Christine Casey

15 July 2020

The handling of classical detailing across adjacent surfaces was at times a complex task for designers and craftsmen. Diaper work and Fretwork or Greek key were ubiquitous treatments for borders in eighteenth-century plasterwork and joinery but complex to achieve. According to Edward Hoppus, in The Gentleman’s and Builder’s Repository London, 1737, ‘it has been hitherto accounted a Difficulty, and by some alledged to be impossible, to turn round the Corner, or Angle, there being frequently a Flower or Shell &c placed instead of the Fret being continued’. Hoppus provided two engraved plates showing ‘how they may be done in the most difficult that can be invented’.

Edward Hoppus, The Gentleman’s and Builder’s Repository, London, 1737 Photo: Haithi Trust

Artari and Bagutti were highly skilled stuccatori but nevertheless took the easy option of using bosses and acanthus leaves at the junction of the Cambridge Senate House.

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The Senate House, Cambridge, 1721-30, stucco by Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti. Photo: Historic England Archive

In the saloon of 85 St Stephen’s Green in Dublin c.1738 the Lafranchini brothers likewise took the short-cut of using acanthus leaves at the junction of the diaper trellis border of the ceiling soffit.

In the Library at Russborough of the mid 1740s (below) the Greek key ceiling border exhibits four different solutions to the corner, with unequal results.

Soffit of the Library ceiling at Russborough House, County Wicklow. Photo: Stephen Farrell

At Regent House in Trinity College in 1759 Patrick and John Wall managed the corner problem successfully but were obliged to use separate panels of fretwork for the interior borders of the perimeter panels. In total they executed 576 feet of ‘Roman fret’ for the ceiling at 14 pence per foot or £10 in total, while the freely modelled ornament inside the panels cost £35.

Ceiling at Regent House, Trinity College Dublin by Patrick and John Wall. Photo: Paul Tierney courtesy of Dublin City Council
Detail of the ceiling at Regent House, Trinity College Dublin by Patrick and John Wall. Photo: Paul Tierney courtesy of Dublin City Council
At Bellinter in County Meath, designed by Richard Castle c.1750 but completed after his death, fretwork was employed in an uncanonical manner and combined with a plethora of other classical mouldings.
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