Our head conservator, Katie Lithgow, has just sent me this image of the Queen’s Antechamber at Ham House. It is almost identical to the photograph I previously posted, except for the fact that this one shows what the original 1680 colour scheme of the wall hangings would have looked like.
This image, almost Proustian in its recapturing of a lost moment in time, was produced by conservator Vicki Marsland and photographer John Hammond, who digitally changed the colour of the centre panels from the faded pink of the 1890s restoration back to the original blue.
The faded pink hangings will remain on the walls, as valid evidence of a particular phase in the building’s history, but being able to see the effect of the original blue does add to our understanding of seventeenth-century decoration. The tones of blue in the hangings would have echoed the blues in the porcelain and in the Coromandel lacquer on display.
At night the silk would have shimmered in the candlelight, in unison with the ceramics, the lacquer and the gilding. In the late seventeenth century artificial light was limited mainly to candles and fireplaces, so reflective surfaces were deliberately used to amplify and dramatize it.
The effects of pre-electric lighting are vividly demonstrated at the independently-run Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields, London, which is shown in semi-darkness. The interiors are theatrical pastiches of various historical periods, complete with sounds and smells, and the experience is intense and memorable.
The National Trust has recently recreated the night-time ambiance of the Regency-period dining room at Attingham Park, Shropshire, as shown above. The latest in lightbulb technology was used to simulate candlelight, and the table has been laid with the original silver plates and gilded candelabra and centrepieces, which look splendidly festive in the semi-gloom.