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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/409

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THE PRINCIPLES OF DECORATION.

us that old Roman walls covered with this material were so hard, so beautiful, and so finely polished, that in his time slabs of it were cut out and used for table-tops. In speaking of plaster, I did not mean compo, either Roman, Portland, or mastic, but that plaster that is made workable for modeling, which the Italians call gesso duro. It was once common in England; the "Peter Pindar," in Bishopsgate, is an example, or was an example a few years ago, and many admirable specimens still exist in our country towns. Some of the vaulted ceilings of Hadrian's villa, at Tivoli, now open to the air, are still adorned with it, the grace, freedom, and delicacy of whose modeling we still admire, although it was done at least seventeen hundred years ago. In few things has England declined more than in plastering, from the prevalence of casting, which allows the employment of the least skilled mechanic. Most of us have seen the magnificent ceilings of Elizabeth, James, and Charles I's time, on whose flowers, fruit, etc., you can even now see the grain of the plasterer's hand, and the holes made by his thumb to get shadow. Even in plastered ceilings of Sir W. Chambers's time, who died in 1796, you see beautiful work in high relief of fruit, flowers, and foliage, and I believe the skill did not die out completely till the end of the first quarter of this century. The infinite variety that hand-stamping produces would to refined tastes be worth the expense, for cast work is all alike.

It is highly benevolent to encourage skilled handwork, for you not only liberate the better sort from that mechanical work which frets and eventually destroys a man by its unvarying and unthinking monotony, but you encourage higher skill, and you allow a man to put his soul instead of his fingers into the work.

Do not suppose I am finding fault with those excellent materials, Roman and Portland cement, or even mastic; all I mean is that, as yet, we have found no way of using them ornamentally in London, except as imitation of stone and stone carving. If we had a pure atmosphere, the first two would be invaluable for inlaying, but in a very short time stone and inlay are indistinguishable from the general grime, and that, too, even when the inlay is black mastic.

In the present day, most of our internal plaster-work of any pretension is done in canvas plaster. A thin coat of fine plaster of Paris is brushed into the mold, very thin open canvas in strips is pressed into this, and brushed over with coarse stuff; the whole is then stiffened with slips of wood, attached to the backing with canvas and plaster; it is then dried in a hot room, and screwed up in its place, and can be painted on at once; its greatest merit is its lightness. The defects of canvas plaster are its want of flatness in the larger panels and of straightness in the cornices.