Our favourite objects – part 9!

Considering I’m the new boy here at Knole, picking a favourite object was surprisingly simple. I’m finding the more you explore, the harder it is to choose something. This means the thing I’ve picked probably won’t be the same a month from now! For now then, I’m settling for the Sackville and Curzon family Pedigrees.

The Sackville family pedigree.

The pedigrees are such a fantastic object because they demonstrate how important connections were in the in the medieval and early modern world. They serve as a way to link the Sackvilles with other important families (including royalty) thus establishing a dynastic pedigree for a family only recently raised to the aristocracy. They also parallel certain objects within the house. The Sackville’s obsession with heraldry and symbolism can be seen throughout the house and the pedigrees can help us understand this more.

The Curzon family pedigree.

What are pedigrees for?

Basically a means to boast about how powerful and well connected a family is! There are two pedigrees in our collection, one of the Sackville family commissioned by Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset in 1622.

Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset

Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset

The second is the Curzon family pedigree, commissioned by Edward, 4th Earl of Dorset in 1635 to honour his wife, Mary Curzon. The Sackville’s who were still relative new comers on the aristocratic scene, having been raised to the peerage in 1567 used the pedigree in order to try and establish some dynastic respectability. Pedigrees could be used to show connections already well established great families, even royalty.

Edward, 4th Earl of Dorset.

Edward, 4th Earl of Dorset.

Aristocratic connections:

Every one of the great families you’ve ever heard of is connected in some way, and I find these connections astounding! The idea of 6 degrees of separation can be really seen in the aristocracy of England, and these pedigrees really help you understand it. The Sackville’s needed to show how well connected they were and so we are shown the connection to the monarchy itself through the marriage of John Sackville (grandfather of the 1st Earl) to Margaret Boleyn. The newly ennobled Sackville’s proved their worth by linking themselves to not only the Boleyn’s, but the Howards (Dukes of Norfolk) and the Fitzalans (Earls of Arundel) as well.

 Sackville/Boleyn (Bullen - get it?) arms from the Sackville armorial pedigree.

Sackville/Boleyn (Bullen – get it?) arms from the Sackville armorial pedigree.

Heraldry is all about symbolism, and for a ‘new’ family like the Sackvilles this symbolism is even more important! If you’ve been to Knole you’ll know that the place is dripping with heraldic symbols. From the leopards that adorn staircase and screen to picture heraldic vair patterns embedded the frames. It’s worth knowing a little bit about these arms as you can then notice them where most people might not. Hidden heraldry can be seen around the Dover painting in the Great Hall and the glass bottles in the Leicester Gallery are actually inset with the Sackville arms if you look closely.

The blue and white stripe is the ‘vair’ pattern in the Sackville arms, meant to represent the fur of a grey squirrel.

Picture frame in the great hall with Sackville leopards, ducal coronet and the vair pattern found in the Sackville coat of arms. Click on image to enlarge.

The Sackville coat of arms on a glass bottle.

The family tree is a great way to see a) viewed itself and b) wanted the world to see them. They wanted to present an image of established power and good breeding, basically genealogical propaganda. This is why a link going back to the Norman Conquest is shown so prominently. Herbrand de Sackville seen in the roundels below, was the first Sackville in England. He came over in the 1070s to help manage the new Norman lands in England.

The roundel to the left can be seen in the Cartoon Gallery at Knole, clearly taken from the representation of the roundel at the head of the illustrated pedigree.

The Bodiam connection.

This is of particularly personal interest for me as before I worked at Knole I was at Bodiam Castle, given to the National Trust by George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess of Kedleston. The Curzon pedigree at Knole shows a direct connection between the Sackvilles of Knole to the Curzon family. Not only this, but the pedigree also shows that the Sackville’s had an even more direct connection to Bodiam through the marriage of Margaret Dallingridge, daughter of the original builder of Bodiam Castle. From Bodiam’s construction to it’s acquisition by the NT, it was connected to Knole and the Sackvilles (even if it was a pretty minor link!).

