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The use of wall panelling and oak panelling wainscoting, sometimes overhung with tapestries, gave a warm, if dark, appearance to early Tudor rooms. This trend towards comfort was continued by adorning walls and ceilings with paintings on plaster and with plaster decoration itself. The paintings could be of the simplest form, made from cut-stencils33 (there is an excellent collection of such wall paintings, gathered locally, in the Saffron Walden Museum, Essex), or they could be composed of more elaborate patterns or even of scenes from mythological and biblical stories. Whilst most of this latter work is, understandably, painted on church screens, there is an early and amazing series of secular panels, either by the Florentine, Toto del Nunziata (1499-1554), or the Modenese, Nicole Bellin (fl. 1516-68), on the walls of the hall at Loseley Park, Surrey.31 The wall panelling and oak panelling panels, painted a little after 1543, are of grotesques, incorporating carfouches with the royal arms, cyphers and emblems of Henry VIII and Catherine Parr. They are attributed to the Italians who were working at the king's palace at Nonsuch, Surrey, in the 1530s.
Another example of work done by a foreign artist of considerable distinction is the chapel ceiling at St James's Palace, London, attributed to the German artist, Hans Holbein (1497-1543). The ceiling is coffered in octagonal, cruciform and hexagonal panels filled with heraldry, mottoes and the cyphers of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves.
Equally, there is much lesser work" by unknown painters. When some panelling was moved in 1927 at the White Swan Hotel, Stratford-uponAvon, wall decoration of c. 1570-80 showing scenes from Tobias and the Angel, divided by simulated pilasters, was found in distemper on the plaster." The same painterly anonymity surrounds the depiction of the life size figures of the 'Nine Heroes of Antiquity', c. 1576-8, uncovered from under later lime-washing in 1939 at Harvington Hall, Worcestershire.
A sienna marble mantle in a wall panelling oak panelling, with boy’s head centre and drapery swag panells. (circa George II)
Formal sixteenth-century wall panelling and oak panelling patterns were occasionally realized in crude form, as at Ightham Mote, Kent, Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, Canons Ashby, Northamptonshire, or Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire. The work at Ightham Mote is an early and important scheme of c. 1525, painted on the timber barrel vault of the chapel ceiling. The long narrow compartments have chevron and triangular patterns alternating with the Tudor portcullis and the pomegranate. It is believed that it was originally a tilting pavilion ceiling and as it is from the time of Catherine of Aragon it could have been used at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. A succession of royal badges and Spanish emblems, including the castle of Castile and the arrows of Aragon, enhance this faded decorative scheme of great rarity. In the low parlour at Haddon Hall the wall panelling and oak panelling and painted ceiling was carefully restored by the 9th Duke of Rutland in 1926. It was painted, c. 1510, with diamond and squared patterning, and this is enhanced by the prominent display of the Tudor rose and the Talbot dog. Sir Henry Vernon, Treasurer to Prince Arthur, had married Anne Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. It is above later panelling inserted by Sir George Vernon about 1545. The date is incorporated in the combined shield shared with his wife, Margaret, which is to the left of the fireplace.
In the Winter Parlour at Canons Ashby painted decoration of the 1590s was found under many later layers on the panelling. Some small areas were revealed by the last tenant of the house and are of arabesques and early masonic symbols. Further investigation showed that the panels themselves contain brightly coloured crests and other devices, set off by strapwork cartouches and with a series of moral inscriptions in Latin, in long panels below the cornice. It all seems to date from the time of Sir Erasmus Dryden, who inherited the property in 1584 and died in 1632. The painted shields commemorate his ancestry and connections; many emblems and rebuses were also incorporated to provide amusement for the onlooker in unravelling their meaning. The regular repeat pattern of diamonds within squares, with an interlaced pattern of Celtic complexity on the divisions, was painted at Little Moreton Hall in a naive but attractive way.
Much grand Elizabethan work of wall panelling and oak panelling at the royal palaces has long disappeared and is known only from archival references. Perhaps the most elaborate surviving schemes are those at the Hill Hall in Essex, in the great chamber at Gilling Castle, Yorkshire, and that in the High Great Chamber at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. Hill Hall is one of the most important of the early Elizabethan houses in England. This is partly due to its builder, Sir Thomas Smith, who travelled abroad extensively in the 1540s, took a doctorate in civil law at Padua and became Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University.
Statuary marble mantlepiece in a wall panelling oak panelling room, with centre plaque cophetua and the beggar maid
The winter pt lour at Canons Ashhv, Northamptonshire. The painted decoration of the 1590s with crests and other devices in strapwork cartouches was done for Sir Erasmus Dryden (d. 1632).
The cycle of wall paintings, c. 1575, shows scenes from the story of Eros and Psyche. As one would expect from one of Smith's erudition, they are based on engravings after Raphael's designs and have a classical elegance all too rarely attained. The Gilling Castle great chamber has a deep frieze above the wall panelling and oak panelling wainscot which is hung with the shields of arms of various Yorkshire families on stylized trees, and which has two wonderful panels of ladies and gentlemen playing musical instruments against a backing of rich foliage. No wonder late-nineteenth-century designers such as William Morris fell in love with these rich patterns: this frieze could be an illuminated page in the copy of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales printed by Morris at his Kelmscott Press were it not firmly dated to 1585.
At Hardwick Hall, the building-accounts for 1591-8 ;s show that John Balechouse (or 'John the Paynter') received frequent payments for colours and must therefore have carried out most of the painted decoration: however, his only certain work is the long gallery frieze of strapwork and foliations painted in a grey-green monochrome. In the High Great Chamber, of which is dominated by the deep coloured plaster frieze (described below), he may have painted the feigned marquetry that is decorated with engravings of the heads of classical philosophers and the Caesars and stuck on a canvas backing. One print in the set of emperors is signed by 'Peter Balthazar', better known as Peter de Coster, an Antwerp artist active in the late sixteenth century. These paintings bring a Mannerist touch to this Derbyshire room at the top of Bess of Hardwick's fantastic house.
Frie in the grituber, 1585, at Gilling Castle, Yorkshire