Wallpaper. The Museu Picasso at the Château de Prangins, Switzerland

Faire parler les murs. Papier peint in situ is the title of the recent conference at the Château de Prangins in Switzerland. The Museu Picasso in Barcelona was invited to present a communication on the ensemble of decorative printed paper from the 16th century, discovered in 2009 in one of the rooms on the ground floor of the Palau Aguilar.

The Château de Prangins is a magnificent building on the shores of Lake Leman. It dates from 1700 and since 1993 has been the home of the Musée national suisse.

Château de Prangins

The holding of the conference in the Château de Prangins was far from coincidental. Throughout the château’s history, wallpaper has had a prominent place in the interior decoration of its walls. A magnificent exhibition entitled Papiers Peints, poésie des murs, curated by Helen Bieri Thomson, Conservator of the museum, has brought together the evidence of the interventions by the different owners and the classification of the various manufactures of wallpaper inventoried in the building.

Coffered ceiling and wallpaper detail

This get-together of specialists in wallpaper, material heritage experts, historians and restorers was an excellent opportunity to display our ensemble of wallpaper and compare opinions as to its possible origin and manufacture. As we noted at the time of the restoration of the ensemble and its subsequent presentation at the Jornades de les Egipcíaques Conference in November 2009, we have confirmed that the decoration of the ceilingof the Palau Aguilar is of late Renaissance manufacture, from the end of the 16th century.

The use of printed paper was a habitual practice for covering and decorating the insides of pieces of furniture, musical instruments and small objects, but its use in interior design is a relatively little known facet. Though the extant examples are far from numerous, recent studies have confirmed the existence of very fine-quality printed paper both as a wall covering (the forerunner of wallpaper) or for embellishing coffered ceilings.

In the opinion of the specialists, the use of this system of decoration was prompted by a combination of economic and other factors, in that it was a simple way to imitate expensive materials such as marquetry in noble wood and embroidered fabrics.

In our case, it seems there was a clear desire to ensure aesthetic continuity with the decorative styles preserved on various other ceilings in the building. We should not forget that the Museu Picasso conserves magnificent examples of polychrome coffered ceilings dating back to the 14th century, so that the later use of printed paper would have offered an excellent solution.

The connection with the printing trade, so important in 16th-century Barcelona, is a promising line of study for our researches, and a way of expanding our knowledge of the history of the building and its former owners.

Reyes Jiménez
Head of the Preventive Conservation and Restoration Department

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