By Deanna Schiavone
Hi! My name is Deanna Schiavone and I am a curatorial intern this spring at Historic Huguenot Street. I am a History major with minors in Ancient Studies and Art History at SUNY New Paltz. I look forward to posting Object of the Week blog posts throughout the semester.
This week I will be talking about one of the first objects that caught my attention in my initial tour of the HHS Collections. This object is a Gothic Revival style mirror from the late nineteenth century during the Victorian Era (1860-1900). The late nineteenth century was a time of revival of simpler times throughout the Hudson Valley. Post-Civil War ideologies looked to find joy in the philosophical movement that was taking America by storm: Romanticism.1 The Gothic Revival, also known as Victorian Gothic or Neo Gothic, was one of the many revival styles that dominated American architecture and furniture.
The movement toward Gothic Revival in architecture began in England and was a revival of the Gothic style in 12th century Middle Ages. Inspired by organic and natural architectural styles, the Gothic Revival style was most often seen in rural settings and was meant for scholarly gentlemen or clergymen to reside in; however, the general public enjoyed this style because, in the Hudson Valley, the style was mixed with Dutch elements.2 The style spoke of class and gave the aura of intellectual decorum with folksy elements that spoke to the general public. Gothic Revival styles also often include references to Church and Christianity. During the Victorian Era, there was a renewal of interests in Christianity.3 Elements from medieval universities, churches and cloisters were commonly used in furniture from this style. Furniture was often made of wood and heavily carved to reflect these elements.
In the Hudson Valley, this style was mainly encouraged by the famous Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing was from Newburgh, NY, and, after a visit to England, introduced this style to the masses from his two books, Cottage Residences and Archetec-ture of the Century.4 Originally, Gothic Revival furniture was meant to be placed in home libraries and dining rooms. However, as the 19th century came to a close, furniture had become so eclectic that it did not matter where styles were placed. Common characteristics are pointed arches, ornate carvings, the use of dark wood, geometric forms, and trefoils/quatrefoils.5
Our mirror was donated to HHS by John Van Benschoten and was originally placed in the Deyo House’s parlor. The mirror fits in with the other elements in the Deyo parlor since it is reminiscent of the Gilded Age although its original style was Gothic Revival. The original wood of the frame is heavily embellished and covered in gold gilt, a major identifying aspect of the time. The mirror is relatively small (22” x 11”). It sits in the elaborate frame and has a pointed arch at the top with is black speckling on it. The original dark wooden embellished frame is ornately carved and depicts many characteristics of the Gothic Revival, such as quatrefoils on each corner and center spire. On the top of the frame there are three spires, which speak to the religious elements seen in furniture of the time. The first time I saw this item I was reminded of a medieval castle because of the spires that rest above the pointed arch.
1 Peck, Amelia. “American Revival Styles, 1840–1876.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004). Web. 9 Feb. 2016.
2 “Hudson Valley Architecture.” Hudson River Valley Institute. Poughkeepsie: Marist College, Hudson River Valley Institute n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.
3 Bachhawat, Amitabh. “The Age of Revivals: Gothic Revival Furniture.” art etc. news and views. N.p. India, (September 2010). Web. 9 Feb. 2016.
4 “Hudson Valley Architecture.” Hudson River Valley Institute. Poughkeepsie: Marist College, Hudson River Valley Institute n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.
5 “Gothic Revival Style 1830-1860.” Pennsylvania Architectural Field Guide. PA, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, n.d. Web. 9 Feb. 2016.