the dome of St. Mark’s at Venice shows the successive styles of mosaic work executed during several centuries from Byzantine to Italian, so the choir stalls show the work of the cloistered intarsiatori at the cathedral at [Pg 72] Siena, at the cathedral and at S.
Small pieces of carefully selected wood were inserted into darker wood panels to produce fanciful devices or pictures, with perspective and even tone. This intricate art resembled that of the mosaic-worker, whose more ambitious works have taken from fifteen to twenty years to execute.
Day by day they were patiently laid on the cement to form the design. Similarly in the old intarsia days the workers did not heed time. They selected their delicate little pieces of coloured wood and proceeded to lay their panels and stalls for posterity. The German school of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries attracted considerable attention, at Nuremberg, at Augsburg, at Dresden, and at Munich.
Augsburg and Nuremberg developed an industry and exported their marquetry. This suggests the first attempt at duplication. Black on white and white on black, male and female as they are termed in the trade, or later, in France, Boulle and counter-Boulle, [Pg 73] were exported. The slicing of design and the manipulation of the knife, and later the saw, came into operation to fret out the pattern.
In its subsequent development marquetry left the inlaying, piece by piece, and as tools became more perfect easier methods were employed. His brass and tortoiseshell marquetry set a fashion to all succeeding craftsmen. He has given his name to his particular style; though it has been “defamed by every charlatan and soiled with all ignoble use” and corrupted to “Buhl,” but there is no reason why Boulle should not stand, although Webster’s Dictionary knows him not. Practically, nowadays marquetry is the cutting of thin sheets of wood which have been superimposed upon each other, and when taken apart, after the desired pattern has been cut away, fit into each other to produce the desired colour effect.
For instance, a sheet of walnut, dark brown, placed over a sheet of sycamore, light yellow, has a pattern pasted on it in paper. The delicate fret-saw traces this pattern and cuts through both light and dark woods. The result is that the light-wood surface is left with a perforation ready to receive the piece cut from its fellow, the dark wood, and vice versa.
That is just what the marquetry-worker does. He transposes the piece of sycamore to the walnut surface and fits it in, showing a yellow design on dark brown, and [Pg 74] similarly the walnut piece, fitted in place or the sycamore ground, shows a brown design on a yellow surface. This is only a simple outline of the process, as more than two sheets are placed together.
In its intricacies it represents one of the most delicate and highly skilled crafts in connection with cabinet-making. The adept at jig-saw puzzles may draw a seemly parallel between his pastime and the patient artistry of the artist-craftsman.
The Use of Veneer and Marquetry. Derivative as is English art, the sharp line of a new introduction is rarely so clearly defined as in the instance of the late seventeenth-century long-case clock. As a long wooden case it was itself an innovation. Being new, it was never at any previous time English, and it started its history under Dutch auspices, as in similar manner the pendulum was introduced into England by Fromanteel.
There is no mistaking its origin. It comes straight from the placid canals and waterways, the prim and well-ordered farmsteads, or the richly loaded burghers’ houses of the Low Countries. It has become as thoroughly English as the Keppels and the Bentincks. In regard to clock-cases, it is mostly found that the veneer has been laid upon an oak body.
Usually the main surface is of walnut, into which the design has been inlaid by the use of other woods of suitable colours. At first the marquetry [Pg 79] was in reserves or panels, as though the worker were warily picking his way and timidly mastering the technique.
At this period clock-cases were, on account of the small space to be inlaid, very fit subjects for experiment. Doubtless some of the more ambitious work of the early years of this half-century was actually produced by Dutch and also by French workmen settled in this country, and doubtless the clock-cases were largely imported.
In either instance this would account for the early adoption of small articles such as clock-cases, after which followed chairs and tables, and finally larger pieces of furniture such as bureaus, when the cabinet-maker was master of the new art of laying veneer and marquetry, or when the public taste had advanced sufficiently to induce him to embark on more elaborate work.
