Palladian or Chinese?

September 2, 2014

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead, with the temple of Apollo beyond, by Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838), 1780-1800. ©V&A Images

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead, with the temple of Apollo beyond, by Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838), 1780-1800. ©V&A Images

In response to the previous post about the garden at Stourhead, Andrew helpfully pointed us towards some images of the so-called Chinese bridge there, which was built around 1749 but was taken down again at the end of the eighteenth century. I thought I would feature some of the contemporary views of this piece of short-lived eighteenth-century chinoiserie.

Temporary recreation of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead set up by the structural engineering firm Mann Williams in 2005. ©Mann Williams

Temporary recreation of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead set up by the structural engineering firm Mann Williams in 2005. ©Mann Williams

Single-arch timber bridges were often called ‘Chinese’ in the eighteenth century, probably because they were reminiscent of the bridges shown on Chinese porcelain, lacquer, silk and wallpaper.

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead by Copleston Warre Bampfylde (1720-1791), 1770s. ©V&A Images

View of the Chinese bridge at Stourhead by Copleston Warre Bampfylde (1720-1791), 1770s. ©V&A Images

Strictly speaking, however, the use of this type of bridge in Europe goes back to a design in Palladio’s Third Book of Architecture (as noted, for instance by Professor Timothy Mowl in his 1993 book Palladian Bridges).

View of the garden at Stourhead from the Chinese umbrella, by Fredrik Magnus Piper (1746-1824), 1779. ©Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, with thanks to John Harrison's Pinterest boards.

View of the garden at Stourhead from the Chinese umbrella, by Fredrik Magnus Piper (1746-1824), 1779. ©Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, with thanks to John Harrison’s Pinterest boards.

Palladian structures sat happily next to Chinese and Gothic ones in mid-eighteenth-century British gardens and there was a considerable degree of stylistic cross-fertilisation. Some ‘Palladian’ arched bridges acquired ‘Chinese’ fretwork balustrades, whereas others kept their ‘Palladian’ x-shaped cross-braces, but were still dubbed ‘Chinese’.

Sino-Palladian bridge in the park at Wörlitz, Saxen-Anhalt, originally built 1772. With thanks to John Harrison's Pinterest boards.

Sino-Palladian bridge in the park at Wörlitz, Saxen-Anhalt, originally built 1772. With thanks to John Harrison’s Pinterest boards.

The popularity of the English landscape garden ensured that these Sino-Palladian bridges were also exported to other parts of Europe – a nice example of the circulation and reinterpretation of a design motif.

 

 

English Arcadia

August 26, 2014
The temple of Apollo at Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

The temple of Apollo at Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols

Stourhead is one the most influential and admired English landscape gardens. Even Horace Walpole, notorious for his bitchy comments on other people’s houses and gardens, was impressed.

Self portrait with Apollo leading the Marchese Pallavicini towards the temple of Virtue, by Carlo Maratta (1625-1713), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732098. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Self portrait with Apollo leading the Marchese Pallavicini towards the temple of Virtue, by Carlo Maratta (1625-1713), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732098. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Although the entire ensemble of the lake and the buildings ranged around it is artificial, it manages to convey an atmosphere of dreamlike harmony.

Curved bench made for the temple of Apollo at Stourhead, with a depiction of Apollo in his chariot with Aurora and the Hours, attributed to William Hoare of Bath, RA (1707–92), inv. no. 562873.2. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Curved bench made for the temple of Apollo at Stourhead, with a depiction of Apollo in his chariot with Aurora and the Hours, attributed to William Hoare of Bath, RA (1707–92), inv. no. 562873.2. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The intricate compositions and ever-changing views were clearly inspired by seventeenth-century landscape paintings.

View of Stourhead by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde (1719-91), 1775, inv. no. 730729. ©National Trust Images

View of the garden at Stourhead with the temple of Apollo at left, by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde (1719-91), 1775, inv. no. 730729. ©National Trust Images

There are also strong antiquarian and literary tropes, and originally there were even some exotic touches, including a Chinese-style bridge and pavilion.

View through the grotto at Stourhead, past the lakeside 'window' towards the statue of the river god. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

View through the grotto at Stourhead, past the lakeside ‘window’ towards the statue of the river god. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson

The grotto, on the north side of the lake, takes the visitor down into the darkness where a river god a nymph reside. The temple of Apollo, by contrast, rises on an eminence on the opposite side of the lake, reaching towards the sun, Apollo’s symbol.

Statue of a river god by John Cheere (1709–87), inv. no. 562877, in the grotto at Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

Statue of a river god by John Cheere (1709–87), inv. no. 562877, in the grotto at Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

But the two buildings do reach out to each other: from an opening in the grotto the visitor can glimpse the temple of Apollo, which in turn reaches down through its reflection in the lake.

