Royal Armouries

Paint Analysis and the Wooden Horses and Heads of the Line of Kings

Images

Photo of strips of different colours annotated to explain different paint layers

Paint analysis of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings.( XVII.7)

  • Photo of strips of different colours annotated to explain different paint layers

    Paint analysis of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings.( XVII.7)

  • x-ray of the neck of a wooden horse showing metal nails

    X-ray of the neck of a carved wooden horse (XVII.8)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VIII

    Carved wooden head of Henry VIII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.1)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Charles I

    Carved wooden head of Charles I by Grinling Gibbons. English, 1686-7 (XVII.2)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Edward III

    Carved wooden head of Edward III. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.41)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry V

    Carved wooden head of Henry V. English, about 1688-91 (XVII.44)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VI

    Carved wooden head of Henry VI. English, about 1688-91 (XVII.43)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VII

    Carved wooden head of Henry VII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.40)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of James I

    Carved wooden head of James I. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.47)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of William I

    Carved wooden head of William I. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.777)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of William III

    Carved wooden head of William III probably by Nicholas Alcock. English, 1702 (XVII.45)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Charles II

    Carved wooden head of Charles II by Grinling Gibbons. English, 1685-6 (XVII.3)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse against a stone wall

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. (XVII.10)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.11)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.12)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.14)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.16)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1865-90 (XVII.17)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.18)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse against a stone wall

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. British, 19th century (XVII.20)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.30)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. (XVII.7)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.8)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

  • Interior view of wooden horse

    Endoscope image showing the materials and construction details visible inside the body cavity of horse. (XVII.9)

Paint Analysis and the Wooden Horses and Heads of the Line of Kings

Description

In the 1970s some of the carved horses were in poor condition and as part of the important research programme led by Dr Alan Borg, major restoration work was undertaken and at least two horses were repainted in the Armouries workshop . Another horse was restored in the 1980s and as the idea was developed for re-displaying a Line of Kings in the White Tower in the 1990s this process was continued and several horses were repainted by Charteris Restoration & Conservation in 1997. When major restoration work was undertaken on horse XVII.10 in 1996 paint samples were taken and sections examined by low power microscopy. This revealed that on top of the pale ground priming the oak body of the horse there were numerous layers of paint and varnish. The analysis showed that the horse had been painted in several different colours and had four coats of varnish interspersed among the various layers of paint. When the Line of Kings gallery opened in the White Tower in 1997 all except one of the twelve horses included had been repainted using late-20th century materials, several very recently. By contrast, the carved heads and hands were not repainted and showed relatively few signs of having been so for many years.

THE HORSES

It was decided that an analysis of the paint layers on each of the horses’ bodies would be worthwhile, not only to discover which colours each had originally been painted but also to determine whether some horses had more or fewer coats of paint than the others. It was hoped that identification of similarities and differences in the layers would reveal whether certain sub-groups shared a common pattern which differed from others and thereby indicated which had been painted together or separately. It was also hoped that it might be possible to recognise links between the paint colours formerly used on some horses and the descriptions found in some of the manuscript and published accounts. It was recognised that samples taken from the horses’ tails would be of more limited use as the tails have in many cases been swapped or replaced in the past and may have no connection with the horses to which they are currently attached.

Catherine Hassall, a historic paint analyst, was chosen to take and analyse samples and to prepare a report and cross-sections of the paint samples from each of the twelve horses .

THE PRIMERS

All the horses examined had their wood substrate primed with oil paint, not coated with gesso. This was surprising as an earlier account had referred to ‘a thick coat of gesso’ on a horse which was restored in the 1970s. This primer paint on most horses was a lead white oil paint, with slight variations in the case of some horses as shown below. This broad similarity between most of the primer layers suggests that the horses were delivered by the carvers in an untreated state and were primed, as required, by the Ordnance painters at the Tower of London. This was disappointing in that it eliminated a potential means of separating the horses into workshop sub-groups according to differences in their primer and undercoat layers. However, on the other hand it demonstrated the potential for the results of the physical and archival research to reinforce each other. The Board of Ordnance records include payments to their Master Painter, Valentine Bayley (or Bayly), from 1683 for ‘priming, stopping, painting and laying in the colour’ on horses and figures. In 1685 and 1686 Bayley was paid to paint the horses and faces which Grinling Gibbons had carved and supplied for the figures of Charles I & II. Ordnance papers also document that their painters were paid to re-paint the horses in the mid 18th century.

Three interesting features emerged from the comparisons of the primers:

THE UNDERCOATS

Hassall’s paint sections revealed that many of the horses were not given a separate undercoat but instead a thin layer of the topcoat was first applied. However, four horses have an undercoat, each different, which was distinct from the original topcoat applied over it.

