Archive for the ‘Knole’ Category

Spangled and patched

June 24, 2014
The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

The proper left foot curtain of the spangled bed (inv. no. 129462), shown from the top end. ©National Trust

One of the objects at Knole currently undergoing conservation treatment is the so-called ‘spangled bed’. This bed may have been created in the early eighteenth century using an Elizabethan or Jacobean royal canopy of state which was sewn with silver sequins.

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The spangle bedroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The silk curtains of this bed are being analysed and treated at the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio. The Knole Conservation Team Blog has recently shown these images of the initial findings.

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

Yellow damask section at the top end of the proper left head curtain, which seems to have been part of the original lining. ©National Trust

It turns out that the curtains are a patchwork of different elements, including six different types of silk damask, a plain silk section and a linen section.

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Pink damask patches at the bottom of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

All these patches seem to have had previous uses before they were inserted into the bed curtains, as they show additional seams and darning.

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

Green damask patch at the top of one of the curtains. ©National Trust

There are a number of different types and styles of seams, suggesting that there were several successive repairs.

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

Yellow damask patch. ©National Trust

At some point the curtains seem to have been turned upside down, so that the damaged and patched hems would be at the top and therefore less obvious.

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

Patch of a different crimson damask. ©National Trust

All this gives some glimpses of the life of this venerable bed, as well as of the thrifty housekeeping methods of previous generations.

Meeting Sophonisba

November 26, 2013
Sir Anthony van Dyck, portrait of Sophonisbna Anguissola in old age, c. 1624. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole. ©National Trust Knole, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Sir Anthony van Dyck, portrait of Sophonisbna Anguissola in old age, c. 1624. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole. ©National Trust Knole, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Arts Council England has just published its 2012-13 report on the Acceptance in Lieu scheme. This report includes the recent allocation of a group of portraits to the National Trust which have a historic connection to Knole. Among these pictures is this portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyck of the artist Sophonisba Anguissola in old age.

Copy by Hugh Howard of a sketch by Sir Anthony van Dyck of Sophonisba Anguissola. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Copy by Hugh Howard of a sketch by Sir Anthony van Dyck of Sophonisba Anguissola. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Sophonisba Anguissola was born into the minor nobility in Cremona, Lombardy. Her father ensured that all of his children received a cultivated upbringing, and four of her sisters also became painters. Sophonisba studied with local painters, setting a precedent for women to become art students.

Sophonisba Anguissola, portrait of the artist's sister in the garb of a nun, 1551. ©Southampton City Art Gallery, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Sophonisba Anguissola, portrait of the artist’s sister in the garb of a nun, 1551. ©Southampton City Art Gallery, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

At the age of twenty-two, Sophonisba travelled to Rome, where she received informal instruction from Michelangelo. Although, as a woman, she was not allowed to study anatomy or life-drawing, she became an accomplished portraitist.

In 1559 she was invited to join the Spanish court as painter and lady in waiting to Elizabeth of Valois, King Philip II’s third wife. She married Don Francisco de Moncada, son of the Viceroy of Sicily, and they eventually went to live in Palermo. After her first husband’s death she married the considerably younger Orazio Lomellino, a ship’s captain whom she had met while travelling to Cremona. Both of her husbands supported her career as a painter.

Sophonisba Anguissola, portrait of the granddaughter of the Duke and Duchess of Parma, c. 1580. ©Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Sophonisba Anguissola, portrait of the granddaughter of the Duke and Duchess of Parma, c. 1580. ©Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

In 1624, a year before her death, the by now famous artist was visited by Sir Anthony van Dyck, who sketched her and recorded her advice about painting. This sketch formed the basis for the portrait now at Knole.

Good news for Knole

August 1, 2013
Conservator removing dust from the headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Amabassador's Room at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator removing dust from the headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Amabassador’s Room at Knole. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just announced a £7.75 million grant to help secure the multi-year conservation project currently underway at Knole.

The state bed with its related suite of furniture in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The state bed with its related suite of furniture in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The first phase or repairs to the fabric of the building is complete and, with the HLF’s support, the focus can now move to the interiors and contents of this Tudor palace.

Detail of headboard and headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room, with a Netherlandish tapestry behind it. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Detail of headboard and headcloth of the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room, with a Netherlandish tapestry behind it. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

As part of the project a bespoke and state of the art conservation studio will be created at Knole. Visitors will be able to watch the conservators at work and the studio will offer conservation and heritage-related training courses.

