Friday, 10 December 2010

Gothic Carpeting by Worth & Co

Illustration: Worth & Co. Gothic Revival carpet design, mid-19th century.

These two mid-nineteenth century carpet designs are good examples of the British decorative phenomenon of the High or Victorian Gothic Revival. The movement itself started as early as the 1740s and was an interesting part of the decorative arts of Georgian Britain, though not an all-encompassing one as it was seen as one of many decorative influences of the period not the dominating one. However, during the 1820s serious scholarly work concerning the history of Gothic architecture, both European and British, as well as the study of decorative and ornamental pattern work of the medieval period, began to be published on a regular basis, so that by the 1850s Gothic styling came to dominate British architecture and interiors.

Although not exclusively British and by no means universally liked or admired, the style has come to be firmly associated with the early to mid-Victorian cultural era of Britain. There were a number of artists, designers and even manufacturers that were clearly identified with the movement. However, many others although not intimately involved with the movement itself, did in fact contribute in a number of ways, whether that be through design and pattern work, or intellectual and scholarly support.

Decorative projects that involved some form of Gothic styling were a mainstay of many designers and decorators throughout the Victorian era, and indeed long after the era had officially ended, as this form of styling was still being produced into the twentieth century. Although many of the mid-nineteenth century projects were domestic and small scale, many others were much more significant and included a range of public and ecclesiastical building programmes in the capital London, as well as in most major cities and towns across Britain.

Illustration: Worth & Co. Gothic Revival carpet design, mid-19th century.

Because of the length and scale of some of the projects many companies who often supplied specific Gothic styling through furniture, metalwork, ceramics, paints, wallpapers and various forms of textiles, could be involved in the same project for years at a time. It is unknown where and when the two specific carpets illustrated in this article, both produced by Worth & Co, were actually used. However, it is interesting how uncomplicated and relatively, for the period at least, minimal the patterns appear. This could well imply that they were, if not exclusively so, then at least partially tailored towards their use on a larger more public scale, such as an hotel or other public building. Near wall-to-wall carpeting on this scale was often given a much more generalised decoration as it had to be seen on a much larger surface, and so therefore did not often merit the intensity of pattern work found on the smaller domestic self-contained rug or carpet.

The simplicity of design work found on these carpet examples belies the fact that they worked well as a Gothic theme. They would have been able to amply coordinate and reflect furniture, wallpapers, mosaics and frescoes that could well have amplified the motifs found in the carpets. Most Gothically inspired interiors were produced either by one company or even one designer or architect. Therefore the decorative schemes were often flawless and well balanced, producing a harmonious effect in both colour and space, even if many today would see them as particularly heavy, and a little too ecclesiastically themed for our contemporarily beige themed interiors.

This was a form of decoration that was often expansive and definite in its tailoring. Victorian Gothic could never have been accused of being ephemeral or aesthetic in theme or appearance. It was a style of decoration that displayed both confidence and permanence, that it came to dominate mid-nineteenth century Britain, a country along with its Empire,  that was at the apex of its own self-confidence, says much about the style and purpose of decoration. There is often much more to decorative eras than mere pattern work and styling and it should be recognised that decorative movements are often found in close association with political, social and cultural factors.

Reference links:
The Gothic Revival (World of Art)
Gothic Style
Greeting Card + Construction Paper - Gothic Revival House
Gothic Revival
Gothic Revival A&I (Art and Ideas)
The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction
In Pointed Style: The Gothic Revival in America, 1800-1860
Neoclassical and 19th Century Architecture, Vol. 2: The Diffusion and Development of Classicism and the Gothic Revival
Viollet-Le-Duc: The French Gothic Revival
The Gothic Revival: An Essay in the History of Taste
American Gothic: An Anthology 1787-1916 (Blackwell Anthologies)
The Gothic Cathedral: The Architecture of the Great Church 1130-1530
The Gothic Enterprise: A Guide to Understanding the Medieval Cathedral
Gothic Ornament and Design (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)
Pugin's Gothic Ornament: The Classic Sourcebook of Decorative Motifs with 100 Plates (Dover Pictorial Archive Series)
Heavenly Vaults: From Romanesque to Gothic in European Architecture
Gothic Art: Glorious Visions, Reprint

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