Length: 45.300 cm (including frame)
Width: 43.000 cm
Thickness: 1.200 cm (panel)
M&ME 1995,4-1,1;M&ME 1995,4-1,2
Room 40: Medieval Europe
Panel Paintings from the Palace of Westminster, London
England, about AD 1263-66
Paintings from a Medieval Palace
These two painted, oak panels are important survivals from the decorative scheme of Henry III (reigned 1216-72) at the Palace of Westminster. They would have formed part of the ceiling decoration of the king's state bedchamber, known as the 'Painted Chamber'. This was famous in its time for the richness of its interior.
The history of the Palace of Westminster is well documented. A fire in 1263 led to the extensive refurbishment of the painted chamber on the king's instruction. We can be sure that these panels were painted after the fire, as they would not have survived. The king's accounts show a significant purchase of materials for the construction of the roof, which was in place by 1266 at the latest.
Quite soon after their completion, the ceiling paintings were concealed by wooden panels as part of a subsequent refurbishment, and forgotten.
The Painted Chamber was largely destroyed by fire in 1834. How did the panels survive the catastrophe? They were discovered in Bristol in 1993, with an inscription around their frame explaining what had happened. They had been removed from the ceiling in 1816 by Adam Lee, 'Labourer in Trust' for building works at the Palace that year. He is known to have possessed panels of a seraph and three prophets. The two panels found in Bristol, and now in The British Museum, are of a winged seraph and a prophet. The other two prophets - if they still survive - have not been found.
The discovery established these objects as probably the earliest surviving examples of English panel painting. It is likely that they were painted by the king's painter, Master Walter of Durham, who was active in Westminster in the 1260s.
J. Cherry and N. Stratford, Westminster kings and the Medi, British Museum Occasional Paper 115 (, 1995)
J. Robinson, Masterpieces: Medieval Art (London, British Museum Press, 2008)
M. Liversidge and P. Binski, 'Two ceiling fragments from the Painted Chamber at Westminster Palace', Burlington Magazine-1, 137: 1109 (August 1995)