1902 Encyclopedia > Mural Decoration > English Mural Painting

Mural Decoration
(Part 14)


English Mural Painting.

English Mural Painting.—During the Middle Ages, just as long before among the ancient Greeks, coloured decoration was used in the widest possible manner, not only for the adornment of flat walls, but also for the enrichment of sculpture and all the fittings and architectural features of buildings, whether the material to be painted was plaster, stone, marble, or wood. It was only the damp and frost of northern climates that to some extent limited the external use of colour to the less exposed parts of the outsides of buildings. The varying tints and texture of smoothly-worked stone appear to have given no pleasure to the mediaeval eye; and in the rare cases in which the poverty of some country church prevented its walls from being adorned with painted ornaments or pictures the whole surface of the stone-work inside, mouldings and carving as well as flat wall-spaces, was-covered with a thin coat of whitewash. Internal rough stone-work was invariably concealed by stucco, forming a smooth ground for possible future paintings. Unhappily the ignorant barbarity of the 19th century has in the case of most English cathedrals and parish churches stripped off the internal plaster, often laying bare rubble walls of the roughest description, never meant to be exposed, and has scraped and rubbed the surface of the masonry and mouldings down to the bare stone. In this way a great proportion of mural paintings have been destroyed, though many in a more or less mutilated state still exist in England. It is difficult (and doubly so since the so-called "restoration" of most old buildings) to realize the splendour of effect once possessed by every important mediaeval church. From the tiled floor to the roof all was one mass of gold and colour. The brilliance of the mural paintings and richly-coloured sculpture and mouldings was in harmony with the splendour of the oak-work—screens, stalls, and roofs—all richly decorated with gilding and paintings, while the light, passing through stained glass, softened and helped to combine the whole into one even mass of extreme decorative effect. Colour, and not in dull tints, was boldly applied everywhere, and thus the patchy effect was avoided which is so often the result of the modern timed and partial use of painted ornament. Even the figure-sculpture was painted in a strong and realistic manner, sometimes by a wax encaustic process, probably the same as the circumlitio of classical times. In the accounts for expenses in decorating Orvieto cathedral wax is a frequent item among the materials used for painting. In one place it is specially mentioned that wax was supplied to Andrea Pisano (in 1345) for the decoration of the beautiful reliefs in white marble on the lower part of the west front.

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