Archive for the ‘Sculpture’ Category

A Roman quartet returns to Wimpole

June 3, 2014
Detail of the bust of the emperor Caracallarecently returned to Wimpole Hall (inv. no. 2900080). ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

Detail of the bust of the emperor Caracalla recently returned to Wimpole Hall (inv. no. 2900080). ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

Four seventeenth-century Roman marble busts have recently returned to Wimpole Hall after a 60-year absence.

The four Roman busts back in the entrance hall at Wimpole. ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

The four Roman busts back in the entrance hall at Wimpole. ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

Two of the busts, of the emperor Caracalla and of a man described as ‘a philosopher’, were accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by the Government and allocated to Wimpole.

The bust of the 'philosopher', whose identity is yet to be further researched (inv. no. 2900081). ©National Trust/Phil MynottPhilosopher Phil Mynott

The bust of the ‘philosopher’, whose identity is yet to be further researched (inv. no. 2900081). ©National Trust/Phil MynottPhilosopher Phil Mynott

The other two, of the emperor Trajan and of another as yet unidentified emperor, were purchased by private treaty with the help of grants from the Art Fund, from a fund set up by the late the Hon. Simon Sainsbury, the Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Levy bequest and other gifts and bequests.

The busts of an as yet unidentified emperor (left) and Trajan (right) in the inner hall,  flanking curator Wendy Monkhouse, who originally made the case for their acquisition. ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

The busts of an as yet unidentified emperor (left) and Trajan (right) in the inner hall, flanking curator Wendy Monkhouse, who originally made the case for their acquisition. ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

The busts are back on display in the entrance hall, where they were previously, and they join a fifth bust of the emperor Marcus Aurelius which had remained at Wimpole.

Unidentified emperor (inv. no. 2900083). ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

Unidentified emperor (inv. no. 2900083). ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

The Wimpole provenance of this group of busts can be traced back to at least the 1770s, but they may have been part of of the collection of Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (1689-1741) who, apart from being a voracious bibliophile, also collected coins and antiquities.

The emperor Trajan (inv. no. 2900082). ©National Trust/Phil Mynott Phil Mynott

The emperor Trajan (inv. no. 2900082). ©National Trust/Phil Mynott Phil Mynott

The busts were made in Rome in the seventeenth century in response to the strong demand across Europe for objects evoking Roman history. Bust such as these referenced the lives and achievements of the different Roman emperors.

The emperor Marcus Aurelius (inv. no. 208037) on the great staircase. ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

The emperor Marcus Aurelius (inv. no. 208037) on the great staircase. ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

Trajan and Marcus Aurelius were among the good guys overseeing Rome’s golden age. The fratricidal Caracalla was definitely a bad boy, but his brooding countenance – and the fact that he came to power while in York – made his bust popular in eighteenth-century England.

Julia Glynn of Cliveden Conservation preparing the bust of Caracalla for display. ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

Julia Glynn of Cliveden Conservation preparing the bust of Caracalla for display. ©National Trust/Phil Mynott

The busts have been prepared for display by Clivenden Conservation and placed on the carved wooden plinths made for them by the Cambridge firm of Rattee and Kett in about 1860.

What does it mean?

November 12, 2010

The conservatory at Wentworth Castle in about 1910. The sundial can just be made out in front of the doors.

The gardern historian Dr Patrick Eyres (who featured here previously) has been involved in the restoration of the gardens of Wentworth Castle, in South Yorkshire. He is trying to find out more about the lead sculpture of a black man supporting a sundial that used to stand in front of the conservatory there. What was the meaning of such figures in a garden context?

Candlestand in the form of a chained African slave, late seventeenth century, at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Sculptures of black men, which were called blackamoors, sometimes represented slaves or servants. In Baroque interiors such figures, made of carved and painted wood, served as candlestands and tables. People at the time seemed to be happy to live with images of slaves in chains, which today we would obviously find disturbing.

Lead figure of a kneeling Indian slave at Melbourne Hall. ©

There may have been a religious aspect to this imagery, as a representation of the enslavement of the soul by the body. Richard Wheeler, National Trust gardens curator, speculates that this might have been the meaning of the figures of the African and Indian kneeling slaves in the garden at Melbourne Hall, Derbyshire (image kindly provided by The figures are situated near the metal garden pavilion called the Birdcage, which had a similar symbolic meaning.

Lead figure of an African supporting a sundial in the garden at Dunham Massey, with the stables beyond. ©NTPL/Matthew Antrobus

Another, more positive explanation is that such figures (including those of other races) represented the four continents as they were defined in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Africa, America, Asia and Europe. By extension they would then stand for ‘the known world’.

Back view of the Dunham figure. ©NTPL/Nick Meers

The lead figure of an African holding up a sundial at Dunham Massey, Cheshire, seems to be one of these ‘continents’. It was probably made by Andries Carpentière (1670-1737), who supplied numerous sculptures for the house (and for the Booth family monuments in nearby Bowdon church) in the 1730s.

