Woodwork and Wallpaper from the Great Hall of Van Rensselaer Manor House

Date: 1765–69

Geography: Made in Albany, New York, United States

Culture: American

Medium: Wood, paper, and paint

Dimensions: Dimensions unavailable

Classification: Architecture

Credit Line: Gift of Mrs. William Bayard Van Rensselaer, in memory of her husband, 1928

Accession Number: 28.143

Description

This entrance hall from the Van Rensselaer manor house outside of Albany, New York, was one of the grandest domestic spaces in colonial America. Steven Van Rensselaer II built the house between 1765 and 1769. With more than half a million acres of Hudson River farmland, Van Rensselaer was immensely wealthy. He was also exceedingly well connected, especially through his wife Catherine Livingston, the daughter of powerful New York City merchant and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Philip Livingston.

Van Rensselaer's entry hall reflects his wealth and connections. He spared no expense. The craftsmen responsible for the finely carved broken-pediment doorways, the dentil-molded cornice, and complete Ionic pilasters held a firm grasp on Georgian principals of order, symmetry, and proportion. The ornate carved archway in the center of one of the room's long walls reflects the prevailing Rococo taste in the foliate decoration of its spandrels. The high quality of the spandrel carving suggests that these elements were probably made in New York City and shipped upriver to the house. The swirling vines and leaves were derived from Plate 12 of Matthias Lock and H. Copland's A New Book of Ornaments. First published in 1752, the book was reissued in 1768 and its Rococo designs found favor with a wide upper-middle-class audience.

Van Rensselaer imported hand-painted wallpaper from England to complement the woodwork and complete the decoration of this room. The long walls are decorated with large Italian ruin scenes that were based on engravings of paintings by Gian Paolo Pannini (1691–1745) and Joseph Vernet (1714–1789). These alternate with smaller representations of the Four Seasons based on engravings of paintings by Nicolas Lancret (1690–1745). The front and back doors of the house are flanked by trophies of the four elements derived from engravings after the paintings of Maurice Jacques (1712–1784). The scenes are surrounded by scrolling vines and classical devices that echo the Rococo-inspired carving of the spandrel.

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