Period Styles Week 9: Windsor Era (1914-present)

The 20th and 21st centuries are times of massive change, on a scale never before witnessed. Technology advances to places past where people could dream of in previous years, destruction reaches unprecedented volumes, and the blending of cultures and movements of peoples brings massive changes to cultures around the world. This is the hallmark of the modern era.

Modern art is strongly influenced by the massive changes in the world. Different mediums allows for new types of art, mass media allows for the propagation of art to new places, and the immensity of events created new influences and themes. The most fascinating modern art movement to me is the creation and rise of absurdism.

Absurdism is a blanket term more or less describing things that don’t follow the rules of realism. In painting, this can be seen in a use of weird colors, shapes, or even a distortion of reality. Here are some early asburdist paintings I found at the Tate Britain:

The timing of the beginning of absurdism corresponds to the industrial revolution. Massive changes in technology allowed for a huge population boost in urban centers. Urban life distorted a lot of people’s sense of reality, and the continuation of technological advancements got people to explore the boundaries of the mediums they were working with. This is really obvious when looking at architecture.

The ability to work with curved glass, along with new understandings of metal and engineering allowed architects to come up with new shapes and sizes for new buildings. Early 20th century architects generally built upward, trying to achieve new feats in man-made monuments. Skyscrapers were popular and continue to be popular as functional icons. London has relatively few and shorter skyscrapers compared to other large cities. This view from the Millennium Bridge shows most of the skyscrapers in London right now:

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London’s skyscrapers also are noticeably not classically shaped. From the shard and it’s conical shape, to the wedge of the building on the left of the image, London’s large modern buildings are pushing the realms of possibility.

Modern architecture is a strange combination of rationalism and absurdism. Strange shapes combine with the cold efficiency of modern office spaces both provide the resources needed with a massive population and give skylines that are unique to each massive city. Other modern buildings I’ve come across show this combination:

The fourth picture showing several different modern styles of construction.

The history of currency during this time reflects the rationalism and globalization of the modern era. However, tradition reigned supreme up until the Decimalization in 1971. A few changes were made: new bank notes were made and included the face of the monarch, coins featuring the portrait of non-monarchs were being made (notably of Winston Churchill), and bank notes became a much more official tender. However, the big change really came with the Decimalization.

Decimalization was under consideration for nearly ten years before being enacted. Pounds were still the standard, but pence were now worth one one-hundreth of a pound. Shillings, which had been around for several hundred years, were no more. Metals within the coins no longer mattered, so the different types of gold and silver coins ceased to exist. Since then inflation caused the demise of the half-pence and the one-pound bank note, and the introduction of the 20 pence coin and the 2 pound coin.

The art of coins and notes were much less traditional as we get more recent. Coins with different backs commemorated different events, such as the 50th anniversary of D-Day and the commonwealth games. Here are the coins with the new backs:

Collectors sets of coins were and continue to be common. These sets of coins are uncirculated and do no intend to become circulated, but are legal currency.

One pound coins became brass in 1983, and each year they had a different back representing one of the nations that made up Britain. Like this coin from 2000, for example:

Since then, the pound coin has again changed, to make forgery more difficult.

When I went to the Bank of England, I got pictures in lower quality of all these examples. From late pre-decimal all the way to a modern proof set, all the coins are shown here in poor quality:

Bank notes have appreciated the expansion of art on the notes. The art serves a dual purpose: to celebrate icons and events in British culture, and to make counterfeiting incredibly difficult. An example of this is on the 5 pound note depicting Churchill and the houses of parliament:

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Currency has long been a source of art within British culture, and changes in coinage reflect the changes in government in different eras. Currency is unique to other arts in its specific use in the economy. Because of this, changes in coinage change not only because of art preferences, but also because of political and economic concerns. However, period styles still managed to find their way into this foundation of economics. I’ve had a lot of fun exploring the history of currency in Britain, and how various people utilized currency in their times. I also had fun exploring architecture around London and England, exploring how different styles affect different types of art. So this about concludes the last of my extensive history posts. I’m excited to know how future art styles will continue to affect art across the board.

