Research in Progress

Research in Progress 2018: New thinking about sixteenth century furniture

The 2018 RFS Research in Progress meeting will be held at the V&A Sackler Centre on the 24th February. Please note: THIS EVENT IS NOW FULLY BOOKED

This year the focus is on the sixteenth century, which saw great change in furniture types, usage, construction and decoration. Although a substantial body of material survives, the importation of furniture, the influx of immigrant craftsmen and the recycling of fragments complicates study of the field.


The five papers to be presented will address a variety of furniture types and influences, based on close study of surviving pieces.

Early marquetry technique in Europe – Yannick Chastang
This talk will be based on the study of historical objects such as the Southwark Cathedral chest and furniture at Hardwick Hall.  With the aid of his own modern reproductions Yannick will explain the manufacturing techniques that were used and consider their evolution during the period.

Imported cypress chests in the ‘long’ sixteenth century – Nick Humphrey
Many examples of imported cypress chests survive in England and it is clear that they were particularly highly valued in the 16th and early 17th centuries. However, their origins, technical characteristics and design evolution from the 15th to the 17th centuries have not yet been clearly defined, nor why their manufacture and import appear to have ended abruptly around 1640.  Quantitative analysis, the study of print sources and close examination of surviving pieces can help establish the field and explore the operation and preferences of the English market during the course of the long sixteenth century.

The French furniture-making school in sixteenth-century Edinburgh – Michael Pearce
There is considerable evidence of French and Flemish craftsmen in Scotland in the 16th century and versions of the caquetoire chair became popular in the later 16th century. Michael’s talk will shed new light on the French craftsmen at work in Scotland from 1539 to 1589 and surviving pieces.

Some problems in studying sixteenth-century furniture – Chris Pickvance
Furniture in this period ranges from boarded to joined, from gothic to renaissance, and from painted to marquetry. At the same time there is uncertainty about the difference between French, Flemish, German and English furniture. This talk will examine the contribution of dated pieces, the dating of joined furniture, the identification of imported furniture and the role of foreign craftsmen.

Early Elizabethan chairs and chests at Sizergh Castle -Megan Wheeler
Unusually for furniture of the early Elizabethan period, we know when, and for whom, the dated and initialled oak chairs and boarded chests at Sizergh Castle were made.  However, they have neither been fully described, nor their makers sought.  A detailed examination of how this furniture was made, together with a study of both printed design sources and previously unconsulted archival material, can shed light on who might have made them, and how they relate to other furniture being made for Sizergh, and in the surrounding area, in the last half of the sixteenth century.


Yannick Chastang studied cabinet-making and marquetry at Ecole Boulle in Paris. Following graduation he gained work experience in conservation workshops in France and in the United States and pursued courses at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Ecole du Louvre and Ecole Nissim de Camondo in Paris. In 1995 he became a junior conservator at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris and from 1997 Furniture Conservator at the Wallace Collection, London. In 2003 he opened a conservation studio specialising in the conservation and making of fine marquetry furniture, working for public and private collections. His publications include the book Paintings in Wood: French Marquetry Furniture, the Wallace Collection (2001), as well as many articles on conservation and history of marquetry furniture.

Nick Humphrey is Curator, Furniture, Textiles and Fashion Dept. Victoria and Albert Museum, responsible for Western furniture, woodwork and leatherwork before 1700. He has been a curator in the Furniture department since 1994, after working for the National Trust and at Burghley House (Lincolnshire). He has presented various papers and articles in the field following his involvement in the V&A’s British Galleries (opened 2001), Medieval and Renaissance galleries (opened 2009) and Europe 1600-1815. In 2012 he was co-curator of the Furniture Gallery (the Dr Susan Weber gallery).

Michael Pearce is a Research, Heritage and Interpretation consultant in Edinburgh. He gained his PhD at Dundee University on: Vanished pleasures: a study of inventories in sixteenth and seventeenth century Scotland. He has worked for Historical Scotland on the Stirling Palace project and his article ‘Approaches to household inventories and household furnishing, 1500–1650’ appeared in Architectural Heritage XXVI, 2015, 73–86

Chris Pickvance is Chairman of the Regional Furniture Society. Since retiring as an academic he has been researching pre-1600 furniture and woodwork, focusing on early chests, using dendrochronology. His articles have appeared in Antiquaries Journal, Archaeologia Cantiana, Regional Furniture (including a 2015 article on the slow arrival of renaissance influence on English sixteenth century furniture) and Sussex Archaeological Collections and he is a contributor to E. Campbell and S. Miller (eds.), A Cultural History of Furniture Vol. II, The Middle Ages and Renaissance, Bloomsbury (2018).

Megan Wheeler is Lead Collections Cataloguer (Furniture), the National Trust. After taking a DPhil in Early Modern History in 2006, Megan worked for Bonhams until 2015, latterly as a Specialist in Furniture, Metalware and Treen for the Oak Interior sales.  As part of her role at the National Trust, Megan is leading the team charged with re-cataloguing and researching the 55,000 pieces of furniture in the National Trust collections.

You can download and print the details on this page here: RFS Research in Progress 2018 –  Talks and Speakers Information