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Forgotten Tudor Wall Paintings Discovered in a Cambridge University Loft Space | Smart News

Forgotten Tudor Wall Paintings Discovered in a Cambridge University Loft Space | Smart News

Found by workers during recent restorations, the wall paintings feature three crowned motifs.
Tobit Curteis Associates LLP

Workers restoring a loft space at Cambridge University’s Christ’s College have uncovered rare early 16th-century wall paintings that haven’t been seen in nearly three centuries.

“It was a complete surprise,” says Christina Faraday, a Cambridge art historian who specializes in Tudor visual and material culture, to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s Louise Hulland. “Christ’s College is currently renovating its oldest range—the oldest part of its front court—which dates to the very early 16th century, and the builders were taking a wall down and found these paintings behind it.”

The medieval paintings feature three crowned motifs connected to the Tudor dynasty: a red Lancastrian rose, a portcullis (a heavy medieval gate) and what appears to be a fleur-de-lis. The college’s last records of the art date back to around 1738.

At 6 meters (about 20 feet) wide, the designs are painted on plaster and partially covered by a wooden joist. The loft space is located in what may have been the northwest wall of the college’s original library.

The crowned portcullis

The crowned portcullis is connected to Lady Margaret Beaufort, who refounded Christ’s College in 1505.

Tobit Curteis Associates LLP

“Wall paintings were a relatively cheap and disposable form of decoration, and so were rarely deliberately preserved,” says Faraday in a statement from Christ’s College. “Now we can appreciate them for their historical value and what they reveal about Tudor art beyond the more traditional portraits.”

Each of the three images has a historical association with the Tudors. The portcullis, for example, was the badge of the Beaufort family, which included Henry VII, England’s first Tudor monarch, who reigned from 1485 to 1509. His mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, refounded Christ’s College in 1505.

“[The paintings demonstrate] an incredibly early example of something we think of as a modern phenomenon, which is marketing and branding,” Faraday tells BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. “Henry VII had an incredibly weak claim to the throne—he didn’t really have any right to be there—and he used these symbols” to validate and promote his reign.

Faraday says Henry VII likely created the Lancastrian rose after his victory in the Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars during the 15th century between the rival houses of Lancaster and York for control of the English throne. The win led to the rise of the Tudor dynasty, and the king may have used the Lancastrian rose to reflect the Yorkist emblem, the white rose. The image would continue to play an important role in the family brand, as the Tudor rose became a symbol of Henry VII’s marriage to Elizabeth of York in 1486.

The red Lancastrian rose

The red Lancastrian rose with the imperial crown

Tobit Curteis Associates LLP

Finally, the fleur-de-lis “has represented English kings since the time of Edward III, when they also claimed to be kings of France,” writes the college.

The success of the Tudor branding speaks for itself. Even today, these motifs are associated with Christ’s College.

“At Christ’s, we value all evidence of our founder,” says Simon McDonald, the master of Christ’s College, in the statement. “This most fragile evidence has survived by concealment. After basic restoration, we will store the paintings away once again, a time capsule which might be uncovered in another 300 years.”

The paintings will not go on display due to their secluded location in the roof. A specialist will advise the college on how to preserve and maintain them moving forward.

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