Bird’s-eye view of Dunham massey from the south-east, by John Harris, c. 1750. ©NTPL/Angelo Hornak

The African can be seen in the bird’s-eye-view paintings by Richard Harris painted in about 1750, in the centre of the lawn below the south front of the house. Most of the other figures were removed by the fifth Earl of Stamford in the late eighteenth century.

Detail of another Harris view, showing the sundial in front of the house.

Do leave a comment if you can offer other examples or possible explanations.

As it happens, there will be a symposium at Harvard University next week on ‘The Image of the Black in Western Art’  – details of that and of the associated multi-volume book and exhibition can be found via the Enfilade blog.

Mr Vernon’s murals

July 6, 2010

Hanbury Hall. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

Hanbury Hall, in Worcestershire, was left to the National Trust in 1940. An endowment was provided for the house by an anonymous donor in 1953.

Bust of Thomas Vernon attributed to Edward Stanton. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The house was rebuilt in its present form around 1700 by Thomas Vernon (1654-1721), a wealthy lawyer and Whig Member of Parliament.

The Painted Staircase at Hanbury. ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

Hanbury contains a staircase with an amazing set of murals showing Greek deities and mythological figures. These were created for Thomas Vernon by Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734) from about 1710. At about the same time Thornhill was also working on his masterpiece, the Painted Hall at Greenwich Hospital

A figure of Mercury hovering at the juncture of the wall and the ceiling. ©Perry Lithgow Partnership

Mercury under UV light, showing up earlier retouchings as darker areas. ©Perry Lithgow Partnership

These murals were recently conserved by the Perry Lithgow Partnership. They had last been treated in the 1950s. Since then the retouchings had discoloured and coatings had become opaque.

Infilled losses, prior to retouching. ©Perry Lithgow Partnership

Cracks had opened up, especially where the murals had been painted over the dado panelling.

Retouching in progress. ©Perry Lithgow Partnership

The paint was cleaned and stabilised, and cracks and losses were filled and retouched.

The Hall looking towards the Painted Staircase. Thomas Vernon's bust lurks in the niche above the chimneypiece. ©NTPL/Dennis Gilbert

The murals should now be all right for another half century or so.

Gender bender

June 16, 2010

Painted plaster cast of the Borghese Hermaphrodite, in the South Colonnade at West Wycombe Park. ©NTPL/John Hammond

In 2007 a cast of the Borghese Hermaphrodite was accepted in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to West Wycombe Park. It had originally been brought to West Wycombe by Sir Francis Dashwood, second Baronet, in the mid-eighteenth century.

Hermaphroditus is a figure from classical mythology who has the physical attributes of both the male and the female sex.

The Borghese Hermaphrodite, now in the Louvre. Image Jastrow/Wikimedia Commons

The original Borghese Hermaphrodite sculpture was dug up in Rome in the early seventeenth century and presented to Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who had a special room dedicated to it in his Villa Borghese. The sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini made the uncannily realistic buttoned mattress for it in 1620.

The Hermaphrodite snoozing at West Wycombe. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The figure soon became famous. The English courtier and writer John Evelyn bought a reduced copy in ivory in Rome in the 1640s. A copy made for Philip IV of Spain inspired Velazquez’s unambiguously female Toilet of Venus – but this painting would itself become embroiled in gender politics when it was slashed by a Suffragette in London in 1914. 

The Borghese Hermaphrodite shown in a 1765 grisaille painting by Louis Gabriel Blanchet (1705-1772), at Saltram, Devon. Blanchet includes Bernini's mattress, as if it has been discovered together with the figure in a Roman ruin. ©NTPL/Matthew Hollow

The West Wycombe copy reflects the second Baronet’s fascination with the celebration of sexuality in the ancient world.

Ambiguous dreams: detail of the cast at West Wycombe. ©NTPL/John Hammond

The original was sold by Prince Camillo Borghese in 1807 and transferred to the Louvre. There it inspired Algernon Swinburne’s controversial 1863 poem ‘Hermaphroditus’, which explores the sensation of feminine and masculine feelings in the same body.

A few snails thrown in

June 2, 2010

A visitor inspecting the a Roman sarcophagus at Cliveden. The carved reliefs depict scenes from the story of Theseus and Ariadne. ©NTPL/Arnhel de Serra

In response to a previous post about the Roman sarcophagus at West Wycombe, a reader has asked about the sarcophagi at Cliveden, in Buckinghamshire. As he surmised, they were indeed brought to Cliveden by William Waldorf Astor, first Viscount Astor (1848-1919).

William Waldorf Astor by Sir Hubert von Herkomer. ©NTPL/John Bethell

Astor had inherited a huge fortune based on New York real estate. In the 1880s he was appointed United States Minister to Italy, and while there he conceived a passion for art and architecture. In true plutocratic style, Astor was somewhat reclusive and prone to paranoia.

The south front of Cliveden. The Borghese balustrade acquired by William Waldorf Astor can be seen below the terrace. ©NTPL/Nick Meers

In 1891 Astor moved himself and his family to England, reputedly saying that ‘America is not a fit place for a gentleman to live.’ He purchased Cliveden from the first Duke of Westminster in 1893 and embellished it with numerous works of art and antique furnishings. 

