The Commandery’s Painted Chamber

The Commandery is one of the oldest buildings in Worcester with history dating back to the 11th century. One of the building’s gems is the Painted Chamber, dating back to the late 15th century. Once hidden from view after the Reformation, this treasure was rediscovered in the 1930s and conserved by Miss Matley-Moore of the Worcestershire Archaeological Society.

It seems likely that the area of the building that the paintings were found was the infirmary wing where people suffering from ailments could go and pray to a saint that understood their pain. A part of healing in the medieval period did not just rely on herbal treatment; a healthy dose of prayer was also prescribed. The paintings depict various saints; some undergoing terrible tortures for which they are well known for, and some that are associated with aspects of religious afterlife, with St Peter, depicted with the keys to the gates of heaven.

By the nature of the paintings, scholars have argued that this room may have been a room where people may have prepared to pass away. It was important in medieval life to ‘make a good end’ and to do that, physicians would leave their patients, and invite the priests in to absolve the patient of their sins and to administer the last rites.

The paintings were made by creating very basic pigments over a finished coat of fine plaster. Most frescos on the continent were painted over damp plaster, but in this country due to the climate, it’s possible that The Commandery’s examples may have been painted onto dry plaster. The most common element of a pigment was iron oxide which gave a great range of colour, and there is evidence that the paintings were sketched out first using charcoal.

Kerry Whitehouse
Museums Registrar

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Sounds from Beneath

© Mikhail Karikis and Uriel Orlow

Since the early 20th century, Worcester City museum collection has been collecting artworks made by living artists that explore the landscape and our relationships with it. A recent acquisition, Sounds from Beneath was made by Greek/British artist Mikhail Karikis and Swiss/British artist Uriel Orlow between 2011 and 2012.

The sound piece was devised by Karikis working alongside former miners from Kent and then performed by Snowdown Colliery Male Voice Choir amongst the landscape of the disused coal mine. Using both the memories and voices of the miners, Sounds from Beneath recreates the underground soundscape of scraping, explosions, mechanical clangs, wailing alarms and shovels scratching.

The artwork was purchased through the Contemporary Art Society acquisition programme. The work was shown for the first time in Worcester in early 2018 following significant international exhibitions in Mexico City, Melbourne, Germany, Japan, France, Ecuador, Belgium and across the UK.

Worcestershire’s grand houses

Whilst walking in the Worcestershire countryside on the outskirts of Droitwich, you may encounter a pair of very grand historic houses, with a continental, chateaux style, nestled in amongst the trees and rolling countryside

The first residence is the famous Chateau Impney built by John Corbett, Staffordshire born businessman and Droitwich salt magnate. The second red brick structure only a couple of miles down the road belonged to his political rival Lord John Pakington. there are many who believe the grandeur of Chateau Impney was inspired as much by Corbett’s rivalry with Pakington as by his French wife.

The beautiful grade I listed Westwood Hall (pictured here in a print in Worcester City’s collection), with its soaring parapets and glorious bay windows, pre dates the Chateau by several hundred years and was a residence of the Pakington family for centuries.

Formerly a nunnery, it was handed to Sir John Pakington in the mid-1500s during the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and has been built upon and expanded throughout its existence.

The Pakington family were strong allies to the crown and a subsequent Sir John Pakington was MP for Worcestershire and an unshakable supporter of Charles I during the English civil wars. Tried and imprisoned in the Tower for his loyalty to the king, he was later freed and supported Charles II at the Battle of Worcester. The ceiling of the ballroom was a gift from Charles II for the Pakington’s unwavering support and complements the Elizabethan plasterwork that is still in situ.

Originally set in the centre of Westwood Park the grounds of the house extended several miles in every direction to the borders of Hadley and the built up areas of Droitwich, including the 60 acre great pool that still sits next to Westwood Road in Droitwich. The three quarter mile long drive from Droitwich ends at the beautiful Gate House featured in the picture. This wonderfully ornate gateway straddles the path and bears symbols from the Pakington coat of arms, three five pointed stars and three sheaves of wheat.

The property passed to Lord Doverdale in the early 1900s and was ultimately sold to be converted into 12 private residences, but its splendour can still be admired from a distance, towering above the trees in the beautiful Worcestershire countryside.

Worcestershire’s greatest artist

Between 1862 and 1889 Benjamin Williams Leader lived next to Whittington Church on the outskirts of Worcester. He painted and drew Whittington church multiple times.

However, the church we see in these works did not appear as it would have during his life but is a recreation of the fifteenth century building that was in place there until 1784. Leader chose to replace the 1844 building with something more historic and picturesque.

