The canopy bed, known as the four poster bed, is a decorative bed that typically features posts at each of the four corners, extending four feet high or more above the mattress. The canopy bed is traditionally draped or swathed in fabric which creates a ‘ceiling’ over the bed. Instant drama. Instant impact. Instant style. As a permanent fixture of fairytales and the notion of the element of romance, it is interesting to discover the purpose in which the formation of this canopy initially took on…
The canopy bed originally came into existence with a utilitarian and functional purpose rather than decorative. Canopy beds date back to 13th century Europe. It is thought that the earliest canopy beds were created as an additional layer of shelter from the flaws of the Medieval ‘ceiling’ of thatched roofs. In the 16th and 17th centuries ceilings often accumulated ash and cinder, insects, droppings and even plaster from the ceiling itself, which would trickle down upon the sleeping individuals below. Imagine! Thus, the canopy bed provided protection and uninterrupted sleep. Who knew?
Until the 16th century, canopy beds were often understated and simple. As carved posts and headboards grew in popularity, more ornate canopy beds were fashioned. In Medieval Europe canopy beds were not only substantial in size but were complete with curtains that enclosed the bed. Canopies were also used by lords and nobleman for warmth and privacy. Often, when a lord made a tour of his ‘holdings’, the canopy bed was easily dismantled and transported to other castles. Interestingly, history states that a lord, a knight or a lady’s bed was a wood framed structure that used interlaced ropes or leather strips for its ‘springs’. A feather mattress would rest on top, covered by sheets, fur coverlets, quilts and pillows. Originally, curtains were hung from the ceiling, suspended overhead by cords from the beams above, which the curtains hung from. As the bed evolved, a frame was added to support a canopy for the curtains to hang from. Again, who knew? Interestingly, in the early days of castle living, the lord and his family slept in the great hall, along with all the servants. The noble family’s sleeping area was said to be separated by the use of simple curtains. Quite the history of this time honored and esteemed bed!
The Baldachin (or baldaquin, from the Italian Badacchino) is a Canopy of State which began as a cloth canopy of luxurious cloths and richly embroidered fabrics. Often, these Baldachin structures were sturdy and permanent architectural features that were typically installed over high altars in cathedrals. Another example of how design influences and is altered by change over time. The grand and elegant look of these Baldachin-styled canopies certainly add a striking, visual appeal to a room. Simplistic and stately.
The State Bed is a canopy without visible posts. A “floating” canopy, indeed. History states that the State bed was delivered for the use of Queen Marie Leszczinska at Versailles, as the centerpiece of new decor somewhere between 1730-1735. Who knew? Also, it’s ‘Tester’ soon became recognizable as a Baldachin. It is said that Louis XIV developed the formality of accepting a few of his elite court in the bed chamber, the most private suite in a Baroque apartment. Other monarchs of Europe soon imitated his ritual. Of note, the Queens of France spent countless hours in their bed chamber, receiving ladies of the court and holding other private receptions.
Supposedly, by the time Marie Antoinette escaped from the hands of the mob to her bed chamber, State beds and the elaborate etiquette they represented, were already ‘falling out of fashion’ in their use. But alas, the diverse canopy truly never has faded from ‘fashionable’ and stylish interiors. The evolution of change has continued to ensure that the elegant and impressive statement of the canopy, in many of its various forms, would always remain a constant in Interiors across the world.
The evolving canopies of today are either traditional, contemporary or modern. Whether Victorian in aesthetic with carved wooden frames and posts or a simplistic “Pencil Post” style, with its clean lines and modern frame or whether they replicate a Baldachin or State bed, these ‘canopies’ indeed provide a very elegant manner in which to sleep. A majestic and luxurious focal point to a bedroom, for certain. After all, who does not desire to feel like a King or a Queen? Life can certainly be a fairytale as you drift off to sleep….