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History & Origins of Elizabethan Style

Prior to describing the characteristics of what is commonly termed the Elizabethan style, it will be well to trace briefly the rise and progress of the revival of the Antique in England to its final triumph over the late Gothic style in the sixteenth century.

The first introduction of the Revival into England dates from the year 1518, when Torrigiano was employed by Henry VIII. to design a monument in memory of Henry VII., which still exists in Westminster Abbey, and which is almost a pure example of the Italian school at that period.

In the same style, and of about the same date, is the monument of the Countess of Richmond at Westminster; Torrigiano designed this also, and, very shortly afterwards, went to Spain, leaving, however, behind him several Italians attached to the service of Henry, by whom a taste for the same style could not be otherwise than propagated. Amongst the names preserved to us at this time are Girolamo da Trevigi, employed as an architect and engineer, Bartolomeo Penni, and Antony Toto (del' Nunziata), painters, and the well-known Florentine sculptor, Benedetto da Rovezzano: to these may be added, though at a later period, John of Padua, who appears to have been more extensively employed than any of the others, and, amongst other important works, designed old Somerset House in 1549.

But it was not a purely Italian influence which aided in the development of the new Italianate style in this country; and already we find the names of Gerard Hornebande, or Horebout, of Ghent, Lucas Cornelis, John Brown, and Andrew Wright, serjeant-painters to the king. In the year 1524 the celebrated Holbein came to England, and to him and John of Padua is mainly due the naturalization of the new style in this country, modified by the individual genius and German education of the one, and the local models and reminiscences of the other, by whom many features of the earlier Venetian school of the Revival were reproduced, with great modifications, however, in this country. Holbein died in 1554, but John of Padua survived him many years, and designed the noble mansion of Longleat about the year 1570. On the occasion of the funeral of Edward VI. A.D. 1553, we find in the rule for the procession (Archceol. vol. xii. 1796) the names of Antony Toto (before mentioned), Nicholas Lyzarde, painters, and Nicholas Modena, carver; all the other names of master-masons, etc., being English.

Somewhat later, during the reign of Elizabeth, we find only two Italian names, Federigo Zucchero (whose house at Florence, said to have been designed by himself, would rather serve to show that the English style of architecture had influenced him, than vice versa), and Pietro Ubaldini, painter of illuminated books.

It is from Holland that, at this period, when the Elizabethan style may be justly said to have been formed, we must look for the greater number of artists: Lucas de Heere of Ghent, Cornelius Ketel of Gouda, Marc Garrard of Bruges, H. C. Vroom of Haarlem, painters; Richard Stevens, a Hollander, who executed the Sussex monument in Boreham church, Suffolk: and Theodore Haveus of Cleves, who was architect of the four gates, Humilitatis, Vertutis, Honoris, et Sapientive, at Caius College, Cambridge, and, moreover, designed and executed the monument of Dr. Caius about the year o573. Besides these we approach now a goodly array of English names, the most remarkable being the architects,-Robert and Bernard Adams, the Smithsons, Bradshaw, Harrison, Holte, Thorpe, and Shute (the latter, author of the first scientific work on Architecture in English, A.D. 1563), Hilliard the goldsmith and jeweller, and Isaac Olivet, the portrait-painter. Most of the above-named architects were employed also during the early part of the seventeenth century, at which time the knowledge of the new style was still more extended by Sir Henry Wotton's "Elements of Architecture". Bernard Jansen and Gerard Chrismas, both natives of Holland, were much in vogue during the reign of James I and Charles I, and to them is due the facade of Northumberland House, Strand.

Before the close of James I's reign, i.e. in 1619, the name of Inigo Jones brings us very nearly to the complete downfall of the Elizabethan style, on the occasion of the rebuilding of Whitehall Palace; an example which could hardly fail of producing a complete revolution in Art. The Palladian style of the sixteenth century had been, moreover, introduced even before this by Sir Horatio Pallavicini, in his house (now destroyed) at Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire; and although Nicholas Stone and his son, architects and sculptors, appear to have continued the old style, especially in sepulchral monuments, it was displaced speedily for the more pure, but less picturesque fashion of the best Italian schools.

Thus, taking the date of Torrigiano's work at Westminster, 1519, and that of the commencement of Whitehall by Inigo Jones in 1619, we may include most of the works of art during that century as within the so-called Elizabethan period.

