Knole escape

Apologies for the appalling pun.

I’ve just spent a week at home in Canterbury. The idea was to have more or less a complete break from the PhD (although it was, a good opportunity to see a book in the special collections at the University of Kent which we don’t have in Manchester – the lady on duty seemed quite excited when I told her this). Inevitably, however, Blake has been catching up with me one way or another, as in day in Leeds the previous weekend (see post “Blake Spotting”) and my visit to “Curiosity” at Turner Contemporary (see post “The Rhino and the Flea”).

On Tuesday, I went with my parents to Knole, a vast National Trust property in Sevenoaks. Dating back to the fifteenth century, parts of the house were built by the Archbishops of Canterbury. The palace was taken over by Henry VIII at the Reformation, and during the reign of Elizabeth I, passed to Thomas Sackville. The Sackvilles continue to live at Knole today. I thought it was a fairly safe bet that Knole would be a complete Blake break, but it wasn’t quite.

The first discovery, in the Orangery, were a set of casts of classical reliefs, which according to an interpretation panel were thought to have been made by Blake’s friend, John Flaxman. Some of Blake’s early work is strongly influenced by classical sculpture and Flaxman’s neo-classical work (for instance, his Joseph watercolours, mentioned in my post “Places of Thought“).

In the main house, a whole room was devoted to paintings by Blake’s arch-enemy, Sir Joshua Reynolds. Of the most interest was Reynolds’ Ugolino (available to view via the National Trust’s website), a scene from Dante’s Inferno which Blake also painted – needless to say the two handle the subject rather differently (see Blake’s painting of c.1826 via the Fitzwilliam Museum’s website). Apparently (again going on the in-house information) Reynolds’ painting caused quite a sensation when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773 so perhaps Blake would have been aware of it.

The house also has a set of copies of Raphael’s cartoons for the Sistine Tapestries. Blake actually mentions the cartoons in his 1809 “Descriptive Catalogue” (available via the Blake Archive) and there seem to be connections (some indirect) between the cartoons and a number of Blake’s designs I’ve been looking at for my PhD.

So not quite a complete switch-off, but still a nice day in the Kentish countryside.

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