The English taste for pietre dure

February 11, 2015
Section of the pietre dure table in the Library at Charlecote Park, purchased by George Lucy from dealer Thomas Emmerson in 1824. Inv. no. 532986. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Section of the pietre dure table in the Library at Charlecote Park, purchased by George Lucy from dealer Thomas Emmerson in 1824. Inv. no. 532986. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

The English taste for Italian pietre dure, or hard stone mosaic work, goes way back – that much is clear from a quick perusal of the new book  Roman Splendour, English Arcadia, about the Sixtus cabinet at Stourhead.

Section of a pietre dure table-top made in Rome in about 1580, at Powis Castle, probably acquired by George Herbert, 2nd Earl of Powis, in the 1770s or 1780s. Inv. no. 1181054. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Section of a pietre dure table-top made in Rome in about 1580, at Powis Castle, probably acquired by George Herbert, 2nd Earl of Powis, in the 1770s or 1780s. Inv. no. 1181054. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

One of the earliest examples is the so-called Great Pavement in Westminster Abbey, which was created in 1269 by the Roman craftsman Petrus Oderisius or Odericus. But many English palaces and country houses subsequently also acquired tables, cabinets and caskets incorporating pietre dure.

Cabinet mounted with pietre dure panels, made in Florence in about 1650, at Chirk Castle. Inv. no. 1170817. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Cabinet mounted with pietre dure panels, made in Florence in about 1650, at Chirk Castle. Inv. no. 1170817. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

At Chirk Castle there is an ebony cabinet mounted with Florentine pietre dure plaques dating to about 1650, probably picked up by Sir Thomas Myddelton during his Grand Tour in the early 1670s. The central panel shows the mythical Orpheus, and the other panels show various animals, whom Orpheus famously charmed with his music.

The scagliola chimneypiece in the Queen's Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The scagliola chimneypiece in the Queen’s Closet at Ham House. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

At Ham House there is a chimneypiece made of scagliola or imitation marble which appears to be an expression of the same taste for Italian marble. It was made by the Roman craftsman Baldessare Artima for the Duke of Lauderdale in about 1673.

Detail from one of a pair of scagliola table-tops with landscapes and flowers, made by Don Petro Belloni in 1754, at Uppark. Inv. no. 137667 ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

Detail from one of a pair of scagliola table-tops with landscapes and flowers, made by Don Petro Belloni in 1754, at Uppark. Inv. no. 137667 ©National Trust Images/Angelo Hornak

A scagliola table top at Uppark closely follows the style of many pietre dure panels in having floral motifs and a landscape cartouche against a black background. It was made by Don Petro Belloni near Florence for Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh in 1754.

English chinoiserie cabinet incorporating oriental lacquer, Florentine pietre dure and ivory medallions, made in about 1754, in the Little Parlour at Uppark. Inv. no. 137638. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

English chinoiserie cabinet incorporating oriental lacquer, Florentine pietre dure and ivory medallions, made in about 1754, in the Little Parlour at Uppark. Inv. no. 137638. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The same Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh also purchased several Florentine pietre dure plaques which he then had inserted, together with ivory medallions and oriental lacquer panels, into a chinoiserie cabinet possibly made by William Hallett in about 1754. It was common for the Chinese style to be combined with the Gothic, but a mixture of chinoiserie and Grand Tour taste in one piece of furniture is much rarer.

Ebony cabinet mounted with lapis lazuli, made in Rome in about 1640, at Belton House. Inv. no. 435082. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

Ebony cabinet mounted with lapis lazuli, made in Rome in about 1640, at Belton House. Inv. no. 435082. ©National Trust Images/Dennis Gilbert

An architecturally-shaped cabinet inlaid with lapis lazuli, made in Rome in about 1640, survives at Belton House. It may have been acquired Sir John Brownlow, later Lord Tyrconnell, during his Grand Tour in 1711.

Ebony cabinet mounted in gilt bronze and pietre dure, made in Rome in about 1610, at West Wycombe Park. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

Ebony cabinet mounted in gilt bronze and pietre dure, made in Rome in about 1610, at West Wycombe Park. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Roman cabinet at West Wycombe Park, made in about 1610 and again with architectural features, was probably purchased by Sir Francis Dashwood, later Lord le Despencer, when he visited Rome in 1740.

