Archive for the ‘Dorset’ Category

When is a Velázquez a Velázquez?

October 17, 2013
The Handmaidens of the Infanta Margharita in the Household of Philip IV, known as 'Las meniñas', thought to be by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, after Diego Velázquez, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Handmaidens of the Infanta Margharita in the Household of Philip IV, known as ‘Las meninas’, thought to be by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, after Diego Velázquez, at Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Reattributions of paintings by or in the style of well-known masters tend to cause a stir, as we saw in the case of the self-portrait attributed to Rembrandt at Buckland Abbey. It is no different with the recent claim that the version of Las meninas in the collection at Kingston Lacy is by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) himself, rather than by his son-in-law Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo (1612/16-67).

The Handmaidens of the Infanta Margharita in the Household of Philip IV, known as 'Las meniñas', by Diego Velázquez, at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. © Museo Nacional del Prado

The Handmaidens of the Infanta Margharita in the Household of Philip IV, known as ‘Las meninas’, by Diego Velázquez, at the Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. © Museo Nacional del Prado

The prime version of this famously enigmatic painting hangs in the Prado in Madrid. The museum has put on an important Velázquez exhibition which includes both the Prado and the Kingston Lacy Las meninas.

Prince Balthasar Carlos as a hunter, by Diego Velázquez, at Ickworth, Suffolk. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Prince Balthasar Carlos as a hunter, by Diego Velázquez, at Ickworth, Suffolk. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

However, as reported in The Guardian newspaper and elsewhere, art historian Dr Matías Díaz Padrón has just given a lecture at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes in Madrid in which he reattributes the Kingston Lacy version to the master himself. He suggests that it is a first draft or sketch for the Prado version, and that the colours in both pictures are typical of the artist.

Cardinal Camillo Massimi, by Diego Velázquez, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Cardinal Camillo Massimi, by Diego Velázquez, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

The Kingston Lacy meninas was thought to be an original Velázquez in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and its status was only changed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It was in the collection of Gaspar de Haro, 7th Marquess of Carpio and 2nd Duke of Montoro (1629-87, who also owned the picture by Velázquez now known as the Rokeby Venus) and was purchased and brought to Kingston Lacy by William Bankes (1786-1855).

The Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy, where the version of Las meniñas normally hangs. ©National Trust Images/Richard Pink

The Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy, where the version of Las meniñas normally hangs. ©National Trust Images/Richard Pink

However, the curator of the Prado show, Javier Portús, is not convinced, and more research will be needed to support this new claim. But being able seeing the two paintings in close proximity is a good start.

Retour d’Egypte

August 16, 2012

Fragment of a wall painting depicting a harpist entertaining guests at a banquet, from an 18th-Dynasty tomb at Thebes dated 1425-1375 BC, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

William Bankes, who inherited the Kingston Lacy estates in 1806, combined the different temperaments of a scholar, a connoisseur and a romantic. Between 1812 and 1820 he travelled around the Mediterranean, visiting Portugal, Spain, Egypt, Syria and Italy and collecting works of art along the way.

The Philae obelisk on the South lawn at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

Two articles have just been published about Bankes’s Egyptian collections. In the 2012 edition of the National Trust Historic Houses and Collections Annual, David Adshead relates the story of how Bankes managed to remove an obelisk from the island of Philae in the First Cataract of the Nile and to have it ultimately re-erected on the lawn at Kingston Lacy.

One of a pair of ‘Retour d’Egypte’ (or Egyptian Revival) Paris porcelain stands with caryatid figures and hieroglyphs, c. 1805, in the Saloon at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

The early nineteenth century was a period of fierce rivalry in Egypt between the representatives of several European nations – and in particular between Britain and France – keen on obtaining the most interesting antiquities and on deciphering the hieroglyphic script.

One of a group of 25 stelae, or tomb inscriptions, from the craftsmen’s village at Deir el-Medina near Thebes, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Bankes played a part in this ‘antiquities race’ by recording inscriptions and collecting objects. The obelisk, which was the largest and most fraught of his acquisitions, had been claimed by the French Consul, but after a failed attempt during which it slid into the Nile, Bankes and his associate Giovanni Battista Belzoni managed to get their prize onto a boat and whisk it away to Alexandria.

Copy of a wall painting at the Great Temple at Abu Simbel depicting captives, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

In retrospect this frantic game of one-upmanhip seems slightly comical – a clear case of obelisk envy – but at the time it was deadly serious. At one point Belzoni was almost lynched by the Consul’s men.

Shabti figurine of King Sethos I, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In the August 2012 edition of ABC Bulletin Dr Daniele Salvoldi writes about the archive of William Bankes’s Egyptian studies. During his travels Bankes commissioned a number of artists to record almost a hundred different sites, some of which have since been lost.

