Knole is an ancient place. Layers of history are contained within its walls. As a curator, I am fascinated by the material evidence of the past and the lives that shaped the place we experience today. My favourite object at Knole is always what ever I happen to be standing next to when I am asked.
At the moment I am trying to understand how some of the spaces that have been open to visitors for many years have changes and why. On my desk is a copy of the 1906 Knole guide book written by Lionel Sackville-West. It is a lovely book, bound in red with heraldic symbols embossed in gold on the front and it is heavy too. Inside is a history of the Sackville family and a guide to the house and park.
It is full of illustrations and photographs by Charles Essenhigh Corke (1852-1922). He was a painter and photographer who was effectively artist-in-residence at Knole during the first decade of the twentieth century. His paintings have a romantic quality in their colour and tone and when he paints a room, light is always cast through it as if it is perhaps a late summer afternoon. This amuses me as Knole is actually quite a cold draughty place most of the time.
We also have a box of Charles Essenhigh Corke’s lantern slides in the collection at Knole. I like them because we can look through his eyes to the house and park as it was over 100 years ago. They are interesting because they represent such old photographic technology and they are so fragile; images printed on glass which could easily be broken and lost.
The photographs contain all kinds of useful information. If you compare a picture of the Reynolds Room at Knole today with Essenhigh Corke’s photograph you can see from the label that the name of the room has changed, that furniture has moved or disappeared and that some of the paintings are different too. It is a piece of detective work to understand where things have gone. The portrait of Giovanna Baccelli by Thomas Gainsborough next to the fireplace is now in the collections at the Tate. The guide book and photographs are as close as I can get to a time machine!
Knole has a rather stunning portrait by William Dobson hanging in the Leicester Gallery
Originally posted on Treasure Hunt:
Osterley Park is well known as an architectural and decorative masterpiece by Robert Adam, but the role of the Child family which owned the house has not been so obvious. From 1 March a group of portraits and other paintings will go on display at Osterley which will bring various members of the family and their personalities and tastes back into the frame.
Over the winter as a part of the last phase of our external building works, roof repairs were carried out to the flat lead roof above the Kings Closet. We were concerned about plaster and dust possibly falling into the room and damaging the fragile textiles that hang on the walls and ceiling. So the decision was made to remove the textile on the ceiling and walls. However before the textile conservators could come in to take down the textiles we had to clear and pack all the other contents of the room. Most of the object have gone up to our store room, but there were a couple that we could not have removed to the store room, such as the very heavy cassone and the day bed.
Removal of the textiles safely and in such a confined space was a complex operation requiring the conservators to create ingenious solutions!
The image above shows a purpose-built frame for the space so the ceiling textile could be detached and have a surface to rest on. Zenzie Tinker, textile conservator, and her colleagues spent several days planning and then taking down the textiles.
The red ceiling fabric is a silk taffeta, probably late 18th century and was found to be an old window blind that has been reused. Not an unusual
Now to start removing the wall textile.
The textiles were extremely dusty and fragile, with holes and areas of insect damage.
Where the textile has been protected from light and dust the original vivid green colour can be seen.
Three different green wall textiles have been used in the room, one is late 17th century, another is coarser and c 1720-30 and there is a fragment that is c 1740-60. Two different braids were found. The earliest is a flat braid, probably contemporary with the 17th century textile; the later is a woollen bobble braid which is probably 19th century.
All the textiles are now safely in store and will be reinstated once they have been conserved as part of the Inspired by Knole project.
Siobhan and Emily
Emma and I recently took samples of metal thread and spangles from the Spangled Bed for the purpose of analysis. Using resources provided by the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. They were to be analysed with optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy.
SEM: Scanning Electron Microscopy is a process by which the elemental composition of materials can be determined by exposing samples of material to an electron beam which reflects off the sample surface at an angle. The angle of reflection is measured by the machine, which uses standard angle measurements of different elements to determine the elements that compose the sample being tested.
By using this method it has been possible to determine, once and for all, the composition of the spangles which has long been an unanswered question. We took the opportunity while we had access to the machinery to analysis some of the metal threads from several other important pieces, such as the King’s Bed and one of X-frame chairs of state.
Additionally, photographs using a digital microscope were taken of the threads and spangle samples under high magnification. These show the construction of the threads and the corrosion products which have formed over time. Images of the spangles can be seen in the photographs below, before and after an experimental cleaning trial.
Some metal threads were also taken from the head cloth of the bed for analysis.
The sampled thread proved to include gold, silver, copper, and traces of several other elements which make up the corrosion products.
Manufacture and Deterioration of the metal threads:
Metal thread is made by hammering gilt silver very thin and cutting it into fine strips which are wrapped around a textile core. Silver and other metals present in such threads are susceptible to the agents of deterioration.
The chief component of the black tarnish that forms on household silver is silver sulphide, which starts in damp conditions (the rate of the tarnishing reaction accelerates about 70% relative humidity). It is caused by the reaction of silver with sulphur in the air. In the past, there were many sources of sulphur in historic houses, such as tobacco smoke and degrading wool fabrics. Many other gaseous pollutants also affect metal threads.
As metal thread is composed of two very different materials, with different strengths and properties, the cleaning of metal threads is one of the most difficult challenges in textile conservation. Methods which clean the textile elements (water, detergents, and solvents) are too gentle to clean the metal threads and methods for removing tarnish and corrosion products from the metal elements (stronger solvents, abrasive pastes, and acids) are too strong for use on the textiles. Silver sulphide is insoluble in solvents and must be removed with acids.
The results of the analysis have answered some long standing questions and will inform the National Trust textile conservators on exactly what materials they are dealing with for cleaning trials on parts of the bed fabric later this year.
MSc Conservation for Archaeology and Museums, UCL
Originally posted on Treasure Hunt:
I have just been reading the fascinating catalogue marking the donation of Alec Cobbe’s career archive to the Victoria and Albert Museum. There is also an accompanying display currently on view at the V&A.