In the Marble Hall are two busts. One is of the 1st Earl by Sir Francis Chantrey but who is the other?

January 15, 2021 | Treasure tales and archive snippets | 5 minute read

I was recently asked to respond to a query:

“In the Marble Hall are two busts. One is of the 1st Earl by Sir Francis Chantrey but who is the other?”

I thought I might share my reply:

Both! They are both 1st Earls of Leicester and they are both by Chantrey.

The bust on the left, as you approach the stairs, is of Thomas Coke, TC, the builder of Holkham Hall, 1st Earl of Leicester of the first creation (created 1744). As he had no male heirs the title was ‘lost’ to the family and could be re-assigned at the King’s discretion. Technically, it went into abeyance.

Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester of the first creation

The bust on the right as you approach the stairs is of Thomas William Coke, the great nephew of the builder of the hall, known as Coke of Norfolk. He became 1st Earl of Leicester of the second creation (created 1837 by the newly crowned Queen Victoria). When we say the current Earl is the 8th Earl, we are counting from him.

Thomas William Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester of the second creation

Coke of Norfolk was a friend of Chantrey’s and commissioned both of these busts in 1828. Coke sat for his own bust and the finished article was gifted to him by Chantrey, in 1829. Coke wrote ‘Chantrey has finished my bust and presented it to me in the most gratifying manner as a proof of his attachment and esteem.’

The bust of his great uncle was delivered to Coke of Norfolk in 1834 and cost £50. It was based on a bust commissioned by Thomas Coke’s wife, Lady Margaret, from the sculptor Roubiliac. A copy of this bust was placed over the door to the Saloon, at the top of the Marble Hall stairs, by Lady Margaret after his death. The original is in Tittleshall Church, where Coke is buried.

A copy of a busy of Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester of the first creation, commissioned by his wife, Lady Margaret

Interestingly, the Roubiliac bust shows Thomas Coke in his 18th century wig (late in his life). The Chantrey bust, based upon it, shows Thomas Coke with short hair, dressed as if he were a Roman senator: an interesting depiction, given the classical Roman influences at Holkham Hall.

In one last twist to the story, there are two other Chantrey creations in the Marble Hall. Just before one enters the North State Dining Room from the ambulatory there is a strange image of two dead woodcocks carved by Chantrey. It depicts the occasion in 1831 when Chantrey was shooting at Holkham, as a guest of Coke of Norfolk, and shot two woodcocks ‘at one shot’. It was presented to Coke of Norfolk in 1834. For me, this work says something about Coke: this great agriculturalist, politician and field sportsman was a key ‘patron’ of the Royal Academy and of the arts. He considered men like Chantrey to be his friends as well as artist he could draw upon.

The other image, again a commission by Coke of Norfolk, shows the good and the great of the Whig party as if they were attending the signing of Magna Carta. It celebrates the passing of the Representation of the People Act (the Great Reform Act) of 1832. Coke saw this Act as the crowning glory of his political career. The relief was completed in 1840, at a cost of £300.

This is such a strange and incongruous image and says something quite profound, I think, about the Whig party’s self-image in the early part of the 19th century. They see themselves, at one and the same time, as heirs to the great Roman tradition as a senatorial class (albeit within a monarchy) but also as heirs to the tradition which grew out of Magna Carta, through the Petition of Right and the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The biggest party Coke of Norfolk ever threw at Holkham was to celebrate the centenary of the Glorious Revolution.

[Acknowledgement: Anne Roberts, our very own steward and art historian, has written and lectured on Coke of Norfolk and the Royal Academy and on Chantrey and other RA members represented at Holkham. She has kindly shared this information with us and I have used it here.]


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