Treasures and Trophies – The making of a gentleman and a great house
Thomas Coke, creator of Holkham Hall, was, in 1712, an impressionable teenager tempted by gambling and cock fighting. Under the instruction of his guardians he was sent on one of the longest and most influential Grand Tours of the 18th century. The Grand Tour was the precursor to today’s package travel and allowed young English gentlemen the chance to experience the arts, culture, society and history of parts of Europe.Over the course of six years he travelled through France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and the Low Countries.
Leaving to gunfire and fanfare from Holkham, Thomas undertook a journey which inspired him to create the house you see today. Delve into the archives and witness the arduous route he travelled, meet the entourage who accompanied him, discover how the people he met, such as William Kent, became a lifelong friends and helped shape his vision, learn about the epic collection of paintings, statues, drawings, rare books and manuscripts he amassed which now attract a worldwide audience and form his ‘temple of the arts’. Undertaking lessons in horse riding, fencing and music, Thomas Coke had language tutors who encouraged him to fully immerse himself in the culture of his surroundings, he pursued his interest in architecture and witnessed grand operas, theatre and balls of the period, turning an impressionable adolescent into a true virtuoso and architect in the making. In 1734 work began on his temple of the arts, and in 1744 became 1st Earl of Leicester of the first creation.
Adults and children had the opportunity to walk in the shoes of Thomas Coke, dressing up in costume, creating a mini Palladian building from blocks. They could witness the food he ate and discover our ‘studio’ of the Italian painter, Francesco Trevisani, where Thomas Coke, aged 20, sat for his portrait, which now hangs in the Manuscript Library of the hall.