Stunned experts find ‘discovery of a lifetime’ behind 1970s paint job in ‘undistinguished’ bedroom of rundown old house: Tudor wall paintings based on designs in Nero’s Golden Villa

  • Calverley Old Hall, in North Yorkshire, is undergoing a major renovation
  • The building is run in part as a holiday let and is owned by The Landmark Trust
  • Mid-16th century paintings were discovered behind the peach coloured walls
  • The discovery is ‘a time machine to the age of the Reformation and Virgin Queen’

A routine repair job has uncovered the ‘discovery of a lifetime’, revealing wall-to-wall Tudor paintings inspired by Nero’s Golden Villa.  

Calverley Old Hall, in North Yorkshire, is undergoing a major renovation programme funded by The Landmark Trust, which has owned the building and runs part of it as a holiday let since 1981.

The find was made in the bedroom of the ‘unremarkable’ parlour block, where the walls had been painted peach in the 1970s.  

Behind the 19th-century plaster, a complete scheme of mid-16th century paintings was discovered, across three walls of the original chamber.

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.’

A specialist from Lincoln Conservation opens up a section of wall after a routine repair job uncovered the ‘discovery of a lifetime’

The discovery was was made in the bedroom of the ‘unremarkable’ parlour block after its walls had been painted peach in the 1970s

A complete scheme of mid-16th century paintings were discovered across three walls of the original chamber

The Landmark Trust Director Anna Keay described the find of the mid-16th century paintings as a ‘revelation’

A close-up of the ‘floor to ceiling, wall to wall’ paintings that have been discovered in the old house

Landmark Historian Caroline Stanford described the discovery as ‘a time machine to the age of the Reformation and the Virgin Queen’

The Tudor paintings are ‘very carefully planned’ and are in a vertical design that uses the timber studwork as a framework

The wall-to-wall, ceiling-high Tudor paintings are said to have been inspired by Nero’s Golden Villa

To add to the excitement, the Calverley scheme is so-called Grotesque work, making it a great deal more sophisticated than almost any other surviving domestic wall paintings in the country.

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

She said: ‘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.’

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

In the 1480s, a young man exploring a hillside in Rome, tumbled down a cleft, falling into what he believed to be a grotto. 

Exploring further by torchlight, he and his friends discovered not a grotto but the glittering interiors of Emperor Nero’s buried Golden Villa, built in the 1st century CE. 

So infamous was this emperor that his successors buried his summer palace, as part of their attempts to blot out the memories of his excesses. 

The wonder can be visited today in Rome – though hard hats are a necessity. 

The Calverley scheme is so-called Grotesque work, which makes it more sophisticated than almost any other surviving domestic wall paintings

The historic paintings reach from the floor of the bedroom up to its ceiling and spread across three walls

The painting is in the Grotesque style, which refers to the Italian word ‘grotteschi’, meaning ‘from the grotto’

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

Upon the discovery, the fantastical designs inside the villa soon became popular in the houses of the educated elite across Italy.   

By the 16th-century, the Renaissance design had found its way to Britain courtesy of printed books from the Low Countries and Germany.

It is likely that the unknown painter who decorated the wall at Calverley was inspired by such print books, the trust speculated. 

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 miraculous Tudor paintings. 

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