A royal brand

Seaton Delaval Hall. © 2010 Dan Wakenshaw Photography

Last year, in the teeth of the recession, the National Trust managed to acquire Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland. This was achieved thanks to huge support from many individuals, grants bodies, government agencies and the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme

The house was built by Sir John Vanburgh in the 1720s for Admiral George Delaval and his nephew and heir Captain Francis Blake Delaval. Its theatrical silhouette and massing is an impressive example of Vanburgh’s Baroque genius.

Incidentally, I found Dan Wakenshaw’s dramatic photograph (above) via the thriving Seaton Delaval Hall Facebook group. This group is a good example of the way in which supporters are now helping to shape the perception of National Trust properties. 

Bust of Charles II attributed to John Bushnell, marble. Image: National Trust/Andrew McGregor

One of the works of art acquired with the house is a bust of Charles II attributed to John Bushnell (above). It was reputedly given by the King to Sir Jacob Astley, 1st Baronet, in recognition of his family’s loyalty to the Royalist cause during the Civil War. The purchase of the bust was enabled by generous grants from The Art Fund and from Sir Siegmund Warburg’s Voluntary Settlement.

Model for a bust of Charles II, terracotta, attributed to John Bushnell. Reproduction by permission of the Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

A related terracotta model is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Alastair Laing, the National Trust’s sculpture expert, has noted that Bushnell was the only British sculptor of the period able to create busts of such monumentality and presence, due to his training on the Continent.

Showing a good leg: King Charles II by Sir Godfrey Kneller, at Powis Castle, Powys. ©NTPL/Clare Bates

Charles II created a strong royal ‘brand’ around his person, partly in imitation of the leading royal brand of the time, Louis XIV of France. Like Louis, Charles believed in the divine right of kings and he enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of his role. 

Elevated status: Portrait of Charles II on plaster by Antonio Verrio, at Packwood House, Warwickshire. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Artists were employed to glorify the King in a variety of ways. This portrait, from the collection at Packwood House, is a rare surviving fragment of the ceiling of the Drawing Room at Windsor Castle. The distortions are due to the fact that the image would have been seen from below. It is currently on loan to the Verrio exhibition at the Musée des Augustins, Toulouse.

Certificate of authenticity: Grant of a baronetcy to Sir Thomas Myddelton of Chirk Castle, Wrexham. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The image management extended to the titles that the King liberally sprinkled among his supporters. Like many other financially straitened rulers before or since, he was adept at rewarding people through symbolic gestures.

5 Responses to “A royal brand”

  1. columnist Says:

    As so often occurs: coincidence. I was just looking at a portrait of Charles II “after” Sir Godfrey Kneller, which was up for auction yesterday. I decided against bidding for it, (it was only of his face), but instead bid for a portrait of the Countess of Dorchester, the mistress of James II, “after” Sir Peter Lely, and I believe I was successful in getting it, although I await confirmation from the auction house.

    Seaton Delaval rings so many bells with me. My mother grew up in Northumberland and I remember her talking about it, but I cannot remember the context, and sadly she is no longer around to ask.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Is it similar to the Lely of her in the National Portrait Gallery? http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person.php?search=ss&firstRun=true&sText=Countess+of+Dorchester&LinkID=mp01333

    According to the NPG caption, she was surprised at James’s passion for her: ‘It cannot be my beauty, for he must see I have none; and it cannot be my wit, for he has not enough to know that I have any’.

    The NPG picture happens to be on long-term loan at one of our properties, Lyme Park.

  3. columnist Says:

    Yes it is a copy of the NPG picture. I have just learned that I did not get it, but on reflection, I am not too perturbed, as an “after” picture is often more an acquisition for decorative purposes rather than investment, and I should stick to my game plan.

    These things are always decided by fate I feel!

  4. le style et la matière Says:

    That photograph of Seaton Delaval makes me think there should be a film in the works with it as a site; it is captivating! The good-legged Charles II portrait does make me think of Le Brun’s red stocking portrait of Louis.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes it is a very filmic building, isn’t it? I can easily envisage Gérard Depardieu roaming the grounds…

    And regarding the ‘bella figura’: there must have been some serious leg-envy going on between Louis and Charles 🙂

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