 

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Period Styles Week 8: Victorian & Edwardian period (1837-1914)

The Victorian era is distinct from previous eras because of its relative peace and consistency. The era brought the end of the focus on rationalism, and a renewed focus on romanticism. Buildings and apartments are lavish and accessorized, and general architecture is significantly more extreme. Take a look at the Prince Albert Memorial, it was created by Queen Victoria after her husband died:

The memorial sits alone in right across the street from Royal Albert Hall. It is a whopping 54 meters or 177 feet tall. It is ridiculously ornate and detailed. It also showcases the neo-gothic styling of the time period. The 19th century was also the first time glass was used as a building material, and alongside steel, became a hallmark of Victorian tube stations and Leadenhall Market:

The Victorian era also was right in the middle of the industrial revolution. Massive buildings could be created faster and more uniquely than ever before. The relative peace of the time allowed for architects and engineers to be as creative as technology allowed. Towards the end of the Victorian era, electricity was being used to light up buildings and streets. Population was booming. Right where we live, in Earl’s Court, is a wonderful example of a posh Victorian neighborhood. Here are some pictures of the area:

Plenty of businesses that began during this period still exist today, and some in the original buildings. The introduction of steel added to the styling of signs and outdoor facades:

The Victorians are also the people that painted almost all of the remaining Tudor buildings the black and white we associate with the time period today. The Victorians were powerful, lavish, and aimed for romantic beauty in everything. Many old monuments or buildings have updates from the Victorian era. Often they are faithful reconstructions with Victorian flair. A great example of this is in Bath, where the bath houses were reconstructed to be more pleasurable to the Victorians.

Archaeology and colonialism also dominated certain fashion styles of the times. The Victorians loved preserving history, but only if they could bring it back home. Hearing of colonial exploits helps people living at home understand the power of the English empire. And it really was powerful. The saying “the sun never sets on the English empire” comes from this period.

In art, cameras were just beginning to exist, this meant that paintings started to have a different meaning. Early absurdism and surrealism comes from industrialization, and in late Victorian artwork the creativity in color and style show. Painters are beginning to do what pictures can’t at this time. Here are some paintings from the period:

Theatre and novels became really popular during this period. The 19th century was the climax of British naval superiority as well as cultural dominance. Some of this is reflected in the coinage and currency of the era.

Science also expanded dramatically during this time period. Charles Darwin came up with his theory of evolution during this period. Germs and microbes were understood better, and the expansion of antiseptics made hospitals cleaner and safer. Anaesthetics were also being widely used during this time frame. Engineers had also began making commercially feasible railroads. And railroads across the world made expansion and maintenance possible over massive distances.

Political stability almost directly corresponds to stability in coins and currency. I’m beginning to add currency to my discussion because bank notes are introduce and widely used during this period. The Great Recoinage of 1816 did its job. Very few new coins were introduced during Queen Victoria’s reign. However, that did not stop the styles of the time from being reflected in the coins struck during the period.

One of the main changes in the Victorian era was the resistance to Rationalism. Early Victorians and Late Georgians were interested in decimalizing the currency of Britain, basically instead of pounds being worth 20 shillings and 240 pence, a pound would be 100 pence, which would help make global trading more intuitive. Decimalization was first introduced to parliament in 1824, but the issue didn’t gain any headway until 1848, when the florin, valued at one-tenth of a pound, was introduced. In the 1850’s the issue was under serious consideration by the Royal bank, but was eventually quashed due to two important people in the process. In 1874, the halfcrown was re-introduced into circulation after it had been supplanted by the decimal coin, the florin. The two coins ran side by side until 1969.

1860 marked the beginning of the use of bronze instead of copper in small coins, leading to smaller, lighter coins. The tradition of the ‘bun penny’ in design and material was consistent until decimalization in 1970. Silver coins received a 40 year gap in minting, from 1847 until the queen’s jubilee in 1887. Pre-1847 crowns were called ‘gothic’ crowns, and are considered some of the most beautiful coins ever made:

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Their ornate design and traditional styling is the epitome of classic Victorian art.

The gold standard became widely adopted around the globe. This allowed for easier trading among all world economies as exchange rates were constant.

Bank notes were beginning to be used during this period. Up until 1844, bank notes were created by pretty much anyone who wanted to start a bank and make money. In 1844, the government gave a monopoly to the Royal Bank to be the only place allowed to make bank notes in England. The bank notes of the period looked like this:

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The design is simple, but the font is elegant and pretty. Bank notes became significantly more ornate and difficult to replicate as the years moved on.

Victorian styling is that of a strong, stable empire. Unfortunately, the stability didn’t last much after Queen Victoria died. Two world wars, globalization, and rapidly expanding technology defines the England of the next 100 years.

Period Styles Week 7: The Georgian Period (1714-1837)

When Queen Anne died in 1714, she left no heirs, and because there was a law preventing the passing of the throne to Catholics, the throne was passed to Anne’s second cousin: George I. King George I kingship was rocky to begin with. Their were still descendants of the Stuart line alive when King George ascended, but were denied the throne because of their Catholicism. Fortunately for George, eventually the rebellion was quelled. Unfortunately for all the Georges, stability was never lasting. Between colonization, Napolean, rogue colonies, and mercantilism, peace was near impossible to retain. The constant warfare had its affect on art throughout the period and especially on the coinage of the period. I’ll get to that in a sec, but first here are some images of Georgian housing and fashion:

Georgian society was remarkable for it’s new emphasis on Grecian logic and mathematics. The London houses are built in strict, dark brick and smushed tightly together. Compared to Tudor housing, these are sturdy, level, and significantly longer lasting. When in London, it’s easy to distinguish Georgian housing from other types because of its dark brick and lack of protrusions from the front wall. Important government buildings and the like built in Georgian styling also resembled Greek and Roman temples. Scientists of the time include Edmund Halley, who discovered the exact timing of Halley’s comet, and Benjamin Franklin, whose experiments progressed the world’s understanding on electricity and whose diplomatic abilities secured an alliance with France. By the time George III came, fashion became much more lavish. Color became a big part of clothing again. Examples of Georgian art are also shown at the bottom of the photo set.

However, I came to focus on the coins. King George I  and King George II largely continued the traditions of the monarchs before them, with the main deviance being the continued expansion of the use of copper coinage. Early on, these coins became the subject of counterfeiters, and the copper began being coated in tin. However, these coins corroded quickly and the coins reverted back to copper. Here’s an example of some George I and George II coins :

Their metal and simple design denotes its low value. In the first two George’s reigns, things changed slightly, but not drastically. However, a lack of precious metals brought drastic reform to the English coinage system, brought on by George III.

Provincial token coins were coins created by companies to meet the demand of the populous when the government failed. This practice began in 1648, but was ended in 1670. In 1754, production of smaller denominations ceased, as the mint thought demand had been met. However, they were wrong, as constant counterfeiting and a growing population quickly outgrew the supply. Starting in 1787, a mining company started making their own provincial token coins. These coins had a unique design, and towards the end of their run, some were made exclusively for collecting. The practice quickly spread, and companies, traders, and even propagandists started making their own currencies. Coins became vehicles for cheap advertising, and the large number of different types drew the interest of cataloguers and collectors. 1795 was the year of the first coin catalogue attempting to list all the known token coins. This was also the first time collecting became a hobby among many people. A consequence of this is the making of mules, or coins that had the front of one coin, and the back of another. Many coins from this era turn up in uncirculated on near-mint condition. Here are some pictures of these different coins:

The popularity of the tokens quickly brought them down. In 1799, after many new government coins were circulated, the circulation of the token coins was banned.

However, the coins did not keep up with demand, and in 1811, more token coins were being manufactured. The warring with France meant there also was a shortage of silver coins, so the Bank of England had to step in. In 1816, the tokens were banned again after the Great Recoinage. The tokens of this period are less extravagant, but still widely varied in style.

The metal shortage was a constant issue for King George III. In the very early 1800’s, England captured the Spanish armada, and with it a slew of silver Spanish coins. To meet the demand of coinage in Britain, the bank of England made what is called counter-marks. Basically, they took the old coin and restamped it hastily. This proved to be an easy target for counterfeiters, so in 1804, the Bank of England completely changed the process and made what are called Bank of England dollars:

Other coins introduced around the same time are some 2 pence pieces called cartwheels, which attempted to fix some of the problems of copper coins by being made up of 2 pence worth of copper. Unfortunately, this meant the coins were a whopping 2 ounces (8 of them would weigh a pound), so they were incredibly unpopular and scrapped not too long after.

The Great Recoinage of 1816 came after the end of the war with Napolean and concerned itself with the re-introduction of silver coinage, and a standardization of gold coins. The gold guinea at the time was worth 21 shillings, so it’s value was shifted to the more acceptable sovereign at 20 shillings. A massive amount of silver coins was also introduced at the time, totalling almost 80 million coins. This massive influx of coins also created a tradition of silver denominations that changed marginally over the next 150 years. After George III’s reign, George IV merely introduced the 2 pound coin and the tradition of 5 pound coin proofs that continues to this day.

The trip I made to the Bank of England finally starts to some into play, as their collection of coinage only really begins at the beginning of the Georgian period. Here are some pictures of the coins at the Bank of England:

Coins of the era were significantly less traditional than those of precious eras. Shortages led to privately made currency, and coins themselves became avenues for companies to advertise of revolutionaries to radicalize. This period gives us a glimpse as to what could happen if currency making becomes privatized now. With the introductions of credit cards and coupons, in a sense it’s already happening. As far as the progression of coins, the Great Recoinage did its job pretty well, as no major changes happened to coins until 1970, however the consistency of denominations does not mean that the art styles of the time periods did not affect currency. The consistency allowed for art to really shine on the coins of the ages. I’ll delve into that deeper in my next post.

