“Tread softly ….”

Richard Castle’s parquetry floors

Nele Lüttmann


When Richard Castle came to Ireland around 1728, the most common flooring material in Ireland comprised stone slabs or wooden boards. Exceptionally elegant houses were sometimes laid with stone or marble floors but the upper storeys usually had floors made of plain oak boards. Castle had quite a different approach to the design and execution of a floor. Inspired by what he had seen on his travels through Europe, he introduced a more elaborate type of flooring in Ireland and instructed his craftsmen to execute these designs in a highly competent manner.

“Parquet de Versailles” in the Galeries des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) at the Palace of Versailles, late 17th centruy. Photo: Lionel Allorge – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The history of this type of wooden flooring began in France in the last three decades of the 17th century. In the course of upgrading the old hunting lodge at Versailles into a magnificent palace, Louis XIV had parquet flooring laid for the first time in great abundance, which soon aroused admiration and imitation in palaces all across Europe. The so-called “Parquet de Versailles” became a representative fitting of floors in important palace interiors and was very popular in Germany, particularly at the Prussian and Saxon Courts. This kind of panel parquetry served as a basis for every further decorative development of parquetry floors.

Left: “Parquet de Versailles” in the Monströsensaal at Augustus II the Strong’s Moritzburg Palace, Saxony, first third 18th century. Photo: Deutsche Fotothek, CC BY-SA 3.0. Centre: Kurfürstliches Gemach, Schloss Weilburg, Hesse. The date 1701 is inlaid within the central octagon. Today the parquetry is covered with a protective floor modelled exactly on the original. Photo: Michael Leukel / Staatliche Schlösser und Gärten Hessen. Right: Audienzzimmer Schloss Friedenstein, Thuringia, first half 18th century. Photo: Stefan C. Hoja – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Over time parquetry flooring became more and more elaborate and the most splendid and multi-variant intarsia parquetry floors were manufactured in Central Europe. Ornamentation followed stylistic trends and derived from widely distributed pattern books and engravings as well as from architectural treatises and building handbooks. The most elaborately structured floorings were made of a variety of fine wood; their formal structure sometimes mirrored the ceiling design and the materials used referred to the inlaid boiseries and furnishings of the room.

Ceiling ornamentation at the Temple of Bacchus, third book of Serlio’s “Architettura” 1544. Photo: courtesy of HathiTrust.

As a widely travelled architect, Castle had a broad range of flooring designs to draw on. He used available patterns and combined them with his own ideas, thereby applying a variety of parquetry techniques: from simple geometrically laid plank flooring and more elaborate panel parquetry to very complex geometric designs not restricted to the individual panel and featuring smaller inlays. As a literate and sophisticated master-builder, Castle was aware of international exemplars and had competent craftsmen to execute his designs. The identity of these craftsmen is yet to be determined. Were they among the ‘artificers from most parts of Europe’ noted by a visitor to Russborough in the mid-1740s? As yet, no German parquetry has been found that entirely corresponds with Castle’s floor designs.

Left and top right: Saloon, Russborough House, Co. Wicklow, mid-18th century. Lower right: Ceiling in the Saloon at Iveagh House, Dublin, first half 18th century. Photos: ©CRAFTVALUE.

If you know of any parquetry floors in Ireland, Britain or Europe that bear resemblance to those of Russborough and Powerscourt, we would welcome your assistance.

Egyptian Hall, Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, model, first half 18th century. Photo: ©CRAFTVALUE.

Further Reading

Calloway, Stephen, and Elisabeth Cromley, eds. Häuser, Stile, Interieurs: Innenarchitektur in England und Amerika. Anregungen und Muster. Leipzig: Seemann, 2005.

Fawcett, Jane. Historic floors: their care and conservation. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1998.

Götz, Ernst. “Höfische Holzböden und Parkette.” In Parkett: Historische Holzfußböden und zeitgenössische Parkettkultur, edited by Peter Nickl, 29-79. München: Klinkhardt und Biermann, 1999.

Nierhaus, Lucas. “Zeder und Weißbuche im Kontrast.” In Königliches Parkett in preußischen Schlössern. Geschichte, Erhaltung und Restaurierung begehbarer Kunstwerke, edited by Hans Michelsen, 380-390. Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, 2010.

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