In the end the sheer artistry and skill makes them amazing to me. Our idea of medieval life can be so austere, especially when thinking about the lineage of great families, but heraldry so often has little bits of humour as well as serious boasts. The Sackville shows a connection to the Shelley family (of poet Shelley fame), whose arms include actual shells. OK it may not be comic genius but who doesn’t like a good pun?

 Marriages are illustrated by handshakes, all very polite.

Marriages are illustrated by handshakes, all very polite.

 Understanding them can make going to other places even more interesting too. If you recognise this coat of arms you’ll be able to pick it out on a pedigree at Hever Castle like I did just the other day! I love these pedigrees because they look fantastic and tell the story of a whole family!


Light and crewel work sofas


A great (or not so great) example of light damage to textiles. A problem we suffer with a lot at Knole.

Originally posted on Osterley Conservation Team Blog:

Crewel work sofa in Long Gallery, in-between Tudor stair and Drawing Room.

Crewel work sofa in Long Gallery (image: Laura Brooks)

If you’ve ever been in Osterley’s Long Gallery, you can’t have failed to noticed the sofas residing at both ends of the room, especially if you were with a child who had been given a wheel by the front of house team, that required them to find examples of different creatures throughout the Principal Floor (the first floor).  In the case of the Long Gallery, one of the creatures is a snail which can be located on one of the sofas (we won’t spoil the fun of looking for it by telling you the snail’s exact location).  During the recent winter clean, the team had a chance to get up close with the sofas, their cushions and bolsters, and inspect their condition.

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Two views of a massacre

Originally posted on Treasure Hunt:

Probably Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Massacre of the Innocents, at Upton House. ©National Trust/Angelo Hornak, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Probably Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Massacre of the Innocents, at Upton House. ©National Trust/Angelo Hornak, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The team at Upton House are raising funds to conserve the painting Massacre of the Innocents, possibly painted by Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564-1638).

The Upton Breughel awaiting conservation. ©National Trust

The Upton Breughel awaiting conservation. ©National Trust

It has been in need of attention for a while, and is now looking a bit sorry for itself, covered in stabilising tissue ‘plasters’. A JustGiving page has been opened to help raise the £15,000 required for the extensive investigation and treatment.

The picture shows the massacre of children ordered by Herod following the birth of Christ. But there is also a political undertone to the imagery: it is set in a Flemish village, with the figures clad as in Breughel’s own time. It is thought to be a semi-veiled reference to the atrocities committed…

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Conservation trial for the Spangled Bed continues.

Following the removal of the two curtains from the proper left side of the bed back in October last year (Phase 1), (view the blog about that here),  the curtains went to the National Trust Textile Studio.  Now read what was discovered as the curtains were removed and what happened next, a report from our conservators:

To facilitate removal the proper left and outer foot valance also had to be removed. This revealed alterations to the foot posts which appear to have been cut down to allow the bed to fit into the room, but most importantly the foot post had dramatically bowed outwards. This observation, in tandem with the previous dislocation of the proper right cornice, would seem to confirm the suspicion that pressure was being exerted onto the bed structure from the ceiling above. This has triggered further investigation into the ceiling structure. No further removal of textile elements will be undertaken until more is known.

It also became evident that the head and foot curtains had been swapped around in the past. It was decided that rather than treat one curtain, a pair should be examined together in order to cover all possible issues in terms of conservation treatment.

Phase 2 -  Examination, photography, documentation and research

 It is important to become familiar with the object before embarking on treatment and the team has taken time to think through the various processes, weighing up what can and cannot be done, and revising treatment options and costs. Professional photography before conservation will allow comparison after treatment has been completed.

The proper left side head curtain before the conservation process begins.

The proper left side foot curtain before conservation.