Conservator taking apart the bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Conservator taking apart the bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Alongside the conservation work, the funding will also allow us to create stable environmental conditions in the rooms on show to the public. In addition we will open up previously unseen rooms and create improved visitor facilities.

Detail of the headboard, with James II's monogram, on the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room.  ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Detail of the headboard, with James II’s monogram, on the state bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Among the objects at Knole to be safeguarded and shown to better advantage are the extraordinary sixteenth- and seventeenth-century state beds. The bed shown here, in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room, was originally made for King James II in 1688.

The carved and gilded feet of the bed in the Venetian Ambassador's Room. The 'JR monogram stands for 'James Rex'. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The carved and gilded feet of the bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room. The ‘JR monogram stands for ‘James Rex’. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

The bed was given to Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset (1638-1706), who was Chamberlain to the household of King William III and Queen Mary II. As a perquisite of his office the 6th Earl was allowed to dispose of furniture from the royal palaces when they were deemed to be out of date, and this is how the collection of magnificent Stuart furniture came to Knole.

Mixing your drinks

January 29, 2013
Silver wine cooler, from a set of four, by Aaron Lestourgeon, London, 1776. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole, 2012. ©National Trust Collections

Silver wine cooler, from a set of four, by Aaron Lestourgeon, London, 1776. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole, 2012. ©National Trust Collections

Wine and milk don’t really mix. Nevertheless, the design of these silver wine coolers, from a set of four at Knole, was inspired by the appearance of milk pails. They were made by Aaron Lestourgeon in 1776, at a time when there was an increasing taste for idealised country life.

The Dairy at Uppark, West Sussex, c. 1800 or 1810. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Dairy at Uppark, West Sussex, c. 1800 or 1810. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

As Meredith Martin has described in here recent book Dairy Queens, this period saw the building of model farms and pleasure dairies, such as the Hameau de la Reine at Versailles and the Bergerie Royale at Rambouillet, where aristocratic ladies could channel their inner milkmaid.

with gilt liners by Paul Storr, 1813.

One of a set of four silver wine coolers by Aaron Lestourgeon, London, 1776, with a gilt liner by Paul Storr, 1813. Accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole, 2012. ©National Trust Collections

There was a serious philosophical and moral undertone to this, as both milk and country life in general were praised as healthy, wholesome and socially regenerative.

The Dairy at Berrington Hall, Shropshire, by Henry Holland, 1780s. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Dairy at Berrington Hall, Shropshire, by Henry Holland, 1780s. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Perhaps it is an indication of the pervasiveness of that trend that even a relatively hedonistic object like a wine cooler was given ‘dairy’ styling.

The Dairy at Ham House, Surrey, c. 1800. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel.

The Dairy at Ham House, Surrey, c. 1800. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel.

This set of wine coolers, together with another set of four, was recently accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust for display at Knole.

Knole uncovered

October 3, 2012

©John Miller

The team at Knole has now started a two-year programme of emergency repairs. This is the first stage of a much larger project aiming to secure the whole of the house for the future.

©John Miller

The roof of the east front is currently being opened up and the cement render used during previous repairs is being removed.

©John Miller

Modern cement was once widely used to patch up old buildings, but its hardness actually caused more damage to the softer traditional building materials.

©John Miller

Investigations are underway to assess how the damage to the roof timbers can be best repaired and to find out what the structure can reveal about the building’s history.

©John Miller

As curator Emma Slocombe says: ‘There have been many more interventions and build stages in the external envelope of the building than we had thought. We are fascinated by each new revelation. It is an incredibly moving experience to see Knole in this state.’

©John Miller

Some lucky visitors were recently able to take scaffolding tours of the building, to see Knole’s skeleton for themselves.

Boulle’s eye

September 4, 2012

Portrait of the 3rd Duke of Dorset by Sir Joshua Reynolds. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The taste of John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, was nothing if not flamboyant. He had an Italian ballerina mistress and a Chinese page; he collected old master paintings and patronised Sir Joshua Reynolds, both on a lavish scale; he was a patron of the Paris opera while he was there as ambassador in the 1770s; and he built hothouses for pineapples and other exotic plants at Knole.

Plaster sculpture of La Baccelli, a dancer and the 3rd Duke of Dorset’s mistress. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

The Boulle furniture at Knole is yet more evidence of the 3rd Duke’s taste. He seems to have acquired it during his ambassadorial tenure in Paris, during which he reputedly spent around £11,000 a year.

