Posted: August 02nd 2019
Behind the scenes there are many goings-on in the Hall, whether it be cataloguing our vast collection of books and medieval manuscripts, or undertaking our daily conservation work. This morning, before opening the hall to the public, the Housemen were busy rehanging the pair of Solimena paintings in the North State Bedroom.
These stunning paintings were taken down and placed in safe storage when the Chapel Wing was redecorated. Once the room was completed, and other paintings went up in their place, it was decided that these were to be relocated to the North State Bedroom for the public to enjoy.
Both these paintings were purchased on Thomas Coke’s Grand Tour at the end of May 1716. The Grand Tour was a rite of passage for upper-class young men seeking a classical education in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Often their travels were a source of inspiration, kindling new ideas about architecture, garden design, and story-telling. Holkham itself is a manifestation of Thomas Coke’s appreciation of the classical arts, and is filled with many treasures from his travels such as these paintings.
The one on the left is called The Virgin Enthroned. This painting shows Saint Bonaventure receiving the Banner of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre (an order of crusaders) from the Madonna, flanked either side by Saints Peter and Paul and a host of angels. This is a ‘modello’ for and altarpiece which in now in the Cathedral of Aversa. Both of these paintings were restored from 1985 to 1986.
The one on the right is called Deborah and Barek; it is an Old Testament story from Judges 4 and 5. It tells the story of the time when the Israelites were under the control of the Canaanite King Jabin and his General Sisera. Deborah was a prophetess who made rulings for the people of Israel under a palm tree.
Francesco Solimena (1657 – 1747) was a painter in the Baroque style who worked mainly in Naples. The Baroque style is extravagant, and tend to give the viewer the impression that they are witnessing an event. Solimena received early training from his father, Angelo Solimena before settling in Naples in 1674. Here he received early patronage from Cardinal Vincenzo Orsini (later Pope Benedict XIII). His style was modelled on, and stimulated by, the Baroque masters Luca Giordano, Giovanni Lanfranco and Mattia Preti. Solimena had painted many frescos, altarpieces, social settings, portraits and, as here, mythological subjects chosen for their drama.
Francesco Solimena’s studio dominated Neapolitan painting for nearly 50 years from the 1690s onwards. Francesco de Mura (1696 – 1784) was among his important students, who became a court painter.
Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester, founded an incredible collection of books and manuscripts from his Grand Tour. If you’re interested in our collections, history or Leonardo da Vinci, our manuscript curator Dr. Laura Nuvoloni will be opening up these books to the public on Thursday 12th September. This is a drop-in event, no need to book, and is a wonderful chance to see the books up close! For more information, please click here.