French Art History Guide

Picture leisurely strolls on the Riveria and afternoons at a Parisian cafe, the French really know the art of living. France seduces travellers with its sensibility in art, fine food, wines and not to mention, romance. From the Medieval years to the present, there is a lot to understand about the distinctive styles behind each century. To capture the essence behind each style, I have created a French art history guide.


Medieval years: 10-15th centuries
During the medieval years, France was in a politically unstable state. Most people lived a grim life, and the furniture reflected this.
Defining qualities Functional, simple, large furniture
Characteristics Deep carving reminiscent of cathedral architecture, furniture made from French oak to prevent thieves from stealing.


Renaissance: 1515-1560
Greek and Roman antiquities were discovered – brought about interest in past architecture.
Defining qualities Architectural, deeply carved ornamentations
Characteristics Cabinets actually looked like small buildings – Roman colosseums and Greek temples.

Louis XIII: 1560-1643
This era was named after the successor of reign – Louis XIII.
During this time, the middle class became much wealthier, and so there was a sudden demand for furniture. It is interesting to note that much of this middle class didn’t live in Paris; they lived in the country.
Defining qualities Rustic, inviting, reflective of country living
Characteristics Upholstered backs and seats with popular flame stitch pattern – introduced by the very well-known Os de Mouton chair.

Louis XIV: 1643-1715
Named after Louis XIV, king of this period and the most celebrated French king of all time. For the first time, the government had departments for architecture, painting and cabinet making.
Defining qualities Luxury, opulence, decorative
Characteristics Intricate and decorative marquetry – lions, scalloped shells, gold leaf, the sun and its rays.


Regence: 1715-1723
Named literally after an era of regency – Louis XV was too young to take the throne. During this time, craftsmen moved away from Louis XIV’s strict and classical designs. Regency is still considered a popular favourite among antique lovers today.
Defining qualities Romantic and Orient-inspired
Characteristics Flowers, shells and dragon ornaments, chairs were narrower with deeper seats.

Louis XV: 1723-1774
Women became more powerful with their salons and this influence was felt in architecture.
Defining qualities Peace, prosperity, femininity
Characteristics Nature motifs, lacquers, hand paintings. Asymmetry and heavy ornamentation were carried through from Regence.

Louis XVI: 1774-1792
Pompeii was discovered.
Defining qualities Neo-classicism
Characteristics Sculptures of animals: eagle, dolphin, ram head; intricate marquetry + floral designs; nature motifs

Directoire: 1793-1804
Upon the revolution, Napoleon seized power, but a few groups also fought for power. One of these groups were named Directoire.
Defining qualities Simplicity, abandonment of extravagance
Characteristics Egyptian motifs – carvings of sphinxes in hardware detailing


Empire: 1804-1814
Napoleon crowned himself Emperor – beginning of the Empire period. Politically, France was stable and the economy was booming. Napoleon was in constant competition with other European courts, trying to out-do each other in their arts.
Defining qualities Bold and formal, no more romance
Characteristics Heavy wood, Napoleonic symbols – the bee and the ’N’, dark finishes. Use of sphinxes from Directoire continued.

Restoration and Charles X: 1814-1830
The downfall of Napoleon, resulting in restoration of the monarchy. The wealthy class made a comeback and reinstated King Charles X. As a result, they tried to bring back what they were familiar with before Napoleon’s time – feminine, inviting, decorative.
Defining qualities Softer take on the Empire style
Characteristics Strong lines and geometry with a decorative touch: flowers, garlands, rosettes in marquetry

Louis Phillipe: 1830-1914
People grew tired of Charles X and overthrew him. Louis Phillipe became the new leader of France. Up to this time, furniture was sold piece by piece. It was during this era that mass production of furniture began – accommodating the bourgeoisie.
Defining qualities Functional
Characteristics Simpler lines, using a combination of past designs from the best of past eras.


Country French
Unlike past eras, Country French is not a period in history. It’s an actual way of life, drawing inspiration across past periods of French furniture design to create a way of life that never goes out of style. The rise of contemporary art has also changed people’s perception of designs.
Defining qualities Relaxed, sophisticated, warm
Characteristics Furniture farm tables, carved oak hutches, sideboards

At Brosa, we love the relaxed and defining qualities of French country living. This is reflected in our newest collections, Matilda and Louis. With classic proportions and clean lines, the Matilda showcases a wonderfully stripped back style that isn’t short on sophistication, upholstered from natural leather and linen. Now available in onyx black and rich walnut in leather, as well as natural and grey linen. For those opting for dining chairs, be sure to check out our Louis chairs, available in French Taupe and Violet.

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