Wednesday, 10 March 2010


One of the most extraordinary things about both Orleans House and Strawberry Hill are the exquisite ceilings. In Orleans House the ceiling of the beautiful octagonal banqueting room, designed by James Gibbs in the early 18th century, is worked in plaster. The craftsmanship was so fine that Gibbs had to employ Swiss stuccatori Guiseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti as there were no local plasterers up to the job.

The later 18th century ceiling of the long gallery at Strawberry Hill is worked in papier mache. It was modelled on the ceiling of Henry VII's chapel at Westminster Abbey, and is a gloroius confection in cream and gold. The other-worldliness of the detail was even more pronounced for me as I was lucky enough to visit the house during its restoration. From under the shadows of the scaffolding, tip-toeing along the bare joists, with the rain pouring outside, the work took on an altogether ethereal quality.

I have been doing some research into table settings and banqueting customs in the 17th and 18th centuries. During the Stuart period there was an extraordinary vogue for sugarwork or pastillage. Huge elaborate sculptures and vignettes were created as centrepieces for banquets, demonstrating the wealth of the household at a time when sugar was an extremely valuable commodity.
The food historian Ivan Day has re-created several of these pastillage sculptures, working the sugar in the minutest detail. These are some of the images form his website

The combination of sugarwork, plasterwork and papier mache has got me thinking about paper quilling. It's a very simple technique and gives the most ornate curls and swirls. I have been playing around with it in the studio for a day or two, making up different shapes and patterns.

1 comment:

  1. I came here from Love Fibre and have found it fascinating. I had my college interview in that long gallery and impressed the head of art by knowing about teh architecture of Strawberry Hill...they said later no one lese mentioned it. I spent three years ther and then three more living in Twickenham, an area I still love but my roots wer ein the north where I just have to live. I still visit a friend there almost annually.