Treasures and Trophies - An Artist's View

Posted: August 03rd 2018

by David Allsop, Museum Illustrator and Field to Fork Supervisor

Treasures and Trophies - an artist’s view

This year’s exhibition in Holkham Hall, Treasures & Trophies, follows the footsteps of Thomas Coke on his Grand Tour in the early 18th century. Last winter I was delighted to be asked to create some artistic interpretation for the exhibition and the curators and I came up with many weird and wonderful ideas, some of which came to fruition!

Everyone loves a selfie

Thomas Coke used various modes of transport on his travels and I based this creation on a Berliner carriage that we know he used. The windows are cut out, giving our visitors an ideal opportunity to pretend they are in the carriage, setting off from Holkham Hall on their own Grand Tour, not forgetting to ‘say cheese’ for a photo. I was inspired by the well-loved 1970’s Paddington TV programme for the design for this – simple brush line work and a cardboard cut out style can be really effective.

Wishing I really was heading off to Italy
Wishing I really was heading off to Italy

Palladian Puzzles – it all fits together

The Saloon houses some 3D models to show how the architecture of Holkham Hall was influenced by Palladian architecture which, in turn, was influenced by classical architecture. Starting in Rome, the ancient Roman Temple of Portunus is one of the most complete Roman temples to still stand today and clearly shows the front pedimented portico that inspired Andreo Palladio when designing his villas in the Veneto, Italy. Thomas Coke would have seen the Temple of Portunus and the Palladian villas on his grand tour and these were a great inspiration to William Kent and Coke when designing Holkham Hall. I chose Palladio’s Villa La Rotonda as it clearly shows the symmetry and perfect proportions that inspired Holkham Hall.

My challenge was how to make three large, wooden, 3D-jigsaw models that would help visitors to understand this progression. I wanted to keep the buildings simple, but not so simple that putting them together again was too easy! Various sketches, bits of graph paper, calculators, measurements and quite a lot of brow-wiping later, I gave my designs to Bob Nobbs, one of the invaluable volunteers in Holkham’s walled garden, and he used his woodworking skills to create the blocks. After one coat of undercoat, three top coats and two coats of varnish the buildings were complete. Both adults and children alike are having great fun working out the construction of all three buildings and seeing the connections and similarities between them.

Left: Puzzles in the making, right: Models of Villa Rotonda, Temple of Portunus and Holkham Hall
Left: Puzzles in the making, right: Models of Villa Rotonda, Temple of Portunus and Holkham Hall

A setting for a sitting

Like many other grand tourists of the time, Thomas Coke commissioned a portrait of himself, on his Grand Tour, by one of the great Italian painters, Francesco Trevisani. The portrait still hangs in pride of place in the hall today. While we do not have enough evidence to know exactly how Trevisani’s studio would have looked, I researched artists and portraits of the same period to come up with an interpretation of an artist’s studio in 18th century Rome.

I researched sketches by Trevisani, held in the British Museum, and drew my own preparatory sketches in his style. These are displayed on the table, along with some ‘home made’ pigments, mussel shells used to mix paint, an artist’s box and various brushes and palette in use.

My interpretation of how Trevisani may have sketched his portrait can be seen on the easel, and the whole studio is meant to be viewed as if the artist and sitter had just left.

A close-up of 'Trevisani's' work table
A close-up of ‘Trevisani’s’ work table

If you have enjoyed this post you may be interested in the Palladian Papercuts art workshop David is running at Holkham on 9th September 2018.

The ‘Treasures and Trophies’ exhibition is included in a visit to the hall - click here for opening times and prices.

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