Archive for the ‘Grand Tour’ Category

China and Italy

May 13, 2016
Capriccio of Roman Ruins by the Sea with Preparations for a Sacrifice by attributed to Giovanni Ghisolfi (Milan 1623 ¿ Milan 1683)

Capriccio of Roman Ruins by the Sea, attributed to Giovanni Ghisolfi, about 1660-80. NT 1514001 ©National Trust Images/Marcus Leith

At the moment I am trying to finish an article on the parallels between chinoiserie and the Grand Tour in eighteenth-century Britain. I thought I might preview some of my thoughts here.

A gouache at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, one of six from the Anglo Chinese School, This one depicts a lakeside terrace with a party making music

Chinese painting on paper depicting the garden of a mansion with elegant company making music, probably early nineteenth century, at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, NT 1446600. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Both phenomena were about the allure of the distant and the exotic. Italy was admired for its beautiful landscapes and ancient ruins. China captured the imagination because of its picturesque mountains and towering pagodas.

View towards the fireplace in the Chinese Room at Erddig, Wrexham, Wales

Chinese paintings on paper used as wall decoration at Erddig, Wrexham, installed 1770s, NT 1153435. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Of course Italy was much closer to Britain than China, both geographically and culturally. Rome had always been part of Britain’s heritage, while China was a distinctly ‘other’ civilisation.

The wall and fireplace in the Print Room at Blickling Hall

The Print Room at Blickling Hall, created in the 1780s or early 1790s. The fashion for using European prints as wall decoration may have been inspired by the similar (and contemporary) use of Chinese pictures. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

People traveled to China for business and profit, while travel to Italy tended to be undertaken for pleasure and edification.

The Tower of the Winds in June on the Shugborough Estate, Staffordshire.

The Tower of the Winds at Shugborough, Staffordshire, completed in about 1765, a copy of the Horlogium of Andronikos Cyrrhestes in Athens. ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

And yet both ancient Rome and contemporary China were seen by the British as models, as admirable civilisations that should be emulated. Indeed, part of China’s appeal was that it combined ‘ancient virtue’, comparable to that of Rome, but that it was also a source of ‘modern commerce’, resulting in a flood of porcelain, tea and silk coming to Britain’s shores.

Chinese House in June on the Shugborough Estate, Staffordshire.

The Chinese House at Shugborough, built in 1747, allegedly based on a sketch by a naval offier who visited Canton, but probably inspired by illustrated books such as Du Halde’s General History of China (English edition 1736). ©National Trust Images/Andrew Butler

And part of the appeal of Italy was also materialistic, in that it provided British travelers with almost endless shopping opportunities, the results of which can still be found in country houses and museums across the land.

Delft tile at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire.

Delft glazed earthenware plaque copying a plate from Nieuhof’s Embassy … to the … Emperor of China (Dutch edition 1665, English edition 1669), illustrating a pineapple plant and a banana plantain, late seventeenth century, at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire, NT 452248. ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

And just as the importation of Chinese goods stimulated the production of imitations in pseudo-Asian or ‘chinoiserie’ styles, so the Grand Tour was hugely influential on British artists, architects and designers.

The Lake of Avernus by Jakob Philipp Hackert (Prenzlau 1737 ¿ San Piero di Careggi 1807)

Painting depicting Lake Avernus near Naples by Jakob Philipp Hackert, 1800, at Attingham Park, Shropshire, NT 609001. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

I am not saying that the Grand Tour and chinoiserie are identical in all their aspects, but I do think that some of the parallels between them are striking.

Opening up the Sixtus cabinet

February 4, 2015
The Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

It is not often that a whole book is devoted to one piece of furniture, but the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead amply rewards such treatment.

The attic storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The attic storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The newly published book Roman Splendour, English Arcadia, by Simon Swynfen Jervis and Dudley Dodd, celebrates the visual impact of this extraordinary cabinet, its architectural complexity, lavish gilt-bronze mounts and dazzling semi-previous stones.

The Composite third storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The Composite third storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The book also explores how the cabinet was made in about 1585 for Pope Sixtus V, who rose from humble origins to become the rebuilder of Rome, and how it was handed down in the dynasty of his relatives, the Peretti family, who joined the ranks of the Roman princely elite.