Statue of a sleeping nymph, probably by John Cheere (1709-87), inv. no. 562876, with an inscription taken from a fifteenth-century Latin poem translated by Alexander Pope, in the grotto at Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

Statue of a sleeping nymph, probably by John Cheere (1709-87), inv. no. 562876, with an inscription taken from a fifteenth-century Latin poem translated by Alexander Pope, in the grotto at Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

Parts of the garden are now in need of major conservation work. Our American partner organisation, the Royal Oak Foundation, has dedicated its 2014 appeal to raise funds for the temple of Apollo, the grotto and the pinetum at Stourhead.

Lady Bearsted’s Chinese taste

August 21, 2014

Lady Bearsted's bedroom at Upton House. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lady Bearsted’s bedroom at Upton House. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The other day I had a conversation with Katy Lithgow, the National Trust’s head conservator, about the revival of the taste for Chinese decoration in European and American interiors in the 1920s and 1930s.

Japanned gramophone player in Lady Bearsted's bedroom, inv. no. 446524. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Japanned gramophone player in Lady Bearsted’s bedroom, inv. no. 446524. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

I mentioned the flamboyant interiors of Rose Cumming, the American decorator who combined Chinese wallpaper, lacquer and ceramics with up-to-the-minute shiny fabrics and jewel-like colours.

Chinese Tang dynasty terracotta horse in Lady Bearsted's bedroom, inv. no. 446360©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Chinese Tang dynasty terracotta horse in Lady Bearsted’s bedroom, inv. no. 446360©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Katy told me that some of the rooms at Upton House were furnished in a similar style, in particular the bedroom and bathroom of Dorothy, Viscountess Bearsted (1882-1949).

'Chinese Chippendale' armchair at Upton, inv. no. 446427.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

‘Chinese Chippendale’ armchair at Upton, inv. no. 446427.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

These rooms, along with the rest of the house, were remodeled for Lord and Lady Bearsted by the architect Percy Morley Horder (1870-1944) in the late 1920s.

Queen Anne period japanned cabinet at Upton, inv. no. 446499. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Queen Anne period japanned cabinet at Upton, inv. no. 446499. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lady Bearsted’s bedroom had a neo-Georgian chinoiserie theme, with a number of pieces of lacquer, japanned and faux bamboo furniture set against wall paneling painted a kind of celadon colour.

Lady Bearsted's bathroom at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Lady Bearsted’s bathroom at Upton. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Her bathroom was even more dramatic, with aluminium-leaf walls, lacquer red pillars and – originally – a Chinese-style art deco pendant light fitting.

Chinese Dehua porcelain figure of Guanyin used as a lamp stand in Lady Bearsted's bedroom, inv. no. 446359.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Chinese Dehua porcelain figure of Guanyin used as a lamp stand in Lady Bearsted’s bedroom, inv. no. 446359.2. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

All this chimes with what Rose Cumming and other interior designers were doing in America at that time and shows what an international phenomenon the interbellum chinoiserie revival was.

Sublime Ickworth

August 19, 2014

The rotunda at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The rotunda at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

From whichever angle you look at it, the rotunda at Ickworth is an extraordinary building. It is like a neoclassical spacecraft that has landed in the Suffolk countryside.

Looking from the rotunda across the Italianate garden towards the west wing. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Looking from the rotunda across the Italianate garden towards the west wing. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

Ickworth was the brainchild of Frederick, 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Derry (1730-1803), who was obsessed with building and collecting. It is said that the many hotels called ‘Bristol’ on the Continent were named after the Earl-Bishop, as he was constantly on the road in search of art to acquire and architecture to emulate.

The east wing at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The east wing at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The 4th Earl seems to have had a penchant for round or oval buildings, as can also be seen in the Mussenden Temple he built, romantically overlooking the sea on the Downhill demesne in County Londonderry.

View down the box avenue in the Italianate garden at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

View down the box avenue in the Italianate garden at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The much larger rotunda at Ickworth, designed by Mario Asprucci the Younger and Francis Sandys, was inspired by a picturesque circular house called Belle Isle on Lake Windermere, with colonnades based on those by Bernini at St Peter’s in Rome tacked onto the sides for added sublimity and magnificence.

The obelisk memorial to the Earl-Bishop in the park at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The obelisk memorial to the Earl-Bishop in the park at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The house was designed to hold the collection the Earl-Bishop was assembling on the Continent, but in 1798 Napoleonic troops put a spanner in the works by confiscating it. By the time the Earl-Bishop died in 1803 Ickworth was still unfinished and empty.

