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History of painted furniture

Painting furniture has been born from the need of decorating a piece of furniture without sculpting it, as sculpture is too expensive for many people.

We have come across painted furniture ever since the 16th century AD and this has occurred in almost all the European countries, starting with Sweden, Switzerland, England, the Low countries, Catalonia, Alsace, Normandy, Southern Germany, Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, crossing Transylvania, all the way to Russia and the Baltic countries.

In the countries situated in Northern Europe, most of the motifs are rustic and stern (almost all painted in the Camaieu technique): abstract flowers, country houses, surrounding churches, farm animals, naively painted, as well as many motifs based on the 18th century French Rococo(mostly in Sweden)

In England the popular works are those of the 19th century ad which were influenced by the success of the Victorian gardens, delicately shaped roses painted on a temperate or a clear background.

In Alsace the furniture the future bride had as a dowry, was being exposed for everyone to see. It was decorated in colorful motifs, such as beige or red on a light blue background, or red and green on a brown background.

Normandy was the country that produced during the 17th and 19th centuries many trunks and chests for the purposes of carrying laces and jewels to the Orient or for using them as bottom drawers, all bearing motifs such as tulips, roses, long or punctured leaves and birds used to symbolize marriages, motifs which used to be painted mostly on stern backgrounds.

In the Netherlands, where Amsterdam is a powerful cultural centre, they used floral motifs which would either surround religious, or naval scenes characteristic to this area. We can still find now days in this area of the Netherlands museums or boutiques with painted furniture, or else artisans painters which give life to that place through their paintings.

In Italy, under the influence of the German and Alsatian neighbors, there developed a different kind of painted furniture. They passed from painted furniture to a higher level of ornamentation which was meant for the rich and the clergy. The bottom drawers have architectural designs which date from the Renaissance. Then, there came a time when their fashion trend had set only to rise in the 18th century. Characteristic to this period are the roses, the garlands or the country side landscapes, which came to be painted on wardrobes, chest of drawers or clavichords.

In Germany the Tolz rose is a very charming symbol. This small round rose came to life in northern Bavaria. Curled around itself it is usually exposed as garlands or bunches in vases. Beginning with the 17th century the tulip was one of the favorite flowers symbolizing through its closing shape the fertility; this is the reason why is omnipresent on the bottom drawers ( the tulip which originates from Turkey got to Bavaria in the second half of the 16th century ).

Hungary and Poland also have a very interesting inheritance as the motifs are rich, colorful and very original. Here the void is the enemy of the motif.

The whole surface is very densely painted : isolated flowers, bunches of flowers, birds drawing close to geometrical forms, the decoration which is clear and precise and many times small sized, reminding more of an oriental design than of a Slavonic one.

In Transylvania the painted furniture has been brought by the Saxons who colonized the region and it has a very close resemblance to that of Southern Germany , however bearing the density of the Hungarian furniture. The tulip, but especially the rose in various stages of their bloom are the most representative flowers. The bunches and the garlands are enriched with much more flowers, more or les abstract, enchanting the eye with the most charming colours.