 

 

Period Styles Week 6: The Stuart Dynasty or Reformation & Restoration

Week 5 was the travel break so there is no period styles exploration for that week.

This week in period styles, I’m diving in to a tumultuous period of English history. It begins with the English Reformation, a name for the move the English church made when it separated from the pope. It officially began in 1527 when King Henry VIII tried to divorce his wife. In 1534, parliament passed a law that made the king the supreme head of the church of England. This began the wave of Protestantism in England and Britain. This also coincided with the wave of puritanism that swept across England, leaving many churches with clocks instead of saints and eventually the end of theatre. The transition between Catholicism and Protestantism wasn’t easy. After Henry VIII came Edward VI, and then came Mary I, who put the English church underneath the papacy again. Proceeding her was Elizabeth I who took the title of Supreme Governor and brought England back into Protestantism. When Elizabeth I died in 1603, she left no direct heirs, so James VI of Scotland inherited the monarchy, religious uncertainty, and became James I, King of England, of the Stuart family.

After James I was Charles I. During Charles I reign, a large civil war broke out between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists about the governance of England. This ended in 1651 with the beheading of Charles I, the exiling of Charles II, and the establishment of the commonwealth. During this time, the leader of the parliamentarians ruled. His name was Oliver Cromwell. When he died in 1658, the commonwealth fell apart, and in 1660 the monarchy was restored with Charles II taking the throne. This period is known as the Restoration. From there the monarchs go as: James II, William III & Mary II, and ends with Queen Anne. The Stuart dynasty ends with the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

The reason I go so in depth in the history of this period is because the political climate shaped the evolution of art and style of the time. Artistically, the difference between Tudor and Stuart art is minimal. Architecture of the period was either similar to Tudor styles or what’s called Palladian, a style led by an Italian architect name Palladio. Architects all over England during the restoration were influenced by Palladio. Sir Christopher Wren used Palladian style architecture, most famously in his rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral. We visited Bath, and that city is filled with Palladian architecture, including the Circus and the Crescent. Here is a picture of the Crescent:

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Style in clothing evolved into more slimmer clothes. The first three-piece suit came from this era. Here are some pictures of some monarchs (and Oliver Cromwell) of the period:

Theatre also changed during this time. Jacobean theatre (early Stuart) was dark and bloody, well known for its extreme violence. Restoration Theatre is famous for its many famous figures: (Nell Gwynn and Aphra Behn to name two) as well as its comedy. The political turmoil of the period meant that the populous was hankering for political commentary or escapism, much in same way as Americans are now.

Science during this time saw great advancement in England. Galileo (not English) paved the way for other scientists to explore what was previously perceived as common knowledge. Sir Isaac Newton (shown below) came from this period. He is well-known for his mathematical definition of gravity, as well as his discovery of force equations and the formation of Calculus. He truly was the Einstein of his time.

Sir Isaac Newton was also important in his role as Master of the Royal Mint. From 1696 until his death in 1727, he worked at the mint in important positions. In an effort to curb counterfeiting, he proposed to add the ridges on the edge of coins so that coin shaving could be detected. I’ll come back to him later.

The history of coins during this era is fascinating. King James I continued the tradition of coin making that he inherited and made many of them in a similar style (obviously with his crest on the back). He did, however, introduce the gold sovereign (one pound, 20 shillings) and named it the unite. Unfortunately, the price of gold was rising in comparison to the silver most countries were using for their coins, so the price of the sovereign was raised to 22 shillings in 1612. The next printing of coins were lighter, and brought the price back down to 20 shillings. Here are some pictures of his coins:

James I also marked the end of the ryal (30 shillings), the half-ryal (15 shillings) and eventually the angel. He minted most other coins in silver, except the farthing, which he minted in copper. This was generally resisted by previous monarchs, as copper was significantly less precious, but as Scotland had already began the practice of copper coinage, James I brought the practice to England. Initially these coins were minted with a tin coating to give the appearance of a silver coin, but that was soon ended.

Charles I continued these practices. He also introduced a new gold coin called the triple unite, worth 60 shillings. Here’s a picture:

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Before continuing, I should talk about the Latin on the coins. The Latin sayings were added to coins in the Tudor period, as dies were getting more and more detailed and the tradition stuck. James I used sayings like “I will make them one nation.” on his later coins. Coins became a vehicle for propaganda, especially for those that held gold coins and could read Latin. Charles I, on the triple unite, used biblical passages among other things on the coin.

During this time, there were several coins worth one pound: the silver sovereign, the unite, and the laurel. The Carolus was also introduced at this time, initially valued at one pound, but later changed to 23 shillings.

