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‘Like a time machine!’ Stunning discovery of Tudor chamber with ‘mythical creatures’

Christianity ‘turned to archaeology to promote bible’ says expert

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Renovations of Calverley Old Hall, in North Yorkshire, have led to a surprising discovery as decorators stumble across a complete scheme of mid-16th century paintings. The find has been described as the “discovery of a lifetime”, revealing wall-to-wall Tudor paintings inspired by Nero’s Golden Villa in what was a “highly decorated” Tudor chamber. Mythical creatures and other stunning images form the fascinating design. Calverley Old Hall’s renovations have been funded by The Landmark Trust – the organisation has owned the building since 1981.

The Landmark Trust Director Anna Keay said: “There, on all three walls before me, was a revelation.

“Floor to ceiling, wall to wall, a complete, highly decorated Tudor chamber, stripped with black and red and white and ochre. Mythical creatures and twining vines, classical columns and roaring griffins.”

Landmark Historian Caroline Stanford described the discovery as “a time machine to the age of the Reformation and the Virgin Queen”.

She added: “Suddenly, we are transported from a dusty, dilapidated building into the rich and cultured world of the Elizabethan Calverleys, a well-educated family keen to display their learning and wealth by demonstrating their appreciation of Renaissance culture.

“The Calverley paintings are very carefully planned, in a vertical design that uses the timber studwork as a framework.

“Teethed birds laugh in profile; the torsos of little men in triangular hats sit on vases or balustrades.”

Experts also say that the design is even more exciting because it is a so-called ‘Grotesque’ work.

The Grotesque style refers to the Italian word ‘grotteschi’, meaning ‘from the grotto’.

As a result, the design is more sophisticated than than almost any other surviving domestic wall paintings in the country.

Ms Stanford added: “The most likely person to have commissioned the painted chamber seems to be Sir William Calverley. He was knighted in 1548, and became Sheriff of York in 1549, a man of high estate and important affairs.

“We believe that the painted chamber was only ever reached at first floor level from the family’s private rooms and had its own private access directly onto the gallery of the family chapel.

“Perhaps it was Sir William’s privy chamber, where he entertained only his closest friends and associates. Or perhaps it was his second wife, Elizabeth Sneyd’s private parlour, a refuge from vigorous Sir William’s seventeen offspring.”

Landmark has launched an appeal to raise £94,000 to preserve and hopefully display the Tudor paintings.

Experts believe that whoever painted the design in Calverley Hall was likely inspired by Emperor Nero’s buried Golden Villa.

The site of the ancient villa can be visited today.

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Nero was the fifth Emperor of Rome and one of the world’s most violent tyrants.

At 16 years of age, Nero was described as being of average height, with a prominent belly and a spotty complexion.

Suetonius, a Roman historian who lived circa AD 69 – AD 122, wrote about Nero.

He said: “He never wore the same garment twice. It is said that he never made a journey with less than 1,000 carriages, his mules shod with silver.”

Nero’s Golden Villa was completed in the same year he faced a revolt by people who had grown tired of his high taxes and big spending.

He was declared a public enemy by the Senate, and later committed suicide by stabbing himself in the throat.

His last words were said to be: “What an artist the world loses in me.”

After his death, the palace was stripped of its treasures, and within a decade the site had been filled in and built over. It was only rediscovered in the 15th century, when a local youth fell into the remains of the structure.

Within days, people were letting themselves down on ropes so they could admire the elaborate wall paintings that remained – among them the artists Raphael and Michelangelo, who carved their names into the walls.

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