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Wilton House Wiltshire: The Palladian bridge across the Nadder. Designed by Robert Morris, circa 1
When Sir Balthazar Gerbier wrote his Counsel and Advice to all Builders in 1664 he stated: 'the wideness of the door must serve for two to pass at once, that is to say the doors of Chambers of a pallace...' adding that the height of the door should be double its width. In other lesser rooms the door should be of sufficient height for a man 'of compleat stature' to pass through with a hat upon his head." The door itself was divided into as many as ten panels of varying size, although the six-panelled door was the most usual by the end of the seventeenth century.
The staircase at Ham House, Surrey, was constructed in 1637-8 and on the landings there are wall panelling and oak panelling handsome doors and doorcases. They were the work of the joiner Thomas Carter, whose bill included charges for five doors and doorcases. The woodwork was painted and 'veined' to simulate walnut and the mouldings were picked out with gilding by Matthew Gooderick, whose work I have noted earlier at Castle Ashby, Northamptonshire. His activities at Ham House gave the simple plane of Carter's wall panelling and oak panelling and doors - two to each frame - an elegance that is their prime characteristic, a tribute to Gooderick's considerable ability.
In 1658, during the quiet late years of the Commonwealth, Peter Mills designed Thorpe Hall, Northamptonshire, for Oliver St John, Chief Justice to Oliver Cromwell." The doorcases at the house - of which a drawing of one survives - were probably executed by the joiner wall panelling and oak panelling Thomas Whiting and by Richard Cleere, the carver who worked for Wren on the Great Model of St Paul's Cathedral. They were to work in the early 1660s at Cobham Hall, Kent, under Mills's supervision, and architects usually stayed with reliable craftsmen they knew. The doorcase and panelling from the great parlour (or library as it was later called) at Thorpe Hall were removed c. 1920 and inserted into Leeds Castle, Kent.'' This door has ten panels and the architrave of the doorcase wall panelling and oak panelling is richly carved over its formal architectural proportions. The architrave was a good position for carving, but this is also found around framed panels and overdoor pictures, or flanking a bracketed pediment. Additional emphasis was given to the door by flanking it with wall panelling and oak panelling panelled or fluted pilasters. These appear alongside the doors to the Double Cube Room at Wilton House, Wiltshire, where a rich and monumental effect was needed to stand out against the white and gilded panelling, gilded soft-wood swags, great paintings by van Dyck and the overbearing cove and ceiling paintings, redolent with mythological story.
I have mentioned the richness of the plasterwork on the ceilings at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire, and this is repeated on the soffits of the staircase landings and high in the stairwell itself. There are two doorcases, c. 1676, on the landings, each with two ten-panelled, bevelled doors. They are the work of Edward Pierce the younger, the talented London carver in wood, stone and marble who was capable of erecting a whole building himself. The carved pediments are on broken entablatures with sprays of olive and palm in a central panel. The architraves have Corinthian pilasters finishing in scrolled ends at each lower side. Whilst the doorcases sit together a little awkwardly, at right angles in the corners of the landing, there is no denying the style and balance they give to an already rich setting.
Sir William Winde's letters to Lady Mary Bridgeman and to William, Lord Craven, in the 1680s and 1690s are again illuminating on the current decorative practices." Symmetry was ever a concern and the long vistas in houses such as Petworth, Sussex, are given additional emphasis by a series of open doors. In October 1688 Winde advised Lady Bridgeman that for the four doors at the sides of the hall at Castle Bromwich Hall, Warwickshire, 'I would willingly have the matter ordered soe that they may be all allike, & of one and ye same dimension.' Most of Winde's designs in marble and wall panelling and oak panelling wood were executed by the carpenter Jonathan Wilcox, the joiners John Sims and Robert Aiscough and the London carver Edward Pierce the younger, whom I have noted working at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire. He was also to provide the carving on the great staircase itself, in the new foliated style introduced in the 1670s.
It was common in lesser gentry houses for the door to be framed to match the panelled wainscoting, but to have similar, smaller panels. A design much used in farmhouses was a door formed of three or more timber planks, of varying width, cut and used vertically to fill the opening, with cross battens on one side. These were fixed to the planks by heavy iron studs and two long iron hinges ran horizontally across two thirds of the door. The head of the door often copied Tudor patterns in stone, having a four-centred arch with moulded jambs and simple sunk spandrels."