Boulle clock by Etienne Baillon. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

‘Boulle’ is a kind of marquetry using tortoiseshell, gilt brass, copper and tin perfected by André Charles Boulle (1642-1732).

Boulle table in the style of Etienne Levaseur. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

The extraordinary Boulle clock in the Ballroom at Knole is by the late 17th century clockmaker Etienne Baillon. There is also a table in the style of cabinetmaker Etienne Levasseur (1721-1798), and an early 18th century desk.

Early 18th century Boulle desk. ©National Trust/Jane Mucklow

It is interesting that the 3rd Duke acquired both new and ‘antique’ pieces of Boulle furniture. By placing them in the Jacobean Ballroom (originally a dining room) at Knole he created an almost surreally anachronistic but supremely rich ensemble.

The Ballroom at Knole. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Knole Conservation Blog has recently highlighted these items. They have suffered over the years due to the fluctuating humidity in the house, which is one of the problems that the current major conservation project is designed to tackle.

Retouching the floor

July 11, 2012

The new lime mortar grouting between the flagstones in the Great Hall at Knole being painted. ©National Trust

The Knole conservation blog keeps providing fascinating insights into the reality of looking after a large and complex historic house.

The Great Hall at Knole. Both the floor and the carved screen date from the remodelling of the house in 1605-1608. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

A recent post included images of the bright new lime mortar grouting of the stone floor in the Great Hall being painted to make it blend in – a wonderful example of the artifice required to preserve the aesthetic balance in a historic interior.

The floor in raking light, showing the difference in wear between the dark and the light flagstones. ©National Trust

As the Knole conservation blog tells us, the Great Hall was part of the original palace built by Archbishop Bourchier in about 1460, but the Purbeck marble floor probably dates from the extensive remodelling of the building by Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, in 1605-1608.

Conservator from Cliveden Conservation working on the survey of the floor. ©National Trust

Over time the black flagstones have been worn away more than the white ones, due to their slightly different physical properties.

Completed map of the condition of the floor before remdial work. Red indicates 70% surface damage, green 10-70% damage, orange 0-10% damage. ©National Trust

Cliveden Conservation recently carried out a survey of the floor in preparation for doing some remedial work.

Conservator from Cliveden Conservation injecting runny mortar into a crack in a flagstone. ©National Trust

The subsequent programme of work included removal of surface dirt, consolidation of flaking areas of stone, injecting of cracks with runny mortar and repointing between the flagstones with lime mortar – and some artful retouching with mortar colour.

Chinese visitors

June 22, 2012

Portrait thought to be of Tan Che Qua, by John Hamilton Mortimer, 1770-1. ©The Royal College of Surgeons of England, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

I have just heard that another large group of paintings from the National Trust’s collections in the West Midlands, the North West and Northern Ireland have been added to the nationwide Your Paintings database. They include works by old masters such as Canaletto, Van Dyck, Chardin and Hogarth, as well as modern artists including Barbara Hepworth, Paul Nash and Ben Nicholson. More paintings from other National Trust properties will be added by the end of 2012.

Your Paintings is a remarkable database that aims to provide access (eventually) to almost all publicly owned paintings in the UK. On doing a search for ‘Chinese’ I found the above portrait of Tan Che Qua by John Hamilton Mortimer, which is in the Hunterian Museum, London. Simon Chaplin originally alerted us to this picture in a comment on my first post about the contemporary portrait of Huang Ya Dong at Knole, but it is great to now have a decent image of it readily available.

Portrait of Huang Ya Dong by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1776, at Knole, Kent. ©National Trust Images/Horst Kolo

Tan Che Qua arrived in London in 1769 and established himself as a portrait modeller in clay, charging ten guineas for a bust and fifteen for a whole-length statuette. He exhibited work at the Royal Academy in 1770 and he is included in Johann Zoffany’s 1771-2 group portrait of Royal Academicians (third from the left at the back). Tan is thought to have returned to China in 1772, and his accounts of England and the English inspired Huang Ya Dong to make the same journey in 1774.

Another portrayal of a Chinese person in an English eighteenth-century painting that I found on Your Paintings is the group portrait by John Hoppner of Lady Staunton with her son George Thomas Staunton and a Chinese servant, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, on loan from HSBC.

