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Elizabethan Ornament & Decoration

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.

As regards the characteristics of Elizabethan ornament, they may be described as consisting chiefly of a grotesque and complicated variety of pierced scroll-work, with curled edges; interlaced bands, sometimes on a geometrical pattern, but generally flowing and capricious, as seen, for example, on No. 12, Plate LXXXIII., and Nos. 26 and 27, Plate LXXXIV.; strap and nail-head bands; curved and broken outlines; festoons, fruit, and drapery, interspersed with roughly-executed figures of human beings; grotesque monsters and animals, with here and there large and flowing designs of natural branch and leaf ornament, as shown in No. 7, Plate LXXXIII., a noble example of which still exists also on the great gallery ceiling at Burton Agnes, in Yorkshire; rustications of ball and diamond work, paneled compartments often filled with foliage or coats-of-arms; grotesque arch-stones and brackets are freely used; and the carving, whether in stone or wood, is marked by great boldness and effect, though roughly executed.

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.

Unlike the earliest examples of the Revival on the Continent, especially in France and Spain, these ornaments are not applied to Gothic forms; but the groundwork or architectural mass is essentially Italian in its nature (except in the case of windows): consisting of a rough application of the orders of architecture one over another, external walls with cornice and balustrade, and internal walls bounded with frieze and cornice, with flat or covered ceilings; even the gable ends, with their convex and concave outlines, so common in the style, were founded on models of the early Renaissance school at Venice.

The colored patterns of diaper work-on wood, on the dresses of the monumental statues, and on tapestries,-show in most cases more justness and purity of design than the carved work: the colors, moreover, being rich and strongly marked. A great quantity of this kind of work, especially the arras, with which walls and furniture were constantly decorated, no doubt came from the looms of Flanders, and in some cases from Italy, since the first native factory of the kind was established at Mortlake in the year 1619.

Painted Ornaments and Ornaments on Woven Fabric
Painted Ornaments and Ornaments on Woven Fabric, Plate LXXXV.

Nos. 9, 10, 11, and 13, Plate LXXXV., are the most Italian in their character of the examples given; No. 13 being stated, indeed, to be the design of an Italian artist. Nos. 12, 14, and 16, also of a good Italian character, being taken from portraits of the time of Elizabeth and James I, are probably the work of Dutch or Italian artists. Nos. 1, 4, 5, 15, and 18, though in the Italian taste, are marked by much originality; whilst Nos. 6 and 8 are in the ordinary Elizabethan style. Fine examples of colored ornament are still preserved in the pall belonging to the Ironmongers' Company, date 1515, the ground of which is gold, with a rich and flowing purple pattern; similar in every respect to the painted antependiums of several altars at Santo Spirito, Florence (fifteenth century), and probably of Italian manufacture.

At St. Mary's Church, Oxford, is preserved a rich pulpit hanging of gold ground with a blue pattern; and at Hardwicke Hall, Derbyshire, is a fine piece of tapestry of a yellow silk ground, with a crimson and gold thread pattern. But, perhaps, the most beautiful specimen of this kind of work is in the possession of the Saddlers' Company, a gold pattern on a crimson velvet pall, made in the early part of the sixteenth century. Although in those we have referred to, and in the examples given in Plate LXXXV., two colors only are principally relied on for effect, yet in other subjects every variety of color is freely used; gilding, however, being generally predominant over color - a taste probably derived from Spain, where the discovery of gold in the New World led to an extravagant use of it as a means of decoration in the reigns of Charles V. and Philip II. An example of this style may be seen in the magnificent chimneypiece, with elaborate gilt carving combined with black marble, now preserved in the Governor's room at the Charterhouse.

By the middle of the seventeenth century the more marked characteristics of the style had completely died out, and we lose sight, not without some regret, of that richness, variety, and picturesqueness; which, although deficient in good guiding principles, and liable to fall into straggling confusion, could not fail to impress the beholder with a certain impression of nobility and grandeur.

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