The image of the Chippendale set of steps in the Library at Nostell Priory reminded me of the portrait of Sir Rowland and Lady Winn standing in that same room, painted by Hugh Douglas Hamilton.
Here we see a couple in the room that they had just finished decorating, to designs by Robert Adam and with stucco by Joseph Rose, inset paintings by Antonio Zucchi and furniture by Thomas Chippendale.
Sir Rowland seems to be leaning against the Chippendale desk, which is still very much the centrepiece of the room today.
The artist has practised a sleight of hand in ‘folding open’ one of the walls of the room, to create a wider backdrop for the figures and allowing them to be more prominent and closer to the picture plane (as explained by our curator of pictures Alastair Laing in his article on the painting in the April 2000 issue of Apollo magazine).
Quite apart from providing a glimpse of the life of the specific inhabitants of a specific house, this picture has fairly recently also come to stand for English cultural life in the eighteenth century more generally, when it was reproduced on the cover of John Brewer’s widely-read book The Pleasures of the Imagination. The companionable atmosphere of the painting and its suggestion of culture and learning borne lightly seems to make it an emblem of the ideal of a certain way of life.