When talking about antique German furniture, you often hear people refer to a piece as
North German, South German, Hessen or Rhine/Main and Mosel area etc.
This always used to confuse me - and if I am honest, still does.
You cannot go about collecting antique furniture here in Germany, as you would in say England or France - relating the styles to a Monarch. Or for that matter, related to a cabinet maker, like Chippendale or Sheraton. Not in the early years anyway.
We shall begin our look at antique German furniture starting around 1700.
Germany was made up of trading cities and princedoms. The northern states being mainly Protestant where the wealthy tended to be middle-class merchants.
The Dutch and English tended to influence fashion in the north.
The southern states were mainly Catholic. Fashions being influenced by the Italians and the French.
The commode, or chest of drawers, became popular along with the 'Schreibschrank' - writing cupboard or bureau cabinet.
The 'Schreibschrank' started off with a table underneath but this soon changed to having a commode underneath.
Display cabinets were also set upon chests.
The architectural style of german cupboards found in the early years began to loosen up a little and the Rococo style began to take hold.
'Schrank' (Cupboard or Armoire) types for the german baroque period
are the 'Frankfurter', 'Danziger', 'Hamburger' and the 'Lübecker'
Schrank. (some write 'schrunk' - it is however 'shrank')
Many cabinet makers had journeyed to France and brought back new ideas and styles.
The Commode or chest of drawers took on curves and serpentines to the front and later to the sides as well.
In the south the Schrank, (wardrobe) tended to be covered with veneer with intarsia using many woods, metals and ivory.
In the north oak was still very popular and the heavy pillars and carving gave way to veneer work and carving in the way of acanthus, rocaille, flowers and so forth.
Seating became more comfortable and sofas and chairs were upholstered using webbing straps underneath and horsehair and such on top, covered by fabric. (no springs)
The Chaise longue arrived around the middle of the 18th century. Armchairs became less throne like with lower backs.
German antique Rococo furniture tends to be more exaggerated than the French Rococo.
The secretary or writing desk remained very much for the man of the house and was often the most expensive piece of furniture taking on immense proportions.
Again in the north taking on more the English style of bureau cabinet. In the south the 'Tabernakelschrank' - a desk of high proportions.
For the ladies - the 'Toiletentisch' or dressing table. This little table had many uses. Mostly with three opening parts on top - the sides to left and right and the middle upwards where a mirror was to be found.
Inside below the mirror, the wash utensils and to the sides jars, combs, popping up drawers for jewellery and other places for writing and working. Useful small tables, such as game tables, reading tables and work tables. These tables were light and easily carried about the room.
Mechanical fittings to enable the tables to change use, for example from tea table to games table.
These mechanical fittings were to be found on many pieces of furniture. The Roentgen Workshops were specialists in constructing such furniture.
Night tables also became exceedingly popular.
Intarsia became more and more picturesque, foliage, flowers and pictorial scenes. Earlier using many other materials apart from wood and towards the end of the Rococo period mostly just wood.
Walnut so loved in the late baroque, remained so in the Rococo. Cherry and plum were also local woods used often for veneer work along with Birch, Yew, Poplar burr, Elm and Hawthorn.
Imported woods from the south were Olive, Ceder and Cypress. From overseas came Kingwood, Rosewood, Sandalwood, and Mahogany which was used from about the middle of the 18th century and became more used than Walnut.
In the north oak was mostly used as ground wood. Towards the middle of the 18th century pine was preferred.
Other woods used for veneering, apart from Walnut, were Maple, Ash, Bog oak and Birch burr.
In mid-Germany oak and pine were used as ground wood. Veneer work was often a light Walnut with banding and marquetry in burr walnut, Elm and Ash intermingled with Plum, Cherry and Maple.
In the western parts of Germany (Westfalen, Rheinland and the Pfalz) the Walnut veneer was darker and wilder. Veneer was often set in opposite directions on furniture.
In the South, pine was nearly always used as ground wood. Occasionally one sees red beech used.
Apart from Walnut, Fruitwood veneers were very popular and one finds chests veneered in Cherry or Pear. It isn't unusual to find woods such as Plum, Lilac, Elsbeere (Sorbus torminalis Crantz - Checkertree) and Thuya wood on furniture from this time.
The frills, curves and flamboyance of the Rococo were not given up easily and it was not until the 1780's that the new style, popular elsewhere in Europe took hold.
French influence along with English influence in the way of Chippendale came to play at this time.
