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C17th Wall Painting

Thanks to generous funding from the Pilgrim Trust and the Trent Vale Landscape Partnership in 2012 Gainsborough Old Hall’s 17th Century wall painting has received extensive conservation allowing a stunning reconstruction to be created.

Discovery and Conservation

Originally a rich and ostentatious scheme, the wall painting was discovered when lath and plaster was removed during building work c.1974. Recent conservation work has involved securing localised areas of detaching plaster, minor plaster repairs, removal of overpaint and toning the modern infill panels to be less obtrusive. The painting is conserved as it survives now. It is not how it appeared when new in the early C17th. The extensive damage makes precise interpretation of the painting problematic; however, it is believed to be an important example of the type of interior decoration favoured by the urban elite in the early C17th. The conservation team consisted of Andrea Kirkham, Sasa Kosinova and OJ Murrell for 5 weeks during early spring 2012.


Almost all of the surviving painting is on the west wall and south return; there are significant fragments on the north wall and the east wall, above the tower doorway. The scheme originally continued around all four walls and is painted across both the timber-frame and the infill panels, treating them as one contiguous surface. The C17th painting imitates a textile. It has a top border and a main area below filled with trailing foliage. The design repeats with stacked columns dividing the main area into sections. Latin text filled the horizontal panels at the top centre of each section. Fantastic foliage, trailing foliage, fruits, flowers, black letter banners and birds fill the rest of the space. Remains of a grey/white band and an area of red at the bottom of the painting complete the scheme but are too damaged to interpret reliably, so appear on the artist’s reconstruction (below) as blank horizontal bands.


The background for the main area was originally black with colour applied on top employing a range of cheap and mid-priced pigments. Pigments used include white lead, orpiment (a bright yellow), blue verditer and red ochre, red lead and an organic red (made from dyestuffs). No green was found in any of the paint samples taken for analysis. It might be that there was an organic yellow component mixed with the blue to make a green but so faded that none could be identified. The foliage has thus been shown as blue in the artist’s reconstruction.

Artist’s Reconstruction

Rather than being a precise representation of the original wall painting the artist’s reconstruction (see image below) aims to give an impression of how the wall painting might have looked in the early C17th. The deterioration of the wall painting has made its interpretation problematic but the artist’s impression has concentrated on conveying the richness of design and colour in the original scheme. The “life size” reconstruction you see hanging in front of you is a detail from the central panel of the artist’s impression. Note the Latin text that is still decipherable on the central top banner “QVI S CET BI NET “. This can be loosely translated as “He who conquers himself conquers twice”. The most distinctive motif of the wall painting, the fantastic fan-shaped foliage, is also depicted. The use of this motif with trailing foliage is very unusual and may be unique to Gainsborough Old Hall as comparative examples of this type have not yet been found.

Artists Reconstruction

Artists Reconstruction

The Gainsborough Old Hall Textile Project

Wall hanging created by women from Gainsborough Domestic Abuse Centre with Ruth Piggot

Wall hanging created by women from Gainsborough Domestic Abuse Centre with Ruth Piggot

Using the C17th wall painting as their inspiration, a group of ten women from the Gainsborough Domestic Abuse Centre along with local community artist Ruth Pigott have created this stunning, wall hanging which is a modern interpretation of the original wall painting. As conservation and analysis revealed details of the original designs and colours of the wall painting the community artist was able to create a design for the wall hanging that would offer a variety of new skills to the women’s group. Over a period of three months during summer 2012, the women’s group attended weekly sessions with the artist, and worked on various 2D and 3D textile elements of the wall hanging.

Elements of the wall hanging

Elements of the wall hanging

Working on the wall hanging

Working on the wall hanging

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Last updated: 29 July 2013

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