Copy by Louis Linant de Bellefonds of a wall painting in the Great Temple at Abu Simbel depicting King Rameses II before three gods, at Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

The resulting collection of 1700 documents includes epigraphy, landscapes, plans and elevations, maps and images of anthropological and natural subjects. The archive, which has now been fully catalogued by Dr Salvoldi, is kept at the Dorset History Centre, Dorchester, and can be accessed online.

Anti-Havisham at Kingston Lacy

February 14, 2012

Detail of the chimneypiece in the Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy. The tooled and painted leather hangings came from the Palazzo Contarini near the church of SS. Apostoli in Venice. The polychrome pendant garland is of Florentine marble set against black Belgian marble. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

In a comment on the previous post Courtney Barnes mentioned that the forlorn look of the orangery at Tyntesfield before its restoration reminded her of Miss Havisham, the tragic figure created by Charles Dickens in Great Expectations. An heiress who was jilted at the altar, Miss Havisham refused to have anything changed in her large mansion from that day onward, allowing it to decay around her.

The top of the Upper Marble Staircase. The balustrade is of alabaster capped with Biancone marble. The candelabra are also of Biancone, and the bronzes are probably eighteenth-century copies of Michelangelo's Times of Day in the Medici Chapel of S. Lorenzo in Florence. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

This in turn reminded me of William Bankes (1786-1855), who created the sumptuous interiors at Kingston Lacy in Dorset: not because he tried to stop the clock, but because he was a kind of ‘anti-Havisham’, creating a beautiful house without actually being there.

The Tent Room, one of the bachelor bedrooms dating from 1835-41. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Bankes was gay, and this was at a time when homosexuals were being increasingly persecuted in Britain. After one encounter too many with a guardsman in Green Park he was forced to flee the country. But he continued to develop the interiors at Kingston Lacy by sending back works of art and furnishings that he had purchased and commissioned in Italy, accompanied by detailed instructions on how they should be installed.

One of a pair of early seventeenth century bronze firedogs from the workshop of Niccolo Roccatagliata, in the Spanish Room. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

There is something not only very poignant but also rather poetic and intellectually fascinating about such a project of creating a Gesamtkunstwerk like Kingston Lacy entirely in the mind’s eye.

Walnut shutters with carvings designed by William Bankes. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

Bankes’s fastidious and connoisseurial imagination clearly enabled him to visualise the end result, but at that same time that imagination must have made it especially painful not being able to inhabit the actual house.

Niche designed by William Bankes and Charles Barry based on shell niches in Montpellier and Narbonne and carved from yellow Torre, Biancone and fleur de pêcher marble. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

There are indications that Bankes may have visted Kingston Lacy in secret towards the end of his life, which presents yet another poignant image, of the exile returning briefly to gaze at his creation before rushing off again.

Consuming the country house

January 31, 2012

Tea and scones at the National Trust tearoom at Corfe Castle, on the Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset. ©NTPL/David Levenson

‘Consuming the Country House’ is the title of a conference that will take place at the University of Northampton on 18 and 19 April 2012.

Enamel portrait miniatures by Henry Bone above a a Sienna marble console table in the Drawing Room at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

The theme of the conference is to look at the country house as an evolving social, economic and cultural phenomenon.

Portrait by Sir George Hayter (1792-1871) of William Bankes (1786-1855), who assembled the interiors and collections at Kingston Lacy as they largely remain today. ©NTPL/Angelo Hornak

Various papers will investigate how the country house was ‘consumed’ by its owners – how and why they were built and decorated – but also how the country house was and is  ‘consumed’ by visitors.

One of six planters in the shape of well-heads that were commissioned by William Bankes for Kingston Lacy in Verona. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

Subjects will include stately homes in the Dutch Republic, Victorian country house food, le style Rothschild at Mentmore, the collecting and display of classical sculpture, ‘foreign’ porcelain in English country houses, queer pilgrimage and the country house, the history of visiting Stowe, adultery in the country house, music in Irish country houses and showing historic interiors ‘as found’ – to name but some of them. 

Visitors on the Marble Staircase at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Arnhel de Serra

My own contribution will be about ‘consuming’ East Asian and the changing significance of chinoiserie in country house settings – a subject that regular readers of this blog will recognise. A full listing of all the papers as well as booking forms can be found on the Consumption and the Country House website.

The images here are all of the Kingston Lacy estate, a place transformed by the taste of a wealthy ‘super-consumer’ in the early Victorian period and which still attracts present-day consumers of beauty – and of scones.

Deep background

November 11, 2011

The Golden Room at Kingston Lacy, Dorset, as created by William Bankes in 1838-9 and hung mainly with Spanish paintings. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

The National Trust’s curators have been steadily working to increase the number of up-to-date online collections guides, covering those historic houses that have particularly rich holdings of pictures, sculpture, or other collections.

