The Middling Sort
In the nineteenth century, a loose confederation of states which we know today as Germany were in the midst of cultural upheaval. As the enlightenment swept the Continent, it began to dissolve and corrupt traditional social mores such as primogeniture, hereditary peerage and the divine right of nobility. As these stalwart forces began to fade in influence, a prominent middle class emerged from the villages and provinces of Bavaria, Munich, Vienna and the like, culminating in the 1849 congress of Vienna. Emboldened by their newfound foothold in society after a bitter fight against the entrenched aristocracy, this new, middling sort set about creating a distinct class culture all their own.
Translating roughly as ‘themselves for themselves’, “Biedermeier” emerged as a nascent design in furniture from the workbenches and shoppes of a consortium of middle class cabinetmakers and carpenters. Drawing its roots from the influential French Empire designs as a rough antecedent, this new iteration focused on clean lines, right angles and a minimalist approach to ornamentation most often of a neoclassical bent. Biedermeier furniture and architecture alike were a reactionary movement drawing upon middle class contempt of the pretensions of the gentle born and the romanticist design that dominated high society home life. Before long, a rising middle class fueled by a sociocultural urge to focus on the non political aspects of life in the German interior such as the arts led to an increasingly ornamented and gilded array of Biedermeier sticks. These fine pieces of furniture were often hewn from locally available timbers such as cherry, oak or ash as opposed to the much favored but heavily tariffed mahogany, with mahoganied pear wood appearing in the minority of examples.
As revolution ravaged the West, Biedermeier lifestylism fell to the chopping block like most other middle class affectations before experiencing a brief revival at the turn of the century and eventually yielding to Victorian influence.