Foreign Influence on the Design and Decoration of Wall panelling English Four Poster Bed Decoration & Period Carved Furniture of the Early Renaissance (1500-1650).


I Introduction


THE sixteenth century and the Tudor dynasty coincided with a period of rapid growth and change. The Court of the first Tudor King, Henry VII., “his grandfather the brother of a bishop, and all the royal blood in his veins flowing from illicit connections,” was not a centre of display. The magnificence of English courtly surroundings, however, in the reign of Henry VIII., who built or added to New Hall, Nonsuch, Bridewell, and St James’s, impressed foreign visitors, and the Papal legate, Chiergati, wrote that “the wealth and civilisation of the world are here.”

To this wealth, concentrated in the King’s hands, the suppression of the monasteries towards the close of his reign added an important element.
Regular diplomatic relations between Venice and England had begun in 1496, in Henry VII.’s reign, and Italian artisans and handicraftsmen and others were drawn here by the merchants already settled in England and by the royal buildings.

Henry VIII. was fond of foreigners, especially Italians.’ Foreign jewelers and woodcarvers four poster bed decoration & period carved furniture  found in him a ready patron. He was the first English king to form a collection of pictures, which hung in a gallery in Whitehall, of which he kept the key. He was magnificent in building, “the onlie phnix of his time for fine and curious masonrie,” and followed in the footsteps of François  in attracting foreign artists to his Court and service. The King’s advisers were by 1545 alarmed at this foreign influx, and Paget roundly blamed Lord Cobham for his “having been the occasion of the coming of so many with which all here are wearied.” “ My lord “ (the postscript runs), “ I beseech you send over no more strangers, and move the rest there to send none, for the king is not content.”

Throughout Henry’s reign there was a certain importation of fine furniture from Italy, and the first beginnings of a study of Italian arts and architecture. John Shute, whose patron was the Duke of Northumberland, visited Italy for that purpose, and on his return published the first work in English on Renaissance architecture,

The  Chicf Groundes of Architecture.’ The Renaissance, which in England was not a self- centred phase, was not completely assimilated here ; in ornament, its alphabet was substituted for the Gothic, but there are survivals of late Gothic detail.

The King’s example was followed by his favourites,2 the “ new men,” described as scant well—born gentlemen of no great lands till they were promoted by us,” such as Henry Lord Marney, the builder of Layer Marney Tower ; Sir Richard Weston, the builder of Sutton Place ; Lord Sandys, the builder of the Vyne ; and men of the commonalty, such as Wolsey, for near twenty years de facto ruler of England, who spent his immense revenues, until his disgrace, in building. The state of Wolsey’s palaces, the richness of his household stuff, his arras stiff with gold, his oriental carpets and gold and silver plate were a marvel to the chroniclers and an offence to his enemies.
At his death the “onlie phcenix” in building had exhausted his treasury, and left a legacy of debt to his successor. The youth of the new King and the brevity of the reign of Mary left no time to attend to the arts.
With the long reign of Elizabeth, architecture and decoration had passed into a new and Flemish phase, though Italy was still to the traveller “ gazing only on the beauty of their cities, and the painted surface of their houses,” the only paradise of Europe.’
In this reign, prices rose with the increase of industrial and trading activity ; the landowners prospered, and it was not unusual for gentlemen landowners to make profit out of their estates, “turning farmers and graziers for money,” in Harrison’s words.4
Whereas at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the tenant farmers rarely had more than a few shillings of ready money, at its close, despite the increased rents, they were able to put by considerable sums. This reign saw the rise of the families based on sheep farming, and of the great country house, built to express and display this new wealth. Woollaton Hall was, it was said, built by Sir Francis Willoughby “for a foolish display of his wealth.” Hardwick and Burghley are in their diverse ways expressive of their builders. The builders did, in the full sense of Harrison’s words, dailie imagine new devises to guide their workmen withall “ ; they set their initials on the balustrade, recorded their arms and alliances on the stuccoed ceiling, on the chimney-piece, and in the windows, and saw to every detail of the plan, the finishing, and furnishing. This widespread use of armorial bearings was denounced by Stubbes as a capital instance of the vice of pride. “ Every one,” he says, “vaunts himself, crying with open mouth, ‘ I am a gentleman, I am worshipful, I am honourable, I am noble, and I cannot tell what ; my father was this, my father was that ; I am come of this house, and I am come of that.’Houses of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century were large, for any gentleman’s house might have to be the sovereign’s for a few days when on her progresses, and she imposed upon them an endeavour to exhibit their loyalty in costly entertainments. Throughout this age, until the closing of the theatres in 1642, masqUe and pageantry held their place in the public eye and in the public interest, and in these the strange medley of past and present, sacred and profane only reflected the catholic medley present in men’s minds. “ Pedantry, novelty, the allegory of Italy, the mythology of Rome, the English bear-fight, pastorals, superstition, farce,” all took their turn in the entertainment which Lord Leicester provided for the Queen at Kenilworth. Many interiors foreign influence on on the design and decoration of wall panelling are pageants in woodwork, plaster, and stone, which were influenced by the contemporary love for spectacles in which the learning, the craftsmanship, and imagination of the age were expended in the production of so much transitory magnificence.’


The extension of trade, as London grew into the general market of Europe, and the establishment of Gresham’s Royal Exchange mark the country’s commercial progress. The silver from “ old Philip’s” treasury, the Mexican and Peruvian mines, and also the development of the African trade, led the way to an immense increase in the supply of precious metals, of which quantities were used for plate, and it has been computed that one-fifth of the supply was used in this manner in England during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,’ when even the middle class had their garnish of silver. The formation of capital for trading ventures and industry was rendered easier by the fact that so much silver was in circulation. Wealth was created by the new trading ventures of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, when the granting of charters to the Eastland (Baltic) Company, to the Levant Company, to the Guinea Company,5 and the foundation of the Great East India Company 6 which later to open the doors to oriental influences—witnesses to the novel Elizabethan spirit of enterprise. A curious epitome of the interests of the age are some newel posts, surmounted by figures in the round representing the continents, with plinths carved with each continent’s characteristic features, such as the lions and elephants of Asia, the fabulous dragons of Africa, and the gold mines of America, with gold-finders quarrying and carrying away enormous nuggets.


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