Ebony casket with gilt bronze mounts incorporating hard stone fruits and with panels of pietre dure, made in Florence, at The Vyne. Inv. no. 718777. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Ebony casket with gilt bronze mounts incorporating hard stone fruits and with panels of pietre dure, made in Florence, at The Vyne. Inv. no. 718777. ©National Trust Images/James Mortimer

Pietre dure were also used for the decoration of smaller casket-like cabinets, such as the one at The Vyne acquired by John Chute in Florence in the 1740s.

Section of a pietre dure table top, made in Rome in about 1580, said to have been owned by the Borghese family and purchased by George Lucy at the Beckford sale in 1823, in the Great Hall at Charlecote Park. Inv. no. 532954. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Section of a pietre dure table top, made in Rome in about 1580, said to have been owned by the Borghese family and purchased by George Lucy at the Beckford sale in 1823, in the Great Hall at Charlecote Park. Inv. no. 532954. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

The English interest in pietre dure persisted in the nineteenth century, the wealthy aesthete William Beckford being a notable collector. A number of pieces now at Charlecote Park were purchased by George Lucy at the sale of Beckford’s collection in 1823.

And these are just some of the pietre dure objects in the care of the National Trust. The book mentions many more examples of this English taste – including the splendid so-called Badminton cabinet, now in Liechtenstein.

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.

William Chambers, Chinese design guru

January 22, 2015
Plate 4 from Sir William Chambers's book Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757). ©British Library

Plate 4 from Sir William Chambers’s book Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757). ©British Library

This evening I will be giving a talk on the Chinese designs of the architect William Chambers, as part of the seminar series on the history of gardens and designed landscapes organised by the Institute of Historical Reseach.

Plate 2 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 2 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

I cannot give a full preview of the talk here, but essentially it will be about the pervasive influence of Chambers’s 1757 book Designs of Chinese Buildings on the appearance of chinoiserie garden pavilions across Europe.

Plate 5 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 5 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Chambers claimed to have written the book to correct European misconceptions about Chinese architecture which were being perpetuated by the authors of fanciful and frivolous ‘Chinese’ pattern books.

Plate 10 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 10 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Ironically, the popularity of Chambers’s ‘correct’ book meant that his designs were quickly adapted by others and used to design yet more cheerfully fantastical pavilions, especially as part of the so-called jardins anglo-chinois which were popular in France in the 1770s and 1780s.

Plate 14 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

Plate 14 from Designs of Chinese Buildings. ©British Library

But in some ways Chambers had the last laugh, as his version of Chinese architecture became the ‘correct’ chinoiserie style for about the next hundred years.

Mount Stewart demesne to be opened to the public

January 20, 2015
Aerial view of Mount Stewart. The woodland areas mark the extent of the demesne. ©National Trust

Aerial view of Mount Stewart. The woodland areas mark the extent of the demesne. ©National Trust

As the project to restore the house at Mount Stewart nears completion, it has been announced that the adjoining historic demesne will also be opened to the public.

The big house at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/David Armstrong

The big house at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/David Armstrong

Part of the demesne, which was the core estate associated with the big house, has been accepted by the Government in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to the National Trust. Another part of the demesne has been simultaneously purchased by the National Trust, keeping this historic estate together and reuniting it with the house.

The Temple of the Winds at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/Peter Aprahamian

The Temple of the Winds at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/Peter Aprahamian

The demesne was acquired by Alexander Stewart in 1744. His son, the first Marquess of Londonderry, commissioned James ‘Athenian’ Stuart to build the romantic Temple of the Winds on the shores of Strangford Lough in 1782-3. In the twentieth century Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, created the now celebrated gardens, which she gave to the National Trust in 1957 (and which I have mentioned before).

The lake at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/David Armstrong

The lake at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/David Armstrong

The parts of the demesne that have already been opened to the public are the walled garden and the dairy. There are plans to revive the rose garden and replant fruit trees. In the longer term the aim is to restore the vineries and peach houses, and to improve access to the woodland.

Woodland garden at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/David Armstrong

Woodland garden at Mount Stewart. ©National Trust Images/David Armstrong

This project is being supported by funding from the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Mr Turner: the exhibition

January 13, 2015
J.M.W. Turner, Petworth Park with Lord Egremont and his Dogs. ©Tate

J.M.W. Turner, Petworth Park with Lord Egremont and his Dogs. ©Tate

A new exhibition at Petworth House has been inspired by Mike Leigh’s recent film Mr Turner and celebrates the life and work of the Romantic landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851).