It is not easy to lay down any exact rules as to the priority of certain styles of marquetry. Many of them overlap in regard to date. It all depends on the point of view. Huguenot craftsmen or Dutch marquetry-workers could, and possibly did, make in London many such an example as the fine case with panels illustrated p. In this earlier case of the Knibb clock it will be seen that there are only two panels, and they exhibit, in comparison [Pg 80] with the James Leicester clock, a finer sense of proportion in relation to the surface to be decorated.
It may not unreasonably be advanced, where the nicety of balance is well sustained, that the maker set out to make a clock-case with the dimensions fully before him as a marquetry-worker and not merely as a mechanical layer of imported panels. There is the suggestion in cut panels that they were not thought out in accord with the English clock-case, with its hole showing the pendulum.
Of exceptional interest is the fine clock by J. The marquetry case of this clock has been untouched, and its condition, as shown by the illustration p. It is clear that the panel of marquetry was not intended by the craftsman who laid it to have a hole to show the pendulum.
The design shows the disturbance caused by this unexpected innovation. The enlarged hood shows the broken frieze, an accident frequently attending old examples. But the frame in hood around glass has been laid in marquetry by a coarser hand in an attempt to be in keeping with the panel of the door in case below.
The somewhat clumsy joinery of the door frame, shown clearer in the enlargement, indicates the amalgamation of the English case-maker and the more finished marquetry-panel worker. Frequently cases offer curious obstacles to preconceived ideas. Take, for example, the fine case with the movement by Henry Harper of the period from to illustrated p. As far as it is possible to determine, it would seem that this [Pg 83] specimen of marquetry belongs to a later period, certainly more advanced than the panel period.
With so fine a field of design to select from, no marquetry-worker would take this design from a Persian carpet at the beginning of the style. This case represents the highest Dutch feeling and technique as assimilated in this country, and the carved brackets have a distinctly Marot character.
It stands as a superlative example of marquetry decoration. It sometimes happens that a clockmaker, as the differences in sizes of many of these clocks are not great, found an earlier case ready to his hand, or a client desired a particular style of decoration, and he accordingly put his new clock of into a case twenty or thirty years earlier.
Or it may be that some marquetry-worker reproduced the former style. Whichever may have happened we cannot say—these are the conundrums left as a heritage to the collector, who now comes two hundred years later.
The fine example of a clock by Martin, London , illustrated p. The turned pillar has not yet disappeared, and is reminiscent of the fine Tompion cases with turned pillars. It exhibits the transitional stage before marquetry entirely supplanted the older style. In this specimen the marquetry is under fine artistic control. In what for convenience of expression we term the “all-over” period the marquetry-worker ran riot. Not only in colour, for he had to compete [Pg 84] with the richly coloured lacquered cases, but in form.
But he had as a craftsman learned the art of laying his imported marquetry sheets where he willed. He was not deterred from rounded surfaces, and the cramped pattern of the panel was discarded, to make way for the style where the pattern, like chintz or wall-paper, conveniently repeated itself. There is no mistaking such an example, splendid though it is, as exemplifying this period illustrated p. The student will desire to take cognizance of country-made marquetry cases.
Marquetry was practised in England before this outburst of colour and form on the clock-case. Occasionally settles and buffets—very occasionally—had stringing in a thin pattern of black and white intarsia work.
Provincial makers are therefore a delight as well as a confoundment to the collector. A cabinet-maker in Devonshire or a would-be marquetry-worker in Cumberland may, between his intervals of making the coffins for his deceased neighbours or turning their wagon shafts, essay to try his hand at imitating the squire’s clock-case of fifty years’ previous date. He usually puts a label to his handiwork which renders it easily recognizable.
His design is crudely “chopped in,” that is, the solid wood has been cut out to receive the pieces of the design, usually, as found now, very badly glued, and severely handled by time.
This is interesting as showing ‘prentice work—that is, [Pg 89] ‘prentice work coming many years after the finished art had been established in this country. It is remarkable that no such apprentice work appears in London-made examples. The conclusion to which one must come is that there was no such apprenticeship.
