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Bedstead - The Melville Bed

The Melville Bed

  • Object:

    Bedstead

  • Place of origin:

    London, England (probably, upholstered)

  • Date:

    ca. 1700 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Marot, born 1661 - died 1752 (possibly, designer)
    Lapiere, Francis, born 1653 - died 1714 (probably, upholsterer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Bedstock of oak; tester of pine; hangings of crimson Italian velvet with ivory Chinese silk linings, embroidered with crimson braid and fringe; some textile elements stiffened with linen; bed ticking of linen

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Melville

  • Museum number:

    W.35:1 to 72-1949

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, room 54a, case 1

  • Download image

Object Type
State beds were usually made to accommodate the monarch and were lavishly upholstered in the most expensive fabrics and trimmings. During the reigns of Charles II (1660-1685) and James II (1685-1688) the most elaborate examples were imported from Paris. By the reign of William III (1688-1702), the most sophisticated beds were made in London using French immigrant upholsterers.

Materials & Makling
The bedstead consists of an oak bedstock (frame) with four oak posts secured to the rails with bolts. It retains its original ropes and linen ticking fabric to support the mattresses. The top of the posts hold iron spikes that secure the tester (upper horizontal section) and cornice. The coved interior of the tester is built up with facetted boards. The Chinese silk lining bears a Chinese inscription on the selvedge (finished edge of the fabric). Traces of pencil on the underside of the tester cloth provide guidelines for the application of braid and fringe. The curtains are made of joined widths of velvet.

Place
Melville House was designed by the Scottish architect James Smith (born about 1646, died 1729) in 1697 and completed in 1702. The State Bedroom on the principal floor of the house was approached from the Great Staircase, hung with family portraits, via the Big Dining Room and Drawing Room.

Physical description

The bedstead consists of an oak bedstock with four oak posts secured to the rails with bolts, the posts chamfered above the bottom rails to become octagonal. The frame of the bed retains its original ropes and and linen ticking (twill in the light areas and plain-weave elsewhere) which are attached to the side and foot stock rails and a tension baton at the head of the bed. This was originally tightened by bolts (now missing) through the head rail. It has subsequently been tightened by being folded over and refixed to the tension baton. The side edges of the linen ticking are strengthened with piping and attached to the side linen sections by ropes inserted through eyelet holes strengthened with linen thread. The top of each post has two iron hooks to secure the curtain rods. The top of the posts hold iron spikes which secure the tester and cornice. Each of the posts have silk damask covers lined with linen. The pine tester has a horizontal subframe with a hole at each corner which slots over the spikes on the top of the posts. The pine cornice frame also slots over the spikes above the tester sub-frame and is separated from the latter by oak spacers which are now attached to the cornice frame. The tester consists of a pine structure of thick upright sides resting on the subframe. The sides support six pierced coved sections built up in facetted boards to achieve a coved interior - one at each corner and one in the middle of each side. The corner sections are attached to the upright sides by nails. The middle sections are attached by pine boards, nailed to the pierced sections, with holes which slot over iron eyes set into the upright sides and anchored with nails slotted through these eyes.

The tester cloth is of a different cream Chinese silk to the bed curtain linings and counterpane. At the head selvedge is a Chinese inscription. The central cartouche is made with thick pine boards curved up (by steaming?) at each end, forming a large central oval. In the centre is a smaller oval stepped to overlap the outer and providing support for yet another smaller oval. Rings in the top of the main boards provide the means of attachment to the middle sections of the coving. Traces of pencil drawings on the underside of the tester cloth provided rough guidelines for the passementerie of braid and fringe although these were not always followed.

The outer cornice of the upper framework is covered with crimson velvet with crimson fringe. The support six(?) coronets, a pair on each side and a pair at the foot end with at the corners four acanthus leaf scrolls. Two iron cantoon arms on brackets are fixed to the cornice frame. These support velvet cantoons, which are stiffened with linen and have separate silk linings. The cantoons are curved at the ends (gathered by long linen stitches) and fringed all round the edges. The cantoons are tied up with cords with tassels at each end. The velvet upper outer valances are attached to the tester frame. The silk inner upper valances are attached to the inside of the tester frame.

