Archive for the ‘West Wycombe Park’ Category

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.

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.