Ornamentation included festoons of flowers, rams' heads, anthemions and classical urns.
The most notable Designer and Cabinet maker was David Roentgen (1743-1807), who took over his father's Neuwied workshop in 1771.
Mahogany was the chosen wood and forms became straight and decoration conservative.
The Secretary is still an important embellishment to the home but becomes much lighter. The Cylinder Bureau became ever popular towards the end of the century.
Legs on furniture are tapered and square.
Chair backs are straight.
The German antique furniture of the empire takes on monumental proportions.
Highly polished mahogany with bronze fittings reminiscent of Egyptian kings. Lions paws, swans, palms, caryatids and so forth.
New veneer cutting techniques allow long and wide sheets of veneer to be cut. This gives the cabinet makers the chance to enhance the furniture with book matched figures.
Chairs stay mostly straight, becoming heavier with straight front legs and sabre back legs.
Plant tables make an appearance.
The fall front secretaire is large and masculine.
Antique German furniture of the empire period is particularly hard to find and much copied.
This was furniture found in big houses and not afforded by the average middle and lower class families.
The lower classes were quite content with the Zopf style and the Empire Style never caught on here as it did with the rich.
The pomp of the empire style became thinned down - the straight lines remained but the ornament all but disappeared.
The beauty was in the grain of the wood - which was highly polished.
Light woods were preferred - cherry, birch, pear, poplar and yew although in the north mahogany and walnut were still popular.
Marquetry was not often used, but you do find it in the back of antique biedermeier chairs.
Comfortable sofas, settees and armchairs set before a round table became the centre point of a room. Other furniture set along the walls.
The fall front secretaire (Schreibschrank) was still an expensive and very popular piece of furniture.
Small work tables, display cabinets and commodes were also important accompaniments to the drawing room.
Of antique German furniture - the Biedermeier pieces are still much sort after - I think this is because they match in with modern design so well.
Unfortunately, many good pieces of German antique furniture have been stripped and repolished to bring back the original light colouring. I find a room full of these very highly polished light coloured pieces rather suffocating.
Original untouched antique biedermeier furniture is almost impossible to find and reproductions are not unusual.
This period in antique German furniture can really be split into various styles running concurrently.
Late Biedermeier ca.1830-48
Louis-Phillippe ca. 1840-1870
Which began to take over from biedermeier around 1840 - this fusion is often seen on pieces of German antique furniture around this time.
The straight lines of the biedermeier gave way to waves and swirls, carving and scrolls. Corners were rounded off.
Tops of chairs, cupboards and secretaries were topped with see-through carving.
The antique german cherry cupboard in the photo dates around 1860.
Cherry, birch, walnut, mahogany and pine were all used.
Gothic Revival ca.1835-1900
Which kept the basic biedermeier form but develped arches and other gothic forms. In the early years often found in veneered furniture - often mahogany. Later on Oak which was otherwise not used much during this period, became the favourite wood to use for gothic revival.
Detail photo belongs to an german antique late biedermeier cupboard.
Neo-Renaissance ca. 1845-1900 where oak and walnut were much used. At first glance some of these magnificent antique german cupboards can be mistaken for earlier work, with their carved figures and heavy carving.
The heavy carving and applications of neo-renaissance began to fade. Walnut was the preferred wood.
sideboards with turned columns and carvings mostly in three pieces -
the cupboard underneath a middle piece sometimes with a gallery at the
back to hold plates and another cupboard above with doors and shelves
for vases. These can be very similar to the Belgian and Dutch pieces.
Dining tables and servers to match.
Sofas and tables remained popular as did the vertiko - an extremely practical piece of german antique furniture, which came into being during Louis Phillipe - a two door cupboard with a drawer above , around 135 cm high and often not more than 115cm wide. Sometimes they had a gallery above with a mirror and turned pillars holding shelves for knick-knacks.
The 'schreibschrank' became less popular than the kneehole desk.
For some reason antique German furniture of this period is not so popular - unless it is pine.
As everywhere else the
applications and turnings were left off and flowing lines were
introduced, sometimes to the extent that no straight lines were to be
Much antique German furniture of this time resembles more arts and crafts or a combination of both.
Mahogany, Oak, walnut and pear were used and pine too.
It took me quite a while to get used to all the different styles of German antique furniture. Many periods seem to roll over to the next, for examble the big Schrank was made using the same style for a very long period by the local cabinet maker and dating these can be quite tricky.