9081 A RARE LECTUS FORM PAINTED DAY BED IN THE MANNER OF H. E. FREUND Probably Copenhagen. Second Quarter Of The 19th Century. Measurements: Height: 28 3/4″ (73cm) Width: 79 1/2″ (202cm) Depth: 29 1/2″ (75cm)
Of white and polychrome painted wood. The slatted bed terminating in a scroll at the head, the shaped sides painted with lions, the frieze decorated with an anthemion pattern, the whole raised on four tapering fluted legs, each headed with a rectangular capital and terminating in a hooved foot. Each pair of legs joined by a painted stretcher.
This day bed was executed in the second quarter of the nineteenth century during what is considered the Danish Golden Age, a period of exceptional creativity and development of the neoclassical style in which a more pure interpretation of ancient prototypes was developed. “Not until the end of the 18th century did the influence from the excavations in the ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii generally make themselves felt, partly thanks to the many illustrated accounts of the excavations.”1
The earliest known piece of ‘neo-antique’ Danish furniture is a mahogany klismos chair by the artist and designer Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard (1743-1809). Abildgaard was primarily a painter, but he also occupied himself with sculpture, architecture, and interior and furniture design. Like the French painter Jacques-Louis David he aimed to recreate ancient Greek furniture based on pieces illustrated in vase painting.
The craftsman who followed in Abildgaard’s footsteps and “launched the Neo-Antique movement in earnest,”2 initiating a widespread production of classical style furniture, was the sculptor Herman Earnest Freund (1786-1840). In 1828 Freund returned to Denmark after spending eleven years in Italy to become the chair of sculpture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. He was discontented with the transition and sought to make his new home at Materialgaarden in Copenhagen much of a reflection of the Italian atmosphere he left behind. He writes: “I would have liked to have had a wider sphere of activity beneath the beautiful skies of Italy – instead of which I seek to create a little Italy around me beneath the cold, misty sky of the north – much is required for this…”3
Freund renovated the apartment to resemble authentic Pompeian painted interiors based on his memories of the ancient Roman domiciles, as well as J.K.W. Zahn’s illustrated work, “Die schönsten Ornamente und merkwürdigsten Gemälde aus Pompeji, Herculanum und Stabiae.” This influence can be seen in a comparison between Freund’s ‘yellow room’ and Plate 29 from Die schönsten Ornamente, depicting a Wall of a home next to the Basilica in Pompeii (figure 1). Although he was not the first to employ Pompeiian wall decorations, he exhibited a novel “authenticity in relation to the model and a natural adaptation of the decorations in relation to the size and function of the rooms.”4 His oeuvre included painted furnishings and carved mahogany pieces.
His extant painted furniture consists of a small group of four items: a piano, a cradle, a child’s bed and a pushcart, each decorated with motifs inspired by vase painting. Freund did not paint the pieces himself, and instead relied on Academy pupils. This group of Danish Golden Age painters whom he mentored and collaborated with included George Christian Hilker, Constantin Hansen, Christen Købke and Jørgen Roed. They too had traveled to Italy and subscribed to the same classical sensibilities, and after Freund’s death they continued to carry out his vision with painted furniture of their own design. Like the present piece, works by Freund and his followers employed a bold color palette, ornamental friezes and classical subject matter inspired by ancient frescoes. On the day bed this is demonstrated in the vivid hues of its repeating anthemion frieze, the depiction of a lion below the headrest, and the reeded legs terminating in hooved feet, which derive from ancient furniture prototypes.
The present day bed is modeled after ancient banqueting couches (lectus) found in Greek and Roman dining rooms (triclinium). An example dating from the early 1st century BC is today in the collection of the National Bardo Museum, Tunis (figure 2), while the Archäologische Staatssammlung München contains a reproduction of a triclinium, illustrating how these sofas would have been arranged (figure 3). As one of the most important rooms of the home, the dining room was highly decorated with floor mosaics, wall paintings and luxurious furnishings and tableware. Couches were almost exclusively intended for men during the meal and the after-dinner drinking reception, or symposium; in Rome, elite women were invited to join. The beds were outfitted with sumptuous cushions and pillows, with food and drink placed on small adjacent tables. Etiquette maintained that the men recline on their left sides and use their right hands to eat and drink. The center of the room was left open for serving and entertainment.
- Gelfer-Jørgensen, Mirjam. The Dream of a Golden Age: Danish Neo-Classical Furniture, 1790-1850. Denmark: Rhodos, 2004. 178.
- Ibid., 180
- Ibid., 241.
- 4. Ibid., 242.
- Ibid., 257.