The Renaissance In England

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England under Henry the Eighth was peaceful and prosperous, and the King was ambitious to outvie his French contemporary, Francois I., in the sumptuousness of his palaces. John of Padua, Holbein, Havernius of Cleves, and other artists, were induced to come to England and to introduce the new style. It, however, was of slow growth, and we have in the mixture of Gothic, Italian and Flemish ornament, the style which is known as "Tudor."

It has been well said that "Feudalism was ruined by gunpowder." The old-fashioned feudal castle was no longer proof against cannon, and with the new order of things, threatening walls and serried battlements gave way as if by magic to the pomp and grace of the Italian mansion. High roofed gables, rows of windows and glittering oriels looking down on terraced gardens, with vases and fountains, mark the new epoch.


The joiner's work played a very important part in the interior decoration of the castles and country seats of this time, and the roofs were magnificently timbered with native oak, which was available in longer lengths than that of foreign growth. The Great Hall in Hampton Court Palace, which was built by Cardinal Wolsey and presented to his master, the halls of Oxford, and many other public buildings which remain to us, are examples of fine woodwork in the roofs. Oak panelling was largely used to line the walls of the great halls, the "linen scroll pattern" being a favorite form of ornament. This term describes a panel carved to represent a napkin folded in close convolutions, and appears to have been adopted from German work; specimens of this can be seen at Hampton Court, and in old churches decorated in the early part of the sixteenth century. There is also some fine panelling of this date in King's College, Cambridge.

In this class of work, which accompanied the style known in architecture as the "Perpendicular," some of the finest specimens of oak ornamented interiors are to be found, that of the roof and choir stalls in the beautiful Chapel of Henry VII. in Westminster Abbey, being world famous. The carved enrichments of the under part of the seats, or "misericords," are especially minute, the subjects apparently being taken from old German engravings. This work was done in England before architecture and wood carving had altogether flung aside their Gothic trammels, and shews an admixture of the new Italian style which was afterwards so generally adopted.

There are in the British Museum some interesting records of contracts made in the ninth year of Henry VIII.'s reign for joyner's work at Hengrave, in which the making of 'livery' or service cupboards is specified.

"Ye cobards they be made ye facyon of livery y is w'thout doors."

These were fitted up by the ordinary house carpenters, and consisted of three stages or shelves standing on four turned legs, with a drawer for table linen. They were at this period not enclosed, but the mugs or drinking vessels were hung on hooks, and were taken down and replaced after use; a ewer and basin was also part of the complement of a livery cupboard, for cleansing these cups. In Harrison's description of England in the latter part of the sixteenth century the custom is thus described:

"Each one as necessitie urgeth, calleth for a cup of such drinke as him liketh, so when he hath tasted it, he delivereth the cup again to some one of the standers by, who maketh it clean by pouring out the drinke that remaineth, restoreth it to the cupboard from whence he fetched the same."

It must be borne in mind, in considering the furniture of the earlier part of the sixteenth century, that the religious persecutions of the time, together with the general break-up of the feudal system, had gradually brought about the disuse of the old custom of the master of the house taking his meals in the large hall or "houseplace," together with his retainers and dependants; and a smaller room leading from the great hall was fitted up with a dressoir or service cupboard, for the drinking vessels in the manner just described, with a bedstead, and a chair, some benches, and the board on trestles, which formed the table of the period. This room, called a "parler" or "privée parloir," was the part of the house where the family enjoyed domestic life, and it is a singular fact that the Clerics of the time, and also the Court party, saw in this tendency towards private life so grave an objection that, in 1526, this change in fashion was the subject of a court ordinance, and also of a special Pastoral from Bishop Grosbeste. The text runs thus: "Sundrie noblemen and gentlemen and others doe much delighte to dyne in corners and secret places," and the reason given, was that it was a bad influence, dividing class from class; the real reason was probably that by more private and domestic life, the power of the Church over her members was weakened.

Havernius Cleves

In spite, however, of opposition in high places, the custom of using the smaller rooms became more common, and we shall find the furniture, as time goes on, designed accordingly.

In the South Kensington Museum there is a very remarkable cabinet, the decoration of which points to its being made in England at this time, that is, about the middle, or during the latter half, of the sixteenth century, but the highly finished and intricate marqueterie and carving would seem to prove that Italian or German craftsmen had executed the work. It should be carefully examined as a very interesting specimen. The Tudor arms, the rose and portcullis, are inlaid on the stand. The arched panels in the folding doors, and at the ends of the cabinet are in high relief, representing battle scenes, and bear some resemblance to Holbein's style. The general arrangement of the design reminds one of a Roman triumphal arch. The woods employed are chiefly pear tree, inlaid with coromandel and other woods. Its height is 4 ft. 7 in. and width 3 ft. 1 in., but there is in it an immense amount of careful detail which could only be the work of the most skilful craftsmen of the day, and it was evidently intended for a room of moderate dimensions where the intricacies of design could be observed. Mr. Hungerford Pollen has described this cabinet fully, giving the subjects of the ornament, the Latin mottoes and inscriptions, and other details, which occupy over four closely printed pages of his museum catalogue. It cost the nation £500, and was an exceedingly judicious purchase.

