Hi Deborah, it's great to have you here at Passages to the Past!
Thanks for the invitation to share this post, Amy.
I thought I would share with you two of the artists that inspired my descriptions in The Gilded Lily. When I began writing I looked at many images of 17th century London to find out about the detail of the period. Not for me the lavish courts of Charles II, the usual setting for novels of the 17th century, for my main characters are two sisters from a small rural village who arrive wide-eyed to the bustle of the London in winter.
Bold Ella Appleby and her timid sister Sadie are on the run, and they are soon sucked into the London underworld of gambling dens, coffee houses and taverns. Most paintings of the period are of the aristocracy so it was a while before I discovered Gerard Van Honthorst, a dutch artist painting earlier in the century whose style conveyed the dimly lit interiors I was wanting to portray. London in winter must have been a place flickering with the light of fires and candles, and dense with smoke from coal and tobacco.
Honthorst was an imitator of Caravaggio and excelled in painting scenes illuminated by candlelight, scenes that show men and women eating, musicians and card players. Here were the interiors that inspired me with their atmosphere, and here were the colourful close-up portraits I sought. He was also particularly good at portraying costume detail – the way the sleeves were tied on to the bodice in a contrasting colour, slashed and ruffled decoration, and feather hats and head-pieces.
Honthorst came from Utrecht, but was in England on a few occasions as he was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of Charles I. He painted court portraits and also religious scenes. He was so popular in the Netherlands that he was able to open a second studio in the Hague where he taught drawing, and painted members of the aristocracy. At the height of his popularity he had twenty four students studying under him, each paying him 100 guilders a year.
The second artist to inspire me was Visscher, with his Panorama of London, (these pictures from the London Museum) which is a wonderfully detailed drawing of London. Claes Jansz Visscher was a Dutch publisher, the first in a printing dynasty that spanned three generations. The Guildhall Library has the earliest copy of this map dated 1616. It shows the old St Paul’s Church before it was burnt down in the Great Fire of London and re-designed by Wren. The church’s truncated appearance is because it was actually struck by lightning in 1561 and lost its spire.
The other picture shows London Bridge. London Bridge was the only way of crossing the Thames other than by paying a waterman and going by boat. You can see how large the buildings were that the bridge had to support. No wonder there was a rhyme about it falling down! Also visible are the heads of criminals on spikes above the bridge. St Mary Overy, the church in the foreground later became Southwark Cathedral. Along with this drawing and several other detailed old maps I was able to navigate myself around the winding alleys of 17th century London.
In actual fact there is some doubt about the accuracy of this map, as it is believed to have been copied (with a degree of artistic licence) from an earlier map by Norden. However, it is one of the few clues remaining to us as to what London would have looked like in the 17th century.
For a much more detailed, beautifully hand-coloured close up of this map please visit
I hope you have enjoyed this little insight into my sources, and I thank Amy for hosting me.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Publication Date: September 13, 2012
Winter, 1661. In her short life Sadie Appleby has never left rural Westmorland. But one night she is rudely awoken by her older and bolder sister, Ella. She has robbed her employer and is on the run. Together the girls flee their home and head for London, hoping to lose themselves in the teeming city. But the dead man's relatives are in pursuit, and soon a game of cat and mouse ensues amongst the freezing warren that is London in winter. Ella is soon seduced by the glitter and glamour of city life and sets her sights on the flamboyant man-about-town, Jay Whitgift, owner of a beauty parlour for the wives of the London gentry. But nothing in the capital is what it seems, least of all Jay Whitgift. Soon a rift has formed between Ella and Sadie, and the sisters are threatened by a menace more sinister than even the law. Set in a brilliantly realised Restoration London, The Gilded Lily is a novel about beauty and desire, about the stories we tell ourselves, and about how sisterhood can be both a burden and a saving grace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Swift used to work in the theatre and at the BBC as a set and costume designer, before studying for an MA in Creative Writing in 2007. She lives in a beautiful area of Lancashire near the Lake District National Park. She is the author of The Lady's Slipper and is a member of the Historical Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and the Romantic Novelists Association.
For more information, please visit www.deborahswift.co.uk.
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