In addition to these coins, silver coins were still being made. In an attempt to exploit the silver mines of Wales, a new mine was opened in Aberystwyth in 1638. These coins beared the three ostrich plumes of the prince of Wales as a mint mark. Mint marks were being used at this time to distinguish where the coins were made. Mint marks can be found on most coins now, including American coins. Here are some silver coins from Charles I, with mint marks from the Tower of London:

These are two different coins.

During the civil war, minting became difficult. Parliament took control of the royal mint at the Tower of London, but still struck coins bearing Charles I. Charles I had to get creative in where he minted coins. He made several different minting sites during the next few years, all bearing the mint marks of the mints. This means that coins during this time from specific mints are excessively rare.

After the civil war ended, Commonwealth coins were created. They all had the same design, with the weights and roman numeral denoting the value of the coin. The shilling looked like this:

Cromwell streamlined some of the many different types of coins, leading to only having the gold coins be the unite, the crown, and the halfcrown. Silver coins were the crown, the halfcrown, shilling, sixpence, halfgroat, penny, and halfpenny.

Charles II brought the end of hammered coins, introducing screw presses into the mints. He also reintroduced the groat and the threepence. In 1663, a new gold pound coin was introduced: the guinea. Here’s some pictures, from Charles II to William and Mary:

Guineas, due to their gold, were overvalued in comparison to silver. This led to silver coins leaving England and gold coins entering, leaving England with an unofficial gold standard. In 1694, the Bank of England was founded and paper money started to get made.

Sir Issac Newton, in his time as Mint Master, strived for exactness in his coins. During this time, coins were infinitely more correct and consistent than they had been previously.

By the end of the period, the introduction of new coins slowed, and mints continued to strive for complete consistency and accuracy. The introduction of machinery into the mint process helped this a lot. New methods of coin making also made counterfeiting more difficult. Coins were higher quality by the end of the period, and the push for consistency marks the value of logic in currency. Coins still followed the tradition of having the monarch’s face on the front with the family crest on the back with the Latin sayings on the edges.

In summary, the turmoil plaguing this period is reflected with the currency of the time. There were many new coins introduced and many mints were used. Ways of making counterfeiting more difficult were introduced, and machines were beginning to be used. Coins now had a consistent clean look. This was expanded and continued into the Georgian period, as the political turmoil of the period was significantly less on the home front.

Period Styles Week 4: Tudor

This week is the Tudor period, or when Henry VII ascended to the throne in 1485 and began the Tudor dynasty in English Monarchy. The time period concluded in 1603 when Queen Elizabeth I dies. In a general sense, this time period is known for is iconic white houses with black wooded beams and the Elizabethan era, when big neck ruffles and plays were popular. In this exploration of the styles of this period, I will first examine some of the iconic looks and general architecture, then I will go in depth about the history of currency in the era.

*Side note: I know I said I would be generally examining the use of gold in these periods, but I found that to be less interesting and more difficult to follow than to just look at currency and coinage throughout history. I hope you will find as much enjoyment as I have going through history with this focus.

The most iconic style of old English style is the Tudor style of housing. It appears in anything fantasy, like dungeons and dragons games, and it appears on the globe. Many such houses exist throughout England; during our group excursions out of London, whole streets would be lined with Tudor buildings. London however, has almost none, as they all burned down in the great fire of 1666. You might be wondering: “Wow! How is that possible?” I’ll explain.

Tudor buildings were entirely made of wood and wattle and daub, a building material made up of wood and some sticky material (it varies). The roofs were thatch, and the buildings were built all connected to each other. Here is what a street of Tudor buildings looks like:

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Tudor buildings also stuck out on the second floor, if they were on roads, to allow the emptying of waste buckets onto the street below without hitting the bottom floor. These buildings have notoriously not flat floors. It’s possible to see in the above photo, but here are some other ones that show that feature more obviously:

It’s really easy to recognize a Tudor house because of its unique style and quirkiness.

As I said earlier, due to the nature of the houses, the whole city of London burned down, in what seemed to be an inevitable disaster. So the only example of Tudor architecture in London is in the Cathedrals and other important buildings. Some examples of the Tudor architecture in stone are in Oxford. Here’s some photos:

Another iconic part of Tudor style is in their dress, especially during the Elizabethan age. The National Portrait Gallery has many great examples of Tudor styles on monarchs:

The first picture is of Queen Elizabeth I, the second is of a series of monarchs in the Tudor era, and the last is of Frances Drake, a famous explorer in the Elizabethan age. I also saw some excellent examples of fashion evolution in the fashion museum in Bath, but I didn’t take any pictures.

