Saturday, 17 January 2015

British Treasures No 3 - Wallpainting

In 2011 a couple living in a 16th century house in Somerset were removing wooden panelling from their drawing room wall with a view to restoring and painting the walls behind. As the panelling was removed they saw eyes appearing from beneath the flaking plaster, and restoration experts were called in to remove the layers of ancient plaster. Underneath the plaster was discovered an enormous 20 foot high mural dating to around 1530. The Somerset home had once been the summer residence of Thomas Cranmer and what is now the large drawing room had been his Great Hall. Cranmer was the Arch Deacon of Taunton, Somerset who eventually became the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thomas Cranmer was the man who set up the structure of the Church of England after helping Henry Vlll break away from the Catholic Church.
Thomas Cranmer - Portrait by Gerlach Flicke 1545 - National Portrait Gallery
As the mortar was carefully removed their shock deepened when a perfect vision of Henry Vlll complete with golden crown, a long-handled orb, and a sceptre stared back at them. The once hidden wall painting is now considered to be of great national importance.
via
King Henry Vlll
By chance they recently discovered that the mural has a hidden message. A postcard the couple had commissioned of the mural fell to the floor falling with the king's head pointing towards them, thus revealing the portraits more sinister side. As they looked more closely, they realised that the devil was in the detail!
When viewed upside down or through a wine/ale glass, as it would have been in medieval days, the portrait of the king on his throne is transformed into a vision of Satan with goat's eyes and horns.
Whilst the portrait would have been an overt expression of loyalty, the hidden message suggests it was commissioned by someone with quite another view of the monarch who had made himself head of the Church of England in place of the Pope.
During the 15th and 16th century there was a great fascination with optical illusion and secret messages hidden within paintings. 
If you squint whilst looking at the bottom image Satan is clear to see.
British Treasure No.2 here 

59 comments:

  1. How fascinating and how wonderful. Thomas Cranmer looks a bit of an old misery guts.

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    1. Yes, you are right - Eleven years after this portrait he was put to death by fire in Oxford where his ashes were then scattered.

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  2. It's wonderful that the painting was found, and amazing what is hidden within the paintings. I expect there are lots like that.

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    1. It is exciting when some treasure such as this wall painting is found - it must have been wonderful to have been involved in its discovery.

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  3. Goodness - that is interesting. Henry looks quite elderly and/or ill in that mural - possibly a more realistic portrait of him than many.

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    1. He would have been only 40 years old when this painting was done. As the painter is unknown it is difficult to know whether or not it is a true likeness, but I suspect not.

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  4. Oh, so fascinating and a very interesting Henry! Love your posts Rosemary...
    Have a great weekend!
    Titti

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    1. Dear Titti - thank you so much, I am so pleased that you enjoyed reading the post♡

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  5. Amazing, and as for Henry I have the feeling that more than a few people thought he was the devil incarnate.

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    1. A good place to start would be all his wives.

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  6. An amazing piece! Definitely not what you would expect to find when renovating your home at all. xx

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    1. Certainly not in my home which is relatively new in comparison with one dating to the 16the century.

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  7. Very interesting, and a bit spooky. No wonder he was hidden away behind panelling. But I'd love to find something like that hidden in the walls. So far only a few rusty razor blades!

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    1. Finding such a treasure in your home Jessica can be a double edged sword especially when the heritage people become involved.

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  8. Wow! informative & very interesting post...
    I like to discover hidden messages of art!
    Thanks for sharing!

    xoxo, Juliana | PJ’ Happies :) | PJ’ Ecoproject

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    1. I too have a fascination with hidden messages and symbolism in art - thank you for visiting.

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  9. A perfect first painting.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. Gerlach Flicke was a German painter who came to England following the death of Hans Holbein who up until then had been the Court painter.