THE TOPCOATS

Eight of the horses each have between eight and ten different paint finishes, suggesting that they have long formed part of a set which was usually repainted as a whole rather than one at a time. In addition, horse XVII.9 was partially stripped of paint when it was restored in 1987, so it is only possible to determine that it has had at least seven different paint treatments. It seems likely that it should also belong in the ‘eight to ten’ group except for the unintended effect of restoration (by contrast to the others, XVII.20 has only five paint finishes, which corresponds with other evidence that this is a later, probably early 19th century horse) two other horses, XVII.12 & 16, each have only seven paint finishes.

In the 19th century most horses were painted brown with black tails and manes, regardless of their original colours. In the 20th century attempts were made, sometimes incorrectly, to repaint them in their original colours. In every case except XVII.18 the horses have been repainted in the second half of the 20th century as their top paint layer includes titanium dioxide white, a pigment not used earlier.

THE DETAILS

Samples were also taken of some of the details which show different paint treatments to the rest of the horses. The mouths, where sampled, were originally painted pink. Red paint was introduced instead in the nineteenth century. In several cases the upper layers of paint on the eyes have been removed in the relatively recent past, taking the surface back to an early 19th century layer, while the outlining of the eyes in red was also started during the 19th century. In other cases, the 20th century painters have worked around the eyes rather than going over the 19th century finishes. However, several horses have fairly modern paint on their eyes.

PAINTWORK: HORSE BY HORSE

Object number Number of treatments Primer Undercoat Original topcoat Colour today
XVII.7 10 unusual yellowish white lead as topcoat off-white yellow
XVII.8 10 unusual buff, chalk plus ochre as topcoat mid brown black
XVII.9 7+ lead white, left dirty grey, partially stripped during 1987 restoration brown dark brown
XVII.10 9 lead white and undispersed oil as topcoat buff grey
XVII.11 8 lead white, left dirty as topcoat mid-brown orangey-brown
XVII.12 7 lead white plus fine charcoal black as topcoat black black
XVII.13 Paint analysis awaited – 2013
XVII.14 10 lead white, left dirty thick white black dark brown
XVII.16 7 lead white, left dirty Grey light brown light brown
XVII.17 10 lead white, left dirty grey possibly black grey
XVII.18 9 fine charcoal black dark grey on mane & hooves under black buff with black mane buff with brown mane
XVII.20 only 5 cream as topcoat very pale grey black
XVII.30 8 dark red ochre grey black black


On the evidence of the paint alone, certain horses seem to form sub-groups according to particular characteristics, while other individuals stand out as being unusual for specific reasons:

Sub-group 1: All horses except XVII.7, 8 & 30 share a broadly similar primer, consisting of lead white and oil.

Sub-group 2: Five horses with the lead white/oil primer seem to have been in storage for a considerable time during which they acquired a layer of dirt: XVII.9, 11, 14, 16 & 17.

Sub-group 3: Six horses have evidence of 9 or 10 paint treatments: XVII. 7, 8, 10, 14, 17 & 18.

Sub-group 4: Four horses have evidence of 7 or 8 paint treatments: XVII.11, 12, 16 & 30.

Individual 1: XVII.20 appears to have not formed part of the original Line but to have been acquired in the 19th century. It has only 5 paint treatments and also differs from the other horses in being somewhat larger, made of softwood, having a different body construction type and distinctive carved detailing of the mane and forelock.

Individual 2: XVII.18 is the only horse not re-painted with late-20th century paint. It physically differs from the other extant horses in being thinner and smaller, made of elm and of a different constructional technique. Its pose and the details of the mane and forelock, etc are also distinct.

Individual 3: XVII.7 has a distinctive yellowish primer, comprising yellow ochre and carbon black in a white lead oil paint.

Individual 4: XVII.30 has a dark red ochre primer which is totally different from all the other extant horses. This corresponds with it differing from most of the horses in its dimensions and construction technique. Red ochre was widely used as a primer in the 17th century.

Individual 5: XVII.8 has a chalk/ochre buff primer which is unlike all the other extant horses.

Individual 6: XVII.9 alone seems to have had some of its layers of paint stripped, during restoration in 1987, making its exact number of paint treatments uncertain. However, it would otherwise almost certainly have had 8 to 10 treatments and thus been in either sub-group 3 or 4.

THE HEADS: PAINTED FACES

Little research seemed to have been done previously on the paint of the royal heads from the Line of Kings. Catherine Hassall examined the ‘royal’ heads, analysed samples and reported on the evidence for repainting. Hassall concluded that most heads had been repainted only three or four times. By comparison most of the wooden horses had been repainted twice as often or more. The heads probably needed less redecoration as a result of them being better protected against dirt and damage by the helmets which encased them.

