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Kitchen renovation unearths nearly 400-year-old paintings in York, England

Written by Lianne Kolirin, CNN

Murals dating back almost 400 years have been discovered in a flat in northern England following a kitchen renovation.

Luke Budworth, 29, his partner Hazel Mooney, 26, and their dog Leonard had temporarily moved out of the one-bedroom flat in the cathedral city of York while their new kitchen was being installed in December.

Then Budworth got a call from the contractors. He told CNN on Monday: “In a very casual way they said, ‘Did you know there’s a painting behind here? “”

By the time Budworth went to have a look, the new kitchen cupboards were hanging on the wall, covering the frieze – the only evidence of the find was a blurry photo taken by the fitters.

Although disappointed, Budworth, a research data analyst at the University of Leeds, suspected that a similar “piece of paneling” on the other side of the open-plan living space might also be hiding something.

“It was painted the same as the rest of the wall and I knew it was hollow,” he said. “I always thought it was probably just to cover some pipes.”

His suspicions turned out to be correct. “It was a matching piece,” he said.

According to Budworth, the two friezes measure approximately 9 feet by 4 feet – although they are cut at the top by the ceiling.

York’s Old Town is surrounded by an ancient wall and Budworth’s flat, which he bought in October 2020, is in Micklegate, one of the city’s main streets. The flat, which sits above a cafe and charity bookshop, is part of a Grade II listed Georgian building dating from 1747.

The paintings turned out to be inspired by a 17th century book. Credit: Courtesy of Luke Budworth

“We thought it might have been Victorian wallpaper, but it was way beyond the age I originally thought it was,” Budworth said.

The newly exposed frieze depicts a biblical scene in which a man in a cage is dragged away by an angel. There’s also a man in a white cart that, according to Budworth, “looks like it’s rolling towards the kingdom of heaven.”

“Really excited,” Budworth contacted Historic England, a public body that looks after the country’s historic environment. A representative was then dispatched to examine the artwork and take detailed professional photographs.

Historic England gave the couple a high-quality life-size replica of the frieze and advised them to cover it up in order to preserve it.

Undertaking some historical sleuthing, Budworth went online and discovered that the two friezes featured scenes from a 1635 book called “Emblems”, written by poet Francis Quarles.

Two friezes dating back almost 400 years have been discovered after renovations to this one-bedroom apartment in York, England.

Two friezes dating back almost 400 years have been discovered after renovations to this one-bedroom apartment in York, England.
Credit: Courtesy of Luke Budworth

“The murals predate the apartment itself,” Budworth said, explaining that the artwork was done on a wall of a building that no longer exists. In other words, the building was constructed around an existing wall.

The paintings are believed to have been created between 1635, when “Emblems” was written, and 1700 when such works fell into disuse, the couple informed Historic England, according to Budworth.

“Fascinating” discovery

Although the couple could not afford to invest in the professional conservation of the exposed frieze, they wanted to integrate it into their decor.

Budworth said: “If we could find some kind of funding to help keep it going, I’d be willing to go so far as to take the [kitchen] cupboards on the wall, but unfortunately I don’t see that happening. The other, however, will be preserved as best we can.”

Historic England confirmed to CNN that it has visited the property and has now forwarded images of the paintings to the Murals Conservation Department at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

In a statement to CNN, a spokeswoman for Historic England said: “The discovery of these 17th century murals in a house in Micklegate, York is fascinating. They were first discovered in 1998 and then covered up. We have been involved in documenting the murals and supporting the current owner with how best to care for them since they were recently rediscovered.

“They raise various questions about the age of the buildings in this row of historic houses and about the history of Micklegate itself. Findings like this tell us that our historic houses hold many secrets and we were delighted to work with this owner to look after these murals for the future.”

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