View of Petworth House, with the lawn shown in Turner's painting. ©Martin Offer

View of Petworth House, with the lawn shown in Turner’s painting. ©Martin Offer

Turner visited Petworth repeatedly between 1809 and 1837 as the guest of his patron George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1807). He created many pictures in oils and watercolour there. Some of those have always remained at Petworth, while others have returned on loan for this exhibition.

Timothy Spall as Turner in the Old Library at Petworth. ©Simon Mein and Thin Man Films

Timothy Spall as Turner in the Old Library at Petworth. ©Simon Mein and Thin Man Films

Visitors will also be able to see objects owned by Turner, such as his pocket paint book and the large easel thought to be the one depicted in the famous watercolour The Artist and His Admirers. That picture shows a scene in Petworth’s Old Library, which the artist was using as a studio.

Turner's 1827 watercolour The Artist and his Admirers, used as inspiration for the film Mr Turner. ©Tate

Turner’s 1827 watercolour The Artist and his Admirers, used as inspiration for the film Mr Turner. ©Tate

Petworth House was used as one of the locations for the film Mr Turner, starring Timothy Spall as the brilliant but awkward artist.

Set created by Suzie Davis in the Old Library at Petworth. The replica Turner seascapes were created by Charlie Cobb. ©Scott Ramsey

Set created by Suzie Davis in the Old Library at Petworth. The replica Turner seascapes were created by Charlie Cobb. ©Scott Ramsey

The exhibition includes a recreation of Turner’s studio at Petworth, put together by set designer Suzie Davis.

Timothy Spall channelling Turner. ©Simon Mein and Thin Man Films

Timothy Spall channelling Turner. ©Simon Mein and Thin Man Films

Director Mike Leigh said ‘Petworth wrote itself into the film rather than us having to think of possible stately homes; it is such an extraordinary, and rare, and rarified place.’

Portrait of J.M.W. Turner by John Phillip. ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Portrait of J.M.W. Turner by John Phillip. ©National Portrait Gallery, London

The exhibition, which is on until 11 March, was assembled by Andrew Loukes, curator at Petworth, and Dr Jacqueline Riding, research consultant on Mr Turner.

A closer look at the Uppark Chinese wallpaper

January 8, 2015
Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Recently we have been able to have a closer look at the Chinese wallpaper fragments from Uppark, which have been in storage. They were revealed under later wallpaper in the Little Parlour at Uppark following a fire in 1989 and are proving to be very important.

The Little Parlour at Uppark, where the Chinese wallpaper hung between about 1750 and 1770. The chinoiserie cabinet dates from the same period. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

The Little Parlour at Uppark, where the Chinese wallpaper hung between about 1750 and 1770. The chinoiserie cabinet dates from the same period. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

We knew that the Chinese wallpaper at Uppark was early, of the block-printed type that appeared in about 1750. It is clearly similar in style to other surviving block-printed Chinese wallpapers from that time, such as those at Felbrigg Hall, Ightham Mote, and Woburn Abbey.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The motif of the two pheasants on a rock is also found in the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The motif of the two pheasants on a rock is also found in the Chinese wallpaper at Ightham Mote. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

But now we have been able to confirm that parts of this wallpaper are in fact identical to some of the wallpaper drops at Ightham Mote. The related section of the Ightham wallpaper can be seen in this previous post.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138491. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138491. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

The colours of the Uppark wallpaper are remarkably fresh. Although it obviously suffered from the effects of the fire, it had only been exposed to light for about twenty years, having been covered over with another wallpaper in about 1770. So the surviving fragments make for an interesting comparison with the Ightham paper, in which the colours have changed due to over-painting with oil paint in about 1900.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The rock at left has been cut out from another section and applied to extend the length of the paper. The lady at right is probably also an addition. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138490. The rock at left has been cut out from another section and applied to extend the length of the paper. The lady at right is probably also an addition. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

The fragments also provide evidence of the artful cutting and pasting regularly deployed by the paper hangers to make the scenic Chinese wallpaper fit particular rooms. In one section rocks, flowers and a bird have been added to extend the paper at the bottom. The lady appearing nearby seems to have been added as well, probably taken from a different Chinese print or wallpaper.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, with a Chinese border paper representing mottled bamboo fretwork. On the left a different cut paper border can be seen underneath the bamboo border. Inv. no. 138497. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, with a Chinese border paper representing mottled bamboo fretwork. On the left a different cut paper border can be seen underneath the bamboo border. Inv. no. 138497. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Some of the fragments have the remains of border papers, which were commonly used to frame sections of wallpaper. One of them appears to be Chinese, a trompe l’oeil representation of mottled bamboo fretwork.