Unlike any of the horses, however, several of the ‘royal’ heads were stripped of paint and varnished approximately a hundred years ago. Analysis confirmed that two of the four stripped heads examined were definitely once painted in lifelike colours, and that one of the others probably was. For the fourth example, no conclusive evidence could be found. The analysis confirmed that the heads were mostly painted only at the front. However, this did not apply to William III (XVII.45), for some reason unknown. Perhaps its maker, Nicholas Alcock, was given different instructions, or the head was intended to displayed without a helmet covering it.

It was also interesting to discover that in almost all cases the original paint schemes for the kings’ heads were considerably paler in skin colour than the present treatment, although the ‘hair’ appears to have been black. In addition, the lips were not originally picked out in bright red and this was a later introduction. The other general conclusion to emerge from the study was that, unlike all except one of the horses, none of the heads examined has been repainted since the middle of the 20th century at the latest, as only lead-based paints were found.

XVII.1: Henry VIII: five paint finishes. Uniquely, it has nailed on cheek enhancements which are original. The head has been sanded down between re-paintings. From surviving fragments it was possible to tell that the original flesh tone was very pale pink. The four subsequent finishes were much redder and darker than the first.

XVII.2: Charles I: four paint finishes. Reputedly supplied by Grinling Gibbons in 1686-7, its ground layer is lead white with carbon black. The first flesh tones were pale, tinted with red lake & vermillion. Later schemes used red ochre, producing muddy, darker tones.

XVII.3: Charles II: stripped and varnished. Reputedly supplied by Grinling Gibbons in 1685-6, the paint fragments found were too small to provide useful evidence of former treatments.

XVII.40: probably Henry VII: stripped. This was the only head to reveal no traces of paint at all. However, this does not prove that it was not painted originally but rather that it has probably been stripped more thoroughly than the rest. In view of the others, this was almost definitely once painted in life-like colours.

XVII.41: Edward III: three paint finishes only. It seems not to have been sanded, showing a ground layer of lead white & chalk, followed by an original pale flesh finish of lead white tinted with vermilion. Repainting using red ochre for a darker pink was followed by its present orange-pink treatment.

XVII.43: probably Henry VI: stripped and varnished. Fragmentary paint evidence suggests a red ochre primer followed by a greyish ground and then a dark pink tinted with vermillion and red ochre. This was followed by a buff coloured scheme.

XVII.44: Henry V: stripped and varnished. However, fragments reveal a grey ground of lead white and carbon black followed by flesh pink of lead white and red ochre. There is also a later scheme using vermillion, indicating at least two finishes before it was stripped.

XVII45: William III: five paint finishes. Probably the head commissioned from Nicholas Alcock and added to the Line in 1702, this differs from the other heads in being fully painted, not just the front. The ground is lead white with a trace of red lead while the original flesh tones were pale pink, mixed from lead white and red ochre. On the fourth scheme a black beard and moustache were added, which were painted out by the present paint treatment.

XVII.47: James I: four paint finishes. The ground appears to have been white, with an original pale pink flesh tone tinted with red ochre. The head has not been sanded down and the present finish is darker in its flesh tones and pure vermillion lips.

XVII.777: William the Conqueror: four paint finishes. The ground of lead white with red and yellow ochres was grey/buff, followed by an original pale buff flesh tone. The head has not been sanded, showing an almost white re-paint, followed by a strong brown/pink treatment and then its present pink scheme.

Related Objects

Wooden Horse - Black stallion - XVII.12 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1685 | Object number: XVII.12

Wooden Horse - Black stallion - XVII.8 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.8

Wooden Horse - Black stallion-XVII.20 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.20

Wooden Horse - Black stallion-XVII.30 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.30

Wooden Horse - Buff stallion with brown mane - XVII.18 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.18

Wooden Horse - Dark brown stallion - XVII.14 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.14

Wooden Horse - Grey stallion - XVII.17 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.17

Wooden Horse - Light brown stallion - XVII.16 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.16

Wooden Horse - Orangey-brown stallion - XVII.11 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.11

X-radiography and the Carved Wooden Horses, Heads and Hands Click on the title link above to find out more.

Wooden Horses: an Introduction Click on the title link above to find out more.

Wooden Heads: an Introduction Click on the title link above to find out more.

Timber Analysis, Dendrochronology and the Wooden Horses, Heads and Hands Click on the title link above to find out more.

Endoscopy and the Wooden Horses of the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Wooden Horse - Yellow stallion - XVII.7 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.7

Wooden Horse - Dark brown stallion - XVII.9 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1685 | Object number: XVII.9

Wooden Horse - Dark grey stallion - XVII.10 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1685 | Object number: XVII.10

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