There are tiles everywhere, on the walls, on the fireplaces, on the window cells, on the columns on the ceilings … and on the floor. Most people just walk over these tiles on the floor not paying any attention to them. They are worth exploring by themselves.
More to follow …
Tomorrow we will start walking toward the Morning Room
“The Rich Man and Lazarus” is an example of Mercer’s Bible series brocade relief designs. This unique mural was designed specifically for the hood of the main fireplace in the Saloon. It is a single piece design as opposed to the segmented scenes present in Mercer’s other brocade stories. The details and colors are exquisite. The characters are from antique stove plates as described in a previous post.
The image below is the side panel of the main fireplace.
Mercer’s most valuable foreign tiles are Cuneiform Tablets. Some of these date back to 2300 BC. Mercer mounted these tablets surrounded by his tiles on one column in the Saloon. It is a fascinating display. This image had over 10 levels of dynamic range. It is a combination of a 5 image HDR blended together with multiple single images to capture the bright exterior and the tiles in the shadowed foreground.
Below is a close-up of one of the oldest tiles dated around 2300 BC.
Along with his own tiles, Mercer collect tiles from around the world. The above image is from a display in the Saloon of Delft Tiles from the 1600’s.
The origin of the Dutch Delft Tiles began in Egypt with Arabic (Islamic) themes and designs. As Islam expanded to North Africa and Moorish Spain in the 4th – 6th century, so did the art and ceramic tiles. The Alhambra in Spain is covered with such tiles. Antwerp, Holland was a major seaport and trading center in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1585, during the Eighty Years War, Antwerp was taken by the Spaniards. Trade came to stand still, freedom of religion was put to an end. This resulted in many tradesmen going abroad. Among them were the potters, who left for England, Germany and the Northern-Netherlands. This was the basis for the Dutch Delft Tiles.
Below is a display, also in the Saloon, of Delft tiles in the mid 18th century. Notice how the designs have evolved to Northern European motifs.
Many of Mercer’s tiles were inspired or taken directly from old cast iron stove plates like this one located in the Library Fireplace. Impressions were made from the figures and designs. Pay attention to the woman pouring liquid into an urn in the right-center part of the plate. See something familiar in the tile below located on the Russian Fireplace in the Saloon.
Tile on the Russian Fireplace in the Saloon
Also notice other similar figures of people, urns, border patterns and so on. As in any design, it is great to have a starting point. The Castle is full of such tile scenes. I really enjoy looking at the different stove plates on display and trying to find the designs replicated somewhere in the tiles. It’s a little like playing hide and seek.
The walls and fireplaces are not the only structures that are covered with tiles. Most of the Castle’s many structural column capitals are encased with Mercer’s tiles. Everywhere you look there are tiles, tiles and more tiles. This image is taken from the main level looking up at the second floor of the Library. The Library has concrete bookshelves lining the walls to accommodate the thousands of history and reference books collected by Mercer.
The ceilings of most rooms are also covered with tiles as shown below. Remember … Plus Ultra!
Immediately after entering the Library, the large fireplace sets the stage for exploring Mercer’s historic tile series. The saying above the fireplace “PLVS VLTRA” (PLUS ULTRA) gives the visitor a hint of what is to come. Plus ultra is Latin for “further beyond”. It is the national motto of Spain, adopted from the personal motto of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (and King of Spain as Charles I). As we will see there is much more “further beyond” in Mercer’s Fonthill Castle. The tiles on the face of the mantle depict Spain’s expansion into the New World starting with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sending Christopher Columbus off on his journey.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella sending Columbus on his journey with the three ships.
The next tile depicts the dangers of the journey.
“The Sea of Darkness”
The “Sea of Darkness” theme is repeated in other tiles throughout the Castle. The Spanish exploration into the New World is the focus of the Columbus Room which I will show in future posts. There is much more to see Plus Ultra!
This is another beautiful mosaic mural in the Fonthill entryway that most people brush by on the start of the Fonthill tour. It is located in a very dark hallway that leads from the entryway to the library. I cannot recall the number of times I have taken the tour and just walked by this mural.
This project is teaching me to be patient, look around, explore with with my eyes and see things that I have not “seen” before. My eyes may have passed over things as I rushed to capture the more common view points. By being patient without expectations, I am “seeing” much more than ever before. As John Barclay keeps repeating: “Be patient, have no expectations, let the image come to you.”
Welcome. This will be the first post of a series that will walk through Fonthill Castle room by room, focusing on the Mercer tile collection. I will attempt to throw in a few of my “learning” tidbits along the way.
This mosaic greets you as you first walk in to the Fonthill “front door” into the Visitor entryway. Most eyes move quickly to the left to the Visitor check-in desk and do not pay attention to this mural. After check in a visitor usually moves around looking at various items for sale in the entryway or moves quickly into the Conservatory. They do not pay much attention to this mural. I encourage my guests to stop and look. This is the only place in the Castle that this style of tile work is displayed. Below is a close-up of one of the repetitive scenes.
For another beautiful mural located behind and to the left of the Visitors check-in desk, please look back to my first post on 12 November.
In my current project at Fonthill Castle, I am capturing Henry Mercer’s collection of foreign tiles as well as unique tiles designed by Mercer. In building the project, I first try to photograph the tiles in their setting within the Castle. This view is a selection of Mercer’s 18th Century Delft tiles in one of the Saloon’s large arched windows. The perspective looks into the Library.
The challenge of this image was to focus on the Delft Tiles as mounted in the window and provide the setting as looking back into the Library. I used HDR to blend the dynamic ranges of 5 images to balance out the shadows on the window tiles and the bright light coming in through the window. I then used NIK Color Efex Pro contrast filters and Photoshop layers to selectively highlight and brighten details of the tiles and background tapestry in the Library. I also wanted to keep the texture of the concrete at a subdued level.
There is so much to see in the Castle. It is just very hard to capture the range of colors and details as the different elements are hidden by shadows or washed out from the bright light coming in from the windows. In certain areas I have had to take images with a 13-stop difference between the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights. I learn from each image I make. For reference, below is the base exposure image that I started with.