A sacred conversation

Attributed to Palma il Vecchio (c 1480-1528), Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and child with St Mary Magdalene, St Peter and St Peter Martyr, oil on panel, 75.5 x 105.1 cm. Image Christie's

This painting came up at auction at Christie’s in London on 7 July. It was in the collection of John Barnard in the eighteenth century and was then acquired by the first Baron Scarsdale. It was at Kedleston Hall by 1778.

The north front of Kedleston Hall. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

I was bidding for this picture at the auction on the National Trust’s behalf, but it went just beyond the limit we had set ourselves. However, one of our curators, Amanda Bradley, quickly contacted Christie’s to find out if the buyer might want to sell the picture on to us at a modest profit.

Italo-Byzantine triptych showing the Madonna and child with saints, early fourteenth century, at Polesden Lacey, Surrey. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Christie’s Old Master Paintings department very helpfully forwarded this offer to the buyer, who agreed, and after finding a little bit more money we were able to acquire the picture after all. We are very grateful to everyone who helped to make this happen.

Sacra Conversazione: The Virgin and child with St Jerome, St Justina, St Ursula and St Bernardino of Siena by Palma il Vecchio, at Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The title of the picture, meaning ‘sacred conversation’, refers to a type of religious picture that developed in the Renaissance, showing the Virgin and the Christ child surrounded by saints. Previously saints had been depicted in a rigidly emblematic way, but gradually they were shown more informally, as if conversing with the Virgin and child.

The first Lord and Lady Scarsdale walking in the grounds of Kedleston Hall by Nathaniel Hone, 1761. ©NTPL/John Hammond

This particular painting has been restored in the past, but it is nevertheless important to Kedleston as evidence of the taste for Old Master paintings of the first Lord Scarsdale and his wife Caroline.

Although Lord Scarsdale never seems to have gone on a Grand Tour of  Italy, he was nevertheless deeply interested in Italian art and architecture, as is evident in the building works he commissioned at Kedleston from James ‘Athenean’ Stuart and Robert Adam.

A design for the decoration of a state room at Kedleston, c. 1757-58, by James 'Athenian' Stuart. ©NTPL/John Hammond

As the new house was going up, Lord Scarsdale was buying more and more Old Masters, many of them through the painter and landscape designer William Kent.

The Drawing Room at Kedleston. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Many of the pictures were incorporated into plasterwork frames that were part of the architecture. The Old Masters were shown in the east side of the main block, whereas portraits were displayed in the State Appartment on the west side.

9 Responses to “A sacred conversation”

  1. Barbara Says:

    Love the George Cuitt which I have not seen before! Thanks.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks, but I just noticed I didn’t have the authorisation to use that image! So I have had to replace it with a similar landscape view in photographic format. Sorry :)

  3. CherryPie Says:

    A nice addition to the collection :-)

  4. columnist Says:

    I thought Kedleston was Adam related, and it seems very appropriate that I should just be reading your post, as we are about to head out to see Mellerstain, which is one of the Adam masterpieces.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes Adam seems to have got himself the job by making it appear as if his suggestions and innovations had originated in the innate taste of his client – always a good marketing tactic :)

  6. Janet Says:

    Truly wonderful news! I hope to get back to Kedleston some day to see in situ. Congrats.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thank you – another small piece of the Kedleston jigsaw back in place.

  8. Erik Radius Says:

    Congratulations, Emile!
    Sounds like a fine Treasure hunt indeed.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much – dankjewel – all in a day’s work :)

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