The History Of Foreign Influences On Tudor Period Interior Design 1500-1650 Part 1

To the “taste of the upper classes for foreign things alone,” which is animadverted on by Richard Mulcaster, is due the formative foreign influences of the sixteenth century in England. During the reign of Henry VIII., the influence of the Italian Renaissance was grafted into the native stock, and the history of English decoration from this time onward is the record of an imperfect but progressive assimilation. Foreign travel began in the reign of Henry VIII., and Hoby remarked on the number of Englishmen he met in every Italian city.

Many minor Italian artists and craftsmen figure in building accounts, and Italian artificers were admired in Tudor England as being “the finest and most inventive workmen of all others.” Of the immigrant Italians, Torregiano, who was entrusted with the making of Henry VII.’s tomb, was the most celebrated; of the immigrant Germans, Holbein. The contract for King Henry VII’s tomb was made in 1512, and it was finished some time before 5th January 1518-19. Another Italian, Benedetto da Rovezzano, probably came to England before 1524 and contracted with Wolsey for a magnificent tomb, which was not to be inferior in workmanship or cost to that of King Henry VII. – But Wolsey was not to lie beneath the tomb he had ordered; Henry VIII. confiscated the monument, and work on it was resumed by Benedetto and his assistant, Giovanni da Maiano, who modeled the terra-cotta roundels of Roman emperors at Hampton Court.

Toto del Nunziata, who is believed to have been the chief decorative artist employed at Nonsuch, was nearly forty years resident in England, and Nicholas Bellin, called ” moulder” as well as “painter,” who had worked at Fontainebleau, was also for a considerable time in this country. Names of other Italians, Girolamo da Treviso, Guido Mazzoni or Paganino, and others appear in the King’s service, but their work has disappeared without a trace. Many of the lesser men were stuccoists, makers of decorative ornament, colourers of sculpture, painters of heraldic designs, badges, and accessories for masques and pageants, like the English painters of the period, but doubtless more accomplished.

The greatest of the immigrant artists was the South German, Hans Holbein, who came to England in 1526. It might have been expected that he, the master of all arts, would have founded a school here. He had a practical knowledge of the various branches of the arts for which he supplied working drawings; he “modeled and carved, was excellent in designing ornaments.” He invented patterns for goldsmiths’ work, for enamelling and chasing of plate, arts much countenanced by Henry VIII. Of his architectural work, there remains a design for a chimney-piece, once in the collection of the Earl of Arundel, which was probably designed for the palace of Bridewell.

In the upper stage are panels of ornament, a cavalry combat, and medallions of Charity and justice; in the lower stage are Esther and Ahasuerus within a wreathed roundel, a cavalry combat and medallioned heads in the spandrels above the semicircular arch.

The surprising thing about this quite considerable immigration of foreigners is that it did not affect the architecture of England. Nonsuch was a Gothic fabric gemmed with the Renaissance statues and bas-reliefs, and the lines and principles of late Gothic architecture ruled here in spite of the acceptance of the new detail.

Italian detail was, however, adopted, and the somewhat attenuated grace of Italian ornament blended with the general lines of Northern design. In the choir­stalls of Christchurch, Hampshire, dating from about 1528, the panels forming the back are headed at the top with eccentric Renaissance devices, and the medallioned heads are varied here and there by Gothic detail.

Pure Renaissance detail appears on the tomb of Henry, Lord Marney, in Layer Marney Church, and the similar work at Oxburgh, on the Countess of Salisbury’s chantry, Christchurch, and elsewhere in the south-eastern counties of England, especially in the neighbourhood of Winchester and of Southampton, a town which was for two centuries the centre and port of Italian trade in England.

The largest and most complete early Renaissance work in spirit and execution, however, is the screen in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, which must have been made between 1532 and 1536, from the presence of the initials and badge of Anne Boleyn, but there is unfortunately no record of its construction. But with this exception, the extant early Renaissance ornament appears to be the work of some Italianate Low Countryman or Englishman rather than of an itinerant Italian. The ingredients of Italian ornament of the cinquecento are there the candelabra, the vases, the wreathed and medallioned heads, the foliage-but there is an odd incongruity in the tentative northern treatment of the human figure; the “naked children” of the accounts of the building of Hampton Court oddly translate the Italian putti.

The medallioned heads vary from presentment of Roman emperors and oriental potentates (such as are frequently illustrated during the early Renaissance by continental engravers) to entirely fantastic personages grotesquely treated.

The Italian influence was partial and transient, depending, as it did, On the limited activity of a number of highly skilled craftsmen, and with the close of the first half of the century there is an end of detail of unmixed Italian origin. The succeeding influence from the Low Countries was longer-lived, and spread to every nook and corner of the country.

This was to some extent due to the close religious and commercial ties between England and the Low Countries during the second half of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century; but to a much greater extent to engravings and pattern books, to the importation of furniture, monuments, and carved wainscot. Italy was far off and was not an exporting country; while the Low Countries, with the port of Antwerp as its fair and focus, was our nearest and best market.

The Flemish immigration, which was not, then due to religious persecution, was already an offence to Londoners in Henry VIII.’s reign. The fire burst into flame in the evil May Day riots against the strangers and artificers who resided in the realm, to the, great detriment of the English craftsmen, who could “scarce get any living.” A certain John Lincoln, who led the disaffected Londoners, complained that “the Dutchmen bring over iron, timber, leather, and wainscot ready wrought; nails, locks, baskets, cupboards, stools, tables, chests, and painted cloths, so that if they were wrought here Englishmen might get something by it.” The rioters rose on the night of the 30th April 517 and looted the houses of the stranger artificers.

The uprising was unsuccessful, and Low Country immigrants and goods continued to pour into England by way of Antwerp. Guicciardini gives a valuable account of the extent and value of our trade with Antwerp in 1568. To England Antwerp exported jewels, wrought silks, tapestry, glass, small wares made of metal, and household furniture, among other commodities, and the annual importation into Antwerp about this date amounted to more than 200,000 pieces, a sum which was invested in Low Country goods adapted for the English market.

The correspondence of Sir Thomas Gresham and his agent, Richard Clough, shows to what surprising extent English buildings were indebted to the Low Countries in the matter of design, decoration, or materials. Sir Thomas employed a Fleming, Henryk, for the building of the Burse, or Royal Exchange,’ and all the materials, down to the statue of Queen Elizabeth and the paving stones, were shipped from Antwerp under his direction.

The Royal Exchange was not the only building the Flemish master workman had a hand in, for Gresham lent him to Cecil in the latter part of 1567. Richard Clough, who had lived in Flanders, built his small house, Bachegraig, in Denbighshire, in the Flemish style, and of Flemish materials.

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