Decorating Pavilions in a Medieval Fashion

Double Wars Rhys Terafan Greydragon
1 June AS XXXV

Pavilions have been decorated throughout history. Many people in the SCA have a very simple pavilion with plain white walls, or plain walls with a valance or dagging around the edge of the top.

There are so many good examples of decoration techniques, from colored designs on white cloth, to colored designs on colored cloth. We have 13th century examples from William of Tyre showing colored tops with designs (figure 2) and plain white pavilions with simple designs around the edges (figure 3).

I have provided nine different photos of 14th century examples. In particular, notice the top photo on each of the last two pages (figure 4 through figure 12). These photos show multiple types of design and decoration, from very fancy dagging, to intricate designs including gothic arches and intricate knotwork valances. The image from the Codex Manesse (fig 6) shows simple lines on the roof, and a fancy leaf design in color on the valance. Simone Martini shows us simple lines with coats of arms (fig 12).

The 15th century is plentiful in its examples of designs, especially due to the detailed images from Jean Froissart in the Froissart Chronicles. (Figures 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17) Here we see many very fancy pavilions from the full color versions with gold vines (fig 19 and 21) to full color with heraldic designs or either France or England (fig 20), to plain white with intricate blue designs (fig 17) to simple color changes (fig 13) or simple patterns (figs 14 and 15). Two other illuminations show us full color with gold design work in figures 26 and 27.

The 16th century has its well known pavilions as well. Certainly everyone is familiar with the Field of the Cloth of Gold (figs 29 and 30), but there are lots of plain white pavilions with fancy single color designs throughout the illuminated scrolls in Das Epos des Burgunder Reiches, (figs 31 through 40). We also have the tents from Codex René d'Anjou (King Rene's book) in figures 41 and 42. Additionally there are woodcuts and engravings (figs 43, 44, and 46) that show us great detail and design.

So, now that we know there are lots of designs to choose from, how do we go about decorating our pavilions? There are a couple of different ways to accomplish it, including embroidery and painting.

I find the easiest method is paint, so I will focus on that.  There are two different types of paint that work well.  You can use normal exterior latex house paint or you can use fabric paint.  The problem I find with fabric paint is that it normally comes in very small bottles (which makes it costly), and it isn't really designed to be submitted to the weather conditions that tents are in.   

When using paint. The trick to painting is 1) use EXTERIOR latex and 2) thin it 1:1 with water. 

Exterior latex is easy to thin, easy to mix, easy to clean up, and dries to a waterproof finish. The reason it needs to be thinned is two-fold. First, you want to have adequate color penetration of the tent fibers to get a good hue and not leave little white spots. Second, you don't want to "glop" it on because it may crack and flake off.  Thinning the paint (1:1) with water provides a nice even penetration with a thin enough coating that I have not had any cracking or flaking in the last several years I have been using my pavilino.  I painted my pavilino in 1998.  

The advantages of EXTERIOR latex is that it has been designed to withstand a wide variety of weather conditions from intense sun and heat, to constant rain, to extreme cycles of wet/cold and dry/hot.  The color is designed to not fade.   The advantage of latex, is that since latex is a type of rubbery plastic, the paint will flex with the tent, and you won't have problems with it cracking or flaking as you repeatedly fold and unfold your tent.


Web Information

Places to find lots Grandes Chroniques de France and Jean Froissart's Chronicles on the web is at the The Bibliothèque Nationale de France with 1,000 Illuminations from the Age of King Charles V (1338-1380) at



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Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana: Liturgie und Andacht im Mittelalter, Erzbischöfliches Diözesanmuseum Köln, 1993, ISBN 3-7630-5784-6

Marks, Richard and Morgan, Nigel, Englische Buchmalerei der Gotik (1200-1500), Prestel-Verlag München, 1980 ISBN 3-7913-0518-2

Humble, Richard, Warfare in the Middle Ages, Magna Books, Leicester, England, 1989. ISBN 1-85422-035-7

Williams, Jay,  Das grosse Buch der Kreuzritter, Ensslin & Laiblin Verlag, Reutlingen, Germany, 1963 (no ISBN)

Thomas, Marcel. The Golden Age: Manuscript Painting at the Time of Jean, Duke of Berry, George Braziller, Inc., New York, 1979. ISBN 0-8076-0924-2

Thoss, Dagmar. Das Epos des BurgunderReiches,Girart de Roussilon, Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz/Austria, 1996. ISBN 3-201-01461-3

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