The Antique Detective: Revival furniture styles pose problems

It may look like a chair made in the 17th century Baroque style but in actuality it can be one of the many furniture style revivals made over the years and in many countries. Would you know the difference? Not only Baroque, but Gothic, Renaissance and Rococo are among the many types reproduced. They can turn up mislabeled at antique shows, shops and auctions—and with sky-high prices. Even when properly labeled they can be costly depending on the craftsmanship. Two good examples of Baroque revival showed up at the winter James Julia Auction and sold over their auction estimates. A 19th century Baroque revival carved oak armchair sold for $3,220. A heavily carved, 20th century Baroque revival clock made in Germany sold under estimates for $2,875. Rococo revival pieces, which are much more common, don’t fare as well in today’s market. At the same auction a marble topped, carved center table sold way under estimate for $345.

The most important influence on Baroque furniture was sculpture. The end result in Italian, French and German furniture was heavy, dimensional carving of figures and floral motifs. Gilding and lacquer were lavishly applied in pieces made for royalty. Dutch and English pieces added floral parquetry. It was at this time that room designers dictated what and where furniture should be placed in a room.

baroque revival clockBaroque became an international style with the discovery of new furniture making techniques such as veneering and the import of fabrics from many countries. Rich damasks were used for draperies and cut velvet for seating pieces. French furniture was inlaid with colored marble, lapis and polished black ivory.

Baroque revival clock. Photo courtesy James Julia Auctions, Fairfield, Maine.

The era of Louis XV (1723-1774) marks the beginning of Rococo interior decoration. The carving of the Baroque age was still in evidence but not as heavy. Furniture introduced the cabriole legs and heavily upholstered pieces. Many new types of furniture with a specific purpose emerged. Among them the chaise longue and small tables fancifully decorated.

German Rococo furniture of the period was influenced by French design, but the pieces were heavy and often used black lacquer and gilt trim. Other examples used floral parquetry.

CLUES: One of the most popular chairs, made in Spain and Italy, was the X frame.

It has been reproduced ever since.

Around 1900, there was yet another revival of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance furniture. These reproductions were well carved but weren’t made with the tools of the eras. Instead they can be recognized as 19th to early 20th century by circular saw marks.

An entire line of Rococo style furniture was made by Sears Roebuck into the mid 20th century. Italy has never stopped making Renaissance style pieces. Know your dealer before you buy and do your own research.