Your neighbourhood feasts are famous, and your wardrobe wows the wattle & daub crowd. But what really leaves a lasting impression is art. Where do you start? And how do you keep up with the latest trends? We here at Lady Matilda’s Book of Medieval Manor Management did the hard work for you and trawled through the mysterious world of art to provide you with suggestions for each room in your house.
Take a walk with us around your manor and let us help you to shine!
This is the room many believe is the most important in any home, and indeed can make just as much of an impression on your guests as your hall or bedroom.
Pictures of food are fine, in fact may indeed inspire your staff to greater culinary feats. But remember, food trends, like clothing and royalty, change often. Ensure your kitchen art is updated accordingly.
Art can also send a powerful message. The above picture screams good taste but also says ‘don’t mess with this family, we kill unicorns.” Any maid considering smuggling out the good goblets will think twice with this art hanging overhead.
This is probably the most private of your rooms, although not beyond a quick showing to important visitors. Churchmen in particular may be interested in this room, so as with the other places in your home the artwork is key.
Depending on how you get along with your husband, the decoration you chose will set the mood to your liking.
Arranged marriage to an older, wealthy Lord with bad skin and gout, and a dispostion to match:
If you don’t care to do your wifely duty as often as your husband, Lady Matilda’s team recommend scenes with nuns praying and lots of crucifixes (see below on how to select the best crucifix for your decorating needs)
Love match (or arranged marriage that worked out to your liking):
Tasteful art depicting a man and wife in bed is perfect if you love your man and are happy to spend more intimate time with him.
The Lord of the Manor’s Private Room
Our cousins on the continent charmingly refer to this room as ‘grotte d’hommes’; a place for your husband to be unavailable when the local reeve or tax collector stop by. A refuge where the children dare not enter, a place to talk to his dog and think lofty lordly thoughts.
Your husband may want to decorate this room himself; we here at Lady Matilda’s recommend you not let him. Pictures of dogs and hunting scenes are safe.
(Despite your best efforts, a few pieces of your husband’s chosing may find their way to the walls. Be patient, let them hang a few days then quietly swap with a picture you prefer when he’s distracted or deeper into hiding from the tax collector.)
The children’s rooms may be the least visited rooms in the manor, but still deserve attention.
As a general rule, images of demons and the tortures of hell are useful tools to keep your offspring in line. Their nightime terrors will let you know you’re doing a solid job of child-rearing. Remind them that the crucifix over their beds will protect them.
For the maidens, sewing and harvest scenes will inspire your daughters to grow to be the ladies they’re meant to be.
For the young lords of the manor, pictures of brave men hunting or fighting in battle are the perfect accompanyment to stag horns and display shields.
(For the more progressive parent, mild reading scenes can be placed in your daughters’ rooms. Keep in mind that, while this art may be considered controversial, the right colours and frame can certainly complement the décor.)
Your pride and joy, the most cherished space in your home: the main hall. Take advantage of the space and torch light; this room may be the largest in the manor however too much of anything is a bad thing, and this includes works of art. Keep it even and uncluttered!
A popular topic for art is the Holy Mother Mary. Kick it up a level and display not one, but many different versions and sizes of this greatest of topics, all on the same wall. Your guests will love it, not only because it illustrates your piety, but also your eye for design.
Much of your hall may well be taken up by the traditional tapestry. Whether passed down by family, wedding gifts, or newly acquired, with tapestries it’s always dress to impress. Not too much but not too little is the rule here.
A portrait of the king or queen will never go amiss and makes good sense but remember: like anything else, you get what you pay for. Unlike many rulers, quality will never be out of favour.
In this section you’ll find useful hints on various art mediums and the best way to use them.
Large Stone Sculptures
These heavy scuptures and carvings are mainly found on cathedrals and large churches, and rightly so. They can be tacky on a manor house, and make it look like you’re trying too hard to impress Lady X from the next town over, despite the fact that she copied your aviary and told everyone it was her own design.
Reliquaries come in all shapes and sizes and are made of various fine materials. From plain boxes to models of heads and cathedrals, there’s something for everyone’s taste and budget.
While these items are mainly in holy houses, there’s nothing stopping private citizens from owning their own little bit of redemption. You can be the envy of your neighbours when you display the arm bone from just about any saint to a piece of the holy cross itself. Just think how jealous Lady X will be when you display the fine reliquary containing finger bone of St Joseph, when all SHE has is the toenail from St Kevin of Pinner!
While it’s expected that you’ll have at least one crucifix in each room, there are no fast and steady rules about the design or artistic qualities of the ones you chose to display.
For the main hall you’ll want your best crucifix on show. Nothing too gaudy or uncomfortable to look at. You’ll want to achieve a balance between the reminder of salvation and the shadow of eternal damnation. There’s no point in illustrating your piousness if it puts your guests off their food.
With so many versions of our saviour’s death, how do you chose? Things to take note of when purchasing a new crucifix:
- facial expression: severe & condemning or benevolent & forgiving?
- eyes – uplifted and ethereal or penetrating & suspicious?
The most important question you should ask yourself is this: does the piece speak to you?
Book of Hours
For an extra special treat (and a wonderful birthday gift – ladies, start dropping hints to your lord!), commission yourself a Book of Hours. There is no more artistic way to keep your prayers and devotional texts all in one place. Depending on its size, it can be proudly displayed in your main hall or bedroom, or worn visibly on your person. This item makes an impact. It screams ‘pious’ but whispers ‘I’m wealthy and have impeccible taste.’
Here at Lady Matilda’s we strive to present the most up-to-date food, fashion, and faith trends and today has been no exception. If you’re just starting out decorating, we trust you found this guide a useful starting place. And if you’re an old pro at using art, we hope that even you found something new to think about.
(all images from Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, British Museum, Medievalists.com)