The head board similarly covered with cream silk and embellished with crimson silk braid and fringe supports a cresting of pierced acanthus plumage, and is embellished with the joint monogram of George, first Earl of Melville and his wife, Catherine. The outer scrolls support two Earl's coronets which are symbolic of the patrons' noble status.

Above the headboard, the head curtain of silk damask is gathered in loose vertical folds accross the centre section. It is attached to the upper framework behind the inner valance at the top, the head posts at either side and behind the carved headboard at the bottom. It is embellished with two drapes consisting of gathered silk curtains edged with crimson fringe and lined with linen. The drapes have attachments at the upper and lower fixing points consisting of choux and tassels.

There are two foot curtains and two head curtains. The foot curtains are made of five panels of velvet 50 cms wide and one panel of 10 cm wide which was designed to fit round the corner with short fringe down its seam sand a longer fringe on the bottom edge. The linings are in widths of 69 cms. The curtains end approximately 18 cms from the floor. Both curtains have cords attached to the top ends with tassels at the ends for pulling the curtains along the rods. The head curtains are made up of two 50 cm widths of velvet. The base valances are attached to the base rail and are in two sections. The upper section consists of a pine moulding to which braid and velvet are glued and nailed with fringes at the top and the bottom. The lower sections consists of a valance similar to the upper valances with swags, bells and tassels on cords.

The coverlet, a remarkable survival, is of silk damask embroidered with crimson braid and fringe. The central cartouche frames the Earl's monogram beneath an Earl's coronet
with a pendant of simulated tasseled fringe embroidered in crimson braid. The outer borders of the coverlet are decorated with crimson fringe to form an effective edging where the counterpane is turned down to cover the sides and end of the bed. The coverlet has a specially shaped section to cover the bolster.

Place of Origin

London, England (probably, upholstered)

Date

ca. 1700 (made)

Artist/maker

Marot, born 1661 - died 1752 (possibly, designer)
Lapiere, Francis, born 1653 - died 1714 (probably, upholsterer)

Materials and Techniques

Bedstock of oak; tester of pine; hangings of crimson Italian velvet with ivory Chinese silk linings, embroidered with crimson braid and fringe; some textile elements stiffened with linen; bed ticking of linen

Marks and inscriptions

Duma/Louuol (?)
1828

Dimensions

Height: 469 cm over canopy, Width: 260 cm over canopy, Length: 265 cm over canopy

Object history note

Commisioned by George Melville, 1st Earl of Melville (born in Monimail, Fife, about 1634, died there in 1707); probably made to mark the inheritance in 1698 of the earldom of Leven by David, son and heir to the Earldom of Melville. Possibly designed by Daniel Marot (born in Paris 1661, died in The Netherlands, 1752); probably upholstered in London by Francis Lapiere (born 1653, working in England from about 1683, died in London, 1714).

Commissioned by George Melville for the State Bedroom at Melville House, Fife, Scotland. It was symbolic of his status as representative of William III in Scotland. He was William III's Secretary of State for Scotland from 1689 to 1691, Keeper of the Privy Seal from 1691 and from 1696 President of the Council. The bed was listed in the State Room at Melville House in an inventory of 1837 from the Marquis of Ailsa's papers in the Scottish Record Office, Edinburgh, GD25/9/31/3A. The bed was photographed in situ by Country Life in 1911 (Vol. XXX, 30 December 1911, pp.1011). It remained at Melville House until 1949 when it was given to the Victoria and Albert Museum by The Rt.Hon. The Earl of Leven.

Notes from R.P. 622/49

February & March 1949 correspondence
between Lord Leven and the V & A indicated that Lord Leven was initially interested in selling what is described as "an early 18th century bed".