The lake, walled garden, summer house, church and rotunda at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The lake, walled garden, summer house, church and rotunda at Ickworth. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

The fate of Ickworth hung in the balance. But Frederick William, 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Bristol (1769-1859), in spite of having had a difficult relationship with his father, chose to finish and to some extent domesticate this sublime vision.

Genealogies of taste

August 14, 2014

Paneling from a room in the town house of the Nassau-Dietz family, c.1695, in the Rijks Museum, inv. no. BK-16709. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Paneling from a room in the town house of the Nassau-Dietz family, c.1695, in the Rijks Museum, inv. no. BK-16709. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

As I was browsing the website the of Rijks Museum I found this image of the paneling of a room that was formerly in the town house of the Nassau-Dietz family in Leeuwarden, where it was installed by 1695.

Two tapestries with orientalist scenes taken from Indian, Chinese and Japanese sources and from European illustrated travel books, woven in the Soho workshop c.1691, at Belton House, inv. no. 436999. The backgrounds of the tapestries would originally have been darker and more like lacquer. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

Two tapestries with orientalist scenes taken from Indian, Chinese and Japanese sources and from European illustrated travel books, woven in the Soho workshop c.1691, at Belton House, inv. no. 436999. The backgrounds of the tapestries would originally have been darker and more like lacquer. ©National Trust/Robert Thrift

The paneling is a combination of Chinese incised (or Coromandel) lacquer above and Dutch gilded carving below. The lacquer panels started life as folding screens which were originally made for the Chinese market, but became popular in Europe during the second half of the seventeenth century. They inspired the production of European products such as Asian-style tapestries and leather screens and wall hangings.

Chinese wallpaper depicting a landscape, hung at Blickling Hall c.1760. Inv. no. 354141. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Chinese wallpaper depicting a landscape, hung at Blickling Hall c.1760. Inv. no. 354141. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Rooms paneled in this way are now very rare. A more or less contemporary example surviving in Britain is the Chinese Room at Burton Agnes Hall, which dates from the early eighteenth century.

Chinese wallpaper on silk depicting a landscape, hung at Saltram possibly in the 1760s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Chinese wallpaper on silk depicting a landscape, hung at Saltram possibly in the 1760s. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

I am wondering how this vogue for lacquer rooms fits into the genealogy of Chinese wallpaper, which seems to have appeared in Europe a few generations later, around 1750. The subjects on Chinese wallpaper – architecture, figures, landscapes, birds and flowers – are reminiscent of the decoration of incised lacquer. It would seem likely that Chinese lacquer – along with Chinese silk and porcelain and their European imitations – helped to make the European market receptive for the arrival of Chinese wallpaper.

Seventeenth-century photo-shoots

August 12, 2014
The dolls house of Petronella Oortman, c.1686-c.1710, in the Rijks Museum, inv. no. BK-NM-1010. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

The dolls house of Petronella Oortman, c.1686-c.1710, in the Rijks Museum, inv. no. BK-NM-1010. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Last week I visited the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam, which I hadn’t seen yet since its reopening in 2013. I was impressed: by the new entrance courtyards, the layout, the helpful staff, the paint colours, the restored murals, the display cases and the text labels. And last but not least by the objects, which sing out in their greatly improved environment.

'Tapestry room' in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman. The 'flamestitch' textiles seen here have not survived as wall hangings in real houses. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

‘Tapestry room’ in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman. The ‘flamestitch’ textiles seen here have not survived as wall hangings in real houses. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

One of the things I had a good look at was the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, which was created between about 1686 and 1710. Like the big dolls houses at Nostell Priory and Uppark it provides a wonderful insight into the taste of its period. Objects or practices which have been lost in actual historic houses can still be encountered here. It is almost like a seventeenth-century photo-shoot.

Kitchen in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, showing the painted silk screens set into the windows above the dresser. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Kitchen in the dolls house of Petronella Oortman, showing the painted silk screens set into the windows above the dresser. Image in the public domain, supplied by the Rijks Museum.

Textiles, in particular, have often been lost from historic interiors through wear and tear and light damage, but in these dolls houses you can still see what kind of squab cushions they had and what the bed curtains looked like.

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.4. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.4. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

I was intrigued by the miniature representations of the pieces of silk stretched on wooden frameworks, called sassinetten, which were set into window embrasures of Dutch houses at that time. Presumably they were meant to increase privacy while still letting in the light. No full-size examples seem to have survived, as they would have deteriorated fairly quickly in the sunlight. But the painted decoration seen on some of the miniature screens in the Oortman dolls house is clearly in the Chinese style (and is similar to the scenes in the Chinese pictures at Shugborough Hall, for example). So did they use imported Chinese pictures on silk for these screens, I wonder?