Foreign refugees made the clock-cases or they were imported from Holland. No Common Origin of Design. It is not a crime for the craftsman to assimilate the best of all the great artists who have preceded him. This was the insanity of L’Art Nouveau. It wanted to commence again at elementary principles and to use poor forms that had long been discarded by great artificers. It wished us deliberately to ignore the past. An anvil has arrived by a process of evolution through long centuries of metal-workers, since man first smelted ore and fashioned metal, to its present form.
It would be idle to equip the blacksmith with a square anvil. From China to Japan, from India to Armenia, from Bagdad to Cairo, from Alexandria to Venice, from Canton to Goa and thence to Lisbon, backwards and forwards across the world’s trade routes art impulses have throbbed to the tune of the monsoons. Pulsating with life, they carried, and still carry, Eastern ideas to the West, and Western inventions to the East. Aztec gods and Ashanti gold ornaments, Peruvian Inca clay vessels and Malayan idols, surprise and bewilder the [Pg 90] ethnologist with the similarity of rudimentary forms or with the marvellously pure ornament that comes out of the so-conceived dark corners of the earth to suggest older civilizations as artistic as those of the modern world.
Holbein and Hollar and Vandyck, Lely and Kneller worked in this country. The number of foreign artists and artist-craftsmen working in this country as acclimatized or as “naturalized” was stupendous. The beautiful swags and delicately carved woodwork embellishing so many English houses and proudly held as heirlooms are by a Dutchman’s hand—Grinling Gibbons.
The list could be extended. It is natural that the gold of England should have a hypnotic attraction to artistic temperaments. It is the law of supply and demand. Like bananas and pineapples, oranges and dates, foreign talent comes to a great emporium.
It was a term employed in Holland just at the time when a similar immigration was occurring in this country. The French Protestant refugees fleeing from the insane fury of Roman Catholic bigots naturally fled to Protestant countries—to England, to Holland, and to Germany. It is admitted on the Continent that these highly skilled artist craftsmen had an influence on the art of the country of their adoption. In England, writers on furniture have half-heartedly alluded to this influence, but it was very real.
Daniel Marot, a descendant from an eminent family of French [Pg 91] artists, a pupil of Lepautre, formerly at the Gobelins factory, and one of the creators of the Louis Quatorze style, took refuge in Holland, where William of Orange appointed him as Minister of Works.
At Hampton Court his personality predominates. Sir Christopher Wren occupied himself with the architecture, but the decorations are by Daniel Marot. Marot died in It is idle to ignore this influence.
Chippendale owed more than most people imagine to Marot. Le style chinois is to be found, so to speak, in embryo, in Marot’s design books, and suggestions of it appear in some of his executed work. The un-English marquetry became acclimatized, and later, as we shall show, the equally un-English lac became a fashion. Derivative Nature of Marquetry Clock-cases. We may admire the dexterity of the inlay but deplore the design. At the Mortlake tapestry works Vandyck and Rubens made drawings for the craftsmen.
In England, whenever the craftsman has been allied with the artist he has produced great results; whenever he has run alone he has [Pg 92] rapidly run downhill. Josiah Wedgwood had on the one side Bentley the classical scholar, on the other Flaxman the artist and modeller with a perfect continental training.
Chippendale, great craftsman that he was, would have been better advised to prune his Chinese taste and discard his worthless Gothic style. An artistic brain behind him would have saved him from such atrocities. Sheraton, more the artist than the craftsman, made no such blunders. Evidently the making of clock-cases became an industry. Personally we incline to the belief that seventy-five per cent. The derivative nature of their design tells its own story.
It has nothing English about it. Take the early geometric star pattern or the early coloured birds and flowers, what else are they but Dutch? Is there anything in English art like them? The conclusion to which one must arrive is that the marquetry clock-case panel is Dutch or Anglo-Dutch.