Portrait of Cardinal Camillo Massimi by Diego Velázquez, in the Golden Room at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Previously the guides were available via the web pages of the individual historic houses on the national Trust’s website, but now they can be consulted on one dedicated web page.

The ceiling of the Golden Room, reputedly from the Palazzo degli Scrigni in Venice, inset with a painting depicting the creation of the elements, after an original by Veronese in the Ca' Pisani. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

The guides currently cover the Arlington Court carriage museum, the historic lighting at The Argory, the pictures at Blickling Hall, the pictures and sculpture at Cragside, the pictures in the Green closet at Ham House, the pictures at Kingston Lacy, the catalogue of the exhibition George Bernard Shaw, Man and Cameraman, the pictures and sculpture at Sizergh Castle and the pictures and sculpture at Stourhead.

Smaller copy of Velázquez's Las Meninas, attributed to the artist's son-in-law Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo, in the Golden Room at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The choice of illustrations to this post has been inspired by a perusal of the guide to the pictures of Kingston Lacy, that amazing treasure house in Dorset. The collections guides web page also provides a link to the bibliography of publications about National Trust properties and collections, the subject of a previous post.

The secret life of objects

March 28, 2011

I have been awared the Stylish Blogger Award by Colette of NH Design Blog. Isn’t that a pip?!

Set of samurai armour, at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

I would like to hand the award on to Barbara Sarudy of It’s About Time and Janet Blyberg of ~ JCB ~, two of my blog gurus, leading by example.

Figure of Japanese wind god, at Snowshill Manor. ©NTPL/Stuart Cox

As part of this award one is supposed to share some stylish things. I would like to use this opportunity to show a few more images (which I hope are reasonably stylish) relating to ‘Japaneseness’ and ‘Britishness’, in response to the throughtful comments on a recent post on the subject of preconceptions.

The Japanese Garden, Kingston Lacy, Dorset. ©NTPL/Mark Bolton

The images in this and the earlier post are all of artefacts that have been taken out of their original context and appropriated by someone for whom they were not originally intended. In all these cases this was done lovingly and with admiration, but inevitably the meaning of the objects changed along the way, although that might not be obvious at first glance. One might call this elusive pattern of change the secret life of objects.

Granite temple lantern in the Japanese Garden at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Mark Bolton

The Japanese artefacts at Snowshill were originally made either for the Japanese market or for the export trade. They must have been bought by a British visitor or entrepreneur, probably sold again in Britain at some point and then picked up by Charles Wade, who was continuously adding to his Aladdin’s cave at Snowshill in the 1920s and 1930s.

Wade admired Japanese objects as examples of fine craftsmanship, which he saw as being in decline in Britain. That response drove his collecting mania, which has made Snowshill what it is today. But the previous lives of these objects are interesting as well. Was the suit of armour sold by an impoverished samurai family after the abolition of the military class in 1871? Was the wind god part of the decoration of a temple, and if so why was it disposed of?

Corner cuboard at Hill Top with ceramics including an Edward VII coronation teapot which found its way into one of Beatrix Potter's illustrations for 'The Pie and the Patty Pan.' ©NTPL/Geoffrey Frosh

The Japanese garden at Kingston Lacy was created for Henrietta Bankes around 1910. Even though she clearly wanted a ‘genuine’ Japanese garden it was inevitably influenced by its time and place.

Furthermore, its current appearance is a recent restoration, after it had become overgrown and almost lost. It was recreated as faithfully as possibly, but inevitably the result is slightly different from the ‘original’ – which itself was a recreation on foreign soil of a Japanese original. Nevertheless these echoes, and echoes of echoes, are now part of the genius loci, the spirit of place, of Kingston Lacy.

Vignette in the Hill Top garden reminiscent of Mr McGregor's garden implements in Beatrix Potter's 'Peter Rabbit'. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

At Hill Top Beatrix Potter preserved the old Lake District farmhouse and collected local furniture and furnishings. She played an important role in preserving parts of the Lake District, but at the same time her view was inevitably that of a well-off, philanthropically-minded outsider. Originally cottage gardens and interiors like this would not have been quite as pretty as she made them, with her artist’s eye.

We owe Beatrix Potter a great debt of gratitude, but at the same time we should not forget that her vision of the place is a particular one, coloured by her Edwardian aestheticism. Today, of course, Hill Top receives many visitors from far and wide (including from places like Japan), who know it through the illustrations in Potter’s famous children’s books, and of course they see it through a slightly different lens again. And so the secret life of objects continues.

A Tintoretto rediscovered

June 9, 2010

The newly revealed Tintoretto after cleaning. ©National Trust

Kingston Lacy, in Dorset, is a house full of treasures, as I touched on in a previous post. The early Victorian aesthete William Bankes was such a voracious collector that some of his acquisitions have had to remain in store.