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.5. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

Chinese picture on paper depicting a scene in a palace or mansion garden, in a European rococo frame, at Shugborough Hall, inv. no. 1271100.5. ©National Trust/Sophia Farley

And if the painted silk on some or all of these window screens was indeed Chinese, should they then be counted among the precursors of Chinese wallpaper? We tend to think that the development of panoramic Chinese wallpaper for the European market was preceded by the use of separate Chinese prints and pictures as wall decoration in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. These sassinetten may have been one expression of that taste.

Seeing red at the Royal Pavilion

July 22, 2014
Detail from a panel in the south wall of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, painted by Frederick Crace, oil on canvas. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

Detail from a panel in the south wall of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, painted by Frederick Crace, oil on canvas. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

Another example of the decorative complexity of the Royal Pavilion, which Alexandra Loske discussed in her recent talk, is the ‘red lacquer’ used on the walls in the Music Room.

Coloured engraving of a Chinese city gate after William Alexander, published by G. and W. Nicol, London, 1798, and later included in the book The Costume of China (1805). ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

Coloured engraving of a Chinese city gate after William Alexander, published by G. and W. Nicol, London, 1798, and later included in the book The Costume of China (1805). ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove, photograph Jim Pike

As Alexandra explains, the motifs for this scheme were derived from illustrated books on China, such as William Alexander’s The Costume of China (1805).

Japanned cabinet imitating Chinese lacquer, at Snowshill Manor, inv. no. 1331909. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

Japanned cabinet imitating Chinese lacquer, at Snowshill Manor, inv. no. 1331909. ©National Trust/Claire Reeves

The colour scheme, however, is clearly influenced by red and gold Asian lacquer, which had long been popular in the west.

The Japan Room at Frogmore House by Charles Wild, 1819. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

The Japan Room at Frogmore House by Charles Wild, 1819. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Both at Buckingham Palace and at Frogmore House on the Windsor estate there were chinoiserie interiors incorporating lacquer and lacquer effects, which may also have influenced the Prince Regent and his design team.

View of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, engraved by J. Agar, J. Stephanoff and J. Tingli after Augustus Charles Pugin, 1824, and used to illustrate John Nash’s book The Royal Pavilion at Brighton (1826). © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

View of the Music Room at the Royal Pavilion, engraved by J. Agar, J. Stephanoff and J. Tingli after Augustus Charles Pugin, 1824, and used to illustrate John Nash’s book The Royal Pavilion at Brighton (1826). © Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

However, Alexandra also noted the artistry of the designers purely at the level of colour. The Music Room is dominated by the three primary colours red, blue and yellow/gold in pure, saturated tints. This combining of complementary colours was known from contemporary colour theory to produce a particularly brilliant effect.

Thinking pink at the Royal Pavilion

July 15, 2014
The Long Gallery at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The Long Gallery at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

At the recent ‘Objects, Families, Homes’ conference of the East India Company at Home project I heard a fascinating lecture by Dr Alexandra Loske about the rich array of colours and motifs in the interiors of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton.

Chinese famille rose porcelain lidded vase, inv. no. 1245511, at Polesden Lacey. ©National Trust/Lynda Hall

Chinese famille rose porcelain lidded vase, inv. no. 1245511, at Polesden Lacey. ©National Trust/Lynda Hall

Alexandra teased out how some of the decoration came from Chinese sources, such as famille rose porcelain and mandarins’ robes, while other elements came from European illustrated books about China and the ongoing tradition of imitation-Chinese – or chinoiserie – decoration.

The Long Gallery in John Nash's Views of the Royal Pavilion, 1826 (image from Austenonly)

The Long Gallery in John Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion, 1826 (image from Austenonly)

Out of these diverse and and sometimes unexpected influences the ‘design team’ – comprised of the Prince of Wales (client), John Nash (architect) and John and Frederick Crace and Robert Jones (designers) – then created the extraordinarily rich synthesis that we can still experience at the Royal Pavilion today.

Alexandra Loske holding Moses Harris's influential The Natural System of Colours (c.1769-76), and with a fragment of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the Royal Pavilion in the background.

Alexandra Loske holding Moses Harris’s influential The Natural System of Colours (c.1769-76), and with a fragment of Chinese wallpaper in the collection of the Royal Pavilion in the background.