In the foregoing list of artists we perceive a fluctuating mixture of Italian, Dutch, and English names. In the first period, or during the reign of Henry VIII., the Italian names are clearly dominant, and amongst them we are justified in placing Holbein himself, since his ornamental works in metal, etc., for example, the goblet designed by him for Jane Seymour, and a dagger and sword, probably executed for the king-exhibit a purity and gracefulness of style worthy of Cellini himself. The arabesques painted by him in the large picture of Henry VIII. and his family at Hampton Court, though more grotesque and heavy, are still close imitations of cinquecento models; and the ceiling of the Royal Chapel of St. James's Palace, designed by him in 1510, is quite in the style of many rich examples at Venice and Mantua.

During the reign of Elizabeth we meet with a great preponderance of Dutch names, for this country was bound both by political and religious sympathy with Holland; and although the greater number are described as painters only, yet we must remember how closely all the Arts were connected in those days, painters being frequently employed to design models for ornament, both painted and carved, and even for architecture; and in the accessories of their own pictures was found frequent scope for ornamental design, as, for example, may be seen in the portrait of Queen Mary, painted by Lucas de Heere, having panelled compartments of geometrical interlaced forms, filled up with jewelled foliage. During the early part of Queen Elizabeth's reign we are, then, justified in concluding that a very important influence must have been exercised on English Art through the medium of the Protestant States of the Low Countries, and of Germany also.

It was during this period, also, that Heidelberg Castle was principally built (1556-1559); and it would not appear unlikely that it may have had an effect on English Art when we remember that the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I, held court here as Queen of Bohemia, at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

At the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, and during that of James I., English artists are numerous, and appear, with the exception of Jansen and Chrismas, to have the field to themselves; consequently it is at this period that we expect to find a more decidedly native school. And, in fact, it is now that we meet with the names of English designers connected with such buildings (and with their concomitant decoration) as Audley End, Holland House, Wollaton, Knowle, and Burleigh.

Thus we may expect to meet with the purest Italian ornament in the works of the artists of Henry VIII's reign; and this will be found to be the case, not only on the subjects we have already mentioned, but in the examples given in Plate LXXXIII., Nos. 1 and 3.

Various Ornaments in Relief from the Time of Henry VIII. to that of Charles II
Various Ornaments in Relief from the Time of Henry VIII. to that of Charles II, Plate LXXXIII.

During Elizabeth's reign we perceive but a slight imitation of Italian models, and a complete adoption of the style of ornament practised by the decorative artists of Germany and the Netherlands. In the reign of James I. we find the same style continued by English artists, but generally in a larger manner, as at Nos. 5 and 11, Plate LXXXIV., from Aston Hall, built at the latter part of his reign.

Various Ornaments in Relief from the Time of Henry VIII. to that of Charles II
Various Ornaments in Relief from the Time of Henry VIII. to that of Charles II, Plate LXXXIV.

There is little, then, that can be justly termed original in the character of the ornament of this period, and it is simply a modification of foreign models. Even at the close of the fifteenth century may be seen the germs of the open scroll-work in many decorative works in Italy, such as stained glass and illuminated books. The beautifully executed ornamental borders, etc, of Giulio Clovio (1498-1578), pupil of Giulio Romano, present in many parts all the character of Elizabethan scroll, band, nail-head, and festoon-work: the same may be remarked of the stained-glass windows of the Laurentian Library, Florence, by Giovanni da Udine (1487-1561); and still more noticeable is it in the frontispieces of Serlio's great work on Architecture, published in Paris in 1515.

As regards another main feature in Elizabethan ornament, viz. the complicated and fanciful interlaced bands, we must seek its origin in the numerous and excellent designs of the class of engravers known as the "petits-maitres" of Germany and the Netherlands, and more particularly those of Aldegrever, Virgilius Solis of Nuremberg, Daniel Hopfer of Augsburg, and Theodore de Bry, who sent forth to the world a great number of engraved ornamental designs during the sixteenth century.

Arabesque by Theodore de Bry, one of the Petits-Maitres
Arabesque by Theodore de Bry, one of the "Petits-Maitres".

Nor should we forget to mention, at the close of this century, the very fanciful and thoroughly Elizabethan compositions, architectural and ornamental, of W Dieterlin, which Vertue asserts were used by Chrismas in his designs for the facade of Northumberland House. These were the principal sources from which the so-called Elizabethan style of ornament was mainly founded; and we may here remark, that whilst it is evident that decoration ought, and indeed in some cases must, vary in its character, according to the different subjects and materials on which it is applied, and whilst the Italian masters, recognising this esthetical fact, did in most instances carefully abstain from carrying the pictorial style into sculptured and architectural works, confining it to its just limits, such as illuminated books, engravings, Damascene metal-work, and other purely ornamental subjects, so, on the other hand, the artists employed in England during the period of which we treat carried the pictorial style of ornament into every branch of Art, and reproduced even on their buildings the unfettered fancies of the decorative artists as they received them through the medium of the engraver.

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