19 March 1949 file note, W A Thorpe
reports that the bed is illustrated in Country Life Vol. XXX, p.1011, 30 Dec. 1911

19 March 1949 letter, Leven to Thorpe
explains that if the bed is not valued at a large sum, under several hundred pounds, he would be prepared to present it to the Museum.

28 March 1949 letter, Edwards to Floyd (Christies)
requests his opinion and notes:
"Owing to the rarity of these State Beds now I think….it should not be exported".

30 March 1949 memo, Thorpe to Edwards
reports on a meeting with Lord Leven at which he agreed to offer the bed as a gift and details regarding collection of the bed are given. Leven requests return of a photograph of the bed (photo returned/not in R P File).

6 April 1949 letter, V & A to Lord Leven
acknowledges his offer of the "four-poster from the State Bedroom at Melville".

3 May 1949 minute sheet, W A Thorpe report
on 30 April inspection of the bed at Melville House (see attached) and finishes the removal instructions. (no attached sheets as referred to in 3rd para' are in R P)

May 1949 correspondence
records details of transporting the bed to London

18 May 1949 Gift form
lists as "Ceremonial bedstead from Melville House, Co. Fife. Crimson velvet and white silk brocade on wood frame. Scottish; about 1692-1707".

20 May 1949 file memos, Edwards and Ashton
discuss the gallery placement of the bed "this Leven bed badly needs a (case) in the not too distant future or it will certainly disintegrate badly".

26 May 1949 letter, Leigh Ashton to Lord Leven
gives thanks for the bed
"the superb proportions of this Scottish bed, no less than the quality and design of its appointments and the condition of its crimson velvet and silk brocade, will make it one of the most remarkable pieces of moveable furniture that has even been added to the National Collection by the generosity of a private benefactor. These circumstances will gain greatly, in an historical sense from the insignia and associations of the first Earl of Melville".

Minute paper draft, of the above letter
bears the additional notation
"this bed has been called Scottish as the 1st Earl of Melville was under William III the uncrowned King of S; and so regarded himself".

Undated minute paper
Contains a sketch of the bed's cornice with dimensions.

20 October 1949 letter, Leigh Ashton to Lord Leven
encloses photographs of the re-erected bed in Room 56 (photos are not in RP file)

21 January 1950 letter, Robert Stevenson (National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland) to Leigh Ashton
quotes a Burlington Magazine article by Thorpe (January 1950 pp.3-8 and figs. 2-7 -- this article is not in the RP file). "….which describes a bedstead of remarkable quality made for the first Earl of Melville about 1700, and recently presented to the V and A by the Earl of Leven. Some phrases in the article seem to sum up the importance of its: 'the fabrics are in absolutely pristine condition' being now unequalled in this respect by any other 'Pro-Regal' bedstead of the time, and 'the author is Scotland as well as the house ---- It is not least Scottish in being good European'.. ". Stevenson requests return of the bed to Scotland on a matter of principle.

22 February 1950 response, Ashton
expresses disagreement and states "there is no question whatever that the bed was made in London…the wish of the owner (carries) considerable weight, the proper home for a London bed is London".

29 June 1950 letter, Lord Leven to V & A
supports keeping the bed in London

4 July 1950 letter, V & A to Lord Leven
thanks him for his support and again states "it is almost certain that the bed was made in London - unless you have some other documentary evidence to the contrary - and it is therefore most appropriately seen here".

In further correspondence with the Board of Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland, Ashton refuses to return the bed to Scotland.

17 February 1951 letter, Ashton
explains, that the bed had to be taken down and reassembled here, a matter which took nearly a year, and the installation of a whole gallery was planned round it.

Historical significance: George Melville's association with William of Orange dated from the early 1680s when he spent a period of exile in the Hague. He would have admired the work of Daniel Marot who was responsible for designing the interiors of William of Orange's hunting palace at Het Loo. The Melville bed was probably inspired by those Dutch interiors and by a knowledge of the interiors designed for William and Mary at Whitehall, Kensington and Hampton Court.

