Monday, 4 January 2016

Heraldry and Wallpapers: a Nineteenth Century Love Affair

Following an article on Herbert Cole and the use of Heraldry in Decoration, here is an analysis of the use of heraldry in Gothic Revival wallpapers in England. This article is based on my Master's thesis, available here (In French). 

Heraldry is commonly used in Gothic Revival wallpapers to revive History or family history. Hanging heraldic symbols on your walls is a social statement as well as a political one. 

Links between Architecture and Heraldry

Architecture and heraldry are extremely close in their meanings, they both aim to promote a rich or powerful family and to impress the visitors. In 1624, Henry Wottom in Elements of Architecture, emphasised the role of heraldry upon architecture: 

"To descerne him, will bee a peece of good heraldry, than of architecture." 

This idea is also used by Rowley Lascelles in his 1820 book, Heraldic Origin of Gothic Architecture, in which he compared the birth of Gothic architecture directly to heraldry. For him, heraldry gave birth to architecture elements such as crowns or coronets which come from heraldic motifs. 

Reviving family prestige 

Family prestige is one of the raison d'être of Augustus W. N. Pugin, the famous architect and designer. Across his whole career as a designer, he emphasized the role of heraldry as a way to remember the past, mainly your own past. Using medieval symbols to promote the family was not new to the 19th century, and many examples can be found across the 18th century. 

For example, Horace Walpole, in a letter to Sir Horace Mann (1750), praised the heraldry of Lady Pomfret, a notable supporter of medieval architecture. He referred to her pedigree as "infinitely richer and better" than Sir Horace Mann, and is impressed by her links to King Edward I.

However, with Pugin, heraldry has a moral meaning: you should learn from your ancestors and  learn from the medieval way of life, especially if you have chivalric ancestors whose main duty was to protect the population. This attitude contrasts with the one from the upper class, particularly towards the poor. An attitude shared by the politician Benjamin Disraeli as expressed in his novel, Sybil or the Two Nations (1845).  

Creating your own History

Augustus W.N. Pugin's father was not from a very prestigious background and felt the need to create his own lineage and his own heraldry. This heraldry is visible in Pugin's house La Grange. His wallpapers depict a small blackbird, a bird which is said to hunt in cathedrals, with vegetal tracery and his motto: "En Avant". 

L-shaped fragment of wallpaper, bird motif in roundel with scrolling foliage and gothic-style lettering, A.W.N. Pugin, UK, ca. 1840-44. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 
Pugin works for prestigious patrons and often had to create wallpapers for them. His designs were often linked to the past of the family he worked for but some wallpapers with heraldic elements are extremely similar. These similarities can be explained by the rules dictated by Pugin on how to create this heraldic designs, he does not try to re-create medieval heraldry but to create a "modern" (Gothic Revival-esque) heraldry. Each ornament has a place and meaning, and thoughts should be given while placing it on a wall. 

Pugin uses different techniques to adapt his creations to his clients, for instance in the wallpaper created for Lord Dough, Pugin clearly has worked with a medieval heraldry, with many traditional symbols re-designed or re-arranged by Pugin to make them look flatter. Whereas in his wallpapers for Henry Sharples, the style is much simpler and more "modern". 

Specimen of wallpaper featuring heraldic motifs, using green flock and gold paint; After designs in the gothic manner by Pugin, with heraldic motifs; Colour woodblock print and flock, on paper; One of three pieces (E.119-1939 and E.136-1939) made for J. G Crace for Lord Gough, of Lough Cutra Castle; England; Mid-19th century. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 

Specimen of wallpaper with gold heraldic motifs, outlined in black, and black and white circles containing stars, on a blue ground; After designs in the gothic manner by Pugin; Colour woodblock print, on paper; Made for J. G, Crace, for Henry Sharples, Oswaldcroft; England; Mid-19th century. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 
Heraldry Wallpapers and its audience

Heraldry wallpapers become more and more popular throughout the 19th century, for instance around twenty-two wallpapers designs are registered by the manufacturer Jeffrey & Co in 1848 with heraldry motifs. Designers of the Reform Movement such as Owen Jones start incorporating heraldry emblems into their decorative repertoires. 

Manufacturers start to produce wallpapers with heraldic symbols and to sell them. Several styles co-exist, the Pugin-esque style which is fairly plain and minimal, and the more flamboyant style with bright colours and perspectives. In this case, heraldry is merely a decorative element and used in dark places such as corridors and staircases, as recommended by decorators such as Charles Eastlake. 



- ALDRICH Megan, The Craces: Royal Decorators 1768-1899, Brighton, John Murray, 1990. 

- BANHAM Joanna, "Wallpapers" in ATTERBURY Paul, WAINWRIGHT Clive, Pugin a Gothic Passion, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1994.

- CROS Joëlle, L'Influence Médiévale sur l'Art et la pensée à l'époque Victorienne 1837-1877, PhD Thesis, Bordeaux, Université Bordeaux Montaigne, 1987. 

- HART Vaughan, "A Peece rather of good heraldry, than of Architecture heraldry and the orders of Architecture as joint emblems of Chivalry" in RES: Anthropology and Aesthetic, n°23, 1993, pp. 52-66. 

- LASCELLES Rowley, The Heraldic Origin of Gothic Architecture, London, Josiah Taylor, 1820. 

- LINDFIELD Peter, "The Countess of Pomfret's Gothic Revival Furniture" in The Georgian Group Journal, Vol. XXII, pp. 77-94.

- PUGIN Augustus N.W., Floriated Ornaments, London, 1849. 

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