Petworth’s oriental vibe

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.

16 Responses to “Petworth’s oriental vibe”

  1. Andrew Sheldon Says:

    “Mrs Bull for Delf [i.e. Delft] ware” … and in a china shop too! Wonderful: truth again stranger than fiction.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed 🙂

  3. style court Says:

    Not sure if it’s possible to measure this beyond a shadow of a doubt but it seems blue-and-white ceramics could be the most collected category of decorative arts in history — or at least the most enduring category. And maybe there are gender differences? Or maybe it has been balanced between men and women? If a study has been done, Emile, you’ve probably already written about it 🙂

  4. Andrew Says:

    Are you including tin-glazed earthenware (Delft) as well as porcelain? Ceramics can last a very long time, of course.

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, you make me sound much more knowledgeable than I am! But the apparently enduring taste for blue and white is indeed a fascinating subject. Queen Mary (William III’s Queen Mary, rather than George V’s) certainly has a lot to answer for in that respect, by unwittingly or on purpose allowing it to become associated with high-class femininity in Britain.

    But then Amalia van Solms, the wife of the Dutch Stadtholder, Prince Frederik Hendrik of Orange (and grandmother of King William III), was already collecting blue and white in the 1640s ( as usual, trends and fashions don’t come from nowhere.

    And yes Andrew, the whole interaction between oriental porcelain and Delft is fascinating as well. And as the Petworth records show, baroque consumers often collected both ‘Delf’ and ‘China’ at the same time.

  6. style court Says:

    So the Dutch influence the English again — just like with chintz 🙂

    Design magazines — particularly those with a feminine bent — continue to cover the wares, proving the power of Amalia van Solms’s and Queen Mary’s influence. (Thanks for the helpful references, by the way. What a great topic.)

  7. Andrew Says:

    Enduring taste: well, since the Chinese started using cobalt blue in the 13th century!

  8. style court Says:

    Andrew — yes, absolutely! It all begin with China and Persian colbalt.

    It’s been interesting to see how the West later embraced the export wares (made their own copies, too) and fixated for centuries on specific styles as seen at the various NT houses. Again, such a fascinating topic.

  9. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes it is curious that the English and the Dutch and the French were fighting like cats and dogs for much of the 17th century and at the same time were constantly borrowing and exchanging cultural influences.

  10. Andrew Says:

    And before Chinese blue and white … ? Quite a lot of rather dull earthenware (more decorative majolica and faience latterly) before you get back to Roman terra sigillata (Samian ware).

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Indeed, which explains the initial European awe in the face of oriental porcelain.

  12. Andrew Sheldon Says:

    On a BBC radio programme recently about life somewhere in Ireland, one matter discussed was that, in the town in question, crockery was called “delf” [no “t”]. This struck me as similar to vacuum cleaners frequently being called “hoovers” even if not manufactured by that company. It reminded me of “Mrs Bull for Delf [i.e. Delft] ware”.

  13. Andrew Says:

    Hoover has taken on its own life as a verb as well as a noun, and not just in connection with vacuum cleaners. By a similar process, ceramics are china, and lacquer is japan, not to mention indian ink and india rubber. And brazil?

  14. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    A rather outré example of that tendency is the word ‘Vauxhall’, a place on the south bank of the Thames which became associated with its famous pleasure garden, leading to the Russian use of ‘vokzal’ for ‘pleasure garden’, and subsequently for ‘railway station’, because the destination of the first railway line in Russia was Pavlovsk, which had a notable pleasure garden (

  15. Andrew Sheldon Says:

    … and I’ve heard it said that the Japanese for a suit (as in jacket and trousers) is “sebiro” as in “Savile Row.”

  16. Andrew Says:

    Denim jeans (from Nimes and Genoa). The coach from Kocs in Hungary.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: