It was King Henry VIII, that lover of extravagant decoration, who introduced ornamental plasterwork to English houses. It became highly fashionable – but only among the nobility.
By the Elizabethan age it had slowly moved down the social scale. Ambitious merchants like Robert Wynn loved the way it brought bright colour into their homes.
But it wasn’t just a matter of interior design. Festooned with badges and coats of arms, this gaudy painted plasterwork also sent a powerful message about social status.
At Plas Mawr many of these symbols belong to the princes of Gwynedd from whom Robert Wynn and his wife Dorothy claimed descent. They include that grisly emblem of the Griffith family – a severed Englishman’s head.
Look out for the overmantel above the fireplace in the entrance hall, an incredible example of the master plasterer’s art. Its Tudor roses and coats of arms would have told all visitors exactly where the family’s loyalties lay.
Quite what they’d have made of the bare-breasted caryatids carrying baskets of strawberries on their heads, however, is anyone’s guess.
It might look like pure excess – but Robert Wynn made sure he matched the message to the room. Royal arms take centre stage in the great chamber where he entertained his betters. But in the private bedrooms, where no one else could see, the emblem of the Wynns is allowed to run riot.