English immigrants to the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies quickly established the region’s furniture-making tradition. more

In the World

  • 1619Galileo perfects the telescope
  • 1621The transatlantic slave trade begins
  • 1702Queen Anne ascends to the English throne

In Massachusetts

  • 1620The Mayflower lands
  • 1630The city of Boston is founded
  • 16921692 Salem Witch Trials

New England Begins

From Joiner to Cabinetmaker: The Early Baroque Style, 1690-1730

A new aesthetic was introduced to Massachusetts at the end of the seventeenth century and continued into the first few decades of the eighteenth century.

The new style, today called the early baroque or the William and Mary style, had its ultimate origins in the courtly modes of France and was transmitted through England and Holland to America. In Massachusetts, these stylistic changes were due in large part to the arrival of English-trained cabinetmakers who brought new techniques with them. A new Massachusetts charter in 1691 also resulted in an influx of royal officials who helped bring the new style to Boston. While it was popular in Boston and Salem, the early baroque mode is seen less frequently in the furniture made elsewhere in the colony.

The early baroque style featured greater verticality and delicacy than its seventeenth-century counterparts. Often, it reflected an interest in shimmering optical effects and highly ornamented passages that included elegant turnings, rich carving, inlay, and japanning. Case furniture was made by craftsmen who termed themselves cabinetmakers rather than joiners. These pieces frequently featured dovetailed pine carcasses and drawer fronts veneered with burl maple or walnut.

By about 1700, Boston had also developed as a center of specialized chair-making. Shops produced thousands of leather-upholstered chairs for local use and export to other coastal communities and the West Indies.

Selected Bibliography

  • Cooke, Edward S., Jr. “The Warland Chest: Early Georgian Furniture in Boston.” Maine Antique Digest (March 1987): 10C-13C.
  • Courts and Colonies: The William and Mary Style in Holland, England, and America. New York: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, 1988. (See esp. Philip M. Johnston, “The William and Mary Style in America.)
  • Forman, Benno M. American Seating Furniture, 1630-1730: An Interpretive Catalogue. New York: W.W. Norton, a Winterthur Book, 1988.
  • Safford, Francis Gruber. American Furniture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Vol. 1. Early Colonial Period: The Seventeenth-Century and William and Mary Styles. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007.
  • Trent, Robert F. “The Early Baroque in Early America: The William and Mary Style.” In American Furniture with Related Decorative Arts. 1660-1830, ed. Gerald W.R. Ward, 63-90. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1992.

All materials are copyrighted by Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library or by participating institutions.

Contact Us Rights & Reproductions

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Twitter