The Building Conservation Directory 2022

INTER IORS 5 149 C AT H E D R A L C O MM U N I C AT I O N S T H E B U I L D I N G C O N S E R VAT I O N D I R E C T O R Y 2 0 2 2 EARTHEN ART The investigation and analysis of domestic wall paintings on earthen supports LISA SHEKEDE and STEPHEN RICKERBY B RITAIN IS fortunate to have a rich and varied wall painting heritage. For most, this art form is associated with the medieval murals which decorate the interiors of our churches and cathedrals, but a large proportion is made up of vernacular paintings dating from the mid-16th to the mid-17th centuries, mostly executed on earthen supports and typically found in timber-framed buildings. Despite growing awareness of their existence and significance, such paintings remain largely overlooked and often neglected, both in terms of their intrinsic value and with respect to their unique and varied material characteristics. This latter factor means that particular approaches and methodologies are required in their conservation. PAINTING TYPES AND THEMES The adjectives ‘domestic’, vernacular’, and ‘artisanal’ are difficult to avoid when describing these types of painting, but the implication that they therefore belong to a league far beneath that of high art is unfortunate. It is certainly the case that paintings can range hugely in quality. Some are undoubtedly rudimentary, including simple decorative work carried out by artisanal workers and plasterers. However, and aspirations of ordinary people in the intimacy of their own homes. Although earlier examples exist, by far the majority of surviving domestic wall paintings date to between the second half of the 16th and the first half of the 17th centuries. This was a period characterised by social, political and religious upheaval, accompanied by economic change and population growth. The survival of so many paintings from this period reflects both a boom in construction and a burgeoning class of homeowners enjoying unprecedented, if modest surpluses. Reflecting these times of change, domestic wall paintings from this period are characterised by an enormous diversity of types and themes. Many emulate the prestigious wall coverings which decorated (and insulated) the homes of the wealthy, including wainscoting, tapestries, embroidered (especially blackwork) hangings, and in the case of some later examples, even wallpaper. Others reflect contemporary Renaissance tastes popularised via prints imported from Italy and the Low Countries. One design form, often called moresque painting, consists of repeated interlocking geometric designs based on a diagonal grid. Another, Detail of a vigorously if crudely painted scrollwork frieze applied onto wattle and daub at 8 Red Lion Steet, Alvechurch, Worcestershire (All photos by the authors) A fine antique-work painting at Church House Farm, Wellington, Herefordshire, partially destroyed during historic structural reconfiguration and from rainwater infiltration, demonstrating the vulnerability of paintings on earthen supports a surprising number are executed with skill, using sophisticated techniques and high- quality paint materials. Whatever their status and level of accomplishment, all bear witness to the lives, beliefs, preoccupations