Stokesay Castle: Solar

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At the south end of the hall range at Stokesay Castle is a cross wing which houses the solar block. Reached by an external stair, the solar was originally private apartments for Laurence of Ludlow who built the castle in the late 1280’s. As with many of the rooms in the castle, the solar was refashioned in the 17th century. The ceiling dates to that time as do the carved overmantel, the cornices and panelling round the walls.

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A principle feature of the Renaissance period was the tradition of elaborately carved fire mantels dominating a room with surrounding walls covered in plain panelling. This is finely demonstrated at Stokesay where undecorated panelling frames the stunning centrepiece of the room – the overmantel.

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The overmantel is divided by pilasters shaped as human figures (above)into four squares, two of which have a grotesque head at their centre (below). Originally brightly coloured, the design may have been Flemish and the cornices used to cover exposed portions of the wall after the overmantel had been put up, suggest that it was not made specifically for its present position.

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Respecting the room’s medieval outline, the 17th century designer hid the openwork roofing from sight with a new ceiling. The panelling carefully framed the peepholes on either side of the fireplace and although covering some 16th century paintwork, the windows and window-seat were left untouched. The only significant change inside the room was in the east wall where the original window was blocked up however, the medieval window has since been opened up.

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The solar was intended for use as a bedroom and afforded some privacy for the noble family of the castle. Typically situated on an upper floor, it was a secluded room used as private living and sleeping quarters. A room of comfort and status, the solar at Stokesay is a wonderfully preserved example of such historic indulgence.

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Bowes Museum: St Jerome & St Ambrose

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The above tempera and gold on panel dates to 1510 and is the work of the High Renaissance painter Juan de Borgona. After originating in Burgundy, Borgona moved to Spain and settled in Toledo in 1495. Popular for their vivid colours and skilful depiction of costume, Borgona’s paintings incorporated tooled gold backgrounds which is characteristic of Castilian painting from this period. The above painting depicts St Jerome dressed in the red robes of a cardinal. St Jerome revised the Latin version of the Psalms and the New Testament while St Ambrose was a popular Bishop of Milan and composer of hymns. Together with St Jerome and St Ambrose, St Augustine and St Gregory were celebrated as the Fathers of the Church and were often represented in the wings of altarpieces. This painting once belonged to Alejandro Mon, the Spanish Ambassador in Paris, during the mid 19th century.

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Caerlaverock Castle

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On the south coast of Scotland, where the swift flowing River Nith enters the salt marshes of the Solway Firth, stands the medieval stronghold of Caerlaverock Castle. During the Middle Ages, the castle guarded an important gateway into the kingdom of Scotland. The lands of Caerlaverock (meaning fort of the skylark or elm fort) were ruled by British lords of Nithsdale after the Romans abandoned their hold on southern Scotland around 400AD. By 950AD, the Nithsdale lords had built a fort on the site that would later become the old castle. In around 1220, Alexander II of Scotland granted the lands to an incomer from the eastern Borders, Sir John de Maccuswell (Maxwell).

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The Maxwell coat of arms was added above the entrance gate in the 1600s.

The Maxwells built the first castle (old castle) around 1220 but as it proved too small and prone to flooding, they built a new castle in around 1270. The castle is uniquely triangular in shape with three tall towers built integrally at each point of the triangle. As a result of the close proximity to England, Caerlaverock Castle was frequently brought into conflict during the Middle Ages. The castle walls were rebuilt in the 1370s after the War of Independence and further alterations were made to make the fortress more suited for lordly living. The siege of 1640 however, during the Civil War between Charles I and his Socttish subjects, proved to be the castle’s last, and after the Royalist garrison surrendered to the Covenanters, Caerlaverock fell into disuse.

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Surrounding the castle are two moats (outer moat is now dry) and following archaeological excavations in 1958, three phases of medieval bridge construction was discovered in the outer moat. The courtyard (above) was the heart of the castle and when first built, the curtain walls were lined with timber buildings. Over the course of time, the Maxwells replaced them with stone buildings and a 15th century stone stair tower was added giving access both to the gatehouse and the west range.