The derivative character runs through the whole gamut from the reticent and well-balanced panel period to the “all over” phase, when every inch was covered with marquetry, to the arabesque and intricate mosaic work reminiscent of Persia, and finally to the decadent period when Eastern carpets found themselves reproduced in marquetry on the clock-case. When the hood of the clock-case became arched and the dial correspondingly had a lunette, the [Pg 97] decorative marquetry panel in the case below followed the same form.
It is possible, indeed very probable, that many such shaped panels were imported and were especially intended to meet the demand for use on clock-cases.
It is always possible to a trained eye to see whether a panel has been made to fit the place in which one finds it. Is it part of a sanely conceived decorative scheme, or was it used because it happened to be handy as part of a cabinet-maker’s stock-in-trade? We illustrate two examples of marquetry chests of drawers of the William and Mary period which offer many interesting features.
In regard to the example with the oval panels illustrated p. It is a clock-case panel. Similarly in the “all-over” marquetry chest of drawers of the same period illustrated p. To examine both these chests of drawers in detail is to discover that the former shows that the panels of the drawers were carefully thought out before execution. The metal drop-handles in the centre were each intended to be there.
They were in the cabinet-maker’s mind when he made his design and laid his marquetry. He has accommodated his pattern to receive these handles. In the other example it is seen that no such care was taken. The escutcheon of the locks covers a portion of the marquetry. The cabinet-maker in London had his Dutch-imported panels ready to hand and he used them as he found them.
If some collector or expert were to come along and [Pg 98] determine that all the green and purple and flecked glass of the Early Victorian period, bottles with long necks and gilded stoppers, in English leather cases, vases of inimitable colour but execrable form, were typically English as representing early nineteenth century glass, we should put his theories aside as nonsense. Partly because we happen to know what Bohemia was exporting and partly because we know what the English glassworkers were doing in the same period.
But in regard to to it is less easy to determine whether a wonderful school of expert marquetry-workers existed in London as a secret industry. One must assume that they had quietly assimilated all the technique of the Dutch craftsmen, and descended on the town, just at the right moment, with a new art, quite un-English, just at that moment when Dutch fashions were in the ascendant and when Mary, the consort of William of Orange, was employing Marot, the late Surveyor of The Hague, to convert Hampton Court from a Tudor into an Anglo-Orange palace.
On an examination of delft earthenware of the period and Dutch decorative art in general, it is fairly obvious that the art impulses coincide with the various phases of ornament as found on the marquetry panel, whether they were the floriated designs of Italy with the vase and the symmetrical flowers in conventional form, further conventionalized by the Dutch, who clung to tulips and carnations, or the arabesque designs derived from the Dutch traffic with the East Indies, the pseudo-Persian sherbet tray [Pg 99] as a panel, the prayer rug as a full design.
With his black delft to imitate lacquered work of Japan and his blue delft to imitate the Kang-he Chinese porcelain, the Dutchman proved himself a superlative translator. The Dutch East India Company, till it was supplanted, was the conduit-pipe through which the arts of the East were allowed to pass into Europe.
In another portion of this volume we show how apparently obscure ornament has a long lineage, and that craftsmen in minor details were producing something of which possibly they knew not the origin nor the significance; but it behoves the intelligent collector, who, after all, is in possession of more facts, spread over a wider area, to arrive at sane conclusions in regard to workers who wrought better than they thought.
The Wall-paper Period. Wall-hangings made of paper by the Chinese came into England in the early seventeenth century. But European wall-paper is a modern abomination. Chintz has a better excuse to imitate satin. Wall-paper is an affectation which cannot be defended. It always pretends to be what it is not. It is really wonderful that amateurs did not paste it over clock-cases. Perhaps they did, and other persons, wiser in their generation, removed it.
But if wall-paper of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was not affixed to the [Pg ] clock-case, it was there in spirit, as it was on strident bureaus and other equally offensive articles of the period. The “all-over” style exhibits marquetry run mad. Artisans could apply the thin veneer, ten sheets to the inch, like paper, and they did.
They had borders as common as modern factory-made imitation lace at a few pence per yard, and they laid them beside the pilasters and around the already well covered case. There was no square inch that could be said to be free from the attentions of the gluer of marquetry sheets.
