This blog continues in the “Europe & the U.S. in 99 Objects” series. Dr. Gabriella de la Rosa at the National Trust has started this project for the National Trust, originally published here, by delving into the Trust’s collections – nearly 1 million objects held at over 200 historic properties across the United Kingdom – to find objects with interesting, unusual and unexpected connections to Europe. These objects and their stories are being published in the form of a digital diary on the National Trust Collections website.
#10 The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John in a Landscape
circle of Raphael (Urbino 1483 – Rome 1520)
Date: 1516 – 1517
Materials: Oil on panel
Measurements: 760 x 533 mm (30 x 21 in)
Place of origin: Siena
Collection: Kingston Lacy Estate, Dorset (Accredited Museum)
Painted by an Italian, looted from a Spanish castle and bought from a Frenchman – who threw in a donkey – by an eccentric travelling Englishman. The story behind this painting of the Holy Family speaks of the mobility of art and elite wealth in war-ravaged Europe in the early 19th century.
The Englishman in question was the adventurer and collector, William Bankes, who served as the aide-de-camp to the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsular War. ‘Gentlemen’, the Iron Duke is purported to have said, ‘There will be no looting in this campaign and that includes you, Bankes’.
In the case of the Holy Family, the French had already carried out the looting. Bankes encountered this picture, believed to have been painted by Raphael, in the autumn of 1813, when Bankes was living ‘in disguise’ behind the French lines in the besieged city of Pamplona.
In a story he would recount years later, it was there that he dined with the French commanding officer, ‘who regaled him with a meal of rats, washed down with strong drink, and after dinner obliged him to buy a Raphael, which he had stolen from the Sacristy of the Escorial, and a donkey, which I don’t think he had stolen from anybody’.
The painting, which has since been attributed to the circle of Raphael, had belonged successively to Vincenzo II Gonzaga, King Charles I and Philip IV of Spain. Aware of this illustrious provenance and convinced of Raphael’s authorship, Bankes commissioned an ornately carved frame of the highest quality from Pietro Giusti of Siena, the most famous Italian wood-carver of the period.
As for the donkey, Bankes is said to have become so fond of the creature that he sent him back to England, despite the captain of the ship declaring that ‘the jackass should pay like a gentleman.’
Oil painting on panel, The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John in a Landscape, circle of Raphael (Urbino 1483 – Rome 1520), possibly Gianfrancesco Penni (Florence 1488/1496 – Naples 1528), 1516/17. The walnut frame, commissioned by William Bankes in 1853, is by Pietro Giusti (Siena 1822 – Turin 1878) and bears the date 1856.
#11 Beauty spot container
Measurements: 13 mm (Height); 33 mm (Diameter)
Collection: Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion (Accredited Museum)
On show at: Llanerchaeron, Ceredigion, Wales, National Trust
This little box, filled with an assortment of gummed beauty spots – or ‘mouches’ as they are known in French – is the predecessor of today’s powder compacts.
Unlike powder which has historically been used to whiten one’s complexion, beauty patches are conspicuously black, cut from oddments of silk, velvet, leather or even paper.
Black patches could hide a multitude of sins – be they scars from pox and venereal disease or the occasional facial blemish. But they were also worn as a form of adornment.
In 18th-century France, the colour black was used in a variety of contexts to offset pale skin and enhance notions of feminine beauty. In the eccentric tale ‘Abdeker: or the Art of Preserving Beauty’ (1754), Abdeker, a physician in the court of an unnamed sultan, identifies different types of ‘ruddy Spots’ that might affect one’s complexion, including moles, freckles and those spots which ‘set off the whiteness of the skin, and give the eye a fine amorous look.’
The arrangement of differently shaped black fabric on one’s face also formed part of a visual language to denote wealth, licentiousness and even political allegiance. In England, Whigs and Tories placed beauty spots on opposing sides of the face.
Circular container with label showing ladies head and text ‘Mouches Satin Dorin Paris’. The side with additional label ‘Dorin Assorties Paris’. Contains assorted gummed beauty spots.