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: John Washburn Memorial Room


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
At a special meeting held early in the spring of this year, the Trustees of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts were advised through a letter from Mrs. John Washburn of Minneapolis, that she and her daughters, Mrs. Harold Hunt, Miss Elisabeth Washburn and Miss Sidney Washburn, wished to present to the Museum as a memorial to the late John Washburn, a Tudor paneled oak room to be furnished in the style of the period. This announcement was deeply gratifying for the gift was realized at once as one of greatest importance. Since that time plans for this memorial have developed and with their development has come a fuller appreciation of the significance of this munificent gift. It is significant as a memorial to Mr. Washburn, for many years one of the distinguished citizens of Minneapolis. In his professional and private life he endeared himself to the entire community through the simplicity and strength of his character, and it is most fitting that the memory of such a citizen should be forever preserved in a public institution which he helped to establish, and which reflects the cultural growth of the city which he helped to build. A man of quiet tastes, he felt especial interest in the domestic art of the earlier English periods. A Tudor room is particularly appropriate therefore as a memorial to him.This gift has further significance however, as marking the completion of the program laid out by the Trustees, of installing a series of rooms containing objects of decorative arts and paintings arranged as far as possible in the style of the period from which they date. No room of the series is so complete and representative of its epoch as the John Washburn Memorial Room. This first account unfortunately cannot do more than to mention a few of the more important objects in a summery manner. Succeeding Bulletins will contain special articles devoted to many of the objects in this room.The principle feature of the room is the handsome woodwork which, with a slight re-arrangement of the panels, stands just as it did for almost three centuries in the Hingham Manorhouse in Suffolk, from which it was taken a few years ago, a house dating between 1590 and 1620. This woodwork has been on exhibition at the Institute since 1919, and has been acquired by the donors from the Trustees, because of its unusual quality and suitability to this memorial room. Every other object, with a single exception, has been purchased especially for this room and is now seen for the first time. The room measures about twenty-one by twenty-three feet and is entirely paneled in oak to a height of nine feet, a plaster frieze of strap work design continuing to the ceiling, which is covered with large geometric designs outlined in clearly defined moldings. The ceiling design is reproduced from the ceiling of the original room. Fluted pilasters with high bases and Corinthian capitals divide the paneling of all but the window wall and give to the room a distinct architectural character, enhanced by the series of carved panels forming a frieze just below the small cornice. The fire place is surmounted with a narrow shelf and three panels, the center one containing the armorial bearings of one of the former owners. The beautiful design and workmanship of the broad frames of these panels are so extraordinary, that they seem to be certainly not of English origin. From the bold character of the scrolls and the fine proportion of the carving one guesses that an Italian may be responsible for it, especially as Elizabeth brought to England a large number of Italian workmen to carry out her commissions; but whether actually the work of an Italian or not, the direct influence of the Italian Renaissance is strong. In detail and ensemble, the room gives evidence of being of the best type of the period, a period rich in historic association and in the birth of momentous movements which mark the beginning of the modern world.Stained glass played an important part in the decoration of a room in Tudor times, and upon entering the Washburn Room one is struck by the brilliance of the panels in the upper section of the large window. The large panel in the middle, surmounted by a crown, is of especial note, as bearing the arms of Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry VIII, who as Edward VI reigned for six tragic years. On each side is an armorial panel bearing the arms of Sir Anthony Hungerford and his first and second wives, respectively of the Danvers and Darell families. All these panels date from about 1543 and were doubtless made for one of the residences of Henry VIII by a follower of Bernard Flower, the court glass maker of Henry VII. The color is particularly fine, the purple shades, known as "murrey," being characteristic of English glass of the period. Many small single quarries, representing animals, figures, plants, ships and the like, are to be found in different panels of the window. Each has the interest of making graphic some phase of the life of Elizabethan and early Jacobean times.Despite the fact that the introduction of gun powder brought about a decline in the effectiveness of armor from the XV century on, fine suits were still made. The tilting suit, illustrated on page 69, can be dated from the first quarter of the XVI century and is of German origin like much of the armor used throughout Europe at this time. The breast plate, globose in form, and the mail shirt are particularly fine in workmanship. The armet, or close fitting helmet, represents the period when jousts were still held in the open under conditions simulating actual combat. Later when contests took on a more ceremonial nature