Dimly lit decrepit rooms with dark and dreary furniture is what most popular video games and movies would have you believe about Gothic interiors. In reality, the essence of Gothic furniture is deeper than the superficial stereotype that most of us harbor in our minds.
Gothic furniture has always been in demand. The entire outlook of a room decorated with such furniture might have gone out of fashion, but some pieces of this furniture have never left the display sections of stores.
What has kept its essence alive is the meticulous design and detail that go into making it. Fine carvings and intricate woodwork need strong artisanship. The arduous work which goes into making each piece of Gothic furniture shows through it and makes it so precious.
History of Gothic Furniture
Gothic furniture style dates back to the 12th century. When half the world was steeped in conquests, France was brewing up Gothic art which had been influenced by Roman as well as Islamic architecture. The medieval Gothic furniture came around the time of the Byzantine Empire’s expansion into Europe and has its influence as well.
These initial phases of Gothic furniture span from the 12th century to around the middle of the 16th century. The period extending from 1150 to 1550 is when the prototypes of this style of furniture first appeared. At this point, Gothic furniture was simple with minimum complexities in its design.
Gothic Revival Movement
Though it paved the way for the Renaissance period, the trend of Gothic furniture subsided during this time. It gained momentum again in the 19th century. This period in its history is known as Gothic Revival. It is also referred to as the Victorian Gothic or Neo-Gothic era because of the movement for embracing Gothic art as a form of protest against the modernity of the Industrial Revolution.
The revival started in American colonies where it was widely welcomed. Later, Europe was also infected with the appreciation for this furniture style. Gothic furniture during the Victorian era derived its inspiration from medieval Gothic designs. Typical additions to the furniture style included trefoils and quatrefoils.
Modern or Reformed Gothic
Reformed Gothic also began in the 19th century, but it was a movement whose sole objective was to incorporate Gothic style to create something new out of it. It did not endeavor to copy Gothic forms but to create fresh pieces inspired by them.
This art was most popular in Britain and the United States. The Reformed Gothic movement aimed to bring simplicity to furniture design and rejected the overly ornamented Rococo style.
Charles Eastlake was a prominent figure in taking this movement to a whole new level by initiating the Eastlake Movement, which advocated that furniture must be created by one’s hands and specially by those who value their work. Notable works of this era included Gothic cabinet furniture and Gothic sideboard.
Gothic furniture is a combination of motifs and carving. It is decorated with various patterns such as florals and foliage, giving it an overall leafy appearance. The craved patterns also depict religious stories. Hawks, lions, griffins and gargoyles all found their way into these engravings, making Gothic furniture marvelous to look at.
There is lots of versatility in the style as paintings were sometimes used to create certain furniture pieces. In fact, robust and expansive Gothic furniture is typically used for decorating the interiors of a church.
The main wood used in Gothic furniture has always been hardwood, but different types of softwoods available in the countries where the furniture was crafted were also used. Traditionally, Gothic furniture was made out of oak, which was the main type of wood used in the furniture produced in Germany and England. However, it was common to use walnut in Italy, while chestnut was commonly used in France. The woods used were specific to the countries in which the Gothic cabinet furniture was made.
Furniture Pieces Styled According to Gothic Art
From chests to utensils, Gothic furniture is full of art that makes it unique and beautiful to look at. Intricately carved wood and meticulously embossed motifs are what make this style unique.
The sizes and intricacies of carvings differed according to the times. Therefore, by examining the designs of Gothic furniture, you can get a fairly accurate idea of the era it was produced in.
Chests evolved from portable items for luggage to bulky pieces of furniture. In their early stages, chests had a simple, minimalistic design with the only intricately decorated item being their hinges. The purpose they served at that time was as suitcases and storage trunks that people carried with them on their journeys.
With time, these chests expanded into trunks that were huge and heavy. No longer were they the simple travel items of yore. Later, the chests became elaborate pieces of furniture and were much larger.
Chairs made according to the Gothic style were only at the disposal of those with high ranks. Back then, not too many chairs were used in castles or homes. A typical house would only have one or two chairs for the feudal lords or masters because anyone below the said rank were not to be seated on these chairs and used benches or chests for this purpose.
12th century Gothic chairs used to come in all shapes, though round and rectangular shapes were most commonly used. They also came with a low back, a feature which was added afterward to make the chairs more comfortable for daily use and to protect them from getting damaged. They were later built in polygonal shapes as well during the 13th century.
It was not until the 14th century that heavier versions of Gothic chairs were introduced. In this period, these items were massive and had a grand aura about them. They varied in weight and size according to the social status of the person sitting on them.
If a wealthy lord wanted to decorate his home with Gothic furniture, he would most probably use a heavier chair, but if it were an ordinary person, the chair would be much lighter. Hence, Gothic chairs in castles resembled royal thrones and exuded majesty, while chairs in ordinary homes resembled the ones we use today.
Gothic chairs were a symbol of power and rank. A keen eye could detect if the person sitting on a chair was an influential personality or had a humble upbringing.
Later, canopies were introduced to chairs as well, making them look even more majestic. They soon became a symbol of luxury and class until the popularity of Gothic furniture faded away.
Unlike chairs which became more opulent as the centuries passed, Gothic beds became more utilitarian than their prototypes. Initially, beds made according to this style were huge and luxurious. They had four posts that were carved with great care.
The artisanship of these 12th-century Gothic furniture pieces was remarkable. Richly embroidered sheets were spread out on these beds, and drapes were hung on the canopy. Fine ornaments were either skillfully carved or painted by hand on these beds.
At the turn of the century, the attention to detail became less important than before. During this period, the beds were built with higher bedposts and the carved bedhead was made the centerpiece. Other carvings on the bed were less visible because they were now covered with more drapes.