Head curtain detail showing original colour and spangles beneath the net covering on a side border. The border fabric matches that of the bed coverlet and headcloth and is a different design to the vertical appliqué panels of the rest of the curtain and the foot curtain below.

Foot curtain showing light damage at the left side and original colour at the centre and right side.

Detailed documentation of the make up of each curtain, the materials, fabrics and stitching patterns found will mean that their original appearance is becoming better understood.

Careful examination is revealing the complexity of the structure of the curtains which, in conjunction with research on their history before they came into the possession of the Sackville family, may help provide a clearer understanding of their original use.

Research has been undertaken into the removal of the animal based adhesive which had been used in a previous repair attempt to hold areas of applied decoration in place on the silk satin and which is now discoloured. This is on going.  Several small pieces of silk satin are in store at Knole and these will be used to carry out initial tests. Wet cleaning is now being considered for both the figured silk linings and the embroidered silk satin, where the dust has become ingrained into the fabric.

Phase 3 – Deconstruction

Coarse red net encases both curtains and work has started on unpicking this and the stitch repairs which are worked through all layers. The linings are extremely fragile and very rare early damask and have been dated to between 1585-1610.  The plan is to remove the linings, wet clean them and mount them onto a support fabric whilst further tests are undertaken on the silk satin.

Conservators removing the heavy net layer

The fragile and splitting damask lining of the head curtain.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena

Lifting in the steel!

Originally posted on Attingham Park:

Last week we took delivery of the crane, which will now be in residence on the East Side of the Mansion until August.  There was much excitement as the crane boom seemed to rise from a very compact area to extend to its full length.
The crane being unpacked and the boom extended

The crane being unpacked and the boom extended

The crane being unpacked and the boom extended

The crane being unpacked and the boom extended

To many visitors’ amusement a man was soon seen dangling from the the crane as the engineers calibrated the weight and lifting.

View of the crane from the Outer Courtyard of the fully extended crane.

View of the fully extended crane from the Outer Courtyard.

The crane is here to lift the steel components of the new roof as well as the aluminum gutters, outer lantern for the Nash Staircase and the glass.  In order to keep the crane steady there are 50 tonnes of concrete blocks providing ballast.  You can see them best through the Boudoir window.

The crane has a ballast of 50 tonnes of concrete The crane has a…

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Understanding British Portraits – painting conservation at Knole

Another paper delivered at the Understanding British Portraits seminar last month was by Melanie Caldwell, paintings conservator on the “Past and Future Conservation of Paintings at Knole”.

Melanie delivering her paper in the Great Hall at Knole

Melanie delivering her paper in the Great Hall at Knole

“Damp, which is the most insidious of all enemies… steals in while we sleep; damp is silent, imperceptible, ubiquitous. Damp swells the wood, furs the kettle, rusts the iron, rots the stone. So gradual is the process that it is not until… the whole thing drops to pieces in our hands, that we suspect even that the disease is at work.”

Virginia Woolf, “Orlando”, first published in 1928.


Over the last 40 years, since National Trust condition records began high humidities at Knole have caused problems for the paintings leading to mould growth, whitened opaque varnish layers and flaking paint. An overview of the conservation records over the last 200 years provides some insight in to changing conservation priorities for the paintings, and approaches to conservation for the future.

The majority of paintings in Knole have had some conservation treatment over the last 400 years although not all of it has been recorded. We can see evidence of previous restorers in discoloured over paint, traces of older darker varnishes, linings and tear mends. It would be extremely unusual for paintings of this age not to have received attention.

Historical Restoration

The earliest recorded restoration at Knole was from the very late 18th and early 19 centuries by Painter/Restorers, who carried out Restoration alongside Painting. Restoring according to Edward Edwards writing in 1808 was “a good resource for the invalids in painting”.1 But on the other hand there was a Status attached to Artists who were capable of understanding and working on Old Masters, perhaps begun by Joshua Reynolds who restored his own paintings and others as a way of studying old master techniques

According to Bridgmans Guide to Knole the Raphael copies and some of the Reynolds paintings, were “cleaned and restored to their original spirit and beauty by that “excellent artist”, Mr John Rising”.2 We don’t know the actual date but the Guide dates from 1817. John Rising was in fact one of Reynold’s painting assistants.3 The presence of Rising working at Knole is certainly interesting, and the possibility exists that Reynolds himself may have been involved in supervising or restoring his own paintings at Knole before his death in 1792.