Eighteenth-century Italian sculpture of Beatrice, a Commedia dell'Arte figure, in the Long Garden at Cliveden. ©NTPL/Ian Shaw

An amazing discovery has recently been made at Cliveden. As a group of volunteers went around cleaning the statues in the garden, they spotted tiny unfamiliar-looking snails that seemed to live in the crevices of the stone. 

The tiny Papillifera papillaris, the 'Cliveden snail'. ©National Trust/Mark Telfer

Snail guru Janet Ridout Sharpe was called in, and she identified the creatures as Papillifera papillaris. They have little spindle-shaped shells that are generally only 11 mm long. This snail has no English name, as it normally lives around the Mediteranean.

A section of the Borghese balustrade, home of the Papilliferas. ©National Trust

Most of the snails seemed to live on or near the Borghese balustrade, which sits between the terrace and the parterre. This balustrade was purchased by Astor from the Villa Borghese in Rome in 1896 and shipped to Cliveden. It seems that with his purchase Astor got some free snails thrown in – a natural import along with an architectural one. They have thrived at Cliveden in apparent harmony with the other wildlife there, and this species has now been dubbed the Cliveden snail.

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.

The wandering pavilion

April 16, 2010

The Chinese House, now returned to Stowe. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

The Chinese House at Stowe in Buckinghamshire is an amazing survival from the first generation of English chinoiserie garden pavilions. It was erected in the garden at Stowe in or just before 1738, placed on stilts in a little pond, by Richard Temple, Viscount Cobham (a portrait bust of whom was previously shown in this post).

Illustration in Seeley's 1750 guidebook to Stowe

Around 1751 it was moved to another family estate, Wotton House, also in Buckinghamshire, where it remained for almost two hundred years. The Wotton estate was sold in 1929, and in 1957 the pavilion was shipped to Ireland.

After the Stowe landscape gardens had been taken on by the National Trust its architectural historian, Gervase Jackson-Stops, orchestrated an appeal to return the Chinese House to its original home. It was bought in 1993 and following extensive conservation work it was finally reinstated at Stowe in 1998. 

The Elysian Fields at Stowe, with the Temple of British Worthies. ©NTPL/Jerry Harpur

The garden at Stowe is full of monuments and temples reflecting the political and philosophical ideals of Lord Cobham and his heirs. The Temple of British Worthies celebrates Cobham’s heroes, such as Alfred, king of the Saxons, King William III and the philosopher John Locke.

Bust of the Saxon King Alfred set into the Temple of British Worthies. ©NTPL/Jerry Harpur

The Chinese House would originally have sat just to the east of the Temple of British Worthies, and it would probably have had a similar political resonance. China was seen as the epitome of a well-organised state with a stable government, something the opposition Whigs were keen to achieve in Britain. 

The Gothic Temple, signifying Liberty, in the wilder Hawkwell Field. ©NTPL/Andrew Butler

Just beyond this spot stood the Gothic Temple. The Gothic style also had a political meaning, as it was associated with the supposedly freedom-loving and democratically-minded Saxons. The area around it was deliberately left somewhat unkempt, to show how spontaneous and natural the Saxons’ conception of liberty was.

Imaginary portrait of Confucius, illustrating the frontispiece of the book Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, a treatise on Chinese philosophy published in Paris in 1687

The Chinese House sat in between these two monuments, as if to indicate that these ideals were being shared by the exotic and distinguished Chinese. Cobham’s political ally, Frederick, Prince of Wales, built a similar pavilion at Kew, called the House of Confucius. The ancient Chinese pilosopher Confucius was given iconic status as a socio-political sage on a par with English luminaries such as King Alfred and Locke. 

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…

A re-attribution

April 13, 2010

Detail of the bust of Charles II at Seaton Delaval Hall, now attributed to Caius Gabriel Cibber. Image: National Trust/Andrew McGregor

In response to the previous post about the bust of Charles II, Alastair Laing has just told me that he now thinks the maker of the bust is in fact Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630-1700). There is no documentation proving that the bust was either by Bushnell or by Cibber, but stylistically the latter seems a better fit. Such re-attributions are part of the ongoing research into our collections.

Sundial in the form of Time with an attendant cherub, by Caius Gabriel Cibber, in the Dutch Garden at Belton House, Lincolnshire.

Cibber was born in Denmark, travelled to Italy when he was about seventeen and moved to England in about 1655. He became sculptor to Charles II in 1667. When he was imprisoned for gambling debts this position allowed him to be released from the Marshalsea prison on a daily basis to carve the large relief on the monument to the great fire of London.

His masterpiece is probably the pair of reclining figures Melancholy Madness and Raving Madness which he created for the gates of the Bethlem Hospital. Other places he worked at include Belvoir Castle, Chatsworth, Hampton Court and St Paul’s Cathedral. A sundial by Cibber is at Belton House (above).

A royal brand

April 12, 2010

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.


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