THE SPLENDOUR OF THE PALACES

We are rather apt to regard the dwellings of Mediaeval England as without any comfort, and altogether without artistic surroundings. The Norman castles, with their severe style of architecture, give us that impression, but the walls of those buildings were covered with tapestries, and brilliant colourings enriched the sombre stone. The feastings of the baronial hall were not without their decorative appointments, and some of the barons possessed much plate and treasures modelled upon the common inspirations of the period. To find the early inspirations of the period under review-a long one in which the centuries rolled by without much change, the palaces of the Byzantine emperors must be searched and the records of their ways of living, which gave rise to the splendour of the palaces of Venice and of the great mediaeval cities on the Continent, must be examined and their household appointments imagined, if not seen. Fortunately, there are many fine examples of mediaeval art still to be seen in our museums and national collections, despite pillage and the destructive ravages of war, fire and flood. Historians tell of the silver furniture of the palaces of Byzantium-of tables and seats of gold and silver, and of the vessels of silver from which their owners and their guests dined and supped. As it has been shown, it was here that the new art took its rise, but it spread quickly until all the principal cities in Europe had replicas of the ornaments of the churches and the vessels in halls and palaces. According to authentic records and the few examples remaining, which could not have been isolated pieces, but merely fragments of the stores of plate then owned by wealthy lords and by the corporations of cities, it is clear that most of the ecclesiastical establishments were in mediveval days full of plate and in their lavish use on feast days they rivalled regal splendour. The palaces of mediaeval kings and queens, dukes and barons were enriched with plate and contained much artistic metal work, the wrought iron and the copper and brass often in its enrichment rivalled the handiwork of the silversmith and goldsmith, receiving its share of super decoration of enamels and even jewels. Alas ! much perished even then, and little by little wars and the ignorance of the people robbed the collector of later days of those marvels which would now be of the utmost value in helping to piece together the story of the lives and doings of mediaeval folk. The height of the period of mediaeval splendour was the high water mark of the best work and the greatest accumulation of plate of that quaint character that stamps it at once as " Mediaeval," showing traces of its barbarian or Byzantine origin in style, design and even purpose. In every country's history there have been such times, and then have followed times of depletion ; it was so in England and on the Continent of Europe centuries ago where if not in one generation in another internal strife as well as wars with other nations robbed the world's store of the beautiful. It is almost a miracle that any pieces have survived, yet there are still enough to show us the art of almost every succeeding generation and race, and to enable the connoisseur to trace the evolution of style and design as it changed faster or slower in accordance with the pressure of surrounding influences, or foreign invasion and plunder. The famous crowns still existing in their entirety and those which have been altered or robbed of their jewels, their one-time chief attractions, their forms preserved perhaps by drawings or paintings, help the student. These exceptional treasures are not available for the amateur and seldom for the private collector of rarities, but their known designs and decorations, have influenced in a marked degree even modern artists, and had still greater influence upon the artists of earlier times and races, and those who had fewer models than we have at the present time, living too, as they did, when art training was not as acute and did not foster the free creative genius of quite ordinary workers.