The Legs of the Louis’s by John De Bastiani
I am tackling this week what feels like one of the most notoriously confusing parts of French Decorative Arts: the different leg styles named for the different Kings of France. Most of the different monarchies in France played an influential role but to keep it simple, let’s just tackle three major ones: 1) King Louis XIV, 2) Louis XV and 3) Louis XVI.
Louis XIV (1643-1715), better known as “The Sun King,” was responsible for converting the Hunting Lodge of Versailles to the Palace of Versailles. It was an age of courtly splendor and grandeur, marked by the rich, massive furniture well-suited for the palace. It was lavish but not excessive and exemplified the monarchy’s rise to height. This style replaced the more practical looking furniture of the previous king. All of this was happening within what we call the Baroque Period. What emerged from this period was the curved “Cabriole” or “French” leg. It became a very graceful curve most associated with French Furniture. The Louis XIV leg cemented forever the look of what we think of today as the French Leg Style.
Louis XV (1710-1724), “The Beloved King” as many refer to him, altered the French leg quite a bit. This was a period when French Furniture was at its height. Renowned for their fine craftsmanship, great details were added in carvings, heavy gilding, lacquering, ormolu etc. Interlacing shell, plant and flower motifs where also popular motifs of this period. It was a very opulent and excessive time for the royalty and the furniture reflected that as the French Leg became more pronounced and decorated.
Louis XVI (1754-1793) was best known to be married to Marie Antoinette and was beheaded after the French revolution. This period of French Furniture was known as Neoclassical, pretty much the opposite of Rococo style. It is a perfect example of action – reaction. For example, just how in one season a skirt hem can be short and the next long, this furniture leg was transformed from curved to straight and fluted. The style of the leg looks a lot like a Roman or Greek Column. Neoclassical furniture emphasized straight lines, oak and laurel leave motifs all influence by the discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It was also was much more serious and logical in design. It displayed characteristics of ancient Greek or Roman classical civilizations.
So as you can see, the happenings of the day played a tremendous influence on furniture design and thus the legs associated with these three French Periods. From the French Curve Leg coming into vogue, to then becoming accented and refined and finally straight and column like, the French Leg morphed into difference versions from the influence of each of these Kings. Please see the attached photos as examples.
Author John De Bastiani owns a full service interior design firm with offices in Boston and Los Angeles and was named “One of the 25 Next Wave of America’s Top Young Designers” by House Beautiful magazine. Visit his website at www.johndd.com.