| Art often tells us much about the history
and culture of its creator. This paneled room from Suffolk, England,
was designed to accommodate the climate, comfort, and social prestige
of its inhabitants. This room is an example of a period
room that can be found at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
A period room is a room set up to resemble a particular time and
place in history. Period rooms frequently contain furnishings and
actual flooring or wall paneling from historic houses. Period rooms
can reveal much about the values and lifestyles of the people who
It is most likely that this room served as a family dining room
or sitting room. Although the room may seem hard and bare by today's
standards, around 1600 in England this would have been considered
the height of comfort and wealth. Up until this time, country houses
had been constructed of heavy oak timbers joined with mortar.
The timbers and plain mortar walls were left exposed. Here, thin
oak panels have been placed over the walls. The panels served as
decoration, kept out the drafts, and helped make the room feel warm
and comfortable. The carved, flat columns attached to the wall are
called pilasters and provide additional
The fireplace supplied heat and light for a house like Higham Manor.
Most rooms in the house had a fireplace. In earlier periods the
hearth had been in the center of a room. However,
this placement exposed occupants of the room to smoke and dangerous
sparks. Chimneys with projecting smokestacks became common in the
Tudor period. As in modern fireplaces, the chimney helped contain
the smoke allowing it to escape the room safely. Notice, that the
fireplace is very open and shallow. The openness of the fireplace
directed as much heat into the room as possible. The stone surrounding
the fireplace opening forms a simple arch typical of the Tudor period.
The area above the fireplace is elaborately carved, depicting royal
warriors with lion's-head shields. The designs for these motifs
most likely came from pattern books.
The pieces of furniture in this room are not from Higham Manor,
but are from the same time period and are typical of such a setting.
The furniture is simple and functional, but a few touches show a
trend toward greater personal comfort. An actual room of this period
would have been more bare than this museum setting. Even in wealthy
homes sitting rooms usually contained only a large table, perhaps
a single chair for the head of the household, and a bench or stools
for other members of the household.
The table has heavy, bulbous legs. The stretcher rails
serve to stabilize the table and also act as footrests. Many tables
were simply boards on supports, which could be put up and taken
down as needed.
The armchair is an adaptation of a chest to which arms
and a back were added. The backs of armchairs in this period were
usually straight and solid. They were often uncomfortable, however,
and their size and weight made them difficult to move. Seating of
all types was made more comfortable with cushions. In the wealthiest
houses cushions were often made of rich velvets and trimmed with
Benches and stools were more common forms of
seating in most households. Not until the 17th century did chairs
begin to replace stools at dining tables. The fashions of the time--huge
skirts for women and puffed breeches for men--made stools more convenient.
The seats were often padded.
Chests were also used for sitting, as well as reclining
and for storage of clothing and other accessories. Such pieces were
important for a household in the days before built-in cupboards
and closets were standard features.
Tudor bench (detail)
Tudor table (detail)
Tudor chair (detail)
fireplace, or other main source of heat in a room. Rooms are often
designed around a hearth.
building material similar to cement which is used in masonry or
dominant theme, idea, or pattern in a work of art. Motifs are often
room set up to resemble a particular time and place in history.
Period rooms frequently contain furnishings and actual flooring
or wall paneling from historic houses. Period rooms can reveal much
about the values and lifestyles of the people who inhabited them.
flat column which is attached to the wall.
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