He began to dominate decoration till happily he was extinguished. The Incongruities of Marquetry. The question arises, How did the marquetry panel come there? It is another way of expressing the view that the proportion is radically wrong. A glance at a poor panel of a clock-case, or a faked panel, or a stupidly wrought panel, is enough.
To the collector of old books nothing is more annoying than to find that the binder with all his fine tooling has trimmed off the margins of the printed matter and the illustrations. It is an edition with the space expurgated. It is the binder versus the printer, and similarly in the clock-case it is too often the cabinet-maker versus the designer of the marquetry panel.
This is the sentiment one has on looking at many of the marquetry clock-cases. The persons who received [Pg ] them from Holland did not always know how to use them correctly. They either cut off their edges or left so little space as to convey the idea of a curtailed edition of the original. In the case of the panelled period, when there were three panels, two of them had more often than not to be cut off in the middle to make room for the circular aperture in the door showing the swinging pendulum.
When the case-maker received his panels according to order from the Continent, one would have thought he would have done away with the hole in the case.
But perhaps the clockmaker insisted otherwise. At any rate, it is a point showing the absence of intimate relationship between clockmaker and case-maker. Holland seems to be the answer, in spite of all experts to the contrary. On the “all-over” marquetry clock-cases there is a decided inclination to follow the designs found on contemporary delft ware. As to repetition, however well joined they are, the glue and the wax cannot hide the poverty of design.
Twice or thrice in one case are patterns repeated. It is the wall-paper artist at work in a smaller area. In this connection one recalls the decadence of the wood-engravers, where three or four artists worked on portions of one picture cut into sections and screwed together as one block.
The old journals, the Illustrated London News , and the Graphic and others of the early ‘eighties, tell of this decadence. The thin white lines, as long as ink and paper last, record this subterfuge. It was the last note of wood-engraving. Similarly, in marquetry, when we find the almost [Pg ] invisible lines denoting several hands, or the piecing together of the same design cunningly to deceive the persons at the period, we at a later stage read this as the note determining the end, and the end soon came.
Lacquered work is the most un-English style of decoration that has ever been employed by the cabinet-maker in the embellishment of his furniture. It came from the East and was introduced into this country about the same period as tea-drinking. At first tea was drunk by fashionable folk from cups without handles, now it is the national beverage. Lac is a natural product of China, the sap of a tree in appearance resembling our ash-tree.
It is not an artificial compound of resin and oils, worked down by turpentine. This natural gum is refined and coloured red, black, golden yellow, green, or grey. The surface of the wood is carefully prepared, and a ground is laid on by degrees, care being taken that each is of the right temperature and perfectly hard and dry before any layer is applied. Never [Pg ] less than three and sometimes as many as eighteen thin layers are thus applied to the surface of the wood before the actual decoration of this ground by the artist commences.
In regard to the use of lac in this country, practical experts have questioned as to whether it is possible in a climate like this to effect the clean drying so necessary to attain perfection.
London and other cities, on account of their dust-charged atmosphere, are unsuited for lacquer work. The artist draws his design of landscape or figures or birds or flowers, filling his details with gold or silver and superimposed colours built up with mastic, of those parts which are intended to be in slight relief. The Japanese brought the art of lacquer to the highest perfection.
To those readers who desire to see the art of lacquer shown in its various stages, there is in the Botanical Museum at Kew Gardens a collection of specimens in various stages, including sections of the lacquer-tree, from which the lac exudes, and of various coloured lacs, and examples illustrating no less than fifty different methods of lacquering sword-sheaths.
An examination of lacquer work is to be found in Chinese Art , vol. Stephen W. Bushell, formerly physician to His Majesty’s Legation at Peking. In the print-room of the Imperial Library at Paris is an album with drawings of the processes and explanatory notes. Quin , printed as a Parliamentary Paper in Its Early Introduction into this Country. When Philip of Spain annexed Portugal in , he sought to shut out the Dutch traders from participation in this trade. By this act he laid the foundation of the Dutch East India Company.
