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Medieval Decor

Medieval Decor in Castles

The Medieval decor of the great Hall was sumptuous, as it was the place where important events took place. There was the raised dais where the only chairs (for the master and the guest of honor) were placed. The rest of the participants could seat on long benches, with splendid Gothic carved backs, or chests, placed by the walls, with or without ornamental cushions.

Medieval Decor of a Room-14th Century
Medieval Decor - 14th Century Room

The Medieval decor furniture was made either of metal or wood. Tables made of precious metals, and buffets displaying the gold and silver plates and cups of the house had a dual role, ornamental and "social", as they were also showing the host’s wealth. The best wooden table of the house was also placed in the Hall. It was narrow, with the guests sitting on one side only, while the servants were using the other side for service. Richly embroidered tapestries, emblazoned with the family crests of arms were hung on the walls. The large, monumental, sculpted chimney, completed the decor.

In the 13th century, the Medieval decor is showing a taste for rich fabrics. They were used to cover the tables, for curtained beds, or for the embroidered cushions placed on chairs. As the covered surface grew, the wood furniture was preferred to that made of precious metals.

The tapestry as an element of the Medieval decor provided greater comfort and was more economical, as the owners saved the money they used to pay for wainscot painting.  A single set of tapestries was sufficient, as they were transportable, and, packed into chests, they were taken from castle to castle. In the first half of the 14th century, the best tapestries were made at Arras, hence the name of a tapestry, called an "arras".

Medieval Decor in a Castle-14th Century
Viollet le Duc - Medieval Decor in a 14th Century Castle
At the end of the 14th century, the Medieval decor reflected the taste for bright and rich decoration. A contemporary account is mentioning the interior decoration of the Hotel de Bohème, given by Charles VI. of France to his brother the Duke of Orleans, in 1388. The rooms were "hung with cloth of gold, bordered with vermilion velvet embroidered with roses", or vermilion satin embroidered with the Duchess’ coat of arms. This rich Medieval decor was completed by cushions of cloth of gold, and Aragon leather carpets.

An arm-chair of a princely residence could have four supports, painted in fine vermilion, the seat and arms covered in vermilion cordovan, studded with nails, and bordered with fringes. By the end of the 14th century, carved (sometimes gilded) canopies were added to the chairs, making them heavy, bulky, resembling thrones.

A typical Medieval decor to be found in a 14th century castle, as illustrated by Viollet le Duc, is shown in the second image. On the right there is the dressoir or buffet, with plates and cups on display. On the left, the curtained, corniced tester bedstead. By the bed, a nice example of a canopied bench, and surely, the monumental chimney.

The Medieval decor of a 15th century bedchamber was similar. We still find the curtained bedstead with corniced tester. On one side of the room there was the master's chair, then a small domestic altar attached to the wall. The dressoir and other small pieces of furniture were constant features, and in front of the chimney was a high-backed seat.

Domestic Medieval Decor

The Medieval decor in an ordinary house was simpler, a scaled down version of the castle interior decor. A merchant house still had sculpted chimneys, and the rooms contained carved chests, ornamented with iron work, and benches with carved supports. In the bedroom, there was a bedstead and a "Prie-dieu" chair, a small table with plain slab supported on shaped supports. In the 14th century, the walls of the rooms were wainscoted and painted. This resulted in the rich person's house interior decor being very colourful, with wall paintings, stained-glass windows, and later, tapestry hanging.

A good example of the domestic Medieval decor is illustrated in the top image of this page.  Although still a castle room, is small and simpler. The "Prie-dieu" chair can be seen by the bedstead, and the knight and the lady are sitting on a carved bench.

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