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138494. The fragment includes a section of a European cut paper border in a chinoiserie fretwork pattern. Towards the right there is evidence of the paper hanger cutting the wallpaper in a serpentine line to disguise the overlap with a different section of wallpaper. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

Part of a fragment of Chinese wallpaper from the Little Parlour at Uppark, inv. no. 138494. The fragment includes a section of a European cut paper border in a chinoiserie fretwork pattern. Towards the right there is evidence of the paper hanger cutting the wallpaper in a serpentine line to disguise the overlap with a different section of wallpaper. ©National Trust/Sarah Foster

The other appears to be European, cut in a chinoiserie fretwork pattern reminiscent of the decorations on mid-eighteenth century furniture. In one area the cut paper can be seen emerging from underneath a damaged section of the ‘bamboo’ paper – perhaps evidence of a change of mind.

 

Sarah Staniforth awarded CBE

January 2, 2015
Sarah Staniforth ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Sarah Staniforth ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Sarah Staniforth, our former Museums and Collections Director, has been appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the New Year’s Honours list. She stepped down from her National Trust position last year, although she is still involved in various honorary and voluntary roles.

Sarah was made a CBE for services to heritage. She worked for the National Trust for nearly thirty years and is known as an international authority on conservation practice. She is also currently the president of the International Institute for Conservation (IIC).

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In recent years Sarah was closely involved with the publication of the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping (2008, updated 2011). In 2013 she published the reader Historical Perspectives on Preventive Conservation.

Having worked with Sarah for a number of years, I was delighted to hear this news.

Lyme Park carvings re-attributed

December 19, 2014
Detail with vessels from the carved limewood festoons in the Saloon at Lyme Park. Inv. no. 499408.10. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Detail with vessels from the carved limewood festoons in the Saloon at Lyme Park. Inv. no. 499408.10. ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) Panel recently announced that a set of nine limewood carvings has been accepted in lieu of inheritance tax and allocated to Lyme Park. These carvings were traditionally thought to have been made by Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721), but the AIL Panel and their advisers felt that they are more likely to be by another master carver.

The Saloon at Lyme Park with the limewood carvings on the walls. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzieire

The Saloon at Lyme Park with the limewood carvings on the walls. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzieire

Carvings displaying a similar, distinctive style of composition survive at nearby Chatsworth. Both of these groups may be the work of a local carver who learned from or was aware of Grinling Gibbons but went on to develop his own style.

Section with musical instruments of the limewood carvings in the Saloon at Lyme Park. Inv. no. 499408.9. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Section with musical instruments of the limewood carvings in the Saloon at Lyme Park. Inv. no. 499408.9. ©National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

Lyme Park was donated to the National Trust by the 3rd Lord Newton in 1946, but much of its contents, including the carvings, remained in private hands. The AIL scheme is of huge benefit to the National Trust in allowing important collections to be preserved in their historical settings. But the scheme also helps to throw a spotlight on individual groups of items, occasionally leading to interesting re-attributions such as this one.

Showing its true colours

December 16, 2014
Reverse side of a tapestry depicting the reception of an embassy, wool and silk, southern Netherlands or northern France, c. 1545, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 1181082.

Reverse side of a tapestry depicting the reception of an embassy, wool and silk, southern Netherlands or northern France, c. 1545, at Powis Castle, inv. no. 1181082.

Following a thorough course of treatment, a sixteenth-century tapestry is almost ready to return to Powis Castle. It shows the reception of a group of European diplomats in Damascus. A detailed analysis of the tapestry by Helen Wyld can be found here, but its subject and history still remain enigmatic.

The image above actually shows the back of the tapestry, with its original warm colours.

