Scottish orientalism

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, at Ham House, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, at Ham House, Surrey. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I gave a talk at Ham House yesterday to some of the volunteers who help to open the house to the public. The volunteers all know Ham inside out, so I tried not to talk about the house itself but about the wider context of orientalism and baroque decoration.

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, formerly at Ham House. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Japanned chair, c. 1680, possibly by John Ridge, formerly at Ham House. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Nevertheless the discussion did occasionally circle back to Ham, which in many ways is such a wonderful baroque time capsule. One of the interesting questions from the audience was whether it was known who had made the rare sets of japanned chairs at Ham, with their hybrid sino-European outlines.

Japanned armchair attributed to John Ridge, 1682, at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Japanned armchair attributed to John Ridge, 1682, at Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh. Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

One of those chairs resides in the V&A, and I had recently noticed that the excellent online catalogue entry for it mentions the furniture maker John Ridge. The link is explained by the fact that a set of japanned chairs at the palace of Holyroodhouse is similar to the sets at Ham in having front stretchers with elaborately shaped outlines. The Holyrood chairs, in turn, have been associated with John Ridge’s 1682 account for a japanned suite supplied to the Duchess of Hamilton.

Coromandel lacquer cabinet on a japanned stand attributed to John Ridge, c. 1690, formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Buccleuch. © Christie's

Coromandel lacquer cabinet on a japanned stand attributed to John Ridge, c. 1690, formerly in the collection of the Dukes of Buccleuch. © Christie’s

While doing an online search for John Ridge I also spotted a Coromandel lacquer cabinet dating to about 1690 with a japanned stand which has been attributed to him. It came up at auction at Christie’s a few years ago and has a provenance from the Dukes of Buccleuch. These attributions are all relatively tentative, but it is interesting that they seem to be associated with Scottish patrons, perhaps indicating the existence of a Scottish version of baroque orientalism.

8 Responses to “Scottish orientalism”

  1. beeskep Says:

    A fresh look! Great. Thanks…

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks Barbara. Yes the past is full of surprises, isn’t it? :)

  3. Andrew Says:

    No doubt you are aware that John Ridge did “Lord Darnley’s Bed” too, but about 100 years too late for him to have actually used it – http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/28209/tester-bed and http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/press-release/mary-queen-of-scots-portrait-and-private-prayer-niche-unveiled-as-the-historic

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Thanks very much Andrew – no I didn’t know that. It is interesting that Ridge was a London-based ‘upholsterer’, and yet obviously supplying Scottish clients – but presumably English ones also?

    The catalogue entry for that bed also mentions a japanned table and mirror with a pair of stands in the Hamilton apartments at Holyrood, and there are examples of those types of furniture at Ham too, both with real and with imitation lacquer.

  5. Andrew Says:

    I’m not sure how specifically “Scottish” Anne, 3rd Duchess of Hamilton, for example, was. She was born in Whitehall, in the reign of Charles I – when the English monarchs were Scottish too, of course. She inherited the duchy in her own right, from her uncle, by special remainder, and started the building of Hamilton Palace. Her son, the 4th Duke of Hamilton was equivocal about the union in 1707, but nonetheless created 1st Duke of Brandon a few years later.

    Anne, 1st Duchess of Buccleuch, was also a peeress in her own right – she succeeded her sister as 4th Countess of Buccleuch in 1661 She married the Duke of Monmouth, and we know things ended unhappily for him in 1685.

    So perhaps there was a female element, as much as a Scottish one?

  6. Kate Hay Says:

    Thanks for this Emile. It’s great to bring this information about 17th John Ridge together. The cabinet you illustrate looks to me stylistically more like British japanning, wouldn’t you say, rather than Coromandel lacquer? I also wonder whether the stand might be later?

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, yes those are very good points: both about the internationalism (or perhaps the incipient Britishness) of the upper reaches of the Scottish nobility in the late seventeenth century, and about the role of women in the creation of schemes of interior decoration – bot very useful points to pursue when studying baroque decoration.

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Kate, you may well be right about the cabinet being high-quality English japanning rather than Chinese Coromandel lacquer. You and I have looked at a table at Ham together which threw up the same question, and I suppose a conclusive answer in both cases could only be obtained through technical analysis of the materials used.

    And again it is interesting that you think the stand is later – do you think that because of its shape, perhaps, or its decoration?

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