Another early Painter/Restorer and Dealer was Francis Parsons who between 1793 and 1797 cleaned the large set of historical portraits in the Brown Gallery and ornamented their frames at a cost of 4 guineas for the 3rd Duke of Dorset. He was also working at Knole again in 1796 on other unidentified paintings. All we know of his working methods now are from his advert, May 1784 in the Daily Advertiser that stated that he would “clean and repair Pictures by a Method that restores the Beauty of the Colouring without injuring the most delicate Teints’.4

William Seguier, noteworthy as First Keeper at the National Gallery, Superintendent of the British Institution and Surveyor of the Kings Pictures, also worked on at least six of the paintings at Knole around 1826. He is remembered chiefly for his minimal cleaning at the National Gallery, and the particular type of varnish he used – ironically a mixture of oil and mastic that unfortunately over time becomes very insoluble.5

From the mid 19th century to the mid twentieth century no conservation records have yet been found, although this does not mean that work was not carried out.

By the 1950’s and 1960’s the National Trust were involved with Knole, and the day to day correspondence between Mason the Knole House Steward, and Bobby Gore the National Trust’s Historic Building Secretary, refer to a “local man” who was called in when a picture needed attention.6 He is named variously as Waters, Walters and Walker. In Gore’s opinion Walters was described as having a hand “that is far from light, but he was cheap and he worked on the premises”. W e know nothing of what he did apart from one painting, The Unknown Portrait of Edward Cranfield, which was given a shellac varnish. The use of shellac might imply that Walters was more used to working with furniture than paintings.

Obviously we cannot say exactly what Walters did at Knole. But we can see evidence of a type of typical country house repair work, often carried out by local craftsmen on paintings in situ. Partial cleaning in the paler areas of the sitter’s faces; some more large scale uneven cleaning carried out while the paintings are framed; and possibly even on the wall. Drip marks from, we imagine, large wet swabs that have cut in to the surfaces of varnish and paint, lumps of cottonwool left on the surface of paintings during careless cleaning. Areas of flaking paint and loss that have been reattached and filled in with large clumsy oil retouchings which would have served both purposes, sticking the paint on and filling in colour loss. Nails tacked through the front of paintings to reattach them to stretchers. There are examples of all this at Knole. We can speculate that the whitened areas of varnish that we see on the Knole paintings may be exacerbated by water based cleaning methods– easier to use than solvents on site, but in the case of Knole not ideal as it might encourage mould growth. We can see evidence of this type of crude approach at Knole

By the 1970’s there are records of London based freelance Restorer/Dealers (rather than artists) working on the Knole collection. Keenan, Ellison and Freeman who are all recorded in the National Portrait Gallery’s List of Restorers.

In 1976 Hermione Sandwith carried out the first proper condition Survey of Paintings and since then independent and museum conservators have been bought in regularly to work at Knole carrying out preventative and remedial conservation, and a number of paintings have had full conservation treatment. 3

Condition of paintings

These initial condition reports from the 1970’s do not mention mould growth, but a great deal of flaking paint which was the main priority for conservation work carried out during this decade

Although the house was always known as cold and damp, the first actual outbreak of mould on the paintings was recorded in 1981 in all the rooms apart from the Brown Gallery and the Ballroom. National Trust memos in 1981 describe the moulds’ occurrence as exceptional and blamed the very bad winter and the restriction on ventilation due to building work. Gary Thomson the National Gallery’s Scientific Officer was called in to advise and he confirmed that the “unusual condensation sometimes followed by mould, has been pretty common after last winter.” There followed a major campaign of restoration, much of it carried out under Alec Cobbe and the Hamilton Kerr Institute throughout the 1980’s. Most paintings were treated in situ to remove the mould. It was brushed off, but in some cases led to costly varnish removal, paint consolidation, re-varnishing and lining. Since then mould problems have been noted in 1988, 1991, 1993, 2001 and then continuously really, whenever conservation staff have condition checked the paintings.

