In the realm of Cupid

A Roman child's sarcophagus, at West Wycombe Park. Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the National Trust, 2007. ©NTPL/John Hammond

I previously featured the busts and the pedestals accepted in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to West Wycombe. The allocation also included a rare Roman marble child’s sarcophagus dating from the late second century.

©NTPL/John Hammond

 The sarcophagus has been carved with groups of Cupids enacting scenes from the Meleager myth. Presumably little Cupids enacting a tragic story were thought to be appropriate for a child’s sarcophagus.

West Wycombe, the South Colonnade. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The sarcophagus was brought to West Wycombe by Sir Francis Dashwood, second Baronet (1708-1781), who was fascinated by classical antiquity, and particularly by the cult of Venus and her son Cupid.

The Music Room, with Venus disarming Cupid over the chimneypiece. ©NTPL/Tim Imrie

Sir Francis installed numerous representations of Venus and Cupid around West Wycombe. A painting attributed to Luca Cambiaso in the Music Room shows Venus Disarming Cupid.

The Tapestry Room. ©NTPL/Tim Imrie

In the Tapestry Room the chimneypiece has a painted depiction of The Toilet of Venus.

The rebuilt Temple of Venus. ©NTPL/Alasdair Ogilvie

In the park the second Baronet constructed a Temple of Venus, the layout of which celebrated the female anatomy. Unsurprisingly, this was demolished in the nineteenth century.

In 1982, however, Sir Francis Dashwood, eleventh Baronet (1925-2000), commissioned the architect Quinlan Terry to rebuild it on the basis of archival research. So Venus still rules at West Wycombe.

4 Responses to “In the realm of Cupid”

  1. Robert Says:

    I’ve just visited nearby Cliveden and was surprised to see eight or nine Ancient Roman sarcophagi dotted around the gardens there (although I presume they were added to the estate by W.W.Astor rather later than Dashwood’s example here at West Wycombe). It made me wonder just how many of these there are on NT properties and also just how easy it is to find out this type of information.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Robert, thanks for your response. I am guessing that the sarcophagi at Cliveden are indeed from the time of William Waldorf, first Viscount Astor, as he brought al kinds of works of art and antique furnishings to Cliveden, but I will check that and report back. Our collections database is not quite online yet (although it is the intention to make it publicly available), but I will interrogate that too to see where else there may be sarcophagi lurking in the undergrowth.

  3. Nino Says:

    There is a 3rd century sarcophagus at Polesden Lacey which is back in its original position in the ground floor Picture Corridor, but spent part of the 20th century out in the garden.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much for that Nino.

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