The Corinthian second storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The Corinthian second storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The cabinet came to Stourhead in the 1740s, after it had been bought by the banker Henry Hoare, ‘the Magnificent’. It was a key element in Hoare’s project to transform both the house and the garden at Stourhead into an arcadian realm inspired by Italian art and the classical world.

The podium and Ionic first storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©2010 John Hammond

The podium and Ionic first storey of the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead. ©2010 John Hammond

Although it is strictly speaking a piece of furniture, the Sixtus cabinet has the impact of a luxurious model building and the aura of a tabernacle or a reliquary.

The pedestal for the Sixtus cabinet, made for Henry Hoare in the shape of a triumphal arch. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The pedestal for the Sixtus cabinet, made for Henry Hoare in the shape of a triumphal arch. ©National Trust/John Hammond

The book can be obtained from the National Trust online shop.

Pictures and their uses

February 26, 2013
Attributed to Gaspard Dughet, Landscape with a Storm, at Osterley Park, London, donated by the estate of Sir Denis Mahon, 2013. ©National Trust Collections, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation.st, Osterley Park; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Gaspard Dughet, Landscape with a Storm. NT 771276. ©National Trust Collections, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation.

It has just been announced that the estate of Sir Denis Mahon is donating a painting attributed to Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675), Landscape with a Storm, to Osterley Park, where it had been on loan since 2001. Through the Art Fund the Mahon estate is also donating a further group of important Italian baroque paintings to a number of UK museums.

Sir Denis Mahon (1910-2011)

Sir Denis Mahon (1910-2011)

Sir Denis Mahon, CH, CBE (1910-2011) was an art historian of independent means who in the 1940s and 1950s pioneered the study of Italian 17th-century painting. He built up his own collection of Italian baroque pictures at a time when they were out of favour and relatively inexpensive.

Perhaps as a result of his fascination with ‘unfashionable’ pictures, Sir Denis was strongly opposed to the deaccessioning of art from public collections. He also campaigned for free entry to museums and to improve the effectiveness of the scheme whereby works of art can be accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax. He effectively used his own collection as a juicy carrot dangled in front of the various civil servants and ministers of the day – an interestingly ‘political’ use of fine art.

Gaspard Dughet, Wooded Rocky Landscape, at Osterley Park, London, donated by Sir Denis Mahon, 1996. NT 772275. ©National Trust Collections, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation.

Gaspard Dughet, Wooded Rocky Landscape, at Osterley Park, London, donated by Sir Denis Mahon, 1996. NT 772275 ©National Trust Collections, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation.

Sir Denis had already donated another Dughet, Wooded Rocky Landscape, to Osterley in 1996. Both paintings help to recreate the lost late 18th-century picture hang at Osterley. This painting had previously been owned by the important 19th-century collectors William Graham (1818-1885), a Glasgow cotton manufacturer, and Charles Henry Mills, 1st Baron Hillingdon (1830-1898), owner of the bank Glyn, Mills & Co (which, coincidentally, took over the bank Child & Co, owned by the Child-Villiers family of Osterley, in 1924).

Dughet, a French painter born in Italy, was the brother-in-law and pupil of Nicolas Poussin, and his pictures were popular among British Grand Tourists.

In the realm of Cupid

May 21, 2010

A Roman child's sarcophagus, at West Wycombe Park. Accepted by HM Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax and allocated to the National Trust, 2007. ©NTPL/John Hammond

I previously featured the busts and the pedestals accepted in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to West Wycombe. The allocation also included a rare Roman marble child’s sarcophagus dating from the late second century.

©NTPL/John Hammond

 The sarcophagus has been carved with groups of Cupids enacting scenes from the Meleager myth. Presumably little Cupids enacting a tragic story were thought to be appropriate for a child’s sarcophagus.

West Wycombe, the South Colonnade. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The sarcophagus was brought to West Wycombe by Sir Francis Dashwood, second Baronet (1708-1781), who was fascinated by classical antiquity, and particularly by the cult of Venus and her son Cupid.

The Music Room, with Venus disarming Cupid over the chimneypiece. ©NTPL/Tim Imrie

Sir Francis installed numerous representations of Venus and Cupid around West Wycombe. A painting attributed to Luca Cambiaso in the Music Room shows Venus Disarming Cupid.

The Tapestry Room. ©NTPL/Tim Imrie

In the Tapestry Room the chimneypiece has a painted depiction of The Toilet of Venus.