Historical context note

The bed was listed as in the State Bedroom at Melville House in 1837 ( Inventory of Melville House, Fife, 1837, from the Marquis of Ailsa's papers, Scottish Record Office, Edinburgh GD25/9/31/3A). Melville House was designed by the Scottish architect James Smith (c.1646-1729), it was begun in 1697 and the final masonry work and roof only completed in the summer of 1699. It would have been furnished in the next year, and the family papers record that Lord Melville was buying tapestries in London from September to December 1700. There are no surviving bills for the State Bed.
The West facing State Bedroom was on the Principal Floor of Melville House, and the State Bed was intended as a symbol of Lord Melville's authority. The State Bedroom formed the climax of a series of State Apartments approached from the Great Staircase to the North of the house, which was hung with family portraits including those of the 1st Earl and Countess of Melville by Sir John Baptist Medina. The Great Staircase led on the Principal Floor to the South facing Big Dining Room which at the time of George Melville's death was hung with four tapestries and furnished with a scrutoir (desk), a painted screen, a dozen turkey-work chairs and two tables, one oval and one square. A Drawing Room led from the Big Dining Room to the State Bedchamber. The latter was serviced by a Dressing Room, Closet and Back Stairs. The State Bedchamber opened directly into an Antichamber which in turn led to the Great Staircase Landing. The sequence of rooms is derived from a plan of the Principal and Vestibule Floors of Melville House which was drawn in 1733 to accompany an account of the lightening which struck Melville House during a storm on 27th October 1733 (Melville Papers, Scottish Record Office, GD 26/13/272). There is no detailed description of the other contents of the State Bedroom, but there is no evidence in the family papers that this room was used during the 18th century. It was created in order to receive the monarch,William III. But King William never visited Scotland. By 1733, George Melville's eldest son, David, 2nd Earl of Melville and 3rd Earl of Leven occupied 'My Lord's Bedchamber' directly below the State Bedchamber on the Vestibule floor. In 1707 the earl's bedroom had been furnished with 'a dark colour mohair bed with a blue casnet (sarsnet) lineing/embroidered and a covering of /that same, a guilded cornice/ and feet conforme' the hangings more practical for everyday use that those on the State Bed. The other furniture included two tapestry hangings, an agate cabinet, a walnut cabinet with a table, pair of candlestands and mirror en suite, an easy chair, six cane chairs, a cabinet for holding papers and a little writing table'.

The Country Life photograph of the bedroom shows mid-eighteenth century chairs, covered in matching velvet. There is no evidence that the State Bed was originally accompanied by upholstered chairs en suite as shown in contemporary designs by Daniel Marot.

Descriptive line

The State Bed from Melville House, Fife, Scotland. Oak and pine upholstered in crimson Genoa velvet and white Chinese silk damask embroidered with crimson silk braid, English, c.1700

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Lisa Clinton. The State Bed from Melville House. HMSO, 1979
Sheet 21 in series Victoria and Albert Museum Masterpieces, leaflet of six A4 pages describing in brief the History, Manufacture and Design of the Melville Bed.
Thornton, Peter. Seventeenth -Century Interior Decoration in England, France and Holland. New Haven and London: 1978, pls.97-98, 142.
Edwards, Ralph. The Dictionary of English Furniture, London: Country Life. 2nd edition, 1954, Vol.I, p.54, figs. 29,30,32.
Murdoch, Tessa ed. The Quiet Conquest: The Huguenots 1685-1985. London. The Museum of London, 1985, no.266, pp.186-7
Beard, Geoffrey. Upholsterers and Interior Furnishing in England 1530-1840. New Haven and London, 1997. p.89, pl.129.
Beard suggests that Jean Poictevin, another French upholsterer working in London, who supplied 1st Duke of Hamilton with a crimson mohair bed costing £329 in 1688, may have been responsible for the Melville Bed. Poictevin also supplied Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset, with upholstery for Petworth House and may have been responsible for the 'Indian green and white satten bed, laced with broad and narrow silver lace and 34 silver tassels' which is recorded in a 1748 inventory of the contents of Petworth.

