Terracotta roundels

Terracotta roundels

De Maiano terracotta roundels

Analysing the Emperors at Hampton Court Palace

Our research question:
Why are the terracotta roundels at Hampton Court Place deteriorating? Can we prevent any more of the original terracotta from being lost?

Research project profile


To answer these questions, we are carrying out a programme of scientific analysis to discover how they were made, and what condition they are in after 500 years exposed to the elements.

Hampton Court Palace is home to eleven terracotta roundels containing busts of the Roman Emperors. They were made by the Florentine sculptor Giovanni da Maiano in 1521, on a commission by Cardinal Wolsey. Although they have been moved several times, some of the roundels have been on the outside of the gatehouses at Hampton Court for nearly 500 years. We are currently working on a large conservation project to study and conserve these important works of art.


We think that some of the parts are more modern additions and restorations, so we have carried out thermoluminescence dating (TL) to tell us the approximate year of firing of the terracotta. This tells us whether a component is original (16th Century) or a later addition (18th-19th Century).

We can work out the country of origin of the clay by analysing the trace elements in the terracotta. The minerals formed can also tell us the firing temperature used during manufacture.

Sampling and analysis of remaining polychromy revealed evidence of gilding layers, and also of several later decorative schemes, including 20th century modern paints. We are continuing this work to find out what the roundels originally looked like.

We have started a programme of 3D laser scanning to document in great detail every crack and loss on the roundels. This will help us to track changes in condition over the next few years.

2006-07 sees the second phase of this three phase project. We are analysing four roundels at a time, to minimise disruption to the Palace, and to allow for our limited budget.

More background

Since their installation in the 1520s, the terracotta emperors have looked down from the gatehouses on many important historical events at Hampton Court Palace. From this research, we will be able to plan future conservation treatments and preventive measure to ensure the emperors are able to witness events at Hampton Court Palace for the future too.

For more detailed information on the project, including images, please download the Adobe PDF file below.  

Learn about conservation

'Caring for the palaces' articles:

Write to us

Want to know more about our work? Write to us with your questions and comments.

Conservation and Collection Care
Historic Royal Palaces
Apartment 59
Hampton Court Palace
Surrey, KT8 9AU

Downloadable Resources

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    De Maiano terracotta roundels - Project profile
    (Adobe PDF, 155KB)

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