SUPPORTING INFORMATION : LIFE IN TUDOR AND STUART TIMES KS2

HOUSES AND HOMES

FURNISHINGS

Court Cupboard
Court Cupboard
Sixteenth-century inventories, recording all the movable goods of the house at a critical point in its history (usually the death of the owner), list a variety of objects, but with a proliferation throughout the house which suggests that things were much moved around. Furniture at this time, predominantly of oak, fulfilled the basic requirements of seating, surfaces for eating and storage, with a sufficiency of soft furnishings in the form of cushions and table carpets to render the surfaces more comfortable and luxurious. Fairly simple wooden furniture (items such as framed chests and cupboards, gate-leg tables and panel-backed chairs) remained the staple furnishing of modest houses throughout the 17th century, individualised and regionalised by the use of distinctive geometric motifs, or sometimes with biblical or other inscriptions. Furniture with leather seats and backs was a feature of the mid-century period. Walnut furniture became fashionable for the wealthier classes, as did, by the 1670s, furniture covered with marquetry: a decorative veneer applied to the surface and made up of pieces of wood and perhaps other materials, like ivory or bone, to form a pictorial or patterned mosaic.

Carved Chair 1695-1705
For seating, the 17th century saw a great increase in upholstered furniture, with whole sets of chairs, footstools and benches being commissioned, notably accompanying a state bed. Indeed, in the decades after 1660, so expensive and dominant were the upholstered items in a room of state that the upholsterer in effect became the designer of the interior furnishings as a whole. High-backed cane chairs were often used in dining rooms, halls and vestibules where people waited and in everyday living parlours.



Carved chair 1695-1705

Embroidered hanging made by Mary Queen of Scots
One significant area of textile production - that of embroidery - remained firmly within the domestic sphere. The appropriateness of the task of embroidery at home is stressed from the late 16th century onwards in conduct books for women and it was a task carried out, it seems, by women of all classes, from Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick to the daughters of the professional class.


Embroidered hanging made by Mary Queen of Scots

Mirror frame 1660-1680
While much 16th century embroidery was for clothes and hangings, in the 17th century boxes, caskets and mirror surrounds were worked. Mirrors are especially interesting, given their expense (home-produced mirrors were of poor quality and the best were imported from Venice) and their association with the sin of vanity. Surrounding the mirror with an uplifting embroidered narrative or image therefore turned the object into a moral lesson for maker and viewer alike. Particularly popular during the reign of Charles II were images of the King and Queen flanking mirrors.

Mirror frame 1660-1680

Throughout the 16th century and in many parts of the country even beyond 1600, particularly in rural areas or less fashionable country houses, inventories of household possessions tell us that many rooms in the house still contained beds. Some great houses had a 'best' bedchamber, indicating a room probably reserved for visitors, but a significant development of the 17th century was the emergence of a 'state' bedchamber: part of a sequence of rooms, for which an especially grand bed would be commissioned. The bedchamber would be preceded by at least one room for private reception by an important visitor, and followed by a small, inner room closer to the bedroom - the whole set of rooms making up an 'apartment', a term derived from the French, with whom the idea began.

The Great Bed of Ware
The Great Bed of Ware

This celebrated bed takes its name from the town of Ware in Hertfordshire. It was perhaps made for a country house, but more probably for one of the great inns at Ware, a busy staging post on the north road out of London. By 1596, when it was adorning such an inn, it was famous enough to be mentioned by a German visitor to England, while Shakespeare refers to it in Twelfth Night, which was first performed in 1601. The bed, twice the size of any other great bed of the period, is rumoured to have slept half a dozen couples, yet it shares both form and decoration with more normal beds of the period.

Unlike today, beds were highly prized. They were the site of some of the most significant events and rituals of people's lives, often made to celebrate a marriage, a ceremony accompanied by the ritualistic but ribald ceremony of 'bedding' the newly-weds. Childbirth, too, was attended by celebrative ritual. Among the upper classes, witnesses at the birth were a necessary proof of legitimacy. At the close of life, to die with dignity and appropriate leave-taking in your own bed afforded a welcome degree of control over death. In the royal palaces, distinguished foreign visitors would be shown beds in which kings and queens had died.

The style and content of the decoration of beds was therefore of great significance. Their overall architectural form and decorative elements were taken from the repertoire of Flemish Mannerism. Their carving, inlay and colour combined to give them an exceptional richness and ritualistic significance. Originally richly painted (although only traces now remain), the Bed of Ware would also have been lavishly dressed with hangings. When closed, these created a room within the greater room, with the corners of the bed, half-concealed, half-revealed, forming the boundary between public and private worlds.

The foreposts of the Bed of Ware are virtuoso pieces of woodcarving from which decorated columns rise up to support the tester. At the other end, the corners of the headboard display satyrs: half-human, half-animal forms surmounting mask-like heads, indicating the potential for sexual pleasure and procreation. On the bedhead itself, one female and two male terminal figures frame panels of marquetry inlay with perspective scenes of fantastical architecture, derived from the prints of the Netherlandish printmaker, Hans Vredeman de Vries.

WALL AND CEILING DECORATION

The fitting out of a house began from practical concerns, but increasingly offered a choice of materials as the period progressed. Wall coverings were important for the exclusion of draughts. Panelling, in oak and usually painted throughout this period, developed from a piecemeal art of small panels attached to battens, the panels often being decorated with a pattern of folded cloth, later called 'linenfold'. From the later 16th century inlaid woods were more often employed and the arrangement of panelling became grander, devised architecturally with dado and cornice, perhaps also with pilasters in the main field, thus echoing the order of exterior architecture, especially for large rooms such as main drawing rooms (or saloons) and long galleries. In this new architectural scheme the fireplace became a focal point, with the generally lower fireplaces of early Tudor times giving way to larger, grander fire openings with overmantels, carrying heraldry or allegorical subjects, in carved wood or alabaster.

This embroidery is described as a carpet, but it was intended to lay on a table, a costly and highly decorative cover, rather than on the floor. Its pictorial border would hang down vertically from the table's edge. The carpet would be covered up or removed if the table was used. 'Foot carpets' occasionally appear in contemporary paintings, in which case they are intended to indicate the high social standing of the sitter who can afford to have such an object underfoot.

Bradford table carpet
Bradford table carpet

This carpet was produced in a professional workshop, and the absence of heraldry suggests that it was made for sale on the open market rather than for a specific commission. The embroidery is exceptionally fine, with approximately 400 stitches to the square inch (62/sq.cm). The tension of the embroidery stitches has pulled the canvas from a rectangular into a parallelogram shape.

The design of the carpet has sometimes been described as depicting Man's progression from the wild state to civilisation. It can also be seen more simply as a celebration of country pursuits. There are scenes of hunting, fishing, and shooting, as well as the rural occupations of shepherd, milkmaid and miller, with watermill and windmill. Rural scenes were very popular in embroidered furnishings in the later 16th and early 17th century.