Okay, moving now into the history of currency in England. Anglo-Saxon King Offa brought currency to the British Isles with his minting of the first silver penny in the 8th-century. Here’s what it looked like:

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It followed the same denomination of Holy Roman coins. Four farthings made a penny, 12 pennies made up a shilling, and 20 shillings made up a pound (in this case, a literal pound). In reality, 240 pennies rarely made a pound, but the name and value system stuck. However, coins worth more than a penny weren’t made until the introduction of the Sovereign with Henry VII in 1489. It looked like this:

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The first shillings were minted in 1504. Pound coins follow a similar style throughout the Tudor reign. In Henry VII’s time, the pound was debased and turned into a 1/3 silver and 2/3 bronze composition. At this point, 60 shillings made a pound, and later that was changed to 62 shillings in a pound. The value of gold coins changed considerably during this time.

Another new coin, the half-sovereign, was also minted during this time. It was, as you would expect, worth half a sovereign or 10 shillings. Here’s an example of one from Elizabeth I:

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An artistic difference between these coins and the sovereigns is the way the monarch is shown on the front. In the sovereigns, the monarch is shown in a throne facing front, in the half-sovereigns, just the monarch’s head is shown and they are facing to the side. The backs of the coins are very similar with the crests of the royal family in the center. However, these coins weren’t the only ones made during this time period.

The crown was also introduced during the Tudor period. The crown, with a value of 5 shillings (quarter pound for those keeping track) was introduced by King Edward VI in 1551. It looked like this:

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During this time, both gold and silver crowns were issued; it wasn’t until the reign of Charles II that silver became the only medal in crowns. Half crowns were also introduced with crowns and looked like this:

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Also introduced in 1551 was the sixpence, worth six pence or a half shilling. It looked like this:

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Another coin was the threepence. This coin struggled as it had a similar value to the “half-goat” or twopenny piece. It was created in 1551 with the rest of the coins and looked like this:

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Edward VI introduced several coins, but did in fact remove others. The half-pence and farthings coins ceased under his rule.

As is obvious by the sheer number of coins, coins became an important part of everyday life during the Tudor period. The sheer number of different coins allowed for ease in transactions, and the traditions of having several different coins continues today (right now I believe the coins are: 1 pence, Mike Pence, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, 2 pounds, and 5 pounds). However, since the coins were made with precious metals, it was pretty easy for people to shave the edges of the coins to make some money off of their materials. Their inconstant shape made detecting shaved coins nearly impossible. This problem plagued the mint, and it wasn’t until after the Tudors that that was fixed.

The process for making these coins didn’t really change during this period. Stamps were made more and more detailed and the centralization of coin-making allowed for consistency in the designs. As far as the design of coins, Henry VII started the tradition that lived for many many years.

That’s all for this period. Next post is about the Stuart Dynasty, or what’s known as the Reformation and Restoration. There is plenty of interesting style choices form this period that are still visible today, and in currency history, we get a celebrity special guest!

Period Styles Week 3: Dark and Middle Ages

Britain in the Medieval era was in flux, as was the rest of Europe. When the Romans left England (~450 AD), they basically left the island with no government. The Anglo-Saxons assumed power, and a long period with little recorded history ensues. During the dark ages (450-1066), the Anglo-Saxons ruled. They built churches around the country, mostly from the materials of old Roman buildings. During this time, they were constantly raided by vikings, the remains of one successful viking’s burial I had the pleasure of seeing. These are called the dark ages, because there is very little evidence of what occurred during this time, especially compared to the Roman era. 1066 brings William the Conquerer and the Norman invasion and the beginnings of English as a language. During this time, called the Middle Ages, William established many of the most iconic buildings of the era: Westminster abbey and the Tower of London. The middle ages goes all the way until 1485, when Henry VII seizes the crown. During this time, many of the iconic cathedrals and castles were built, including Kenilworth castle, which I was able to visit this past week.

The Medieval period is known for its churches and religious paintings. If I were to ask you what a medieval painting might look like, you would probably point to something like this:

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This painting, from the late 13th century and found at the National Gallery, is very representative of classic medieval artwork, complete with its deformed faces and balding man-baby. Initially, it seems odd that these paintings were prized. They aren’t particularly realistic, especially compared to renaissance and Victorian realism. But these paintings really are the beginnings of realism and perspective. People didn’t know how to do perspective yet, so painters were experimenting with how people’s faces could be put into two-dimensions, which mostly ended up with people in the paintings having weirdly deformed heads. Another iconic part of this painting is the gold circles around religious figures’ heads. These are how medieval artists drew halos, and without knowing how to draw a 3-D halo, they instead just drew circles. This painting was incredibly valuable, as the colors to make the painting would’ve been expensive, along with the gold used throughout the painting. It’s also massive, which only would’ve added to the cost.

