Antiques through the Ages: Early 17th Century (Part I)

Antiques through the Ages is a guide to walk you through how the styles of furniture have changed over the years in Europe.  In the first installment of this guide, we’ll cover three style periods from the early 1600s: Early Jacobean, Cromwellian/Commonwealth, and Louis XIII.

Early Jacobean (1603 – 1648)

The Jacobean period can be divided into three main styles, starting with Early Jacobean, which coincides with the reigns of King James I and King Charles I. The styles of the preceding Elizabethan period were still influential, but Jacobean furniture used less ornamentation and was considered a quieter style. Common characteristics of early Jacobean were scrolls, columns, arches, and mortise-and-tenon joints. Furniture was massive, rectangular, and sturdy, and the popular use of oak resulted in Jacobean furniture being built to last. Carvings from early in the period were simple and sometimes gilded. Comfort was not a high priority during this period so many pieces are known for being extremely uncomfortable.

One of the popular forms introduced during the early Jacobean period was the Farthingale chair. It was designed specifically for women who wore farthingales under their skirts; chair arms were removed, and the chairs had a low, padded back. However, chairs were still considered reserved for the high-ranking members of society so they weren’t produced in large numbers.

Cromwellian/Commonwealth (1648 – 1660)

During the second part of the Jacobean Period, the influence of Oliver Cromwell and the Commonwealth resulted in a very plain style; designers emphasized function above all else. The strict Puritan beliefs were so intertwined with the furniture design that trends in other countries during this time did little to influence the Cromwellian style. Puritans discouraged over-the-top decoration, resulting in the decline of carvings and ornamentation. With carving virtually nonexistent, moldings were applied rather than carved. The use of upholstery—with the exception of leather—also declined because it was viewed as a luxury. The Puritans elevated the uncomfortable styles of the early Jacobean period; their religious beliefs called for personal discomfort, resulting in furniture being more uncomfortable than ever before.

The Cromwellian style preserved a few of the central principles of the early Jacobean furniture. Furniture was still quite bulky, and the continued use of oak maintained the furniture’s durability. During this period, cheaper woods, such as elm and chestnut, were also used. Early Jacobean wasn’t one of the more ornate styles, but Cromwellian furniture utilized even less decoration.

Check out these Beauchamp pieces made in the Jacobean style:

Pair of antique Jacobean arm chairs A5453A  jacobean-stool Custom English Jacobean style side draw leaf table in oak.

Jacobean Arm Chairs Jacobean Bench/Stool Jacobean Side Draw Leaf Table


Louis XIII (1589 – 1661)

While Louis XIII’s reign began in 1610 and ended with his death in 1643, the corresponding furniture style continued for another eighteen years. The Louis XIII style was popular in France around the same time that the Jacobean period started to develop in England. The Louis XIII style was the first of four Louis periods and considered to be more primitive and less bold than the other three periods. The Louis XIII style can be identified by the turnery of the legs and its simple shapes.

While the first two Jacobean styles emphasized utility and as a result, typically had a plainer style, Louis XIII featured more elaborate carvings and had a greater emphasis on comfort. Furniture makers frequently incorporated geometric designs into the carvings. During this time in France, people expected furniture to be both comfortable and beautiful so this period saw the introduction of fixed upholstery and more lavish design. These designs included scrolls, fruit, and flowers. Like the early Jacobean style, Louis XIII furniture had a massive presence and frequently used oak.

A greater demand for furniture during this time was driven by the middle class. The development of a French country style allowed the bourgeois living outside of Paris to have nice furniture. This style reflected the trends of furniture from Paris but was adjusted to match the country lifestyle; one of the main pieces was the trestle table.

These Beauchamp pieces reflect the Louis XIII style:

Mid 19th century French Louis XIII style buffet with fish and game carvings in oak, circa 1870.

 louis-xiii-chair  louis-xiii-chairs
Louis XIII Carved Oak Buffet Louis XIII Arm Chair

Louis XIII Arm Chairs