personal finance

Makeover craze threatens last surviving treasures hidden beneath the wallpaper


A discovery of exceptional Renaissance wall paintings at a Herefordshire farmhouse has prompted a leading expert to warn that the chances of such treasures surviving in domestic settings in Britain are falling because owners are destroying them by modernising their homes.

Stephen Rickerby, who is a consultant to the Getty Conservation Institute and works closely with the Courtauld Institute and English Heritage, was taken aback by the “stunning and extremely high quality” of paintings dating from the late 16th and early 17th centuries that have been uncovered at Church House Farm in Wellington.

The imagery includes a frieze decorated with strapwork cartouches bearing inscriptions dedicated to God and the monarch – Renaissance designs harking back to classical models in which human figures, fanciful hybrid beasts and foliage merge.

But such survivals are becoming all the more rare, he told the Observer: “This type of domestic wall painting heritage is very much under threat. Many such paintings are damaged or lost when modern building renovations occur.

The wall with paintings at Church House Farm in Herefordshire.
The paintings were discovered when the owners started renovating their bedroom. Photograph: Stephen Rickerby

“Radical home makeovers are increasingly common, reflected by all the TV shows on the theme. This often results in damage and loss of wall paintings, particularly as wattle and daub panelling may be in poor condition. It is usually stripped out and replaced rather than preserved.”

He said that most people do not realise that, by the 16th century, even fairly modest houses may have had such decoration: “Most are bog-standard, very simple, probably done by artisans. This one is complex.”

It was tired 1970s floral wallpaper that prompted the farmhouse’s owners, John Stevenson, a GP, and his husband Ben Andrews, a farmer, to redecorate their first-floor bedroom, having bought the house six years earlier.

They knew that part of the timber-framed building dated back to the late 16th century but nothing prepared them for such a discovery. In stripping the wallpaper, they began peeling back layers of previous wallpaper, wood chip and plaster, travelling back through time.

There are paintings on three of the four walls, although the scheme would once have covered the entire room.

Church House Farm  front view
Church House Farm will not be alone in having historic wall paintings. Photograph: Courtesy of John Stevenson

Square timber framing had been filled with wattle and daub panelling, while a lime-hair plaster was applied over the panels to provide a good surface for painting.

“It is exceptional in that much of the colour remains,” said Rickerby. “This includes expensive pigments, such as orpiment. Most spectacular is the rich red background to one of the scenes.”

Although the Herefordshire discovery was made in 2018, it has taken until now to expose the full scheme of paintings, as well as to consult historians, including specialists from Historic England, and to plan its conservation.

The owners have had to move out of their bedroom into a spare room. The coronavirus lockdown has delayed plans to apply for a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund as it could involve up to £20,000 for painting restoration.

Stevenson spoke of his dilemma: “How do you live with something that normally would be in a museum but is actually part of the fabric of your home?”

But he noted the inspiration of looking into the face of the main painted figure: “This is a face painted by somebody 400 years ago. If you look out of the window, you can see the same view and the same light as the people who commissioned the paintings. It’s transporting.”



READ SOURCE

Read More   ‘Learn what people want’: 10 tips on how to create a successful vintage fashion business

Leave a Reply

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.