Something you will notice throughout this examination of medieval art is that most of what remains is very Christian in nature. In architecture, this can be attributed to the simple fact that only the most important buildings were made of stone and would’ve survived several hundred years. In art, this can be attributed to the power of the church. The church was the only institution that had the money and influence to monopolize what art could be. The same could be said about printed literature as well. The first week I was here I had the pleasure of seeing illuminated books from this period, all of which were bibles. Illuminated texts are astounding, and if you have the ability to go to see them, I highly recommend it. The churches influence on medieval artwork gives a skewed vision of what we see as medieval society. However, the art of a time always is affected by who is in power, and in this case, it was the church.

Now, moving on to some of the churches themselves that I was able to visit. I visited St. Pancras Old Church, a church founded in the early dark ages, and Westminster abbey among others. I walked through or past several others, including St. Andrew Undershaft which is now flanked by the Gerkin, a large post-modern building:

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These churches, especially the smaller ones, all have large stone towers and a small chapel behind it. In many cases, parts of the churches were destroyed throughout history, so exploring them ends up being relatively fruitless if one hopes for medieval interior design.

All of these buildings are fascinating in their longevity, but I will continue to focus on how gold was used during various times in history. Thus far, gold has been used to show wealth and status in various designs, and the dark and middle ages are no different. I already showed one example, the painting, which is the earliest example of gold in 2-D art styles. Gold was still used in jewelry throughout Europe, and still a hallmark of currency. Here are a large collection of gold jewelry and coinage in medieval England:

The first 4 pictures are from the viking burial that I mentioned earlier, and the last 4 pictures are coins and jewelry from post-Norman invasion. With the advancement of technology comes the use of gold decorating more useful items, such as the clasp in the first picture. Gold, in these times, is still a sign of wealth, and people are getting more creative in how they display it. As for the coins, people figured out how to get even more detailed in their stamps. the detail on the coins is easy to see in the last photo. In that photo, the designs and art on the coins is easily visible. The use of classic art and imagery on the coins was a way to differentiate British coins from other country’s coins in the rest of Europe. I could also imagine that the artwork on the coins was a way to get merchants to trade with the coin’s origin country. If the coin was beautiful, then people would seek it, and it would bring in more trade to the country.

To bring it all together, medieval society was heavily shaped by the church. In the power vacuum left by the Romans, the only constant was the church, and the wealth and influence they had meant they could direct the flow of art. The only buildings of the era that stand are the only few that were built in stone: Castles and Cathedrals. Gold was still used as a way to decorate, but people were getting more and more creative with how gold could be used. Coinage is getting more elaborate as a response to the division of power in Europe.

Whew, that was a long one. Next week I will dive into the Tudor period, famous for its old wooden buildings and the Elizabethan period, home of one of the most influential English cultural icons: the Royal mint. What, you thought I’d say Shakespeare?

Until then, here’s a sneak peak into my personal blog post of the week, just a few photos from our trip to Kenilworth Castle:

Period Styles Week 2: Roman (40 AD – 410 AD)

Hello! Week 2 is in the books, and with that comes the study of Roman structure, art, and artifacts in London and the surrounding area. This week started with a day trip to St. Alban’s, a wonderful little town full of old buildings, a large cathedral, and an ancient theatre. The Romans were incredibly good at leaving their mark wherever they went, which means there is a significant amount of things to look at and study, especially considering many of these structures or artifacts are almost 2,000 years old! First off, let’s look at what some of the buildings still look like:

Most of these buildings are in total ruin, except for one. The exception isn’t from Roman time, but is built from Roman materials. The weird, shoddy look on the church comes from people stealing other building’s material and turning into what it is today. Included in the picture set: An old wall, a church, the remains of a large house, and an ancient theatre. Due to age, pretty much only the foundation remains, but there’s a lot to induce about what Romans valued even in just the foundations. One thing that was obviously valued is structural stability and long lasting construction. Just the fact that a foundation exists is pretty remarkable, seeing that nothing really built before this uses that technology. In the house remains, there also exists an ancient heating system, in which a fire was put in a small pit and iron tubes would direct the heat around the house.

The theatre also gives us a ton of insights into what was valued in Roman times. The space was set up to give an easy view of the stage for all that attended. It was huge, meaning many went to go watch. Many of the aspects of a modern theatre can be found in the remains of the ancient Roman theatre.

