Archive for the ‘Petworth’ Category

In praise of copying

September 19, 2013
Detail of a Roman copy of a fifth century BC bronze figure of an Amazon, in the North Gallery at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Stuart Cox

Detail of a Roman copy of a fifth century BC bronze figure of an Amazon, in the North Gallery at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Stuart Cox

The other day I was having a discussion with a colleague about the relative merits of original works and copies. Although I am as keenly interested in original works of art as the next heritage-minded person, I found myself defending of the value of copies – in particular the copies of antique sculpture.

The North Gallery at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

The North Gallery at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

The Romans copied famous Greek sculptures, and following the Renaissance the Italians copied Greek and Roman works as well as combining disparate ancient fragments. These copies and hybrids tend to be beautifully made objects in themselves, but apart from their purely visual appeal I also find them fascinating because of what they tell us about our how our culture interacts with its past.

Roman figure of Agrippina as Ceres, Roman adaptation of a Greek original, restored in the eighteenth century, with two busts, in the North Gallery at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Roman figure of Agrippina as Ceres, Roman adaptation of a Greek original, restored in the eighteenth century, with two busts, in the North Gallery at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The past was being rediscovered, and the products of that past were so desirable that a reproduction market arose to satisfy the demand. Regardless of whether these objects are ‘originals’, ‘copies’, ‘bodges’ or ‘fakes’, they embody an ideal that was so powerful that people felt compelled to fill their houses with them, and indeed to rebuild their houses to realise that vision even more fully.

Volunteer Room Steward in the North Gallery at Petworth, next to a Greek seated figure of a philosopher, with a Roman head added in the eighteenth century. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

Volunteer Room Steward in the North Gallery at Petworth, next to a Greek seated figure of a philosopher, with a Roman head added in the eighteenth century. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

And of course we are doing more or less the same thing when we visit a historic place today, and buy the guidebook, and add images to our Pinterest boards, and change something in our own home inspired by what we have seen. When we look at our ancestors looking at their past, we are also looking at ourselves.

Petworth’s oriental vibe

November 27, 2012

Two Chinese lidded vases, Kangxi period (1662-1722), acquired by Elizabeth Duchess of Somerset in the late 17th century. They stand in front of a Chinese lacquer screen that dates from the same period but was acquired for Petworth in 1882 in the Hamilton Palace sale. ©National Trust Images/Christopher Hurst

In his new book about Petworth, Christopher Rowell highlights the sumptuous taste of Eizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset, the late 17th-century chatelaine of the house.

Portrait of Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Somerset with her son Algernon, by John Closterman, c. 1692. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Hollow

Like her friend Queen Mary, Duchess Elizabeth was a keen collector of blue and white porcelain.

Some of Duchess Elizabeth’s Chinese vases on display in the Carved Room. They originally stood on the baroque carved stands which now hold some of the busts. ©National Trust Images/Bill Batten

Several dealers are known to have supplied porcelain to the Duchess, including a ‘Mrs Vanderhoven’, a ‘Mr Van Collema’, and a ‘Mrs Bull for Delf [i.e. Delft] ware.’

Some of the lacquer cabinets and coffers collected by Duchess Elizabeth in what is now called Mrs Wyndham’s Bedroom. ©National Trust Images/Bill Batten

‘Mrs Harrison’, who also supplied the Queen, was paid £52 for ‘a Jappan Cabinet and frame’ in 1695.

The front of one of the 17th-century Japanese lacquer cabinets at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In characteristic baroque style, reflective materials were combined wherever possible. Two ‘India Cabinets’ (‘India’ being a generic terms for East Asian products) in the King of Spain’s Drawing Room were each surmounted by no fewer than 22 pieces of China. In Duchess Elizabeth’s China Closet, the walls were covered with mirrors ‘ornamented wth carved work & 45 pieces of China.’

Detail of the interior of the 17th-century Japanese lacquer cabinet below the Grand Staircase at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Christopher’s book can be purchased through the National Trust Bookshop and via Amazon.