new rules were devised which lessened the danger. Combatants then fought on either side of a tall barrier over which only the upper part of the body could be struck. With this change came a change in the construction of armor, helmets being heavier, and the weight of steel which formerly protected the thighs and legs being transferred to the upper part for added protection where it was most needed.The furniture in the John Washburn Memorial Room has the outstanding quality of livableness. All pieces have been selected and arranged to convey as far as possible the actual appearance of a room in the house of a well-to-do squire of the late Tudor period. Some of the simpler pieces, such as the paneled arm chair near the fire place are of humble origin but important because they were more generally used than the more elaborate types represented by the massive three tier buffet and the folding octagonal table. In design, the buffet or sideboard, used for display of plate and other objects of domestic use, shows the trace of "some fine Italian hand." In scale and fine execution of design this piece is remarkable. The front of the three tiers represents the three characteristic types of Tudor carving, the upper tier being carved with rosette and strap work designs, the middle tier with a broad gadrooned band, and the lower with channeled carving similar to that on the sides of the stool nearby. The octagonal table represents a more Gothic spirit with its double arches between the legs and its use of simple moldings without carving of any sort. The large table in the center of the room is of especial interest in typifying with its bulbous legs and crudely inlaid rails the better type of Elizabethan work. Its fine patine suggests long years of useful service at Over Court Manor, Almondsbury, Gloucestershire, from which it comes.To further the illusion of reality many objects of decorative and useful purpose have been included in the room. A fine copy of Chaucer's Complete work printed in London, in 1602, and bearing the stamp of Elizabeth's coat of arms on the cover doubtless comes from the library of one of her royal residences. Another book, a XIII-century missal, containing superb illuminations and beautifully hand lettered text, is just such a prized possession as would be displayed by an English gentleman of the first quarter of the XVII century. The finely tooled binding and metal mounts are particularly noteworthy. In the window opening near the chimney piece is a set of pewter chalices with a large serving plate from a parish church in Yorkshire, recalling the fact that pewter and coarse earthenware took the place of present-day china for use on the table.One of the most striking features of the room is a large verdure tapestry which covers the greater part of the east wall, a tapestry of the Enghien type made in Flanders about the middle of the XVI century. Because of their highly decorative quality, such tapestries were used extensively both in England and on the continent as a background and cover for walls and door openings. Their large decentralized pattern recommended them especially for this purpose. Birds and small animals introduced at irregular intervals give variety to the design. Two tapestry cushion covers with fine borders, also of Flemish origin, represent figures of Faith, Hope and Charity with their customary attributes. The period of this room marks the beginning of international trade and it is surprising to realize the extent to which England depended on other countries at this time for the refinements of her domestic life. Most of the velvet used for costumes and other purposes was brought from Italy, glass from Venice, and majolica plates and jars from central Italy.Of historical significance is the marble head of Mary Stuart, the unfortunate half sister of Elizabeth. Doubtless the Princess posed for the bust or was seen by the sculptor shortly after her sojourn in Sweden, for she is represented wearing a Swedish cap. Her features are a fine study in expression. This piece—the name of the sculptor is unknown—was for many years a highly prized possession of Pierre Renoir, the French painter.In addition there are many other pieces of extraordinary interest as "human documents." A fine stump work mirror frame, a map dated 1626, which shows the new world with California a large island in the Pacific, the great seal of Elizabeth attached to a deed of transfer of land, signed by Sir Nicholas Bacon, Keeper of the Seal—these and other items in the room tell a story of XVII-century English life as absorbing as an historical novel.The importance of this memorial gift cannot be overestimated. At one stroke it has added a valuable number of decorative exhibits to the Institute Collections and has increased the Institute's effectiveness appreciably—both from the student's point of view, who seeks definite and accurate information regarding this period, and from that of the casual visitor, who cannot fail to find great pleasure in the vivid picture of the life of this romantic time. The room was formally opened in the evening of December fourth, 1923.Referenced Works of Art
  1. Carved oak chimney piece of the Tudor period in the John Washburn Memorial Room, opened this month
  2. North wall of the John Washburn Memorial Room
  3. East wall of the John Washburn Memorial Room showing a verdure tapestry and oak buffet
  4. South wall of John Washburn Memorial Room showing suit of early XVI-century armor
  5. Oak folding table, showing Gothic influence. The John Washburn Memorial Collection
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Source: "John Washburn Memorial Room," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 12, no. 9 (December, 1923): 66-70.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009