Sunday, August 21, 2016

A Beautiful Bed with (Perhaps) a Political Agenda, c.1805

Sunday, August 21, 2016
Isabella reporting,

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.

Above: Bedstead, by Charles-HonorĂ© Lannuier and Jean-Charles Cochois, c.1805-8. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 
Photographs ©2016 Susan Holloway Scott.


Annette said...

Good Early Morning, This type of lounger (or bed) we have for sale in our furniture stores. Looks fashionable if the bedroom or living/sitting rooms are larger. Place to put up one's feet, and not on the bed? Would I love it, buy it-no furniture sold here, is of poor quality wood and materials.

Hels said...

I agree totally that Cochois would have brought with him the latest in Parisian designs, inspired by the newly-created French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. Apart from any symbolic value, Napoleon and his wife put exactly this type of bed and tent drapery in their Malmaison home.

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