More attention was now given to the fabrics that were used to cover the beds. You could see less of the woodwork and more of the cloth. That is because fabrics became the ultimate mark of Gothic art, and this was more visible in a typically Gothic-styled room.
Gothic Cabinet Furniture
Armoires became an essential furniture piece for homes with a Gothic interior. These articles started gaining an important place in the arena of Gothic cabinet furniture. Armoires were used as wardrobes or closets for keeping clothes and bedspreads. Despite the menial function they performed, they exuded beauty and finesse due to the design carved on them. There were a lot of variations in design as well. In Gothic furniture, armoires held a high position due to their luxurious appearance.
Just like Gothic chairs, the tables in this style were basic and plain. As time passed, they started becoming more and more extravagantly designed. At first, these tables were stretched across the length of the room and needed a space big enough to fit them. They were also narrow and rectangular in shape when they were first introduced.
The tables made with a Gothic style in the latter periods were much more elaborately furnished than those in the early stages. Apart from wooden tables, those made out of stone became popular. Halls of castles were usually adorned with them. The introduction of marble tables was another addition to the Gothic style.
The Gothic décor is one of a kind. It has been catching everyone’s interest since its inception. Time and again, Gothic style has held a special position in people’s imagination and has been romanticized in popular culture such as in books, movies, TV shows and video games.
It never fails to take you on a fantasy ride to the mysterious and unknown. However, labelling it as haunting would be overkill.
The carved designs and engravings are specific to Gothic art. The carvings are almost geometric and have been adapted from architecture. They showcase the skill of the expert who produced them. Together with the use of glass, these carvings give an intricate design to the furniture and make it look like art.
If you want a home décor which gives an exclusive Gothic aura, candles are a must. This is because the style is characterized by lots of candles. In fact, candles with Gothic cabinet furniture are what make church art distinct.
Beautifully embellished fabrics with rich and opulent drapes and curtains are also a hallmark of the Gothic style. The fabrics are usually dense and thick. Curtains are usually made of thick velvet in dark tones such as wine red, deep ruby and black. Upholstery for a Gothic interior include leather and brocade besides velvet.
The Gothic décor is characterized by rooms furnished with wall hangings such as murals and tapestries. The walls used in this style of décor are either made out of stone or paneled as they can be designed to give a more ornate look.
The “Gothic” Style
During the 19th century when the Gothic Revival movement stated to gain a footing in the United States, most Victorian furniture was inspired from the Gothic style. In fact, Victorian art assimilated the Gothic style. Its elaborate carvings as well as spear-like arches are largely inspired from this style.
This is why Gothic style became popular in Victorian churches. Even today, in different European countries, the blending of Gothic into Victorian style is reflected in the architecture of certain churches that have stood tall throughout the ages.
Most Valued Furniture
When it comes to Gothic furniture, it is often said that the older, the better. The most valuable Gothic furniture is the one which was created in the early days of the Gothic era. This includes furniture pieces like Gothic cabinet furniture from the 12th century which were created before the Renaissance period. This is why it’s the antiques which are the most prized possession of a Gothic furniture lover.
Characteristics of Gothic Furniture
Certain characteristics are specific to Gothic furniture, making it stand out among other styles of furniture. For instance, such furniture pieces are massive with a royal and lofty look. We will talk more about these characteristics below:
Robustness and Longevity
Not only does Gothic furniture look good, but it is also built to last. It has a sturdy and robust style which exudes grandeur and strength. Several components have been added to make Gothic furniture durable and long-lasting such as backs to chairs which bolstered their structure. These backs were added so that when a person tries to drag the chair, its spine does not come off.
Similarly, chests are built with supporting feet and hardwoods are used in constructing furniture so that it would not wear out over time. Despite the fact that softwoods are also used to make Gothic furniture in certain countries, it is the hardwood which is the most popular for this furniture type.
Each piece of furniture has a lot of drawers and space for storage, particularly Gothic cabinet furniture which comes with various compartments. Larger cabinets even have storage area near the legs. Similarly, armoires come with paneled compartments along with drawers at the bases. Cupboards and chests are not far behind either.
Originally, Gothic furniture did not offer much space. This feature was gradually added so that there was enough space for everyday use. This might be one of the reasons why chests became larger with time.
Intricately Carved Furniture
Motifs are the main engravings in furniture based on Gothic style. Intricate foliage such as leaves and vines are commonly carved onto the wood. In addition to that, grapes are also embossed on Gothic furniture together with floral motifs. A honeycomb carved on the furniture or a flower at the center of dense foliage are some of the particular elaborate designs that are popular on Gothic furniture pieces.
The church strongly influenced the Gothic furniture style. In fact, the church had furniture which was not available to the average person. This furniture mostly consisted of Gothic styling or designs inspired by it. At the same time, the church influenced Gothic furniture as its design was adapted to suit the church.
Contemporary Gothic Furniture
The Gothic furniture used in this time and age contains a lot of influences of other styles of furniture. Today, Gothic furniture has evolved to be more welcoming and practical. As a result, homes with Gothic décor have become livable. In contrast, the original Gothic style used to be so pointy and sharp that it became difficult for people to live with it as it could easily result in injuries.
The style started to become safer during the Victorian era. The contemporary Gothic style is not the same as the one in the Middles Age but is, instead, a mixture of various other contemporary artforms. Still, it manages to revive the old and distant days of affluent lords.
Gothic furniture is an art in itself. It is not only aesthetically pleasing to the eye but also deeply inspiring. It is for those who like to bask in decadence as it is a remnant of the times of lords and nobility. This style of furniture has gone through several revivals and has finally evolved into the masterpiece you see today. A classic piece is the Gothic cabinet furniture which is still one of the most cherished forms of Gothic art.