Classes - Design of Renaissance Pavilions
Paintings exist illustrating tents and pavilions of various shapes and sizes through several centuries and numerous countries. This class will evaluate extant illustrations to glean what information we can about the types of tents and pavilions that were used, how they may have been supported and how they were decorated. The analysis will primarily look at tents and pavilions in the late medieval and the Renaissance time periods. Earlier than that, there are few illustrations and even fewer extant items available for research.
Pavilions were used for temporary living quarters, such as by noblemen on a military campaign and courtiers following the king on progress. It is likely that only the well-to-do with a significant train of their own servants would be carrying the large loads required to assemble and furnish a large pavilion. Lower classes in the campaign or progress would use simpler structures made by draping a large fabric over some rough sticks that were likely collected onsite. While a few simple shapes will be examined, most of the discussion on structure will apply to the more complex round pavilions seen in many of the illustrations.
There was a wide variation in the styles and shapes of tents used in this time period. Although some of the shapes can be seen as a progression from simple to complex, both ends of the spectrum were used over a wide time period.
Possibly the simplest type of tent (which I’ll refer to as a simple shelter) is simply a rectangle of fabric draped over poles and staked to the ground. This could include a set of vertical poles, possibly with a ridgepole to make a straight topline as shown below left. Or, it could include a few poles and ropes to create a softly draped shape, as shown below right.
The next progression from a simple shelter would be to enclose the ends, making a room with privacy. Adding solid ends with a doorway, over a wooden structure, makes this into a style referred to as a wedge tent.
The type of tent commonly referred to as a wall tent takes this rectangular shape even further. Vertical walls are added, so that the wedge raises up to make a roof.
The other main category of tents are round shapes. The simplest of these is a cone, where there is a single center pole, from which fabric is draped downwards and staked in a circle around the bottom.
Round and Oval Tents
The next progression for round tents is to add walls below the conical roof. This makes the round pavilion shown below left. Two semi-circles can be separated by a rectangular section, making an oval as shown below right.
From there, it is theoretically possible to continue adding sections and expanding. These drawings appear to be conceptual design drawings created for Henry VIII, but never actually built.
Frequency of Various Shapes|
We can attempt to get some idea of the prevalence of various styles of pavilions by looking at how often each style appears in various paintings and drawings. This doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual usage in real life, but is the closest that we can get to counting relative numbers of pavilions. This early drawing (14th century) shows that round pavilions were quite popular. This particular drawing shows a single rectangular wall tent amongst its rounded counterparts.
This German illustration from the 15th century shows a mobile village, with the wagons that were apparently used to move it. There are two wedge tents (a variation with curved ends known as a bell wedge tent) towards the top left and center right. There are a few flattened conical tents. There are a number of oval tents and many round ones. There do not appear to be any rectangular wall tents in this collection. This very detailed drawing provides much to study for those interested in pavilions.
This is another detailed drawing of a large number of tents and pavilions. Some are in the process of being put up (or possibly taken down). Here, wall tents and rounds are seen in approximately even numbers, with a few wedge tents here and there.
This painting of the camp of Charles V shows the royal encampment at the center, with some nobles’ pavilions surrounding it. Additional camp followers reside in simple temporary dwellings on the fringes. These simple tents likely use branches cut on site as poles, rather than requiring poles to be transported. We see some simple shelters and wedges, several rounds and what appears to be some connected pavilions in the center.
The “Field of Cloth of Gold” was a diplomatic meeting where King Henry VIII of England met with King Francis I of France to improve relations between the two countries. The famous painting of this event shows a village of pavilions stretching into the distance. This event shows nearly all round pavilions, some with connecting sections between them.