Labels and date

STATE BED
Pine carcase covered in Chinese white silk damask with details in crimson silk velvet (probably Italian) with a crimson fringe. The top crestings and corner finials are of cut pine covered with velvet. The cantoons or subsidiary curtains, are projected on curved iron supports. English between 1692 and 1707. Given by the Rt. Hon. the Earl of Leven.

The bed was made for George Melville, (b.1636, d.1707) who was created Earl of Melville in 1690; his monogram, GM, repeated in reverse, occurs on both the coverlet and the head-board, below the Earl's coronets which are repeated on the top cresting. The bed came from Melville House, Fife designed in 1692. This magnificent bed, in a remarkably fine state of preservation, has strong claims to be regarded as the finest specimen of the period and is an excellent example of the influence of the designs of Daniel Marot. [1968]
British Galleries:
This bed was commissioned by George, 1st Earl of Melville, for his new house in Fife. He had spent many years in The Netherlands at the court of William of Orange, later William III, before returning to Scotland. His new house reflected his knowledge of the most recent European fashion in furnishings. The bed was never intended for everyday use but, een so, the survival of its original silk and velvet hangings is exceptioanlly rare. [27/03/2003]
British Galleries label booklet:
The State Bed from Melville House, Fife
About 1700
[Photo: inside of tester or centre of coverlet]

[Side 1 left-hand side- portrait of the 1st Earl]
George, 1st Earl of Melville (1634-1707)

The 1st Earl of Melville and Melville House
George, 1st Earl of Melville (about 1634-1707), built Melville House to celebrate his family's return to favour in Scotland after a period of exile at the court of William of Orange in the Netherlands. Melville's great opportunity had come when he followed William and Mary to Britain after they became joint monarchs in 1689. He was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland in 1689, then created 1st Earl of Melville in 1690. As Lord Privy Seal (1691) and President of the Council (from 1696), Melville remained loyal to William at a time when the king's authority was unpopular with many in Scotland. Melville's decision to build a new house reflected his concern with his own status as one of the King's representatives. [133]

The house was also an expression of family pride. Prominent on the headboard of the bed is the Earl's monogram. The bed may well have been ordered to celebrate the union in 1698 of the two earldoms, of Melville and of Leven. The Earl's younger son, David, had inherited the Earldom of Leven in 1681 through his mother. Following the unexpected death of his older brother, Alexander in 1698, David also became heir to the Earldom of Melville. [70]

Elevation of Melville House by James Smith
Melville House
Melville House was built between 1697 and 1703 and stands surrounded by farmland, about 40 miles from Edinburgh. For the Earl of Melville it was an imposing statement of his wealth and political success, and a monument to family status. The house was designed by James Smith (about 1646-1729), one of the leading Scottish mason-architects, in the Palladian style, with a plain, symmetrical exterior. The ground floor contained rooms for daily living, including the Earl's bedroom, while the grandest rooms of 'state' or display stood on the first floor. [90]

The state bedroom was the climax of a series of rooms fitted with the best oak panelling and marble fireplaces. The route for visitors to the house led from the great staircase, hung with family portraits, to a great panelled room for entertaining. From this an apartment led off on either side, each consisting of a drawing room, bedroom, dressing room and small private closet. The basement housed the kitchen and other services, while smaller rooms on the top floor were for other members of the household and servants. [87]

Plan of the first floor showing the location of the State Bedroom
[Map of part of Scotland, showing the location of Melville House]
[Cut-away drawing of the house showing the position of the State Bedroom]
The layout of the state rooms on the first floor of Melville House

State beds
Although state beds were commissioned to provide for the possibility of a visit from a monarch, their main function was for show and they were rarely used. They were the most elaborate item of furnishing in a set of state apartments and their sumptuous textiles and trimmings were famously expensive, reflecting the riches and power of the owner. The tester (or canopy) was itself an ancient symbol of authority, similar to the canopies that still traditionally hang above thrones. [80]

State bedrooms were usually panelled in oak and often hung with tapestries. The upholstery of chairs and stools matched the hangings of the bed, while window curtains might be in lighter silk. Floors were not carpeted and to modern eyes would look bare. Pine floors were dry-scrubbed with sand to keep them light in colour. In the area of the bed itself the floor might be covered with strips of 'Portugal matting', a light rush-matting imported from North Africa.

