’But first I shall discourse somewhat of that noble accomplishment to an house, a gallery’. Roger North
In the public eye the long gallery is a popular, often spectacular feature of Elizabethan and Jacobean houses and as such has been exclaimed at, described, measured, praised or criticized by generations of visitors. Considering this, and the obvious importance of the room in its period — noted and discussed by Gotch as long ago as 1901 — it is surprising that until Howard Colvin wrote his introductory chapter to Volume IV of the History of the King’s Works almost no enquiry had been made into its architectural or social origins and development. In his recent book, Renaissance Paris, David Thompson remarks that ‘the evolution of the gallery in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance is a favourite matter for argument among architectural historians’, a comment which may apply to continental galleries and historians but not, generally, to their English counterparts. So that, whilst continental galleries of the Renaissance and seventeenth century have often been discussed and analysed, especially in terms of their classical prototypes and their sophisticated, frequently highly programmatic decorations, the English gallery has been neglected. Yet the English had a particular genius for galleries of varied design which, in response to practical architectural considerations, they incorporated into their house-plans with an originality and ingenuity seldom matched abroad (Figs 1–3).