Why did mould occur at Knole at this time?

Most of the showrooms at Knole are unheated, and the low temperatures inside the house have exacerbated high humidities providing ideal mould conditions. Very unusually mould is often present on the front of the paintings, not only the reverse. This is probably because the front of the paintings become so cold sometimes that condensation, water droplets, actually form on their surfaces at a microscopic level, which together with household dust that the mould can feed on, provide the right conditions.

Other factors may play a part and more research is needed to establish why the mould first appeared then, if indeed it did. For instance did the showrooms in fact have some heating such as open fires before the National Trust took over Knole in 1946, or after? Are there new moulds that grow at lower relative humidities? Does the humidity from increased visitor numbers play a part, or even Climate Change? What is clear is that mould spores have now penetrated throughout Knole and when environmental conditions deteriorate the spores sprout.

The low light levels essential for the fragile, rare textiles at Knole exacerbate this. Mould growth is restricted by UV light that is found in daylight. At the moment these low light levels have one advantage – hiding the condition of some of the paintings. The building work at Knole will include better lighting. This will mean that the surface problems on the paintings will also be more visible

In a condition survey in 2012 least 80 of the approximately 310 paintings were noted to be affected by mould; and at least 90 paintings were noted to have de-saturated whitened varnish layers. 4

High relative humidities have other consequences for paintings. Panel paintings have warped or split in the fluctuating humidity, canvas paintings can be slack and deformed with areas of raised and flaking paint. Varnish layers are also affected by cold temperatures making them brittle and de-saturated. Damp conditions enable moisture to get into the structure of the varnish giving an opaque, white appearance, sometimes in patches or associated with crack patterns, sometimes as a more overall problem.

The mould itself may be pushing paint off. Glue size layers and glue paste linings provide another food source for mould. The mould appears to be growing under the paint, pushes up through cracks, dislodging paint, causing flaking and loss. Mould spores within the painting structure cannot really be removed and so the only treatment option is preventative – to keep relative humidity below 70%.

Recent conservation work

The fluctuating humidity and temperatures levels generally accelerate the ageing process of paintings and of restoration work. Paintings that have been sympathetically restored as recently as 1998 have redeveloped surface issues. The Diana and Acteon, after Titian in the Billiard Room was restored in 1998 and in certain lights we can see that mould growth and varnish issues are reasserting themselves. Tina Sitwell noted in 1993 “mould and de-saturated uneven varnish layers would be expected to come back within 10 years”. (In general the Trust hopes in situ work will prolong full conservation treatment by 25-75 years.)

There has been an over reliance on making do with in-situ work in the light of the futility of carrying out expensive full conservation treatments that don’t last. Lady Martha by Mytens that hangs in the Leicester Gallery has had repeated in situ work (1972, 1973,1988) but it’s appearance is still unsatisfactory. Delaminating canvas, raised canvas seam with flaking paint, thick discoloured overpaint covering original paint. The surface is patchy with mould or opaque varnish, and it can only now be improved by full conservation treatment. This in turn will only be worth doing once the environmental conditions are stabilised.

What has worked at Knole

Not surprisingly the choice of conservation materials affects the longevity of the restoration. The Titian already mentioned, was relined using traditional paste glue on to linen. On the other hand Lionel Cranfield by Mytens in the Leicester Gallery was lined and restored in 1996 using synthetic non moisture responsive materials (Beva 371 adhesive and polyester sailcloth). The mould growth and cracked opaque varnish noted and treated in 1992, 1993 and then again in 1996 have not yet reappeared, although the varnish is now slightly de-saturated.

