The Sassy Countess is a blog about historic houses, properties, castles, estates, mansions, homes, land, and lifestyles! Focusing mostly on 18th century, other time periods are also included, such as Regency, Golden Age, Gilded Age, Victorian, American Post and Antebellum, Romantic, Jacksonian, Medieval, Renaissance, Edwardian, New Republic, etc.
Decorative Finishes Inside the Homes of
the Western European Aristocrat During the Middle Ages
of the Middle Ages elite had not been too much like it had been before their
time. The Romans had their way of decorating that was so obvious that all
descendent peoples were able to discern it openly. It was thought that the western peoples did not have had any type of class when it came to decorating their
dwellings. The ostentatious decorations of the Islamic peoples had been another
comparative that left Europeans wanting in style. Many of the interiors from
the Middle Ages have disappeared over time leaving bare stone. This did not mean that
these interiors were like that at the time of early occupancy. Decorations
just deteriorated without being refurbished. The fact was that there had
been high style decorative finishes within the dwellings of the western
Christian Europeans even during the dark ages.
manner houses, and palaces of the Middle Ages elite has had a bad rap
throughout history. Many people have believed that these buildings had bare
stone walls with lots of dead animals hanging from them.
While this had been true to an extent, there had been other decorations as
well. People throughout history have always had a tendency to adorn themselves,
why would they not adorn their abodes as well?Why would the people of the Middle Ages be any different from those that
came before or after?
Middle Ages had had different styles of decoration than what had occurred
before, and after, this time. It was not that they had a lack thereof.
Different societies expressed themselveswith “distinctions from the outside world as well as differences within
There had also been differences for “class differentiation and collective
differences may have created some differences, but this probably occurred later
within homes of the wealthy (Protestant vs. Catholic). While this had been the
dark ages, many elite living quarters may not have been so gloomy.
dark rooms painted in black and red was the response from many people today
when asked what a gothic house would have looked like. This was not
gothic. This description of modern “Goth” would not have fit in with the
dwellings of the Middle Ages.Gothic
rooms did have red and black within, but they also had blues, greens and golds.
Gem colors seem to have been what was most preferred, at least by the numerous
Medieval paintings this author has seen. These colors had been painted on
walls, as well as used in their textiles.
had been used far more than they used currently. Cloths of wool or silk covered
walls, tables and beds.
They created borders, and had been draped over chairs.
Luxurious fabrics had been laid upon the floors as rugs, and had covered
The wealthy wanted to show how affluent they had been buy using as much as they
could afford to buy. And, they displayed their rich fabrics conspicuously.
Fabric covered walls in many
different ways. It had even been used as a sort of wallpaper. Tacking at the
top by beautiful brackets not only kept it from falling down, but it also added
another dimension. The brackets themselves had been decorative, and the fabric
that it held had also not been plain.
Silk had been the preferred material of the elite for wall coverings because of
the texture, appearance, and also the prestige that it brought.
Other forms of fabric wall coverings
used for prestigious purposes included woven tapestries. Tapestries had been
used for thousands of years in many different cultures. People of the Middle
Ages were of no exception. Intricate patterns had been woven in rich and
highlighted colors. No less than twenty different colors had been able to be
used by the Medieval weaver. This had been a class of artisan that passed their
craft from father to son. These pieces had been individual works of art that
had even been passed to the victor by the loser on the battlefield. They were
very expensive, and quite large. Even so, some had been sewn to others to
create a larger cover if it were needed.
Other spaces that had been covered
by rich fabrics and tapestries had been doorway and alcove entrances. The
mosaic of Theodora clearly shows two of these. The alcove had two tri-colored
swags over the alcove where courtiers had been waiting for her. Red, white and
blue were hung so that their stripe would be vertical to the entrance. A drape
or tapestry hung in the doorway near a fountain. The doorway cloth was white
with gold trim and embellishments, hanging from four fixed points at the top of
curtains may not have been used over windows, but they were used to accentuate
an area, and as dividing screens. Cloth dividing screens had been used to
separate areas to make them more private. These had been used for changing
areas, as well as for when the bath was brought into a room.
Otto III had a two-toned drape behind his throne that had been set up as a type
of accentuation marker. The top and bottom areas had been green and had been
embroidered in a white floral design. The middle area, which appeared to have
taken up a little over one-third of the drape, had been red spotted with white
embroidery. This type
of accentuation was used again in Donors by an unknown painter. The Madonna and
Christ child sat in a chair in front of an ornate fabric panel attached at the
wall by six roundels. It could be argued that this was a religious scene, but
it clearly took place in the donor’s home.
certainly were not a recent addition to the homes of wealthy aristocrats.
People of the Middle Ages added beauty wherever they could. Tapestries or
beautiful fabric may have been added to cover the window, just as they had been
used in doorways. Most paintings show a type wooden shutter in multiple levels
and/or layers. In Campin’s Annunciation Triptych, a type of wooden
screen covered the open window, and a solid cover rested against the wall.
In Van DerWeden’s Annunciation, the windows had only one layer of
shutter, but they were in two tiers so that one could have been open while the
other was closed.
Again, while both of these scenes were of religious significance, they both had
been painted in contemporary settings.
contemporary domestic scenes of the rich showed that cloth was not the only
thing that covered the walls. Walls of bedrooms and other living areas had been
covered in plaster, and then painted in beautiful colors. Lime and gypsum had
been the component for the three coated layer that had been used over beams,
brick and stone. Plaster protected the surface from wear and tear, and it also
added isolative factors.
These walls could have been painted when wet, creating a fresco. Or, the
builders could have allowed the occupants to have changed colors on their own
whim. Rooms in one Medieval castle had the lower half of the wall painted in
diamonds to resemble tiles.
The rooms in Campin’s Annunciation Triptych and inVan DerWeden’s
Annunciation both had uncovered plastered walls. Both rooms were
painted. However, Van DerWeden had a goldish-green room, and Campin had a cream
colored paint. The walls behind the blue fabric with gold fleur-de-lis, in the
room of Christine de Pisan, had been a lighter shade of the blue/purple.
Pisan also showed evidence of beauful rugs over flooring. Intricate desings in
multiple colors were placed over a floor that could have been tile. Carpets
could have been woven like the tapestries. They had definitely had been woven
with a needle at this point in history. Some had been created to recreate
patterns of the Islamic tiles and Persian rugs.
Some had flowers and animals woven into them. The rugs in the room of The German
Feast appeared to have been like the straw rugs that had been so popular in
the Victorian Era.
The carpet beneath the knees of the Madonna in Van derWeden’s artwork has many intracacies. This
was an obvious example of expensive woven handiwork that occurred in the Middle
Rugs covered many
types of floors in the European Middle Ages. Floors of plain wood would
certainly have been acceptable in service areas. However, flooring that a more
affluent croud would have seen would have been of a much more luxurious
material. Blue tile was below Christine de Pisan’s orange carpet. The best
visual of a Medieval tiled floor was the one beneath Gabrial and Mary in Van derWeden’s painting. Green and yellow
tile pieces created a zigzag geometric pattern with squares of smaller
diamonds. While there
was no evidence that this intricacy had been typical, there also was none that
idicated the opposite. Romans created beautiful floors before, and the Moslems
did so contemporarily. As people have always wanted what others had, there was
no reason to believe that beautiful floors had not been a part of the rooms of
the western wealthy Christians as well.
Feast also showed an ornately carved hood over the fireplace within the scene.
The fireplace itself in this painting appears to have been very small, but
within a large alcove. The hood most probably the function of ornamentation and
fire retardency. In both paintings of the annunciation, the rooms had
fireplaces also. These had been a little different in appearance, as well as
decoration and function than that of the German fellows. While the one in the German
Feast held a primary place within the room, the feminine areas appear to
have pushed them into a place of service, or really un-service due to the
season. Both had a decorative seating bench situated in front. One fireplace had
no ornamentation and the other had gargoyles attached to the side moldings. In
all three the vent was high off the ground, indicating that this would have
been a standard within the building industry of the Middle Ages.
buildings had different types of ceilings as well. Romanesque buildings had
barrel vaulted ceilings, Gothic had rib-vaulted, and buttressed ceilings, and
then there were the buildings that fell somewhere in the middle. These seem to
have had flat ceilings. Christine de Pisan’s chamber cleary shows a barrel
vaulted ceiling. She had red and green streemers crossing the room at the
lowest level of the sides, These were held from the center ceiling by their
opposite color ribbon.
Champin’s ceiling had beautiful rich polished mahogany panneled cielings that
were flat except for the panneled support beam.
Van derWeden showed another type of ceiling. This one had walnut coffered
ceilings. In Birth
of the Virgin by Pietro Lorenzetti, St. Anne was lying upon a bed in front
of a white fabric wall, underneath a fabulously decorative vaulted
ceiling.Underneath the sky painted,
rib vaulting, there were arches that had been painted green with triangular
windows set in the center.
This had been a spectacular type of ceiling for any lady that had lain
underneath. These examples indicated the different constructive and decorative
styles that existed in the Middle Ages.
The ceilings of these homes of the Middle Ages
also carried the weight of the lighting for the room. Chandeliers made of metal
and brass had been used in these houses. They had been held to the
ceilings by chains and brackets. The room in The Arnolfini Portrait by
Jan van Eyck had an intricately patterned chandelier in the center.Van derWeden’s room also had an
intricate chandlier, but this one was more delicate, more feminine, than that
of van Eyck’s. This room also had a pewter sconce over the fireplace, just
below the hood.
Interestingly Campin’s room did not have a chandelier, but he placed two
decorative pewter sconces on the top of the fireplace here, also just below the
hood. Another indication of common usage.
Common usage of glass in windows had been a
completely different story. Glass had been made of lead and had been very
expense. These pieces had been created in small square or diamond shapes so
that if they had broken, they would be less expensive to replace. The windows
of the Middle Ages had been either clear, which would have been somewhat milky
due to the lead, or stained.
The only painting that indicated stained glass within a living area had been
Campen’s piece. These had been very small and had the appearance of tiny coats
of arms. In all of
the other paintings noted, the areas in front of the shutters appear to have
been glass free.
Arguments to this work may include the themes of
the paintings used to make this paper. At the time when these paintings had
been completed, it had been a common practice to place the Virgin in a room of
a wealthy homeowner. This would have made it easy for a wealthy patron to surrendor
his currency to the local rectory.Others may argue that this could not be
considered high style because of the lack of ostentation in the living areas.
Just because there was not any loud colors does not mean that there had been a
lack of exhibitionism. Painted or frescoed walls and ceilings appeared in the
living areas. Carved pieces had been over and around fireplaces. Rich fabric
covered almost every area. Taste just changed due to time, as well as
Time and culture certainly had influenced the
interiors of the dwellings of the wealthy Middle Ages citizenry.While there may have been rooms that had
been decorated with animal trophies, there had also been rooms of high society
that did not include any carcases what so ever. Plain stone could have been the
walls where no elite visitor would have seen. Plain floorboards also had been
used. But the fact that these had not been the norm was the most important
feature to the aristocratic resident. There had been flaunting displays of wealth
by the use of beautiful features that included decorative finishes within the
homes of the aristocratic western Christians.
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