Westbury Court, Glouchestershire: The late 17th-Century Water Garden
At all periods the design of chimneypieces was affected by the availability of suitable materials. Alabaster and marble were worked by masons who sought contrasting effects with the use of black, white and veined marbles. The great panelled marble chimneypieces found in the Jacobean houses of Hatfield, Knole and Blickling were often the work of foreign craftsmen settled in England, such as Maximilian Colt, the Cure family from Holland, and Giles de Whitt. Early in 1601 Lord Cobham was contracting through his steward for de Whitt to make two chimneypieces for Cobham Hall, Kent, and he may well have made the one in the gallery there, a year or so before." They were all as elaborate as great coloured funerary monuments (at which the foreign wall panelling and oak panelling craftsmen also excelled). In the chimneypiece by Colt in the library at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, a likeness of the 1st Earl of Salisbury is mounted in a Venetian mosaic of c. 1610, sent from Italy as a gift by the English ambassador, Sir Henry Wotton. The house was then being built under the supervision of Robert Lyminge, or Liminge (d. 1628), who also supervised the building of Blickling Hall, Norfolk, in the 1620s. The best surviving chimneypiece at Blickling, originally painted to resemble different marbles, is in the great chamber of Sir Henry Hobart's house (now the South Drawing Room). It has a Jacobean stone surround and a cast-iron fireback bearing the arms of Queen Elizabeth.
At Knole, in Kent, the woodwork and plasterwork are all of fine quality but the carving reaches its height in the great chimneypieces in the ballroom, the Crimson Drawing Room and the Cartoon Gallery. Some appear to be the work of Maximilian Colt, the Flemish sculptor active in England at the start of the seventeenth century. The style of ornament is close to Netherlandish patterns. One of the three marbles used, the grey, was quarried locally at Bethersden, near Ashford, and is used to good effect in the lintel above the fireplace. Here the Is[ Earl of Dorset's arms and Garter (to which Noble Order he had been elevated in 1598) are incised. The work seems to have been done c. 1607, as Cornelius Cuer was paid £26 10s in December 1607 for 'stones for a chimney piece in the With drawing Chamber at Knoll'. He was obviously well acquainted with Colt. Black and white marble are used on the overmantel to provide a background for alabaster garlands of flowers and musical instruments.
In the Crimson Drawing wall panelling and oak panelling Room the overmantel has Bethersden marble pilasters incised to represent a pattern of strawberries and wild flowers. These flank a central panel where putti ride on a pair of sphinxes, holding aloft great trophies of arms. The fireplace opening has caryatids each side with bronze heads and feet. Paired caryatids appear again on the marble and alabaster overmantel in the Cartoon Gallery, as well as in the painted grotesques' in its bay windows and the deep recess opposite the fireplace.
Despite this foreign work of consummate quality, it has been asserted that Inigo Jones 'was incomparably the best chimney-piece designer in Northern Europe'.'' Some of this went hand-in-hand with his concern for the proportion of rooms, in which every decorative wall panelling and oak panelling feature had to be positioned correctly. Obviously, there was a lesser need for chimneypieces in warmer countries, except as decoration: the chimneypiece was essentially confined in use to the colder lands north of the Alps, and there it was a principal feature of the decorative treatment of the walls of a room. Consequently, there is only one nappa or chimney-opening given in Scamozzi's Idea della Architettura universale (1615). When Jones did his masterly elevation of a chimneypiece for Oatlands Park, Surrey (now in the collections of the Royal Institute of British Architects), he adopted the broken pediment with its central mask-face from a French source, Jean Barbet's Livre d'Architecture, d'autels, et de cheminees (1632). With its engravings by Abraham Bosse, this became a very popular source-book and was re-issued in Paris and Amsterdam in 164L" Both Jones and John Webb used it again as a source at Wilton House, Wiltshire. The Renaissance chimneypiece in Italy and in France had evolved from the overhanging Gothic chimneypiece with its hood (or breast), which could rise even to the ceiling. It was this upper area of display that could be framed by wall panelling and oak panelling and by pilasters and have an entablature resting on them or on consoles. It was the place for a panel of painting or sculpture in round, oval, or octagonal shape, or even for a looking-glass.