This painting came up at auction at Christie’s in London on 7 July. It was in the collection of John Barnard in the eighteenth century and was then acquired by the first Baron Scarsdale. It was at Kedleston Hall by 1778.
I was bidding for this picture at the auction on the National Trust’s behalf, but it went just beyond the limit we had set ourselves. However, one of our curators, Amanda Bradley, quickly contacted Christie’s to find out if the buyer might want to sell the picture on to us at a modest profit.
Christie’s Old Master Paintings department very helpfully forwarded this offer to the buyer, who agreed, and after finding a little bit more money we were able to acquire the picture after all. We are very grateful to everyone who helped to make this happen.
The title of the picture, meaning ‘sacred conversation’, refers to a type of religious picture that developed in the Renaissance, showing the Virgin and the Christ child surrounded by saints. Previously saints had been depicted in a rigidly emblematic way, but gradually they were shown more informally, as if conversing with the Virgin and child.
This particular painting has been restored in the past, but it is nevertheless important to Kedleston as evidence of the taste for Old Master paintings of the first Lord Scarsdale and his wife Caroline.
Although Lord Scarsdale never seems to have gone on a Grand Tour of Italy, he was nevertheless deeply interested in Italian art and architecture, as is evident in the building works he commissioned at Kedleston from James ‘Athenean’ Stuart and Robert Adam.
As the new house was going up, Lord Scarsdale was buying more and more Old Masters, many of them through the painter and landscape designer William Kent.
Many of the pictures were incorporated into plasterwork frames that were part of the architecture. The Old Masters were shown in the east side of the main block, whereas portraits were displayed in the State Appartment on the west side.