The Technique of English Medieval Wall Painting: 1385-1485, the century leading to the reign of Henry Tudor

Helen Howard, Scientific Department, National Gallery

Making Art in Tudor Britain
Abstracts from Academic Workshops (2007-8)
Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

This presentation provided a background to painting technology in the Tudor period by discussing the materials and techniques employed for wall paintings in the hundred years leading up to the reign of Henry Tudor in 1485.

Gothic wall painting technique after about 1300 is governed by concepts of luminosity and translucency, with a generally move to the use of a lead white ground, increasing use of organic binding media, particularly linseed oil, increased use of translucent glazes, and frequent use of relief ornament. By the late 14th century all these techniques are very well established, as shown by the two important cycles of 'International Style' wall painting dated to c. 1400 in the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey. Using these, and other examples including: the late 14th century wall paintings in the Byward Tower, Tower of London; the early 15th-century scheme at Farleigh Hungerford Castle; the paintings of 1479-87 in the Chapel of Eton College; and the wall paintings of c. 1500 in the Lord Mayor's Chapel, Bristol, the presentation mapped the development of techniques across the period under scrutiny.

The presentation demonstrated that the painting materials available at the beginning of the Tudor period are largely the same as those employed from 1400, and that changes in overall appearance are stylistically rather than technically driven. It was also made clear that painting technology is independent of substrate, i.e. that the same techniques are employed for panel painting, wall painting and polychrome sculpture.


H. Howard, Pigments of English Medieval Wall Painting, London 2003.

H. Howard, 'Technology of the painted past: recent scientific examination of the medieval wall paintings of the Chapter House of Westminster Abbey', in Conserving the Painted Past: developing approaches to wall painting conservation, Post-prints of a conference organised by English Heritage, London 2-4 December 1999, London (2003) 17-26.

H. Howard, Sophie Stewart and Tracy Manning, 'Late Medieval wall painting techniques at Farleigh Hungerford Castle and their context', in Painting Techniques: History, Materials and Studio Practice, (Pre-prints of the IIC International Congress, Dublin, 1998), London (1998) 59-64.

M. Gill and H. Howard, 'Glimpses of Glory: paintings from St. Mark's Hospital, Bristol', in Almost the Richest City: Bristol in the Middle Ages (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 19), ed. L. Keen, Leeds, (1997) 97-106.

H. Howard, 'The Chapel of Our Lady Undercroft, Canterbury Cathedral, and the relationship of English and Bohemian painting techniques in the second half of the 14th century', Technologia Artis 3 (1994) 31-34.

Share this