Here in this painting from Worcester City’s museum collection called Worcestershire Morning Clearing After Rain, Leader’s great skill for capturing life within the Worcestershire landscape is shown in the muddy, waterlogged roads of this small hamlet, with the cheerily smoking chimney stacks of the houses in the background that promise warmth to return to.

Paolozzi – The precursor to Pop Art

Eduardo Luigi Paolozzi was born in Scotland in 1924 to Italian immigrant parents who ran a small ice-cream parlour in Leith. Paolozzi studied art at Edinburgh College of Art and London’s Slade School. Inspired by the sweet packets, cigarette cards and matchboxes sold in his father’s shop, as early as the 1940s Paolozzi used imagery of modern machinery and pinup girls in his artwork, pre-empting the pop art movement which emerged in America in the 1950s.

This work ‘Philadelphia Print’ from the Worcester City Collection is one of 100 made for the 1971 exhibition Silkscreen: History of the Medium at the Museum of Modern Art in Philadelphia. It is an example of how complex, detailed and colourful silkscreen printing can be in the hands of a master.

From Bromsgrove to church windows across the world

The beautiful work of Worcestershire stained glass artist Archibald John Davies can be found in at least 250 windows in over 100 churches and cathedrals across the globe.

Davies grew up in Birmingham and trained at the Birmingham School of Art, then continuing to work in its famous Arts & Crafts style. Initially he ran his own studio in Moseley until Walter Gilbert, the charismatic founder of the Bromsgrove Guild, persuaded him to join.

Davies set up his stained glass studio in the Bromsgrove Guild premises in 1906, and many great glass craftsmen learned and developed their trade under his guidance. Davies himself particularly enjoyed working with rare forms of continental glass that are now no longer made. He continued leading the studio until his death in 1953.

These evocative photographs of a window design and a window being installed are from the Bromsgrove Guild archive in the Worcestershire County Museum collection.

Cupids by Bernardo Arniconi, 19th Century

Very little is known about Bernardo Arniconi, the Italian painter of this oil painting Cupids which came to Worcester City Art Gallery in 1850 as part of the Reverend G D Bowles collection, and was one of the first artworks to come into the Worcester city collection.

In Roman mythology, Cupid is the son of Venus and Mars – the gods of love and war. He is usually depicted with a bow and arrow. As there are two of these figures and they don’t have his characteristic arrow its likely they are not supposed to be Cupid himself but amorino: cherubs or putti representing non-religious passion – figures of love and compassion. Putto are adorably chubby male babies with wings, what we usually think of as cherubs. However in early Jewish and Christian literature, a cherub was actually a creature with multiple wing and four faces, one human, as well as an ox, a lion and an eagle. Putto came to be part of the imagery of Christmas following Italian renaissance artworks representing them as part of scenes of the Madonna and child.

The Beacons are lit!

This engraving is part of Worcester City’s collection, and illustrates a fire being built atop the Worcestershire Beacon.

As the highest point in the Malvern Hills, the Beacon has historically been used as part of a chain of signalling fires, used to pass messages of approaching danger across the country. The Worcestershire Beacon formed part of the chain of warning fires lit in response to the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588. During World War II, the Beacon was also used as a look-out point for fires after air-raids on both Birmingham and Coventry.

Throughout the nineteenth century, beacons became a popular form of celebration, used to commemorate national events such as Coronations, Jubilees and even the end of the Crimean War in 1856. We think this engraving depicts the construction of a beacon in celebration of the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863.

These celebratory beacons were impressive in scale and often complex. Some included chimneys in order to ensure a good blaze, whilst others utilised the help of local construction companies. In this example, tons of wooden barrels can be seen making their way to the summit by horse and cart, and workers are assembling bundles of gorse atop a wooden platform to form a core of kindling.

The Worcestershire Beacon continues to be used during National celebrations, having seen fires lit for the Millennium and the Queen’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees.

Kate Banner
Collections Volunteer

William Callow’s view of Worcester

When William Callow held his retrospective exhibition in London in 1907, he was described as the ‘oldest living British artist’. At ninety-five, he’d lived through and painted some of the biggest changes in the English landscape. This watercolour of Worcester painted around 1850 shows the city on the cusp of major industrial development: still a charming and verdant scene, but with the Severn trow barges busy on the river and chimney smoke rising in the distance.

Callow’s early life was a whirlwind of society glamour – aged only nineteen he was offered a job teaching the family of the French King Louis Philippe I. Supposedly he fell in love with his young pupil Princess Clementine, but she sadly did not return his feelings. In his late twenties Callow returned to England, married, and settled into his career as a watercolour artist. His paintings became larger and, like this one of Worcester, reflected a more mature outlook, both in himself and in the landscapes he pictured.