We can attempt to get some idea of the prevalence of various styles of pavilions by looking at how often each style appears in various paintings and drawings. This doesn’t necessarily reflect the actual usage in real life, but is the closest that we can get to counting relative numbers of pavilions. The vast majority of pavilions shown in period paintings are round. There are no known surviving descriptions of what type of structure was used to maintain the shape of these pavilions. It is likely that various methods were used in different locales and at different times. These methods could have include a center pole using tensioned ropes to pull the roof into shape, a center pole with additional poles around the perimeter, a circular ring providing the round structure to the lower edge of the roof, or a hub and spoke design that uses poles radiating from a center pole.
Circular vs. Sectioned
Although many paintings show pavilions that look truly round (below left), others hint at a multi-sided shape rather than a true circle (below right). While the truly round shape could be produced by a circular ring at the eaves, it seems most likely that this is the artist’s interpretation of what the pavilion looked like.
Poles and Ropes
There are many illustrations of pavilions that show no poles or ropes of any sort (below left). It must generally be considered that the pavilions are merely a backdrop to tell a story, rather than a functional drawing. Others, however, show center poles, along with ropes (below right).
At times, ropes are shown on some pavilions and not others (below left). If the artist took the time to add ropes to the right-most pavilion, does that mean that the others truly didn’t have them? Since there are also no visible poles, this leaves the pavilions with no visible means of support, which seems to indicate that these are for story-telling rather than as detailed physical structures. At other times, the rope system is shown in detail (below right). These pavilions show high wind ropes coming off of the top ridge, tensioned ropes coming away at a considerable angle from the eaves, and short ropes staking down the bottom edge. The angle of the eave ropes, and the gentle droop of the roof, would seem to indicate that the structure of these tents is provided simply by a center pole (two for the oval), a ridge pole (for the oval), and the ropes.
For other tents, however, it is clear that the eave ropes do not have sufficient tension and are not at an appropriate angle to provide the structure for the tent (below left). There must be some additional structure inside this tent. Although it could be perimeter poles, one would expect to see a spike or filial poking above the eave line. A hub and spoke arrangement emanating from the center pole would produce this shape. Interestingly, there are few (if any) pictures that support the idea of perimeter poles for any shape of tent. Although it would be difficult to create a wall tent without them, we don’t see finials at the eave line as one would expect. Occasionally, rectangular tents are shown with ropes at the eave line (below right), in this case with reinforcing grommets around the holes.
It seems clear that various techniques were used during the years to produce the structure required for these pavilions. While we don’t see direct evidence for perimeter poles, they cannot be ruled out as a method of supporting wall tents and possibly round pavilion walls. Taut ropes with a single center pole were almost certainly used in some instances. One of the extant pavilions (discussed later) seems to have used this method for shaping. A hub and spoke design, where a center pole supports a hub with spokes radiating out to support the “shoulder” of the pavilion would provide a structure that is consistent with many of these paintings. This design, similar to a wagon wheel but without the outer rim, would have a visible center pole, similar to that seen in the drawings, but the spokes producing the round shape would be up inside the roof section, and therefore not visible through the door. Another of the extant pavilions has features that would seem to indicate that spokes were used to support it.
Setting Up and Falling Down
In the drawing of An army breaking camp by Giovanni Bettini (below left), round pavilions are held up by center poles and ropes, and possibly an internal structure. The shape is clearly not provided by any perimeter poles. An illustration from Jean Froissart’s Chronicles (below right) shows a round pavilion that is falling down, yet maintaining its structure. While this may simply be a story-telling detail, it is realistic enough to think that the artist may have known about an internal structure. While the Bettini tents could be keeping their shape simply from the ropes, the Froissart tent would have to have a structure such as a hub and spoke to maintain this shape while falling.
Pavilion Color and Decoration|
While white pavilions are shown more often than any other color, there are various hues that appear in the images. In the two images shown below, we see white, blue and pink pavilions mixed among the white ones. This particular document (included quite a few times in this class handout) is primarily story-telling, as it is an illustrated history of France. However, we see color in many other examples, such as the design drawings for Henry VIII (previous) and De Machinis (previous), which was a document produced by an engineer.