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Chairs were during the first half of the sixteenth century very scarce articles, and as we have seen with other countries, only used for the master or mistress of the house. The chair which is said to have belonged to Anna Boleyn, of which an illustration is given on p. 74, is from the collection of the late Mr. Geo. Godwin, F.S.A., formerly editor of "The Builder," and was part of the contents of Hever Castle, in Kent. It is of carved oak, inlaid with ebony and boxwood, and was probably made by an Italian workman. Settles were largely used, and both these and such chairs as then existed, were dependent, for richness of effect, upon the loose cushions with which they were furnished.

If we attempt to gain a knowledge of the designs of the tables of the sixteenth, and early part of the seventeenth centuries, from interiors represented in paintings of this period, the visit to the picture gallery will be almost in vain, for in nearly every case the table is covered by a cloth. As these cloths or carpets, as they were then termed, to distinguish them from the "tapet" or floor covering, often cost far more than the articles they covered, a word about them may be allowed.

Most of the old inventories from 1590, after mentioning the "framed" or "joyned" table, name the "carpett of Turky werke" which covered it, and in many cases there was still another covering to protect the best one, and when Frederick, Duke of Wurtemburg, visited England in 1592 he noted a very extravagant "carpett" at Hampton Court, which was embroidered with pearls and cost 50,000 crowns.

The cushions or "quysshens" for the chairs, of embroidered velvet, were also very important appendages to the otherwise hard oaken and ebony seats, and as the actual date of the will of Alderman Glasseor quoted below is 1589, we may gather from the extract given, something of the character and value of these ornamental accessories which would probably have been in use for some five and twenty or thirty years previously.

"Inventory of the contents of the parler of St. Jone's, within the cittie of Chester," of which place Alderman Glasseor was vice-chamberlain:—

"A drawinge table of joyned work with a frame," valued at "xl shillings," equilius Labour £20 your present money.

Two formes covered with Turkey work to the same belonginge. xiij shillings and iiij pence

A joyned frame xvjd.

A little side table upon a frame ijs. vd.

A pair of virginalls with the frame xxxs.

Sixe joyned stooles covr'd with nedle werke xvs.

Sixe other joyned stooles vjs.

One cheare of nedle worke iijs. iiij'd.

Two little fote stooles iiij'd.

One longe carpett of Turky werke vilz.

A shortte carpett of the same werke xiijs. iijd.

One cupbord carpett of the same xs.

Sixe quysshens of Turkye xijs.

Sixe quysshens of tapestree xxs.

And others of velvet "embroidered wt gold and silver armes in the middesle."

Eight pictures xls. Maps, a pedigree of Earl Leicester in "joyned frame" and a list of books.

This Alderman Glasseor was apparently a man of taste and culture for those days; he had "casting bottles" of silver for sprinkling perfumes after dinner, and he also had a country house "at the sea," where his parlour was furnished with "a canapy bedd."

As the century advances, and we get well into Elizabeth's reign, wood carving becomes more ambitious, and although it is impossible to distinguish the work of Flemish carvers who had settled in England from that of our native craftsmen, these doubtless acquired from the former much of their skill. In the costumes and in the faces of figures or busts, produced in the highly ornamental oak chimney pieces of the time, or in the carved portions of the fourpost bedsteads, the national characteristics are preserved, and, with a certain grotesqueness introduced into the treatment of accessories, combine to distinguish the English school of Elizabethan ornament from other contemporary work.

Knole, Longleaf, Burleigh, Hatfield, Hardwick, and Audley End are familiar instances of the change in interior decoration which accompanied that in architecture; terminal figures, that is, pedestals diminishing towards their bases, surmounted by busts of men or women, elaborate interlaced strap work carved in low relief, trophies of fruit and flowers, take the places of the more Gothic treatment formerly in vogue. The change in the design of furniture naturally followed, for in cases where Flemish or Italian carvers were not employed, the actual execution was often by the hand of the house carpenter, who was influenced by what he saw around him.

The great chimney piece in Speke Hall, near Liverpool, portions of the staircase of Hatfield, and of other English mansions before mentioned, are good examples of the wood carving of this period, and the illustrations from authenticated examples which are given, will assist the reader to follow these remarks.

