Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire presents an interesting curatorial problem: the house is a miniature Baroque palace with a wonderfully rich collection, but its original builder and collector, diplomat and minister William Blathwayt, appears, at least on the surface, to have been rather dull (see his portrait in this previous post).
William Blathwayt was nicknamed ‘the elephant’ by his friends, because of the ponderousness of his jokes. He was methodical and very efficient, which allowed him to flourish in government service, first at the British embassy in The Hague, then as clerk to the Privy Council, and finally as Secretary at War, Secretary of State and member of the Board of Trade. But his personality doesn’t seem to have been the stuff that gripping biographies (let alone historical romances) are made of.
Blathwayt’s collections at Dyrham show the full range of grand Baroque taste, including panoramic tapestries, Dutch paintings, embossed leather wallhangings bursting with fruit and cherubs, a rare Javanese lacquer table and a collection of exuberant Delft earthenware.
How did such an apparently grey bureaucrat end up with such a flamboyant house? Was there a hidden side to him? This is what curator Rupert Goulding and visitor experience consultant Jess Monaghan are trying to work out, as they re-assess the way Dyrham is shown to the public. I hope to be able to reveal more about this project (and perhaps even about Blathwayt’s inner Versace) in due course.