Good Taste in Furniture

Nice table leg, sir.

One of the museums in Vienna that seems to be hit or miss is the Museum of Applied Arts. Many places have one of these, and it includes things like costumes, furniture, religious artifacts, folk-art, and everything that is sort of “artistic” but not “fine art.”

By the time we got to Vienna last summer, it had become a bit of a game for DadRed and I to study the legs on furniture, especially the feet. Why? Because we observed early on that nothing had claw-feet, but bun-feet. Things that you’d expect to end in lion paws, or eagle-claws, or other fancy supports? All had bun-feet, unless they were imported from France or Britain. This led to much speculation of why the preponderance of bun feet.

Bun feet – the official style of Eastern Europe.
Fair use under Creative Commons 2.0, from: https://a.1stdibscdn.com/archivesB/upload/1stdibsC/101508_ZH/WilliamWordATL/2/xabp293623.jpg

Then we found fancier feet. The top image has a claw-foot, but I was more interested in the inlay and carving. The object held up by that leg?

This is what originally sat on top of the table. It has been moved because of the weight when the entire piece is assembled. It belonged to Prinz Eugen von Savoy. The sculptural elements are made of silver, and can be seen in a much larger form on the Hofburg palace, among other places. Yes, it was a reward for his war-fighting prowess. (And probably for putting up with the Hansburgs and managing to fight wars on a Habsburg budget…)

The owners portrait.

This one is interesting, because Prinz Eugen, during his life, was not known for things nautical. If you think about the Habsburg Empire of the late 1600s to the early 1700s, landlocked is one of the words that comes to mind. It wasn’t, really, because of having Trieste. However, Eugen never commanded ships. Symmetry and symbolism was more important for a piece of furniture such as this one.

The point of this kind of object was to show the power and prestige of the owner. It is beautifully made, with exotic and expensive materials. It also shows the armor of defeated enemies, and Eugen’s place as a military commander, one of the two top commanders of his era (John Churchill, the Duke of Marlboro being the second.)

The museum has several pieces like this one, huge tapestries, and a reassembled room from a palace. That part of the museum I found quite interesting, both as a historian and as a carpenter and cabinet-maker’s assistant.

The rest of the museum is… variable. Upstairs is a permanent display about the furniture and textiles of the Wienerwerkstätt, Vienna’s answer to the Arts and Crafts movement in England, and a few other things as well. If you are into the history of design, it is fascinating. I wasn’t so excited. The pottery and tapestry collection was interesting (more loot from defeating the Ottomans.) I skipped the special displays about climate change, human-caused climate change, climate change, and art in a 0-carbon world. it didn’t help that the docent was very, very zealous about climate change and the melting glaciers and dying polar bears—and that morning, I’d heard about the Park Service in the US removing the signs about disappearing glaciers because the glaciers are growing again. I kept a straight face, was very interested and honest, and kept my thoughts very much to myself. I consider myself to be a bit of a diplomat and representative of the US when I travel, and that wasn’t the place for making a fuss. The docent truly believed, and nothing I said could change that. Making the proper noises and agreeing with her that yes, climate change could indeed be a serious matter*, was what mattered.

*Look at the early 1300s and early to mid 1600s for what happens when nice warm climatic periods end, in those cases rather abruptly.

13 thoughts on “Good Taste in Furniture

  1. That top picture — the eagle sculpture is …. weird. One wing spread, head down, hunched over — it’s like the weight of whatever’s above it is crushing it. A covert political comment by the table-maker, perhaps?

  2. The inlay work is amazing. One wonders how many hours of mastercraftsmen’s time that took to do on the entire piece? Years?

  3. It’s amazing what can be done with a lot of money and really bad taste; the exquisite craftsmanship somehow seems to make it worse.

    • I like it. And if you put it against the wall of a giant white marble-paved room, or in one of those giant echoing staircase entrance halls, it would look interesting and not particularly gaudy.

      I would not like to dust and silver-polish it.

    • Yes. I don’t recall all the woods listed on the info card, but there were eight or nine different exotics and burled woods used.

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