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  10. Hello Rosemary, An amazing find, especially in such apparently good condition, even if some restoration was performed. These anamorphic paintings are all intriguing, but I wonder about the political messages in this one. What would be the point in elaborately painting it this way, if you were the only one with the key. And if many knew how to look for reversed images like this, then the devil aspect was not truly hidden. I wonder what the ramifications would have been if the officials knew about this critical and disloyal portrait?
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - an Oxford Professor, Diarmaid MacCulloch, a specialist in the history of the church and a biographer of Cranmer, said that there was tremendous interest in optical illusion at the time, as shown by the distorted perspectives in Holbein's painting of the Ambassadors (can be seen on my sidebar) and William Scrots portrait of Edward Vl. He noted that one of the then archdeacons was very equivocal about Henry Vlll's Reformation: It is just possible that, for a private joke, he had it painted because you could only see it through an optic. He probably found it amusing in the privacy of his own room.
      Some thoughts of my own are that it was a very dangerous time during the reformation to be a Roman Catholic, and many of the influential catholic families went underground. They had a network of Priest Holes built into their great houses so that they could still continue their religion in secret. Jesuits priest would meet at the safe houses and hide in the holes; safe houses were identified by secret symbols. They had furniture made that resembled cabinets which could be opened up with secret panels and mirrors to form altars.
      To be caught would have resulted in being tortured to death.
      Shakespeare was seen as a pillar of the establishment not an underground Roman catholic dissident. Hidden for centuries, the Shakespeare Code was only revealed in a book called Shadowplay in 2005.

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    2. Hello again, Thanks for all this extra information. I can understand having a secret altar, which has religious significance, but a private joke like this permanent "Henry is a Fink" painting, which could not be explained away if exposed, seems a questionable risk. After all, if there was such interest in illusions at the time, others than Cranmer might have spotted this.

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    3. May be it is because man has always been a risk taker throughout the ages.

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  11. Ok, I actually did it: squint and......wow! That is definitely throwing some shade!!!!

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    1. I enjoy hidden messages in paintings Loi.

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  12. How amazing for this couple to accidentally find these incredible portraits, Rosemary. The artist was very daring to make his devil illusion, and very skilled in his task. Having been covered for centuries, it is wonderful they have come to light to be seen and enjoyed by today's public. Yes, I squinted too, and it is quite a sight!

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    1. It is a fascinating wallpainting Patricia - I am not sure whether or not it can be seen by the public as it is in a private house. I haven't found any answers on Google as to whether or not they have the odd open day during the year.

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  13. Oh yes, this is amazing, can you imagine finding something so important in your own home ! Thanks for sharing, so interesting !

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    1. It must have been exciting to find it and then discover its extra dimension.

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  14. What a very welcome supprise this must have been for the owners finding a beautiful thing like this.
    Have a wonderful sunday Rosemary.

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    1. Thanks Marijke - you too, it is lovely here, blue skies and sunshine.

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  15. Wow that is AMAZING! I have not seen this picture before.Is it on public view?
    This is the kind of thing that makes me wish I lived in an ancient house. I'd love to think that there was such a direct link to people in the past.

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    1. It is not on public display Jenny as it lives in the sitting room of a private house. I think the conservation work was carried out by Bristol University. It would have to be open for a few days each year if English Heritage money had been used. I have been unable to find any information on Google. As far as I know they do let group members of Historical, Art and Archeological Societies make prearranged private visits.

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  16. In agree that it is an amazing find...but I am afraid I would only see the hidden image thereafter.

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    1. I could live with it Janey - I cannot see the reverse image without standing on my head!

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  17. Dear Rosemary, Now that is a fascinating story and a most fascinating find. It would have been so easy to destroy the painting when alterations were made so many years ago. I wonder if it was a conscious decision.

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    1. Alterations carried out on British properties over the centuries tended not to remove any of its previous history. They would just update over what already existed. I should imagine that the panelling was probably put on the walls during the Georgian period when it was fashionable. This often causes dilemmas today when restoration work is being carried out - do you keep the Georgina work or strip it and keep the Tudor work.

