The scaffolding that swathed Tyntesfield, in North Somerset, has now disappeared, as another phase in the conservation programme is completed. You can see a time-lapse image here – if you look closely you can also see the spire being put back on by a huge crane.
Another recent development is the installation of a painting from the studio of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618-1682), entitled The Mater Dolorosa, or ‘mother of sorrows’. It depicts the Virgin Mary mourning the death of her son, painted with such realism that it could almost be an ordinary Spanish woman at prayer.
The picture was bought at auction at Christie’s in New York in 2009. It may be the picture that William Gibbs, the rebuilder of Tyntesfield, bought in Seville in 1853. His nephew Henry Hucks Gibbs said of it at the time that ‘the expression of the countenance I think I have never seen surpassed.’
We are not sure whether this newly acquired picture is the exact same one that Gibbs bought (and which was later sold from the house), but even if it isn’t, it is likely to be almost identical. It was common practice for artists and their studios to make several versions of their paintings.
William Gibbs (1790-1875) was born in Spain, where his father was engaged in trade. This, and his profoundly religious nature, explains his predilection for seventeenth-century Spanish painting.
William himself also became a merchant, and eventually made a huge fortune exporting guano, which was increasingly being used as agricultural fertiliser, from South America. This enabled him to rebuild Tyntesfield as a large, high-Victorian Gothic country house in the 1860s.