So crewel

Detail of the late seventeenth-century crewelwork bed cover in the Crimson Bedroom at Montacute House. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

A recent post about crewelwork by Courtney over at Style Court has inspired me to feature a bed with the same material at Montacute House, in Somerset.

The oak bed in the Crimson Bedroom at Montacute. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The oak bed dates from 1612 and incorporates the arms of James I, Henry Prince of Wales and Frederick V. This bed was donated by Mr J.C.K. Gamlen via the Art Fund (then called the National Art Collections Fund) in 1945. It was the first gift that the National Trust received from the Art Fund, and there have been many since, both in the form of works of art and of grants.

In 1931 Montacute was presented to the National Trust through the generosity of Ernest Cook, the grandson of the founder of the Thomas Cook travel agency. The house was largely empty of contents, however, so pieces of furniture like this bed were acquired to furnish it appropriately.

Montacute House. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

Montacute was built around 1600 by the succesful lawyer and courtier Sir Edward Phelips (?1516-1614). His descendants inhabited the house until 1911.

Rotunda and banqueting house in the garden at Montacute. ©NTPL/Robert Morris

In the late seventeenth century the garden at Montacute will have been formal and geometric, so any crewelwork that may have been in the house then will have looked refreshingly ‘wild’ in comparison. The garden contains several types of shrub rose that were in cultivation when the house was built, including the red rose of Lancaster, Rosa gallica officinalis, and the double white form of the Yorkist rose, Rosa alba ‘Maxima’.

Banqueting houses, set either in the garden or on the roof of the house, were used in Elizabethan and Jacobean times as a place where people could retire after dinner for a final course of cristallised quince paste, ginger bread and other sweet delicacies.

10 Responses to “So crewel”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Montecute–one of my favorites.

    Never even considered contrasting the cold geometric plan of the garden with the “wild” crewelwork on the bed. It’s all about perspective.

    Richard O. Moore writes in his poem “Utensils” —
    “Stare and beauty opens like a work of fire
    a made thing a connection must be made.”
    (from “Writing the Silences” published April, 2010, by University of California Press.)

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Barbara, yes and the late seventeenth century was also when Chinese wallpaper, with its relatively asymmetrical floral patterns, began to be imported, so it is probably all part of that gradual rediscovery of wildness that ultimately led to the English landscape garden.

    And yes a made thing stimulating the making of connections: that is an apt observation. That is how beauty works, isn’t it: something out there in the world creating a symmetry or an echo inside the imagination. Or the outline of an absent thing inviting the imagination to fill it. Or the process of making implied in an object causing us to re-enact that process in our minds.

  3. Barbara Says:

    You & your blog are such a pleasure, Emile.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Merely inspired by people like you and Courtney 🙂 My next post will be in response to your cloche post – but I will be away for a couple of days before I can put that one together.

  5. Janet Says:

    Oh, like Barbara I do love that comparison of the wild crewel with the manicured garden. Proof that “women’s work” is not always tame.

    Incidentally, Mrs. Bliss (of Dumbarton Oaks fame) acquired some marvelous English crewelwork, which she used as draperies for her Jacobean oak-paneled library (the oak from Eltham House in Kent). The weight of the work was so great that they literally fell apart. A woman (in Maryland, I believe) was commissioned to reproduce them. An amazing feat!

  6. style court Says:

    This conversation about the crewelwork at Montacute is incredibly stimulating. I was first struck by the contrast of masculine and feminine elements in the Crimson Bedroom. Janet’s observation that “women’s work is not always tame” sounds like the grain of a new blog post…or NGA exhibition title!

    And Emile’s and Barbara’s comments on connections, beauty and imagination have invigorated my mind tonight.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Janet, I didn’t really know about Dumbarton Oaks, but now I have Googled it. What a fascinating place, thanks for mentioning that. Who knows, since the Phelipses were selling when the Blisses were buying, perhaps there are some bits and pieces from Montacute at Dumbarton Oaks 🙂

    Courtney, thanks – Barbara needs only the smallest provocation to come out with all these insightful comments 🙂

    Speaking of craft and gender, there is an exhibition on at the V&A Museum in London at the moment called ‘Quilts 1700-2010’ ( I haven’t seen it (yet), but it seems to be partly about how what was once a gender-specific craft is now practised as ‘art’ – yet another interesting dichotomy.

  8. Janet Says:

    Hmmmm…it is possible. The Blisses were more interested in Byzantine and pre-Columbian, but there are some English pieces in the house. There is so little available online about the interiors (grrrr). I have an old history of the house at home and will see if it mentions any Montacute pieces.

  9. le style et la matière Says:

    That bed is magnificent and I could imagine decadently eating sweet delicacies in it (behind the crewel curtains) or in the banqueting house. Either way really and I’d leave no crumbs!

  10. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes that is probably why they built the banqueting house well away from the main house: to keep the sticky sweets, and the guest’s sticky fingers, away from the expensive crewel curtains 🙂

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