It was only when Cornelius Houtman procured some Portuguese charts that the Dutch navigators first rounded the Cape en route for India and China and Japan. The great Dutch East India Company was established in Porcelain and lacquered cabinets and boxes were thus at an early date distributed as rare articles of curious art at the beginning of the seventeenth century.
Drake and Raleigh had captured Spanish galleons with such treasure, and the Portuguese possession of Goa in India had brought the wealth of the Far East to Western Europe. Evelyn tells us in his Diary , in , of the richness of the apartments of the Duchess of Portsmouth at Whitehall.
The sideboards were piled with richly wrought plate. In the niches stood cabinets, the masterpieces of Japanese art.
Memoirs of this time furnish abundant proof that lacquered work was, in pieces of imported furniture, known in this country. As a nation we had not developed on those lines; it is a fact worth remembering that as late as the reign of Charles II the greater part of the iron used in this country was imported from abroad.
The vogue reached its height in as a fashion for the wealthy and a pastime for the dilettanti, and disturbed the steady growth of national spirit in art.
Chippendale snatched his fretwork in his brackets and the angles of his chairs from the Chinese worker in ebony. He erected pagoda-like structures on his cabinets. Staffordshire with her earthenware brought out the “willow-pattern,” and a hundred other designs were acclimatized as reflections of the blue and white Canton porcelain.
The fine ladies and gentlemen dress with taste, the architects, whether Gothic or Chinese, build with taste. This “Chinese taste” had seized France and Holland. Louis Quatorze had to issue a decree at the end of the seventeenth century to prohibit the import of Oriental wares.
The craze reached England later and developed later. But early in the eighteenth century the cabinet-makers of London petitioned Parliament against the importation of manufactured articles from the East Indies to this country. But nothing much seems to have come of their protest. The East India Company had become too powerful to brook interference with its trade by interested artisans. Thousands of lac panels were brought over in the company’s ships, even in spite of the deep-rooted belief that lacquer work had at that time become an English art.
It is to be presumed that some of the contentions of the old European lacquer-workers may be said to be parallel with the assertions of old potters who asseverated that they had discovered the true porcelain of China.
Since Father Du Halde, the Jesuit, had published in Paris in his Description de l’Empire de la Chine , other European potters had endeavoured to find the natural earths of the Chinese, kaolin and petuntse. When William Cookworthy, the chemist and potter of Plymouth, wrote of his discovery of [Pg ] the china clays, Josiah Wedgwood journeyed to Cornwall on a wild-goose chase.
It may be imagined, with data such as these to guide us—first, the growing intensity of the “Chinese taste”; second, the demand for furniture and porcelain on the part of the wealthy classes—that as a consequence an attempt was made to supply the demand. There were various sources of supply for lacquered furniture, especially lacquered clock-cases. There was the Dutch market, from which was obtained, as in the case of marquetry, panels of lacquered work.
At first, without doubt, these came from the East through Holland. The next stage was the Dutch lacquered panel actually produced in Holland. Later there was again the Oriental panel coming straight from the East through our own East India Company. Contemporaneously with these importations, which served as models, there was the lacquered work produced in this country.
We shall later attempt to differentiate between these styles. Colour versus Form. In furniture the pendulum has swung to and fro. Colour follows form in the process of evolution. In England there is the oak period and the walnut period, where the beauty is solely dependent upon form.
The conception of the cabinet-maker has usually been confined to form, eschewing colour, or to colour more or less ignoring the beauty of form, or as a compromise, [Pg ] when form has been subservient to colour. When form and colour are in exact harmony the highest ideals are reached in furniture. The Chinese have reached these ideals. The Italian school of the fifteenth century in the marriage coffer, where painting or coloured intarsia is of parallel beauty with the rich carving, achieved like success.