The Romans didn’t just leave buildings behind, they also left countless other artifacts, such as various metalware, tiled mosaics, jewelry, etc. The museum associated with the theatre had a number of various artifacts:

The tiled mosaic was found in an old roman building, and the coins were all found together in a hoard. Personally, I find coinage and currency to be really fascinating, and a really good marker for what different civilizations found beautiful. To expand further, I also include gold in general, as the way gold is used can give us insight as to how different peoples valued precious objects. First, I’ll start with the coins. Classically, a roman coin has the likeness of an emperor minted on one side and his name on the back. This tradition held for the entire time Rome occupied England. This sort of almost cold efficiency and practicality is very common to find in Roman artifacts. The coins are beautiful: the detail on the most well-preserved coins are striking, but the Romans valued practicality first, and decadence had to work within that.

The rings at the museum are significantly less ornate than the pieces of jewelry from the pre-Roman times. They are simple with either stamps or jewels. They still signified class and elegance, but were easier to make and functional.

Artifacts from the British Museum also reflect the same functionality:

In this collection there is jewelry, coinage, a gilded statue, a clasp, and what are called “Votive Plaques.” Votive plaques are thin metal sheets with designs of gods on them. Their purpose is to give to those gods in return for favors. In this group, I find the statue particularly interesting, as gilding is a process that is difficult to achieve. There was a pre-Roman artifact that was also gilded. Did the Romans learn from the Celts, or visa versa?

The Romans valued practicality. Their aqueducts are some of the finest examples of engineering in the world, and plenty still stand today. The sheer number of ancient Roman ruins that still resemble what they use to be is a testament to their knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. This logical bullheadedness is reflected in their coinage and jewelry. Gold was used as ritual objects or to show status and wealth. Within the practicality, the Romans found beauty. Their sculptures of the human body are beautiful in their celebration of the human form.

That’s about it for my research into the Roman period of English history. Obviously there are plenty of other things I could’ve talked about, like how London got it’s shape, or tiled mosaics, or clothing, or swords, or any number of things. Unfortunately it would be a monumental task to cover everything, so I will continue to focus on gold and currency. This will allow me to make cool connections on how extravagance was obtained throughout the ages. Next week, I will be talking about the Medieval times, all the way from the last of the Roman occupation (410 AD) to the ascension of Henry VII (1485 AD).

 

 

Period Styles Week 1: Prehistory

Hello! This is the first of several blog posts for my independent study class: Period Styles. In it, I am going to talk about the styles of different periods of British history, from Prehistory (pre-Roman) to the Windsor (modern) period. This week I’ll go into detail about the styles of the pre-Roman native Brits: What appealed to them aesthetically and the context the art or artifacts was used in.

Prehistory dates from around 8000 BCE, when the earliest British artifacts date to, to the Roman conquest in about 40 AD. The people living in what is now called the British Isles mainly include the Celts. The Celts are famous for their weave-like designs that somewhat resemble a knot, like this:

f15285ad41f97eadb06fb063ca11a88f                       (found from Pintrest)

This design is visible in a lot of their artifacts, for example these metallic clothing ornaments:

IMG_20170407_133653 (From the British Museum)

The design found on the top left artifact is from a Celtic art style called La tène. The style appeared and spread rapidly across the Celtic empire, which stretched all across Western Europe. This style, along with the other curved designed found in the picture above are found in all decorative Celtic artifacts from the era.

Torcs, a piece of Celtic jewelry that is worn around the neck, are a symbol of status. Many were buried together in hoards, and discovered almost perfectly intact. They are thick, gold or bronze bands, either weaved or solid, with designs on the ends where a piece of string would be attached. Here is a large collection of them, also on display at the British Museum:

The weave pattern was created by a process called lost wax. I didn’t really understand it when I read it, but more or less they would create the mold in wax, encase it, remove the wax, the fill the mold with metal, in this case either bronze or gold. They are meticulously detailed and completely solid, with the Great Torc, the heading image, weighing right around 2 kilos (4.5 pounds). These artifacts fascinated me. As I walked around the display I realized just how much I love gold and how it is used in various time periods.

Transition to Main Theme Discovery.

Another thing we were supposed to find out was what interested us individually. With that thing in mind, we can use that to help focus our research and analysis to make it more interesting for us to discover. So, in my slow walk through the prehistory exhibit in the British Museum, I discovered my love for gold, and the different ways it can and was used throughout different periods of history.

Clearly, in the pre-Roman days, it was used to display wealth and status. Specifically in the design of torcs. However, that wasn’t the only place gold was used:

These artifacts include a probably ceremonial shoulder piece, necklaces and wristbands, cups, and coins. Gold is definitely considered a precious metal by early Brits, but it was also plentiful enough that they used it to make a lot of different items. It was also easy to work with, so that made gold a material that could really be used in everything except war items. Clearly, the Celts found beauty and status in gold, but there was also a practicality with how they used it. Next week, I’ll be moving to the Roman period, and from what I’ve seen thus far, there will be an interesting comparison with the coins from Celtic and Roman times, and the use of gold as part of structures.