Baroque architecture developed in Italy in the early-17th C and appeared in England during the 1660s. The Baroque garland was a motif that appeared as part of a scheme in English plasterwork. This post looks at three examples of plasterwork garlands in Baroque schemes.
The garland in decoration has roots in classical, religious and folkloric traditions. The ancient Egyptians placed them on mummies to celebrate the entering of the afterlife. The Greeks used them to decorate temples, civic buildings, homes and banquet tables. The Romans had carved wooden festoons to decorate their homes[i] (a craft revived in the 17th and 18th century by master craftsmen such as Grinling Gibbons). They were used in the medieval period for the adornment of religious statues as well as for pageants and festivals. The tradition continued through into the Renaissance as motifs in paintings and on sculptures.
The garland was a theme that was taken up by English Baroque artists, artisans and their patrons. Baroque ornamentation was by the late 17th C less associated with the Baroque expression of the Roman Catholic Church and seen by the educated elite as classical. This classical ideology was not just confined to Roman but the ancient classical world. When Palladian architecture became fashionable in England in the early 18th C, the garland continued as part of the decorative scheme. Although it tended to be confined to the internal decoration (such as at William Kent’s Palladian house – Houghton Hall in Norfolk).
Tomb Monument at Hinton St George, Somerset
The tomb monument in the parish church of Hinton St George, Somerset (as described in my post Scagliola in Somerset) comes at a time when the Baroque was beginning to flourish in England. The garland in the centre of the monument is naturalistic and full of fruit, flowers and artichokes. The skill in creating the scagliola plasterwork garland was considerable and likely to be above that of local artisans.
John Abbott’s Plasterwork Ceiling at the Customs House, Exeter Quay
On the ceilings of the Customs House on Exeter Quay are plasterwork garlands (circa 1680) by John Abbott. Rather than the contained festoon in the Paulet monument, Abbott’s garlands allows objects to spill out and flow. It has echoes of the contemporary work of Grinling Gibbons’s wood carvings. Abbott’s work demonstrates a light, playful touch. Flowers stick out on stalks and are interwoven with leaves and acorns. A dyanmic eel is delicately and incongruously placed in the garland. Opposing the naturalistic flora are imaginary masks which are placed at intervals. Maize cobs make an appearance, linking to trade with the Americas. Whilst playful, it hints at the concept of human mastery over the natural world within the scheme.
Bastard Brothers’ Showroom, Blandford Forum, Dorset
The work of the Bastard brothers of Blandford Forum in the early-1730s produced a different form of garland. Their garlands were not produced as individual works of art like the examples above. In their small showroom in Blandford the Bastards created interior decoration designs for their customers to view. Plasterwork garlands are presented for the decoration of a wall space or as part of a frieze. These garlands are smaller than the abundant examples above. Flowers and fruit can still be found, but leaves dominate the design. They are also flatter, lack full naturalistic definition and are stylised. This would make them much cheaper to reproduce for the domestic consumer of local gentry and aspirational middle class.
The Baroque garland is a complex ornamental piece which is designed to stand out by its exaggerated, three-dimensional mouldings rather than distinct colours. At the higher end of society this form of decoration allowed elaboration and individuality to imply classical learning, status, and wealth. The garland could also have a place in the civic arena. In early-18th C Blandford ‘vernacular’-Baroque[ii] versions could be reproduced for the provincial gentry town or country house. Although they continue, later the neo-classical revival such as the work of Robert Adam would employ constraint on their expression. The early-Baroque, in particular, freely expressed the fecundity of the plasterwork garland.
[i] ‘Garland’, Encyclopaedia Britannica (Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc, 2017) < https://www.britannica.com/art/garland-floral-decoration> [accessed 5 April 2020].
[ii] James Stevens Curl & Susan Wilson, ‘Bastard Brothers’, The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), p.68.
Bowlett, Adam, ‘New Light on Diacinto Cawcy and The Barrow Monument’ (Suffolk Institute) <http://suffolkinstitute.pdfsrv.co.uk/customers/Suffolk%20Institute/2014/01/10/Volume%20XLII%20Part%204%20(2012)_New%20light%20on%20Diacinto%20Cawcy%20and%20the%20Barrow%20monument%20A%20Bowett_424%20to%20433.pdf> [accessed 22 February 2020]
‘Garland’, Encyclopaedia Britannica (Encyclopaedia Britannica, inc, 2017) < https://www.britannica.com/art/garland-floral-decoration> [accessed 5 April 2020]
Magalotti, Count Lorenzo, Travels: Cosmo the Third: Grand Duke of Tuscany, Through England During the Reign of King Charles the Second (1660), Translated from the Italian Manuscript in the Laurentian Library at Florence, To which is preferred: A Memoir of His Life (London: J. Mawman, 1821) < https://archive.org/details/travelsofcosmoth00magarich/page/142/mode/2up> [accessed 21 February 2020]
Orbach, Julian and Nikolaus Pevsner, Somerset: South and West (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014)
Stevens Curl, James and Susan Wilson, The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)