Riesener and David Roentgen, in equally masterful technique, produced marquetry of tulip-wood, holly, rosewood, purple wood, and laburnum. With the style embodying the enrichment of the plain surface with colour came the use, and later the abuse, of lacquered panels. A Dutch cabinet-maker, Huygens, had won renown by reproducing remarkable imitations of the Japanese lacquered panel.
In Holland, Chinese prototypes had served as models for delft ware. The Dutch potter had simulated the appearance of blue and white Chinese porcelain, but his results were obtained by a white enamel covering a brown body.
Dutch lacquer work is similarly imitative of the results rather than a duplication of the Oriental processes. Chintzes and printed “callicoes” equally are surprising efforts at simulation, if not dissimulation. As a supreme effort of the successful attempt of [Pg ] the European to reproduce the wonderful limpid transparency of the old Chinese and Japanese work, the secret of Sieur Simon Etienne Martin, a French carriage painter, stands supreme.
His varnish, called after him Vernis-Martin , has become the term, as in the case of Boulle, for a certain class of technique. In he obtained the monopoly in France for the manufacture of lacquered work in the Oriental style.
He obtained the ground of wavy golden network, such as in rare Japanese panels, and on this Boucher and other artists painted Arcadian subjects. In England it cannot be said that these great foreign styles have been emulated in the grand manner or even attempted.
The important bureaus and splendid lacquered cabinets produced in the period when colour was employed so lavishly as to disregard form, are attributable, not for the least part of their excellent technique in the skilful employment of lacquer, to the great number of French and other foreign workmen who had settled in this country.
Peculiarities of the Lacquered Clock-case. We cannot mark an exact date when marquetry panels or marquetry “all-over” cases were no longer the vogue, and when lacquered cases succeeded them.
The two styles were comparatively contemporaneous. The lacquered case may be said to have run its day from about to On the whole they seemed to have had a longer vogue, mainly on account of the prevalence of the “Chinese taste,” which demanded colour. Lacquered decoration jumped the experimental stage of reserves or panels that apparently were not quite in exact proportions to the case, but had to be fitted in and sometimes trimmed.
It came at a juncture when this difficulty had been mastered. Accordingly, we find the whole of the lacquered case has been regarded as a rectangular surface to be decorated, and we have not met with any instance of more than one lacquered panel being employed on the case. The marquetry case offered other features which indicated the struggle of colour for supremacy.
In the early marquetry specimens the turned walnut pillars of the hood belong to an earlier style. They indicate that that form had not been completely ousted. The marquetry worker in the end overcame this and drove these pillars out.
In the lacquered case no such struggle is visible. The case is entirely a scheme in colour. It is red, or green, it is black and gold, but the design is never so strong as to tempt one to examine its form.
It is simply decorative, but much in the manner that, in textile art, tapestry is pleasing, not challenging a critical examination of form, but suggesting a somnolent restfulness.
Touches of incongruity appear in later examples [Pg ] of the lacquered clock-case when the arched hood came into fashion and the panel followed suit. It is a shape unsuited to an Oriental design. Such a Western architectural style used in combination with so Eastern a technique as lacquered work is like putting a Corinthian pillar on a Japanese bronze. The lacquered cases illustrated in this chapter indicate the style.
The example with the movement by Joseph Dudds , illustrated p. It is poor and thin, and has not stood the ravages of time and a damp climate. The specimen illustrated p. The panelled door was probably an importation, and the other decorations in lacquer done in this country.
Among the Scottish clocks, the Patrick Gordon example , illustrated p. In this example the remainder of the so-called lacquered decoration is stencilled. The English School. The rivalry between “John Company” and the Dutch traders was one factor that has to be considered. Lacquered work was coming straight from the East to Amsterdam and to English ports.
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It is a shape unsuited to an Oriental design. Soon after dawn the speech of the dying man failed. Seventeenth-century Types. When he wrote of the village ale-house:—. It requires no gramophone to reproduce dead voices, nor a cinema picture to recall bygone incidents and happenings. We love the candelabrum with candles, with its finely, fashioned brass forms, Dutch and English. Their advent was an artistic asset to this country.