Many of the images show decoration patterns that include vertical stripes (below left). This may have been use to cover the seams and add some waterproofing to them. Then we often see repeating patterns around the eave lines and at the ridges, generally referred to as Gothic Tracing (below right).
While symmetrical patterns are seem most frequently, asymmetrical patterns such as twists (below left) and all-over patterns (below right) are occasionally seen.
The use of heraldry to indicate ownership of a pavilion is often seen, as well. The illustration of the French king Charles bidding farewell to his daughter as she leaves with English nobles (below left) incorporates the heraldry of England and France into the pavilion decoration. Since this is the same French history, it may be used simply to clarify the parties shown in the illustration. The image to the right uses heraldry similarly to identify the king shown in the fresco.
There are very few remaining medieval and Renaissance pavilions that are still in existence. Those that remain are almost always displayed in museum with modern structural support.
This round pavilion was built in the first half of the 17th century for a guild in the town of the Basel, know as the Golden Star. It was originally supported by ropes that attached into leather-reinforced grommets using a metal hook. The decorative blue stripes are additional fabric stitched into the seams. There is a leather roof cap with metal studs and rings for high wind ropes to be attached. In the museum, it is displayed using a modern, wooden internal structure so that the ropes do not have to be pulled out into the surrounding display space.
This extant pavilion dates to between 1542-1545, when it was built for Admiral Martin Alfonso de Sousa, the governor to the Portuguese colony in India. It later belonged to Carlos V. Sousa’s arms are incorporated into the decorative entrance awning, and the eagle finial would have been added by Carlos V. It is highly decorated both inside and out, with a separate internal layer (like a tent inside a tent) that functions as both decoration and insulation. It is currently supported by a modern structure that is not trying to replicate the original support. Master Terafan Greydragon has also found some additional support for the theory of the hub and spoke design while examining this pavilion. He found that there were slits at regular intervals in the interior fabric, allowing access to the external layer. The external layer of the tent was reinforced at each of these points with leather. The placement of this reinforcement would not have been effective against vertical perimeter poles. It was Master Terafan’s opinion that it would only have protected the outer layer from wear if the pole pushing against it was horizontal i.e. in a hub and spoke arrangement.
I had wanted to make my own pavilion for events such as Pennsic. I originally assumed I would make a rectangular wall tent, since they are so common within the SCA. However, the more I researched the existing illustrations and extant pavilions, the more determined I became to build a hub and spoke pavilion.
Once I had decided to make a hub-and-spoke pavilion, I had to make a number of decisions about size and shape. I opted for an oval, which uses two main vertical poles, two main hubs, and an extension between them. The spokes radiate out to support the eaves of the roof. I used detachable walls rather than walls that are permanently attached to the roof, since the roof and the two wall pieces are still quite heavy individually. There are doors in the front and back, where the two wall pieces overlap. There is also a rainfly attached to the front, supported by two small poles and ropes.
I drew my design on paper both as a floorplan, to test the space available for furniture, as well as an elevation drawing. I also made a paper scale mode of the pavilion to ensure that my calculations for the size of the canvas pieces worked to make the three-dimensional shape I expected.
I chose a 6 foot spoke with a 1 foot flare at the bottom. This made a rather upright wall, which I liked. I used a 9 foot center section, as it divided nicely into a 3 foot door with 3 foot sections on either side. So, the final overall dimensions were 14 feet wide by 23 feet long. In looking at period paintings that showed various roof styles, I decided that I liked a taller roof rather than one that was less pitched. I wanted it slightly more pitched than a 45 degree angle, so I used a height of 7 feet from the hub to the ridge in comparison to the spoke length of 6 feet. I designed for a hub height of 7 feet, although it ended up a little taller once the frame was made to fit the completed tent.