The rebuilt Temple of Venus. ©NTPL/Alasdair Ogilvie

In the park the second Baronet constructed a Temple of Venus, the layout of which celebrated the female anatomy. Unsurprisingly, this was demolished in the nineteenth century.

In 1982, however, Sir Francis Dashwood, eleventh Baronet (1925-2000), commissioned the architect Quinlan Terry to rebuild it on the basis of archival research. So Venus still rules at West Wycombe.

Visual music

April 14, 2010

The Music Room at West Wycombe Park. ©NTPL/Tim Imrie

Among the group of objects at West Wycombe Park recently accepted in lieu of tax and allocated to the National Trust are four handsome pedestals in the Music Room inlaid with Siena marble and Sicilian jasper.

One of the pedestals by Henry Cheere. ©NTPL/John Hammond

They are by the sculptor Henry Cheere (1703-1781), and one of the reasons for keeping them at West Wycombe is the fact that there are several other works attributed to Cheere in the same room.

Prancing putti on the frieze of the chimneypiece. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The chimneypiece is most probably by the Cheere workshop as well, as are the doorcases. In decorating this room Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Baronet, was mixing original classical works of art with modern works in a classical style to remind him of what he had seen on the Grand Tour.

An imtimate moment between Venus and Cupid, on the frieze of the chimneypiece. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The chimneypiece is made of carved white statuary marble against a Sicilian jasper background, and its frieze depicts Venus and Cupid attended by putti.

Feasting gods by Giuseppe Borgnis on the ceiling of the Music Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The theme is continued on the ceiling, where Giuseppe Borgnis (1701-1761) was employed to depict a banquet of the gods, copied from Raphael’s work in the Villa Farnesina in Rome.

Cheerful caryatids in the coving of the Music Room. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The decoration in the coving was copied by Borgnis from various frescoes by Annibale Carracci in the Palazzo Farnese.

Interestingly, celebrity meerkat Aleksandr Orlov lives in a mansion with some very similar interiors…

Face to face with the Ancients

March 15, 2010

Plaster bust of a philosopher or poet, eighteenth century, after the antique, at West Wycombe Park. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Classical antiquity looms large at West Wycombe Park. This Buckinghamshire country house was enriched with works of art brought back from Italy, Greece and Asia Minor by Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Baronet, in the middle of the eighteenth century. 

Sir Francis Dashwood, 2nd Bt, by Nathaniel Dance. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Dashwood was one of those Englishmen who went on the Grand Tour and became captivated by the beauty of the ancient world. By all accounts he enjoyed partying and high jinks (in a characteristically catty comment, Horace Walpole wrote that Sir Francis was constantly drunk when in Italy), but he also brought back many works of art, which are still on display at West Wycombe. 

The South Colonnade at West Wycombe, based on Palladio's Palazzo Chiericati, Vicenza. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The busts shown here, originally acquired by Dashwood and on display in the South Colonnade, are part of a group of objects accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax in 2007 and allocated to the National Trust for display at West Wycombe. 

A plaster bust of Aratus (pseudo-Demosthenes), eighteenth century, after the antique, at West Wycombe. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) Scheme allows for UK inheritance tax to be written off in exchange for objects of artistic and historical significance. These objects are then transferred to museums and similar institutions, allowing access and enjoyment by all.

A plaster bast of Laocoön, eighteenth century, after the antique, at West Wycombe. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The National Trust has benefited enormously from this scheme over the years. Some of the historic houses we look after are still lived in by the families historically associated with them. In a number of houses part (or even most) of the collection on display is owned by these families, and there is always a possibility that it might be offered for sale at some point. In many cases the cost of acquisition would be prohibitive for the National Trust, but the AIL scheme enables these objects to remain in situ. 

Plaster bust of a man in armour, eighteenth century, after the antique, at West Wycombe. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Busts of Roman generals like the one above inspired the English to have Roman-style busts made of themselves, such as the one shown below of the successful general Viscount Cobham of Stowe

Terracotta bust of Richard, Viscount Cobham by Scheemakers in the Dining Room at West Wycombe. ©NTPL/John Hammond

Cobham found himself in opposition to the government of the day, and Sir Francis Dashwood was one of his allies (as well as being a fellow Buckinghamshire landowner). The presence of this bust at West Wycombe celebrates that allegiance, as well as contributing to the Roman theme of the house. Opposition Whigs like Cobham and Dashwood tried to re-establish what they saw as Roman civic virtues in contemporary English political life.


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