The taste for complex upholstered decoration for state beds came from the work of the French-born court designer Daniel Marot (1661-1752). His etchings of interiors and beds were published as collected sets from 1697 but Lord Melville would already have known the interiors that Marot had designed for William of Orange at his palaces in the Netherlands from 1686 onwards. It is possible that Marot designed this bed. [98]
[Image of Marot design for a bed]

The upholstery and his work
Like most state beds in Britain, this one would have been designed and made in London. Although the upholsterer is unknown, one likely supplier was Francis Lapiere (1653-1714), who was born in France and probably trained in Paris. He settled in London before 1683 and supplied upholstery and beds for several of the grandest country houses. [66]

The crimson velvet would have been imported from Italy, while the ivory white silk damask came from China. The trimmings would have been ordered from specialist makers, either in London or on the Continent. The upholsterer's team would also have supplied and installed the wooden frame, hemp cord, iron brackets and mattresses. The upholsterer himself might have gone to Scotland for such a prestigious commission. [76]

The rich hangings conceal a plain oak frame. The three-dimensional ornament on the headboard and tester was created by gluing silk and braid onto a rigid, carved frame. Some of the most dramatic elements of the design were simply created by gathering the fabrics into festoons, pleats or large, loose rosettes known as choux. [72]

The Melville bed [heading]
About 1700
Unlike most surviving beds of this date, which have been stripped and covered with new silk at some time, the Melville bed retains all its original upholstery and hangings. The ivory silk even carries a weaver's mark in Chinese characters.

Bedstock of oak; tester of pine; hangings of crimson Italian velvet with ivory Chinese silk linings, embroidered with crimson braid and fringe
Possibly designed by Daniel Marot (born in Paris 1661, died in the Netherlands, 1752); probably upholstered in London by Francis Lapiere (born 1653, active in Britain from about 1683, died in London, 1714)

Given by the Right Honourable the Earl of Leven
Museum no. W.35-1949

The conservation of the Bed
In the clean air of rural Scotland the bed had survived remarkably well, but the polluted air of London had taken its toll since the bed arrived at the V&A in 1949. In 1985 Museum staff started a programme of cleaning and conservation that was to last 10 years and involve 12 conservators. Over 4,500 hours of work were spent cleaning and repairing of the bed. Even after this work, it still could not be put on show, because the old British Galleries lacked any form of air-conditioning and the dirt would have gathered again. Now it is possible once again to show the bed, though even in air-conditioned galleries it must be cased to preserve its fine condition for later generations. [106]

[Image of bed in situ at Melville House]
The bed at Melville House [22/1/2001]

Production Note

The upholstery is of the highest quality and attributed to the upholsterer Francis Lapiere, the design is probably by William III's architect and interior designer, Daniel Marot (1661-1752)

Attribution note: The bed relates to designs published by Daniel Marot in the Nouveaus Livres d'Apartements, Amsterdam, 1702 and reissued in 1712. It is likely that the bed was made up from original drawings by Daniel Marot as it is believed that the creation of this bed precedes the publication of Daniel Marot's designs for State Beds.
Reason For Production: Commission

Materials

Silk; Linen; Oak; Velvet; Pine

Techniques

Embroidered; Carved; Woodworking; Upholstered

Subjects depicted

Coronet; Initials

Categories

Furniture; British Galleries

Production Type

Unique

Collection code

FWK

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