February 23, 2023

Better than 'fly-bitten' tapestries: the story of the prodigal - Henry IV, part 2, act 2, scene 1

Dr Kathy Davies, wall painting expert: readers of 'The Typical Tudor' will recognise some of the figures

Dr Kathy Davies was scheduled to speak at the Missing Persons conference in October 2022 but she unfortunately caught Covid and couldn't come to the courtroom to give her witness statement. The Tudor Tailor has invited Kathy to present her paper and discuss Tudor wall paintings as a source of evidence for ordinary dress in an online event on Sunday 26 March 2023 from 1pm to 5pm (BST). Ticketholders who attended the Missing Persons conference in Nottingham can join the online event free of charge (look out for a link in your email nearer the time). Anyone else who would like to attend the event can buy a ticket for £25 here.

The Prodigal Son was a popular bible story for illustration on walls in both public buildings and domestic homes at the end of the 16th century. Falstaff remarks that Mistress Quickly's ‘fly-bitten’ tapestries would be better replaced with a ‘pretty’ wall painting in Shakespeare's Henry IV, part 2 (act 2, scene 1). His own bedroom was reportedly decorated ‘fresh and new’ with the tale of The Prodigal Son in The Merry Wives of Windsor (act 4, scene 5). Ninya and Jane will look at specific figures in one spectacular example of this typical wall painting to consider when it was painted and how it provides details about garments and accessories. Several details from it appear in The Typical Tudor.

Other wall paintings provide insights into clothing but do present challenges in terms of their interpretation. They have often been overpainted or touched up over the years since they were first created or they exist only as photographs when buildings have been demolished. The pigments used in wall paintings do not always reflect the typical dyes used for clothing or they have faded considerably since the paintings were new. Nevertheless, they offer surprisingly detailed insights into ordinary people’s clothing – and, in some cases, their personalities.

The event will be recorded and the Tudor Tailor team is investigating how best to share the event with ticketholders for repeat viewing.

Click the gallery thumbnails to view the full images