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  18. I had never heard of any of that Rosemary. Absolutely fascinating! Thank you very much.

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    1. Glad you found it fascinating Mike - I think that we enjoy similar things.

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  19. Dear Rosemary - To look for “hidden messages" in a painting and to think about them would be another way to enjoy
    works of art. Thanks for interesting information as always.

    Yoko

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    1. Dear Yoko - I am pleased that you found the information interesting. If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the post I did on The Ambassadors which is on my sidebar under Popular Posts. It is a painting full of hidden messages.

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  20. Fascinating! What an interesting story -- your houses over there are so much older and history-filled than ours here in America. Thanks for sharing it with us! -Beth

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    1. I am glad that you found the post of interest Beth - it is surprising just how much history keeps on coming to light either from under the ground or in our old properties.

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  21. Dear Rosemary,

    I can definitely see how an artist might make a personal statement like this, and certainly Michelangelo revealed his own opinions, hidden or not. The hidden devil reminds me of a rather infamous piece of British currency that had an image of the devil disguised within the current queen's hair. Are you familiar with that? I never heard what if anything happened to the engraver.

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    1. Dear Mark - the information about the image of the devil within the current queen's head on currency is something that I had never heard or read about. I looked it up on Google and found this:-
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1954_Series_(banknotes)

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    2. I've seen an enlargement of the image, which I'll send to you. It's quite discernible, though I do not think it was done intentionally. One can also look at the Karsh photograph from which it was modeled and read a face from it. It's like seeing images in cloud formations — people can see what they want to!

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    3. Thank you for sending me the images Mark - I think you are probably right about it not being done intentionally. Seeing images in clouds reminds me of seeing them in the coal fire when I was a child.

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  22. Wish I could discover such a treasure - all we find are pencilled notes from Victorian tradesmen!

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    1. I have seen some of your special treasurers and know that a note in your hands can lead elsewhere.

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  23. What a shock it must have been to see the eyes as the paint flaked away. The optical illusion with the devil's head is really quite spooky!

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    1. I suspect that the shock quite quickly led to great excitement for all those that witnessed the gradual unveiling.

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  24. What an amazing find and the hidden message is so fascinating. Thanks for sharing this Rosemary. P x

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    1. As you can probably imagine Patricia this wallpainting with its hidden message is right up my street of interest.

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  25. What an interesting story Rosemary, but I must say I am glad I don't have a mural like this in my living room!!

    Have a good week!

    Madelief x

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    1. Glad you enjoyed hearing about the wallpainting Madelief.

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  26. Dear Rosemary, thank you for such an interesting post! I haven't read the many comments above, so maybe I repeat something when I write that I have difficulties in seing Satan in the reversed picture - but maybe it is because the photo is small.
    In Lübeck (northern Germany, near Hamburg, where a colleague of mine lives) people are afraid of taling off wall-paper or paint: so very often they find some antique painters under it - not as gorgeous or important as the one of Henry - but then the urban heritage conservation comes (which in itself is a good thing) and they have to postphone there plans till ultimo.

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    1. Mmmh - come to think of it: luckily they find antique paintings, not painters :-)

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    2. It is a big handicap if you find something like this wallpainting here too - the heritage people soon get involved and stipulate what actions need to be followed. It can cost the owners a great deal of time and money.
      Sorry but you are the only one that could not see the image of Satan Britta - and yes, you definitely don't want to discover any antique painters!!!

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  27. How extraordinary! Such covert criticism, probably commissioned by someone who adhered to the "old faith" after the Reformation. You do find some interesting items for us, Rosemary. :-)

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    1. Dear Perpetua - Do hope all is well with you once more.
      Paintings with hidden messages were used, particular during the Reformation, as a way for Roman Catholics to know who their friends were and whether they were in safe hands. The same technique was also employed in Italy during the Renaissance, and in Dutch still life paintings too.
      I am pleased that you found it interesting.

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