Alexandra has also master-minded a special display at the Royal pavilion entitled ‘Regency Colour and Beyond – 1785-1850′, about the Regency-period fascination with colour. The display has been based on Alexandra’s research, which was carried out in collaboration with the conservators at the Royal Pavilion and pigment specialists at the National Gallery.

Fragment of the original wall decoration of the Long Gallery, inspired in part by Chinese wallpaper and in part by famille rose porcelain. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

Fragment of the original wall decoration of the Long Gallery, inspired in part by Chinese wallpaper and in part by famille rose porcelain. ©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove

The project was part of Alexandra’s collaborative doctorate, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, which aims to encourage interaction between academic and non-academic institutions and businesses. I, for one, hope to learn more from Alexandra about the role of Chinese wallpaper in the development of the Royal Pavilion.

Questions of value

July 10, 2014
Leather fire bucket at Florence Court, Co Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an 'E' stand for 'Enniskillen', the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Leather fire bucket, at Florence Court, Co. Fermanagh, inv. no. 630933. The painted tendrils shaped into an ‘E’ stand for ‘Enniskillen’, the earldom of the Cole family which owned Florence Court. ©National Trust

Yesterday I attended a conference organised by the Art Fund about the value of museums. There were a number of stimulating discussions about what kind of value museums have and how that value operates.

There seemed to be a consensus that museums should focus on what they are really good at: collecting, looking after, researching and making accessible interesting and beautiful things. It was commented that museums can have social and economic benefits too, but that those are best delivered through that core purpose.

Painted 'grotesque' decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Painted ‘grotesque’ decoration with tendrils, leaves and ribbons in the boudoir at Attingham Park, 1780s, possibly by Louis-André Delabrière. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

There were some fascinating and contrasting examples of ‘value’. At one end of the spectrum, Graham W.J. Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Arts, described the struggle to preserve a collection which is threatened with sale in order to plug the pensions deficit of the city. At the other end, Jack Persekian, director of the Palestinian Museum – as yet without a building and without a collection – showed examples of the objects cherished by individual Palestinians, objectively modest things which nevertheless have enormous subjective power.

This investigation of ‘value’ reminded me of the collections of the National Trust, where the modest can sometimes be just as significant as the fine. The leather bucket shown above was once simply an item of fire prevention at Florence Court. But the way it was made, its aged appearance and its connection to a particular place now give it an distinct aura, speaking to us on a number of different levels.

The charming conceit of painting the house owner’s initial on the bucket in vaguely classical tendrils links it to a long tradition of classicised floral decoration. The boudoir at Attingham, in the second image above, is another, particularly fine example of that tradition. And that boudoir, in turn, demonstrates how objects never exist in a vacuum, but always ‘speak’ to other objects within certain spaces and relationships.

So that leads me to propose that the value of museums, and of heritage more widely, resides in relationships: between objects, between objects and places and between objects and people.

Silver at Belton: new, old and recycled

July 8, 2014
The south front of Belton House, painted by an anonymous artist in about 1720. Inv. no. 436145. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The south front of Belton House, painted by an anonymous artist in about 1720. Inv. no. 436145. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

A thread of silver runs through the history of Belton House. From the time the house was built in the 1680s by Sir John Brownlow, 3rd Bt. (1659-97), silver was an integral part of the interior. Even the staff of the porter, shown in a painting of about 1720 (but still surviving in the house), had a silver pommel and ferrule.

One of the set of four silver gilt 'pilgrim bottles' at Belton House, c. 1690. Inv. no. 436544. ©National Trust/Jack Heath

One of the set of four silver gilt ‘pilgrim bottles’ at Belton House, c. 1690. Inv. no. 436544. ©National Trust/Jack Heath

One of the third Baronet’s acquisitions is the rare set of  silver gilt chained water bottles, sometimes known as ‘pilgrim bottles’.

Silver gilt sconces originally made for king William III. Inv. no. 436541. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Silver gilt sconces originally made for king William III. Inv. no. 436541. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Later generations of the Brownlow and Cust families continued to add silver. John Cust, 2nd Baron and 1st Earl Brownlow (1779-1853), was one of the first collectors of antique silver. He bought a considerable number of late-seventeenth-century silver items from the royal silversmiths Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. These had been recycled from various royal palaces, where they were considered outmoded. As a result, some of the silver gilt sconces now housed at Belton give a flavour of the decoration of king William III’s palaces.

Silver and silver-gilt items on the dining table in the Hondecoeter room at Belton. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

Silver and silver-gilt items on the dining table in the Hondecoeter room at Belton. ©National Trust Images/Robert Morris

This year there is even more emphasis on silver at Belton than usual, with silversmith Angela Cork working as artist in residence, sponsored by the Goldsmith’s Company.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 768 other followers