The pavilion has a ridge pole to ensure the top of the roof maintains its shape and to support the weight of the roof. The ridge pole sits on the top of the main tent poles. The rods that attach them together go up through the roof and are topped with flagpoles. The main tent poles are sectioned in half, with the two pieces meeting on an angle inside the hub support sleeve. A hub sits on each hub support sleeve, providing placement for the spokes. Each of these hubs has a half-circle of spokes supporting its end of the oval. Each spoke sits in a pocket attached to the inside of the roof at the appropriate point so that it stays in place. There is a spoke connector between the two hubs, keeping the tent poles separated at the eave line and providing support for the center section. This connector has two mini-hubs sitting on it. These provide locations for four additional spokes which push out the walls of the straight center section of the oval tent.
The two canvas walls are exactly the same, overlapping on each long side to make front and back doors. The walls are attached to the roof with metal hooks on the walls and cording loops on the roof. The cording loops are covered by webbing that also stabilizes this eave line of the roof. The walls have a sod flap on the bottom edge. On the outside, there are webbing loops and metal rings at the base of the walls, located at each seam. These allow a stake to be driven through the ring and into the ground to hold the tent down.
There are ropes that attach to each corner, all the way around the pavilion. These stretch from loops on the valance of the roof down to the same stakes as the walls. They do not add to the footprint, but simply stabilize the structure without depending on the attached walls to do so. I also have high wind ropes from the peak on each side. These four ropes are vital in setup, since they allow the roof to be stabilized while the spokes are inserted and the sides are attached. Each rope has a tensioner made of wood to allow the ropes to be easily tightened or loosened during setup and whenever adjustments are needed.
The doors are formed by the overlapping of the two wall sections on the front and back of the tent. Toggles and loops located along both of the loose edges allow the sections to be buttoned tight inside and out when desired. I can leave the tops attached and pull the doors back to make a loose triangular opening, or can detach the top edges and fold both sections back to make a completely open door. Doing this on the front and back of the tent allows for quite a bit of air flow for ventilation during the day.
I decided to make a rainfly to provide a cover over the front door and a space for an outdoor rug. This rainfly extends across the entire 9 foot width of the center section of the oval and extends 6 feet from the pavilion. The front of the rainfly rests on a small ridge pole, whose corners are supported on poles. These are the only perimeter poles (i.e. vertical poles with a rod on top) in the whole pavilion.
To provide privacy for five family members, I hung sheet walls from some of the spokes inside the tent. The floor is a tarp, cut roughly to the shape of the pavilion, covered by a canvas floor cloth, also cut roughly to shape and folded. These two layers sit on top of the sod flaps at the bottoms of the walls. With the outdoor rug under the rainfly and a doormat for cleaning your shoes prior to entering the pavilion, it stays fairly clean inside.
There are some concessions to modern considerations in the design choices I made in my tent. The goal of this project was to produce a livable pavilion that was useful and safe for my family. For that reason, I used some modern materials such as flame-retardant and waterproof canvas.
I have done some decorative painting along the seams, which serves two purposes. In addition to the visual enhancement it gives to the pavilion, it also serves to help seal the seams. The use of paint helps to cover the stitching and fill the small holes around where the thread passes through the fabric. The use of a latex paint thinned with water ensures that it soaks well into the fabric to create this bond.
Hundreds of hours were spent on research, design, sewing, painting, woodworking, finishing and testing. I compared our costs to commercially available pavilions. The costs were approximately half of that charged by a retailer who makes pavilions of similar scale, and the design of ours was exactly what we wanted in a period pavilion and it looks better, too. The overall result is a very attractive pavilion that has the appearance of the pavilions that were seen in period paintings and manuscripts.
Armorial Decoration on Tents & Pavilions
Earl Dafydd’s Pavilino: The Next Generation by Lady Sorcha de Glys
House Greydragon Pavilion Information
Making a Medieval Single-Pole Pavilion by David Kuijt, ska Dafydd ap Gwystl
Medieval Pavilion Resources
On the Making of Your Own Pavilion, by Master Johann von Drachenfels
The Pavilion Book by John LaTorre, 2006, Dragonwing.
Plausibly Medieval Pavilions