One of these hitherto unseen objects is a large octagonal painting by Venetian artist Tintoretto (1518-1594) which is now being revealed to the public for the first time.

Kingston Lacy. The steps from the South Terrace are flanked by Italian well-heads installed by William Bankes. ©NTPL/Richard Pink

When the National Trust acquired Kingston Lacy in 1981 the painting was in poor condition. At that time there were many other pressing priorities at Kingston Lacy, but following successful fundraising the picture has now received full conservation treatment.

The Tintoretto at the start of the treatment: Two small test areas have been cleaned. ©National Trust

It was sent to the Hamilton Kerr Institute near Cambridge for analysis and treatment. The thick, discoloured varnish and darkened areas of earlier retouching were removed, the original canvas was strengthened and the paint losses were carefully filled in.

Detail of the picture after the removal of varnish and overpaint and before retouching. ©National Trust

The Hamilton Kerr experts also carried out paint analysis, x-rays and infrared reflectography in order to help confirm that this painting is in fact by Tintoretto. Its previous grimy condition had made some experts doubt that it was by him.

However, as Tina Sitwell, the NT’s Paintings Conservation Adviser, has said, the cleaning process has revealed the sheer quality and energy characteristic of Tintoretto.

Retouching in progress. ©National Trust

It is not known when exactly Bankes bought the picture, and its previous history is also unclear. It is first recorded at Kingston Lacy in about 1850 when it was hanging in the Dining Room, where it will now be on display again.

The Dining Room at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Mystery also surrounds the meaning of the picture. The central figure is probably Apollo, but he could also be Hymen, god of marriage. The figure holding a book and being crowned with flowers is probably a poet. Hercules hovers in the top left corner and Fortune holds a cornucopia.

Detail of one of the boxwood doors of the Dining Room, showing a flute-playing putto echoing the putti in the Tintoretto. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

But it is not clear what is actually happening. What is the significance of the gold objects under Apollo/Hymen’s feet? Why has a large die showing the number five been placed next to Fortune? What is Hercules’s role? What is the relationship between the ‘poet’ and the pale female figure on the right?

Detail of a seventeenth century Italian coffer in the Dining Room. William Bankes was adept at creating subtle combinations of fine and decorative art and furnishings. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Do let me know if you think you can answer some of these questions. Further information on the picture can be accessed here.

Friendship in miniature

April 7, 2010

George Gordon, 6th Lord Byron, by William Leighton Leitch, 1831, after George Sanders, 1808. ©Christie’s Images Ltd 2010

In June last year we managed to buy this portrait in pencil and watercolour of Lord Byron at Christie’s in London. It is a copy by William Leighton Leitch of a miniature by George Sanders which was formerly owned by William John Bankes (1786-1855), the owner and embellisher of Kingston Lacy in Dorset.

William John Bankes, miniature by George Sanders, 1812. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Bankes and Byron were friends when they were both students at Cambridge. There is a Sanders miniature of Bankes at Kingston Lacy as well.

Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/Rupert Truman

Bankes was an aesthete in the Romantic mould who rebuilt his ancestral home and added many splendid works of art and furnishings which he gathered on his travels. The house was originally built in 1663-5 after a design by Roger Pratt, in a style similar to Belton House. After William Bankes inherited Kingston Lacy in 1834 he employed Charles Barry, the architect of the Houses of Parliament, to remodel it in historicist style.

The Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

In 1841 Bankes was caught in compromising circumstances with a soldier of the Foot Guards in London’s Green Park. His influential friends had previously managed to get similar charges dropped, but this time Bankes jumped bail and went to live in Italy. Nevertheles he continued to send his acquisitions back to Kingston Lacy, with careful instructions on how they were to be installed. There is evidence, moreover, that he made brief secret visits to the house.

Bankes’s tour de force at Kingston Lacy is the Spanish Room, which slowly came together over a number of years as the setting for his collection of Spanish paintings (which includes a Velázquez of Cardinal Camillo Massimi). The ceiling is from the Palazzo Contarini degli Scrigni and the leather wall covering came from another Palazzo Contarini, both in Venice.

The Spanish Room, Kingston Lacy, showing details of the chimneypiece and the wallcoverings. ©NTPL/James Mortimer

The sconces and the gilded leather are another example of the use of reflective surfaces to amplify the effect of candles and fires, similar to the previously featured wallcoverings at Ham House. It is also interesting to compare the Queen’s Antechamber at Ham and the Spanish Room at Kingston Lacy in that the original Baroque decoration of the former was sensitively restored in the late nineteenth century, whereas the decoration of the latter is a romantic nineteenth-century creation using original Baroque ‘salvage’.


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