The front of the Powis Castle 'Embassy' tapestry. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

The front of the Powis Castle ‘Embassy’ tapestry. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

On the front side the exposure to light caused the yellow dye to fade over time, turning the foliage from green to blue – a common feature of these tapestries.

Detail of a head from the 'Embassy' tapestry, after cleaning but before conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

Detail of a head from the ‘Embassy’ tapestry, after cleaning but before conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

As part of its treatment the tapestry was sent to the De Wit royal tapestry workshops in Mechelen, Belgium, where it underwent so-called ‘wet cleaning’.

Detail of head from the 'Embassy' tapestry after conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

Detail of head from the ‘Embassy’ tapestry after conservation stitching. ©National Trust/Rachel Langley

Then it was sent to the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio at Blickling Hall for conservation stitching, to remove old crude repairs and improve the overall strength of the tapestry. Soon it will once again be on display at Powis Castle, ready for a new lease of life.

A sense of Romantic humour

November 28, 2014
Two wings of an altarpiece, painted by William Bankes, watercolour on vellum, c.1803. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

Two wings of an altarpiece, painted by William Bankes, watercolour on vellum, c.1803. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

William Bankes, the collector and all-round man of taste who created the house and collections at Kingston Lacy as we can still see them today, was in many ways a product of the Romantic era. He knew Lord Byron, he sketched Gothic architecture and he traveled around the Mediterranean and in the Middle East, picking up works of art and antiquities on the way.

Miniature portrait of a young William Bankes by George Sanders, 1812, at Kingston Lacy, inv. no. 1251251. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Miniature portrait of a young William Bankes by George Sanders, 1812, at Kingston Lacy, inv. no. 1251251. ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Exiled from Britain because of his homosexuality, he spent his later years in that most romantic of cities, Venice, allegedly making secret trips back to Dorset to see his beloved Kingston Lacy under the cover of darkness.

View of Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

View of Kingston Lacy. ©National Trust Images/Arnhel de Serra

We have recently been able to purchase from Lowell Libson a pair of watercolours on vellum painted by Bankes in about 1804, when he was a student at Cambridge. These pictures were once the wings of an altarpiece which Bankes created for his rooms at Trinity College, as an irreverent set-piece of neo-Gothic interior decoration.

Left-hand altarpiece panel by William Bankes, inv. no. 2900102. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

Left-hand altarpiece panel by William Bankes, inv. no. 2900102. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

The left-hand panel depicts a kneeling knight bearing the Bankes coat of arms, probably a medievalised self-portrait, with the words ‘Domine Labia Mea Apenies’ (Thou O Lord wilt open my lips) coming from his mouth. Above the knight hovers an angel holding a scroll reading ‘Gloria in Excelsis deo’ (Glory be God in the highest), and the scene is surmounted by the Bankes coat of arms.

Right-hand altarpiece panel by William Bankes, inv. no. 2900103. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

Right-hand altarpiece panel by William Bankes, inv. no. 2900103. ©Lowell Libson Ltd

The right-hand panel shows a group of cloaked and hooded mourners around a coffin covered with a pall exclaiming ‘Orate pro anima Wulie’ or pray for Wulie’s – William Bankes’s – soul. In this scene the coat of arms has been replaced by an ominous skull with the inscription ‘Non Deus est Mourton’ – God is not dead.

The ruins of the Corfe Castle, on the Kingston Lacy estate, which William Bankes knew well. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

The ruins of the Corfe Castle, on the Kingston Lacy estate, which William Bankes knew well. ©National Trust Images/Matthew Antrobus

Although the altarpiece was clearly intended as part of an elaborate theatrical joke, which apparently included the burning of incense and the occasional chanting of services, Bankes was also using it to express the various interests and personal characteristics that would find their full flowering in the creation of Kingston Lacy. He was imaging himself as a romantic knight, he was picturing his own funeral as something out of a classic Gothic novel, he was being irreverently ‘Papist’ and borderline blasphemous, and he was indulging his love of Gothic architecture and decoration.

Drawing of Gothic cloisters, by William Bankes, at Kingston Lacy, inv. no. 1252998. ©National Trust

Drawing of Gothic cloisters, by William Bankes, at Kingston Lacy, inv. no. 1252998. ©National Trust

This acquisition was made possible by grants from the Art Fund as well as from the Ervin-DesChamps Fund through the Royal Oak Foundation.


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