Monday, 16 September 2013

Behind closed drawers in the Red Room

For last week’s Conservation in Action, Michelle and I focused on the furniture in the Red Room. This gave our visitors a chance to see inside some of the wonderful pieces that we have in the collection, which are usually closed up.
The Red Room contains two sofa tables, both of English origin and made during the 19th century.

Open view of the sofa table. The central drawers are on a spring so that when the table is opened they can pop up. You can also just see the glass and silver inkwells that sit inside the desk.

A close-up of the sofa table when the writing desk is lifted.

A second sofa table that turns into a games table. The two side panels fold out and the central panel slides out and has a chess board on the reverse, which can be fitted as in the picture above.

Underneath the central panel is a backgammon board.

Two fantastic pieces of Boulle work furniture also feature; a bureau-plat and a sarcophagus-shaped commode.

This bureau-plat (writing table) is a 19th century copy of a regency-style table. Veneered in ebony, it is inlaid with Boulle work and tortoiseshell. It was purchased by the 2nd Lord Leconfield after the 1882 Hamilton Palace sale where the London dealer Colnaghi’s had bought it for £300.

This commode (chest of drawers) is dated to around 1710 and can firmly be attributed as original Boulle work. Two commodes feature at Versailles which are virtually identical and are the only surviving pieces of furniture known to have been made by Boulle himself. The Red Room commode was purchased by the 2nd Lord Leconfield from Colnaghi, after the Hamilton Palace sale in 1882, where this commode fetched the then enormous sum of £1081:10s.

Detail of the winged creatures which feature on the corners of the commode.

Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732)
Boulle was Louis XIV’s official ébéniste (cabinet maker) who gave his name to the technique of metal inlaid wood and tortoiseshell furniture. Find out more about him and his work at the Palace Of Versailles here.

There are plenty of other examples of the Boulle technique around Petworth, including other commodes, cabinets, desks and clocks.

Conservation Assistant

Friday, 6 September 2013

Sculpture from up above

Last week’s conservation in action saw Michelle and I cleaning sculptures in the North Gallery from quite a height.

We focused on two of the sculptures in the Square (North) bay – Pandora and Prometheus and Vulcan, Venus and Cupid. These two sculptures, by Irish sculptor J.E. Carew, stand either side of the entrance to the bay.

It’s a good thing we’ve got a head for heights (or, at least, do now having been in this job for 6 months!), as to reach the top of the sculpture we needed to work on top of the scaffolding.

Cleaning the tops of Promethus and Pandora

We used a hog's hair brush and a vacuum cleaner to lift the dust away from the sculpture. The porous nature of the marble means we do not use any liquids on the statues. Wet cleaning has the potential to drive any dirt and stains further into the marble, creating more problems than it would solve.

Cleaning Vulcan!

Sculpted between 1827 and 1831, Venus, Vulcan and Cupid was commissioned as a pendant to Pandora and Prometheus, which was created between 1835 and 1837 and remained unfinished at the 3rd Earl of Egremont’s death. These two sculptures were intended for this space, before being moved to the Audit Room (now the National Trust Restaurant) in 1836-7. In 1992 they were restored to their original and current space in the North Gallery.

The Myths Behind the Sculptures

Prometheus and Pandora
In Roman mythology, Prometheus created the first man from clay, stole fire from the gods to give to mankind, was punished by Jupiter* and released from his torment by Hercules. His sister-in-law was Pandora, the ‘all-gifted’, who was fashioned from clay by Vulcan*. After Prometheus’s theft of fire, Jupiter’s retribution to mankind was the opening of Pandora’s box thus releasing all the world’s evils. Only Hope remained inside.
* NB: Jupiter is the Roman god; Zeus is his Greek equivalent.
Vulcan is the Roman god; Hephaestus is his Greek equivalent.
Venus, Vulcan and Cupid
Vulcan was the God of Fire and Blacksmith to the Gods. Carew has sculpted him seated on his anvil inscribed ‘AITNA’ – meaning the volcano Etna, located in Sicily – and resting on his hammer. His wife, Venus, and her son, Cupid accompany him.

Conservation Assistant

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Jellies, Jellies, Everywhere!

Last week, Mrs Brown and her team of helpers were busy making jellies in the historic kitchens. We started by going back to basics and making the very first type of jelly - a medieval meat jelly - before creating Tudor, Georgian and Victorian fashions. The time and dedication it took to set the gelatine used to make jelly - over ice - as well as the intricate patterns and designs - meant that jelly was a preserve of the rich and was a symbol of wealth and status.
Once you've browsed the gallery below, why not take a look at the Historic Food website for more traditional jelly creations! 

Conservation Assistant (and new-found jelly enthusiast)
Visitors to the House on Saturday would have been greeted with the smell of pig as a head and trotters were boiled in order to make traditional brawn and meat jellies! Here Jacky is straining the mixture.
The result of the pig! A traditional meat jelly, set in one of the copper moulds from the kitchens.

Jacky prepares an eighteenth century dish of ham and eggs. An almond milk jelly is set inside emptied egg shells and arranged on a coloured almond jelly that has been chopped up to look like ham...
...The finished product was very convincing!

This eighteenth century chequered or 'ribboned' jelly is creating by setting different coloured layers of jelly in turn, before slicing them up, turning them around and resetting them with a clear jelly to create the chequered effect.

Caroline sets different coloured layers of jelly in small glasses...

...resulting in this stunning centre piece! A modern adaptation of a traditional Georgian fashion, where they had specific jelly stands with glasses set into the stand to hold the jellies.
Three different flavoured jellies made using the gelatine from the boiled up pig, including elderflower flavour and orange and cinnamon.
By the end of the week we were very much enjoying playing around with packet jellies and food colouring to create some jazzy effects! The top jelly here was made using a combination of packet jellies and whisked jellies, where we allowed each layer to set in turn before adding the next.

This jelly was made by setting lemon jelly and strawberry jelly in regular jelly moulds, chopping them up and placing some into a more intricate mould. We then poured a clear elderflower jelly around the other colours and allowed it to set. It created a lovely mosaic or stained-glass window effect.

Mrs Brown's Stripey Orange Jellies
  1. Cut the top off the orange and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.
  2. Make up some of your favourite jellies according to packet instructions - just don't pour it into the jelly mould!
  3. Take your first colour jelly and pour it into the orange. Put this in the fridge and allow it to set completely before repeating the process with another jelly. Try experimenting with different colours and flavours for different effects!

These impressive jellies are easy to make at home - why not have a go!