Loretta has shared many examples (such as these here and here) of furnishings from the pages of Ackermann's Repository, showing what was "on trend" for fashionable homes in early 19thc Great Britain.
I was reminded of those illustrations when I recently spotted the bed, left, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With its swooping curves, gleaming mahogany, ebony, and rosewood, brass inlay, and elaborate (reproduction) hangings, the bed could have been straight from the pages of Ackermann's. There's one difference, however. It wasn't made in London, but in New York.
According to the bed's placard:
"Following the Revolution, Americans took inspiration from the ancient empires of Greece and Rome in the establishment of a democratic republic. In turn, domestic interiors and furnishings began to resemble architecture and artifacts from classical antiquity. This bed's sweeping frame echoes the form of a Roman lectus (daybed) and the bronze plaque at the base bears the profile of a Roman magistrate or military officer."
In other words, this bed wasn't just a stylish piece of furniture: it was making a patriotic statement. Eagles and stars appear throughout American design of the period, and combined with the ancient Roman design, this bed was a thorough expression of Federalist sensibilities.
Or perhaps not. Although it was made in New York, the maker was a Frenchman, Charles-Honoré Lannuier. One of the city's foremost furniture makers, Lannuier employed his Parisian cousin, Jean-Charles Cochois, around the time this bed was made. Cochois would have brought with him the latest in Parisian designs inspired by the newly-created French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon, too, wanted to create a new country with all the trappings of ancient Rome, but of a Roman empire rather than a Roman republic. So are the aggressive eagles on this bed republican American eagles, or imperial French ones?
One more thought: to the early 19thc customer commissioning this bed, the political and bellicose overtones of its design would have been a selling point. Today's consumers, however, prefer their beds to be a bit less menacing. While this style of classically-inspired bed - without the eagles and inlay - is once again very popular, savvy modern manufacturers call them sleigh beds - conjuring up cozy images of fresh snow, warm blankets, and sleigh bells instead of stern Roman military officers plotting their next conquest.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.