The spirit of Petworth

November 23, 2012

Christopher Rowell has just published a new book about the house which probably contains the richest collection of fine and decorative arts, furnishings and books in any of the historic places owned by the National Trust.

The Marble Hall at Petworth, probably built to a design by Daniel Marot. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Petworth: the People and the Place is the second in a new series of books based on the more substantial type of National Trust guidebook, but rewritten and redesigned to include new photography and the latest research.

Wooden cherubs supplied by the workshop of Grinling Gibbons to the 7th Duke of Somerset for the Carved Room at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Stuart Cox

During much of its history the Petworth estate was part of the huge aristocratic empire of the Percys and latterly the Seymours which also included Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, Syon Park in Isleworth and Northumberland House in central London. This partly explains the richness of the collections at Petworth.

The Grand Staircase at Petworth with murals by Louis Laguerre. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

In the 1690s Charles Seymour, the 6th Duke of Somerset, and his wife Lady Elizabeth Percy turned Petworth into a baroque palace. The building was probably remodeled by Daniel Marot, and many of the most splendid furnishings and works of art date from this period.

Italian sgabello chairs of about 1640, the earliest surviving examples in England, at the bottom of the Grand Staircase at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The 6th Duke’s grandson, the 2nd Earl of Egremont, added furniture and furnishings in the rococo style as well nearly 200 paintings and some 70 pieces of antique sculpture.

The Square Dining Room at Petworth, with its rococo furnishings. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The 3rd Earl of Egremont was noted for his ‘abundant though not very refined hospitality’, for his many dogs and host of illegitimate children, but also for his patronage of J.M.W. Turner, who painted numerous views of the house and the park.

Detail of the Exeter carpet, dated 1758, on the Grand Staircase at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

In 1947 Petworth was donated to the National Trust by the 3rd Lord Leconfield. After Lord Leconfield’s death his nephew, the 1st Lord Egremont, pioneered the practice of offering outstanding works of art and other historical objects to the Government in lieu of inheritance tax. The current Lord and Lady Egremont still reside at Petworth and have lent items from their personal collection to further enhance the rooms open to the public.

The Rotunda, built in about 1760, in the Pleasure Ground at Petworth. ©National Trust Images/David Levenson

Christopher’s book can be purchased through the National Trust bookshop as well as through Amazon.

Testing your eye on the Van Dycks

January 3, 2012

Anne Boteler, Countess of Newport, by Sir Anthony van Dyck, at Petworth House. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Paintings expert Bendor Grosvenor has been perusing our new online National Trust Collections database (which I first posted about here), testing his eye on various ‘school of’ and ‘attributed to’ portraits. He has reported his hunches on his Art History News blog.

An unknown Genoese lady, attributed to Sir Anthony Van Dyck, at Petworth House. ©National Trust/Andrew Fetherston

For instance, he thinks that this portrait of a lady at Petworth, attributed to Van Dyck, really is by the artist himself, done in the mid 1620s in Italy.

Henry, Baron Percy of Alnwick, by Sir Anthony van Dyck, at Petworth House. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

This kind of response is really encouraging. It means people are now starting to use the National Trust Collections site for research and comparison. The site itself (and the National Trust’s curatorial records) will also benefit from these responses, as more information comes to light and opinions are exchanged.

Catherine Bruce, Mrs Murray, later Countess of Dysart, by Sir Anthony van Dyck, at Petworth House. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Once again we see the potential of crowd sourcing – which, in the slightly rarified area of old master paintings expertise, should perhaps be called in-crowd sourcing (but an in-crowd accessible to all).

Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, by Sir Anthony van Dyck, at Petworth House. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

As it happens, the Economist newspaper featured an article in its most recent issue about a related development in a ‘parallel universe’ to art history: the effect of blogging and social media in spreading ideas and discussions from the academic world of economics into the wider business and policy environment.

Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland (the 'wizard earl'), painted posthumously as a philosopher, at Petworth House. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

So do have a look yourself on National Trust Collections, search for objects that fall within your professional expertise or private obsession, and let me know if you, too, can spot any ‘sleepers’.

Cultural cross-dressing

November 1, 2011

Portrait of Sir Robert Shirley, by Sir Anthony van Dyck. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

I recently spotted this extraordinary pair of portraits by Van Dyck at Petworth. They show Sir Robert Shirley (?1581-1628) and his wife Teresia, he in Persian costume, she in her native Circassian dress.

The portraits were probably painted in Rome in 1622, where Sir Robert was acting as ambassador for Shah Abbas the Great of Persia.

Portrait of Teresia, Lady Shirley, by Sir Anthony van Dyck. ©NTPL/Derrick E. Witty

Sir Robert had gone to Persia with his equally adventurous elder brother Anthony to promote trade between England and Persia and to solicit the support of the Shah against the Ottoman Empire.

He stayed there for a number of years, married Teresia, and was then sent back by Shah Abbas to tour a number of European courts in order to cement the alliance against the Ottomans.

These portraits are a wonderful evocation of Sir Robert’s pride in his acquired identity as a Persian grandee.

Andrew Graham-Dixon mucking in at Petworth

May 23, 2011

The Grand Staircase at Petworth. As Petworth House: The big Spring Clean shows, the handrail is cleaned and rewaxed every winter and all the stair rods are taken out and cleaned. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The BBC has recently been broadcasting a fantastic series called Petworth House: The Big Spring Clean, about the conservation work going on at Petworth during the winter season, when the house is closed to the public.

Conservation Assistant Anna Ward cleaning utensils in the kitchen. ©NTPL/Arnhel de Serra

Art historian and presenter Andrew Graham-Dixon is shown joining the National Trust staff at Petworth as they painstakingly clean the contents of the house and wrap the objects up to protect them from light and dust.

House Steward Susan Rhodes dusting a Greek vase in the Carved Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The issue of dust, in particular, becomes something of a running gag in the series, as Graham-Dixon is amazed at the National Trust’s scientific approach to analysing what dust consists of and the effects it has.

The Turners in the Carved Room, which Andrew Graham-Dixon helps to dust, are set low into the panelling so that they can be enjoyed when seated. They depict the Petworth park, which can be seen in reality through the windows opposite. ©NTPL/Bill Batten

Graham-Dixon waxes lyrical as he gets to gently dust one of the Turners, but he also ventures outdoors to join the gardens team in their maintenance work on ‘Capability’ Brown’s landscape.

One of the carved and gilded angels in the Chapel, which Andrew Graham-Dixon gets similarly close to when helping to prepare this room for its winter hibernation. ©NTPL/John Hammond

This series really conveys the beauty of historical objects in their original setting and the dedication and expertise that goes into looking after them.

Panned out well

June 4, 2010

©National Trust/Robert Thrift

The other day I featured the Chinese porcelain bowl at Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire, that was used to serve punch. The vessels employed in the kitchen at Nostell are also rather impressive, although in a more robust, down to earth way.

©National Trust/Robert Thrift

In 2007 a group of copper pots and pans from the kitchen at Nostell was accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust. This so-called batterie de cuisine can tell us all sorts of things about country house cooking practices in the nineteenth century.

©National Trust/Robert Thrift

The pans are engraved with the monogram of the Winn family, Barons St Oswald. Nostell was transferred to the National Trust in 1953, but it is still the home of the present Lord and Lady St Oswald.

©NTPL/John Hammond

Other historic houses have similar sets of implements, although each kitchen is different. The Great Kitchen at Saltram, in Devon, was built in the 1770s, but the range was added in 1885.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The kitchen at Petworth House, West Sussex, includes a warming cupboard with nifty sliding doors. 

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

There is also a high-tech steam bain-marie at Petworth, made by Jeakes & Co. in about 1870. I could easily picture this in a Japanese steampunk anime film.


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