Future work

In the future the programme of building work should make Knole leak and draught proof. Work in the Reynolds Room is now complete, conservation heating has been installed using a heated mat placed under the carpet to form a large low level warm area. By increasing the temperature in the room by only a couple of degrees, the relative humidity stays below the mould growth set point of around 70%.

Once this was established the Reynolds Self Portrait came to the studio to trial the type of in-situ conservation that will be possible in the Knole studios in the future. The Reynolds is an extreme example of the typical problems in this room with mould and perished patchy varnish layers. After proper examination of the painting, cleaning tests and analysis to understand the complicated layers of paint and varnish, it was relatively straightforward to remove surface dirt, mould and just one thin top layer of varnish probably applied in situ during the last 50 years. Much of the patchy white surface deterioration was in fact in this top layer. After this, consolidation of raised paint, minor adjustments to the retouching, and re-varnishing, the surface has improved. We are now monitoring this painting to see if the varnish remains saturated and that no mould reappears. This type of treatment is particularly relevant to the Reynolds paintings as they are often very soluble and so full cleaning may not be possible, even if it was desirable.


Reynolds, self portrait, on right: after conservation surface cleaning, on left: detail of surface condition before treatment.

Reynolds, self portrait, on right: after conservation surface cleaning, on left: detail of surface condition before treatment.


As the work at Knole progresses and the environmental conditions improve in each room, conservation and restoration programmes can be re-established. On site at Knole conservators will carry out remedial work in a well-equipped studio, including proper technical examination, analysis when necessary, and with equipment to carry out some removal of more recent varnish layers to improve the paintings’ appearance. It is an exciting opportunity for research – even just examining the painting backs and the stretchers labels will provide new information on their history and condition. Full conservation treatment priorities will be have to be decided and a difficult balance must be found between the absolute necessity of work on this important collection, with an awareness of the house’s history and a sensitive approach to how the paintings have been displayed historically.

Melanie talking about conservation of Reynolds portraits on a tour of the show rooms.

Melanie talking about conservation of Reynolds portraits on a tour of the show rooms.


1 A Laing, article William Seguier and Advide to Picture Collectors, from Studies in the History of Painting Restoration 1998, Archtype publications, Ed. Christine Leback Sitwell, Sarah Staniforth.

2 John Bridgman, An Historical and Topographical Sketch of Knole, 1817, p.56,J Simon, Website of British picture restorers, 1630-1950, http://www.npg.org.uk

3 J Simon, Website of British picture restorers, 1630-1950, http://www.npg.org.uk

4 J Simon, A Guide to picture frames at Knole, Centre for Kentish Studies: Sackville Manuscripts, U269/E426).

5 A Laing, article William Seguier and Advide to Picture Collectors, from Studies in the History of Painting Restoration 1998, Archtype publications, Ed. Christine Leback Sitwell, Sarah Staniforth

6 National Trust corresepondence 1950’s

Glittering Gilding

Originally posted on Attingham Park:

The high level gilding in the Nash Staircase which would have surrounded the inner skylight has been painted over.  When we were able to get up to have a look, tantalizingly you could still see tiny gold glimpses in the cracks of the paint.
Glimpses of the over painted gilding visible under the cracking paint.

Glimpses of the over painted gilding visible under the cracking paint.

Paint analysis showed that there would have been two bands of gilding on the inner and outer edges of the moulded oculus with the middle section painted in the pink glaze, linking to the fish scales in the dome.

Paint analysis revealing hints of the paint schemes that were there before.

Paint analysis revealing hints of the paint schemes that were there before.

As any attempt to clean the paint-over section resulted in the gilding underneath being removed too, it was decided to redecorate and re-gild this feature.

Gilding is the art of applying thin leaves and foils of precious metals to a surface to give the appearance…

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