Portrait of Lady Staunton and her son George Thomas Staunton with a Chinese servant, by John Hoppner, 1794, ©School of Oriental and African Studies, supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

As a young boy George Thomas Staunton accompanied his father on Earl Macartney’s diplomatic mission to the Chinese court in 1792-4. He learned Chinese on the way there and impressed the Qianlong Emperor with his grasp of the language (he can be seen in a sketch by William Alexander of Lord Macartney’s presentation to the Emperor). In view of the date of the picture (1794) it seems to have been painted shortly after the return of father and son Staunton to Britain, possibly bringing the Chinese servant with them.

Later in life Staunton had a career in the East India Company based at Guangzhou, and he was a member of another diplomatic mission to the Chinese court in 1816. He assembled a library of 3,000 Chinese books and a collection of Chinese works of art and artefacts. He stocked the garden of his country house, Leigh Park, near Portsmouth, with Chinese plants interspersed with chinoiserie pavilions. Staunton may have known James Bateman, the owner of Biddulph Grange, Staffordshire (both were members of the Royal Society at about the same time), and the example of Leigh Park may have influenced the garden at Biddulph, which similarly included Chinese plants and pseudo-Chinese structures and pavilions. Staunton’s own garden has, sadly, disappeared.

Knole’s big project one step further

May 18, 2012

Late-seventeenth-century mirror, its ebonised frame inlaid with pierced gilt brass chased with acanthus patterns, one of a pair, probably English, in the Cartoon Gallery at Knole. The pilasters with grotesque decoration are topped by ram’s masks, the old crest of the Sackville family. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just announced that the Inspired by Knole project qualifies for a ‘first round pass’. This means that the HLF is recognising the project’s potential, and that the Knole team can now develop a detailed business plan for it.

The Cartoon Gallery. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The aim of Inspired by Knole is to improve the state of conservation of the house and its collections ad to put it on the map as one of the UK’s most spectacular examples of  a combined Tudor palace and Renaissance mansion.

Trompe l’oeil grotesque decoration in the Cartoon Gallery, probably created by Paul Isaacson in about 1608 for Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Plans for the project include the rewiring of the building, the installation of conservation heating and the creation of an on-site conservation studio which will be open to visitors.

Painted motif of a vase with a small lemon tree or branch in the frieze of the Cartoon Gallery, probably by Paul Isaacson, c. 1608. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

In addition the Knole team wants to open up more of the attics and tower rooms to the public, to develop new ways of volunteering and to make Knole a centre of heritage skills training.

Gilt table and candlestands in the Cartoon Gallery, thought to have been given to Charles Sackville, 6th Earl of Dorset, by Louis XIV in 1670-71. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The HLF will make its final decision about the £7.5 million grant application in 2013, but this initial response is very encouraging and will help the National Trust with its other fundraising towards Inspired by Knole.

The ongoing behind-the-scenes work at Knole can be followed on the Knole Conservation Team Blog.

The Prince of Wales at Knole

May 3, 2012

HRH the Prince of Wales walking through the Outer Wicket and into the Green Court at Knole with property manager Steven Dedman and assistant director of operations Nic Durston. ©Professional Images

HRH the Prince of Wales recently visited Knole to learn about the major conservation project that is beginning to get underway there. Among his many duties Prince Charles is also President of the National Trust.

The Prince of Wales ascending the early-seventeenth-century Great Staircase with curator Emma Slocombe. ©Professional Images

Knole is a rare example of a Tudor palace that has survived and accumulated many subsequent layers of decoration and collections. Over time the house has developed some serious structural and conservation problems which are now being tackled.

The Prince of Wales talking to house manager Helen Fawbert in the Ballroom. ©Professional Images

Curator Emma Slocombe guided His Royal Highness around the house. Prince Charles saw how the furniture is cleaned – testing the suction on a ‘museum vac’ – and how pest infestations are treated.

The Prince of Wales and curator Emma Slocombe looking at the decorative plasterwork in the Ballroom. ©Professional Images

He also inspected the ‘Eyemat’, an extremely realistic photographic replica of a seventeenth-century Goan carpet. The Knole team is using this to test how an experimental heating mat, which has been placed below it, will cope with the footfall of thousands of visitors.

The Prince of Wales and Emma Slocombe looking at the seventeenth-century furniture in the Brown Gallery, mostly acquired as ‘perquisites’ – royal hand-me-downs – by the 6th Earl of Dorset when he was Lord Chamberlain to King William III. ©Professional Images

The Prince of Wales appeared to be impressed with what is happening at Knole and the visit gave a great boost to everyone involved with the conservation project.

More images of the visit and a photograph of a previous visit of a Prince of Wales to Knole (1898) can be seen on the Knole Conservation team blog.


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