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The plain front of the west range (above left & right) contrasts to the grand facade of the Nithsdale Lodging. Built after 1450, the two-storey block has three rooms on the ground floor, each entered separately from the courtyard. Each room had a decorated fireplace with a larger room on the upper floor believed to have been used as a great hall or banqueting room.

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Murdoch’s Tower viewed from the east range overlooking the courtyard

At either end of the south range was a round tower. The south west tower, known as Murdoch’s Tower, still stands to full height. The tower takes its name from Murdoch the Duke of Albany, a cousin of James I, who is recorded as being confined there in 1425 shortly before his execution.

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In 1603, James VI’s accession to the English throne as James I brought peace to the Border country for the first time in centuries. The new found confidence led to Robert Maxwell overseeing more building works within Caerlaverock and he was created Earl of Nithsdale in 1620. As they were built by Robert, the ranges along the east and south sides of the courtyard are known as the Nithsdale Lodging. The lodging was completed in 1634 and as security was no longer a priority, Robert had large windows installed in the east curtain wall. The Renaissance mansion had a richly decorated symmetrical facade with stone carving. The pedimented windows are adorned with figures from classical myths and legends.

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17th Century fireplace

The east range consists of two roomed apartments on each of the three floors and all featured a fireplace and toilet closets. After the siege of 1640, the castle was partially dismantled by the Covenanters to render it incapable of further defence. The castle was left to fall into decay until 1946 when the 16th Duke placed Caerlaverock in state care.

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Florence: Hercules & Cacus

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Outside the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria is a marble sculpture of Hercules. The sculpture depicts Hercules standing over Cacus who, in Roman mythology, was a giant who breathed fire.

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The sculpture is the work of the 16th century High Renaissance and Mannerist sculptor Baccio Bandinelli. Completed between 1525 – 1534, the sculpture stands over five metres high.

Hardwick Old Hall

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Situated 100m southwest of Hardwick Hall is the ruin of the Old Hall. The Countess of Shrewsbury, Bess of Hardwick, was the second most powerful woman in England next to Queen Elizabeth. Gaining wealth through her four husbands, Bess was born in the Old Hall in 1527 and returned here in 1584 following the breakdown of her marriage to the Earl of Shrewsbury. Although planning her new hall opposite, Bess began to extend the Old Hall in 1587. The Old Hall was for Bess, her family and entourage whereas the new Hall would be for ostentation, entertainment and special guests.

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Constructed of local sandstone and finished with rough plaster, the Old Hall was a radical modern mansion with the latest Italian innovations in house design. Evidence suggests that the south and west walls predate the rebuilding of 1587 indicating that the old manor house which stood on the site in 1525 had been incorporated into the building.

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The Italian Renaissance villa layout was replicated with the great hall placed in the centre of the house in an attempt to create a symmetrical layout. The great hall retained its symbolic importance as the heart of the house and was still the first reception room for all visitors.

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Impressive plaster work in the Hill Great Chamber

The hierarchy of room status is echoed in the layout – the higher the room, the better it was. The third floor of the building was the highlight for visitors and was made to impress. The Great Hill Chamber still features part of the deep plaster frieze of a double arcade, which was the fashion in northern Italian houses. With design elements taken from Roman architecture, the decoration was strongly influenced by Renaissance art. Hardwick Old Hall is Grade I Listed and maintained as a controlled ruin by English Heritage.

Split: Church Sv. Rocco

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Situated on the north east side of the Peristil is the Church of Saint Rocco. Dating to 1516, the Renaissance church is one of many churches in Dalmatia named after Saint Rocco who is said to have helped protect people against the Plague. Originally, the chapel was a family dwelling and was converted by the Croatian Poet and Humanist, Marko Marulic. The church is now the Tourist Information centre.