Regency nudes

the Mazarin Adonis

Presently, Diana and Griffin came to the conservatory that served as a transition from the house to its parkland.

Lord Montgomery seemed to find something wanting.  “Where is the statuary?  Most great country houses have a room full of the stuff.”

“Are you a coinnosseur?” Diana asked.

Griffin opened the door for her to step through.  “It depends on the subject.”

He followed her to the railing of the flagstoned veranda overlooking an ornamental lake.  “I believe the dowager countess had an affinity for statues.  Northam Park would not be complete without a nude of your namesake, the goddess of the hunt.”

Griffin’s teasing was not without basis.  They had seen the virgin huntress executed in every conceivable media throughout their inspection of the estate.  Moreover, he was quite correct that her grandmother had been a patroness of the arts.   Lady Nellie, as she was affectionately called, once supported the noted painter and bluestocking Angelica Kauffman.

But her grand passion was for the unadorned figure, sculpted in the manner of classical antiquity.

Lord Montgomery would not be so bold if he knew what her grandmother’s collection consisted of.

Diana raised her eyebrows in pretended severity.  “We keep all the nudes in London.”

“A pity.”

Diana looked away from his interested stare as if embarrassed, her finger artlessly tracing an invisible line along the railing.

“Yes, it is,” she eventually replied.  “You see, Grandmama was in the habit of commissioning likenesses of young men she admired.  There are at least two male nudes that bear a striking resemblance to yourself.”

“Good God,” he exclaimed.  “You must be joking.”

“Really, my lord.  It was only your face Grandmama used, I’m persuaded.”

“You minx.”

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Who can forget that marvelous scene in the 2005 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice featuring Pemberley’s sculpture gallery?  The gallery (pictured above) was filmed at Chatsworth, a real location Austen notes in her novel.  The scene is infused with the strong contemporary feel of the Regency and its desire for beauty.

The sculpture collection was assembled in large part by the sixth Duke of Devonshire, the Bachelor Duke.  He shared a passion for art with the Prince Regent.

Venus and Adonis – Antonio Canova (circa 1820)

In my book, Northam Park is in every way comparable to Chatsworth, except it does not have a sculpture gallery.  His Grace makes a couple of appearanced in Notorious Match as he and Diana are about the same age.  At one time, before Griffin returned to England, it was thought the heiress to Northam and the duke might make a match of it.  But it became clear they would not suit.

Griffin is the exact opposite of His Grace.  He has lost his own estate, Tremont, and has no fortune.  Moreover, he is a mere lord.

Yet he has the face of a sculpted Adonis.

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There can be only one Diana

Presently they came to Northam Park’s vaunted Tapestry Room.   Its walls were entirely covered by specially commissioned tapestries from the Gobelins tapestry weavers of Paris.  Griffin seemed quite taken with one in particular.

Drowning of Britomartis – wool and silk tapestry (circa 1547)

“Oh, that bloody thing,” Diana swore under her breath.

Griffin’s excessive scrutiny of the woven masterpiece made her uncomfortable.  Not because the goddess of the hunt wore a short tunic, baring her legs, striding toward the sea to save her fellow virgin from the amorous king of Crete.   It was the memories of it that she had held as a girl, childishly imagining herself to be just like the huntress.  Free, independent and disdainful of mortal men.  How naive she had been.

A mischievous light came into Griffin’s eyes.  “It must be gratifying to have so many, er, exquisite renderings made of one’s namesake.”

Diana huffed.  “I had nothing to do with the inspiration.  If you must know, my grandfather purchased it at auction in Paris.  It had been commissioned by Diane de Poitiers.”

Griffin’s smile deepened.  “The mistress of the French king?”

The devil.

“Precisely so.”

To have a Gobelins tapestry, let alone a room full of them, was a mark of distinction in Regency home decor.  Gobelins Manufactory began as a group of Flemish weavers established by the first Bourbon king of France, Henry IV.  They set up shop in Paris in the environs used by a family of dyers from an earlier century called the Gobelins.  The name stuck and the Gobelins enterprise became the royal factory supplying the French monarchy until it was shut down in the Revolution.  The restored Bourbon dynasty revived production and today it is operated by the French Ministry of Culture.

Newby Hall has a marvelous tapestry room that is well-presented in the 2007 movie adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.  See this link for an excerpt from the movie.  The room is featured at 8:15.

Croome Court tapestry room

There is another tapestry room that used to reside in Croome Court, Worcestershire.  It was removed from the neo-Palladian country house by the owner, the ninth Earl of Coventry, and sold.  Note the lovely neoclassical ceiling designed by Robert Adam, executed in 1763 for the sixth Earl.  It has been reconstituted for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Today, Croome Court is most noted for its grounds, designed by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.  The house itself had been owned by a succession of groups including a school and Hare Krishnas before it was finally acquired by the National Trust from the Hare Krishnas,  After extensive restoration work, it too became open to the public for the first time in 2009.