Plas Mawr and Vermeer

I have always loved the simple interiors depicted by the Old Masters of 17th C Holland. In pictures such as Vermeer’s famous “Milkmaid” the way the gentle daylight from the window brings out the rich colours and vivid detail of the plain domestic utensils must have been at the heart of the aesthetics which  inspired the restorers of Conwy’s Plas Mawr. With Cadw in full Virus Mode, we had the place to ourselves except for the masked and visored staff in each room, all asking us to keep our masks on at all times! 

Walking slowly round I drifted into a different kind of photography. One which relies as much on editing skills as the actual capture. Since glass was very expensive in the Elizabethan period the windows are small, and the light one-sided. My task would be to take the picture in a way which would enable me to re-capture the feel of the paintings of the period.  An Old Master painting would tell a story, opening a small window into the lives of the people either depicted, or imagined. The painter was there in the room with the model. These images however, are a twenty-first century take on the aesthetics of the seventeenth century. The fabric of the building is real:  you can touch the same stone as the artist, the rest is a mixture of scholarship and imagination, mine and theirs.

Here we imagined a shooting party returning with a good bag and then leaving it to hang until ready for eating.

This scene imagines the kind of simple meal a residential servant would enjoy: wholemeal bread, mussels and apples – a better meal than many of us would have now.

Here we are at the masters table in the great hall

This is a shelf in the pantry. Would a cook or kitchen maid be quite as neat and tidy with the utensils? She has left a partially grated nutmeg, a few strands of cinnamon and a couple of balls of pastry waiting to be rolled – no flour, nothing out of place. This is a posed picture, an imitation of a still life of the period.

So too is the lady’s bed-chamber.

The plastic notice spoils the effect of the artfully placed underwear; the green drapes look too new and the wood too shiny, and what are those things that look like truncheons or chair-legs? 

It was an extraordinary experience.


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