Hampton Court’s Terracotta Roundels

Sculptor Giovanni Da Maiano invoiced Cardinal Wolsey in 1521, requesting payment for eight painted and guilded terracotta roundels  (‘octo rotundas imagines, ex terra depictas et deauratas’) to embellish his newly refurbished Hampton Court Palace.

These 500 year old terracotta roundels are significant; not just for their age and remarkable condition, quality and sculptural detail, but also as the first example of renaissance architecture in England still remaining.

I leapt at the opportunity to visit the terracotta roundels during the last phase of their 8 year conservation programme.

Today there are 10 roundels on the Gatehouses of Palace, the original terracotta roundels as well as two mortar sculptures and one glazed roundel. Below are images of the 6 roundels nearing completion of their conservation during this second phase. Roundels Galba and Otho (see Captions for details) are accredited to Da Maiano.

The conservation programme began in 2005 with 5 years of initial research. The main aims of this period of research were to investigate and better understand:

a) the deterioration
b) the rate of decay
c) means of protection
d) conservation intervention
e) methods and materials of conservation
f) painting and guilding
g) and finally past interventions and phases of repair.

The research informed the scope of the project and enabled the detail in the brief for conservation. Methodology and priorities for necessary intervention were established to preserve the historic material for as long as possible, the level of understanding and detail meant that the brief was, as it should be, practically useful to the conservators on site throughout the practical conservation of the objects.

Extensive research to study the possibilities for the use of laser cleaning formed part of the study alongside testing and trials. This research will be published in due course alongside what has been learned about the roundels themselves over the course of the project.

Also note:

  • All of the roundels had lead hoods (removed during works) which have protected them reasonably well, but have also, in some cases led to rather severe damage to the tops of the heads of the figures. Water damage has been caused by runoff because the hoods have nor been quite deep enough. New, larger hood are being fabricated to replace the originals which date from around 1844.
  • All of the circular frames around the outside of the roundels are later additions.
  • The names and plaques are not contemporary with Maiano’s roundels.
  • The roundels have been restored over the centuries and also re positioned, in some instances, several times.

There is more information on the Historic Royal Palaces website here and on YouTube. The images in this video show the condition of the roundels before the project began and more detail about the works:

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