The Earl of Leicester is passionate about ensuring Holkham’s collections of art and antiquities, manuscripts and books, are enjoyed by as many people as possible. Every year, roughly 45,000 visitors come to Holkham to see the collection in situ. In addition to this, many works are loaned to other institutions, both internationally and within the UK, ensuring that the Holkham collection can be appreciated by an even wider audience.
Presently, we are preparing to send more items out on loan in the Autumn. These include:
- two manuscripts to the Fitzwilliam Museum – Holkham MS 311, Virgil’s Georgics and MS 674, The Noble Cookery Book – for an exhibition entitled ‘Eat, Feast, Fast: The Art of Food in Europe (1500-1800)
- The Origin of Coral painted by Claude Lorrain, which will travel to Japan in October
- The Battle of Cascina by Bastiano da Sangallo (pictured at the top of this page), which will travel to the Louvre for their quintenary exhibition of the life of Leonardo da Vinci.
The Battle of Cascina is perhaps the most requested item in the Holkham collection, a fact which is representative of its importance for art history. The Battle of Cascina is the most complete illustration of a Michelangelo fresco that was never completed. The fresco, The Battle of Cascina, was commissioned in 1504 by Piero Soderini (1450-1522), a statesman of the Republic of Florence, and it was intended to decorate the Hall of the Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquencento) in the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of government in Florence. On the opposite wall, Soderini commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to paint a fresco of the Battle of Anghiari. These two medieval battles – Cascina and Anghiari – were notable victories for Florence.
In the event, neither fresco was completed. Michelangelo, though he completed a cartoon for the fresco, was called to Rome by Pope Julius II before he could begin painting in earnest. Leonardo did begin work on his fresco, though it does not survive today – some believe that it is hidden behind later paintings on the walls of the Hall of the Five Hundred.
The cartoon Leonardo produced is well-known, primarily through a copy by Rubens now in the Louvre, and through other preparatory drawings by Leonardo himself. By contrast, relatively few examples of Michelangelo’s preparatory work survive. The cartoon, though much admired and studied by contemporaries, was destroyed, but not before Michelangelo’s pupil, Bastiano da Sangallo (1481-1551) made a copy of the central section of the fresco.
It is this copy that hangs at Holkham today. It represents only the centre of the fresco, the key moment in the story of the battle when bathing Florentine soldiers were surprised by Pisan forces. The painting was acquired from the Barberini Palace in Rome by Thomas Coke, First Earl of Leicester, sometime between 1712 and 1718.
Until it leaves for Paris, the work will be on display in the North State Closet, part of the visitor route on normal hall opening hours.