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The 'strapwork' on the Oak panelling frieze is probably the earliest of its kind. Strapwork was the name given to the interlacing designs which were left in relief when the background was cut away in geometrical shapes. The charmingly childish decoration in plasterwork over the fireplace itself is essentially English-and a very early example of English plasterwork if not a copy of the original. Here we see the ability of the artist employed to represent, in detail, a clothed figure of the period complete with cap and feather, slashed trunk hose, and puffed slashed sleeves, but the nude figures are almost grotesque in their shapelessness. The twirls and fruits and. figures sprouting foliage are typical of the conventional design at this time (about 1540).
Plaster, of a sort, had been used in this country for centuries in such forms as wattle and daub, lath and plaster etc. It was composed of sand, lime and often hair to tie it together, dried hard but extremely brittle, and though it served its utilitarian purpose adequately it was not malleable to the hand. Its use as a means of decoration was not therefore immediately obvious, and it was not until Anthony Toto, a `wax' modeller from Florence, was induced to come over to England to help with the decoration of Nonsuch Palace that the almost unlimited possibilities of decorative plaster-work above Oak Panelling were first realized.
The composition of the plaster used in Italy included powdered alabaster or white marble; as neither of these commodities were easily obtainable in England a mixture of rye dough and lime was found to hold much the same qualities the only remarkable difference being in colour (ivory rather than white) and the fact that it took much longer to dry.
Here then, ready to hand, was a new method of relief design to decorate above wall panelling, less arduous than carving and more effective on a grand scale.