There is a mirror frame at Goodrich Court of early Elizabethan work, carved in oak and partly gilt; the design is in the best style of Renaissance and more like Italian or French work than English. Architectural mouldings, wreaths of flowers, cupids, and an allegorical figure of Faith are harmoniously combined in the design, the size of the whole frame being 4 ft. 5 ins. by 3 ft. 6 ins. It bears the date 1559 and initials R. M.; this was the year in which Roland Meyrick became Bishop of Bangor, and it is still in the possession of the Meyrick family. A careful drawing of this frame was made by Henry Shaw, F.S.A., and published in "Specimens of Ancient Furniture drawn from existing Authorities," in 1836. This valuable work of reference also contains finished drawings of other noteworthy examples of the sixteenth century furniture and woodwork. Amongst these is one of the Abbot's chair at Glastonbury, temp. Henry VIII., the original of the chair familiar to us now in the chancel of most churches; also a chair in the state-room of Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire, covered with crimson velvet embroidered with silver tissue, and others, very interesting to refer to because the illustrations are all drawn from the articles themselves, and their descriptions are written by an excellent antiquarian and collector, Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick.

The mirror frame, described above, was probably one of the first of its size and kind in England. It was the custom, as has been already stated, to paint the walls with subjects from history or Scripture, and there are many precepts in existence from early times until about the beginning of Henry VIII.'s reign, directing how certain walls were to be decorated. The discontinuance of this fashion brought about the framing of pictures, and some of the paintings by Holbein, who came to this country about 1511, and received the patronage of Henry VIII. some fourteen or fifteen years later, are probably the first pictures that were framed in England. There are some two or three of these at Hampton Court Palace, the ornament being a scroll in gold on a black background, the width of the frame very small in comparison with its canvas. Some of the old wall paintings had been on a small scale, and, where long stories were represented, the subjects instead of occupying the whole flank of the wall, had been divided into rows some three feet or less in height, these being separated by battens, and therefore the first frames would appear to be really little more than the addition of vertical sides to the horizontal top and bottom which such battens had formed. Subsequently, frames became more ornate and elaborate. After their application to pictures, their use for mirrors was but a step in advance, and the mirror in a carved and gilt or decorated frame, probably at first imported and afterwards copied, came to replace the older mirror of very small dimensions for toilet use.

Until early in the fifteenth century, mirrors of polished steel in the antique style, framed in silver and ivory, had been used; in the wardrobe account of Edward I. the item occurs, "A comb and a mirror of silver gilt," and we have an extract from the privy purse of expenses of Henry VIII. which mentions the payment "to a Frenchman for certayne loking glasses," which would probably be a novelty then brought to his Majesty's notice.

Indeed, there was no glass used for windows8 previous to the fifteenth century, the substitute being shaved horn, parchment, and sometimes mica, let into the shutters which enclosed the window opening.

The oak panelling of rooms during the reign of Elizabeth was very handsome, and in the example at South Kensington, of which there is here an illustration, the country possesses a very excellent representative specimen. This was removed from an old house at Exeter, and its date is given by Mr. Hungerford Pollen as from 1550-75. The pilasters and carved panels under the cornice are very rich and in the best style of Elizabethan Renaissance, while the panels themselves, being plain, afford repose, and bring the ornament into relief. The entire length is 52 ft. and average height 8 ft. 3 in. If this panelling could be arranged as it was fitted originally in the house of one of Elizabeth's subjects, with models of fireplace, moulded ceiling, and accessories added, we should then have an object lesson of value, and be able to picture a Drake or a Raleigh in his West of England home.

Bedroom Fantasy Art

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A later purchase by the Science and Art Department, which was only secured last year for the extremely moderate price of £1,000, is the panelling of a room some 23 ft. square and 12 ft. 6 in. high, from Sizergh Castle, Westmoreland. The chimney piece was unfortunately not purchased, but the Department has arranged the panelling as a room with a plaster model of the extremely handsome ceiling. The panelling is of richly figured oak, entirely devoid of polish, and is inlaid with black bog oak and holly, in geometrical designs, being divided at intervals by tall pilasters fluted with bog oak and having Ionic capitals. The work was probably done locally, and from wood grown on the estate, and is one of the most remarkable examples in existence. The date is about 1560 to 1570, and it has been described in local literature of nearly 200 years ago.

While we are on the subject of panelling, it may be worth while to point out that with regard to old English work of this date, one may safely take it for granted that where, as in the South Kensington (Exeter) example, the pilasters, frieze, and frame-work are enriched, and the panels plain, the work was designed and made for the house, but, when the panels are carved and the rest plain, they were bought, and then fitted up by the local carpenter.

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