The Stones in Charlecote’s Pietra Dura table

Our House elves have almost completed their winter clean and we’re almost ready to reopen the doors and welcome visitors to our House once again. To whet your appetite, we thought we’d share some information about one of our top objects – the pietra dura table in the Great Hall.

Detail of the Lucy table from the Library at Charlecote with carved oak base and pietra dura top, purchased in 1824 from Thomas Emmerson.

Detail of the Lucy table from the Library at Charlecote with carved oak base and pietra dura top, purchased in 1824 from Thomas Emmerson.

It is an item of the collection that really does make you stop and look a little. Many of our visitors ask the guides about this table so in this post Frank, one of our Tuesday guides, will tell you more…

line scroll
Travertine:

Charlecote_pietra dura_travertine
The large central stone is travertine, also called alabaster, comprises mainly of the mineral calcite (3 on the Mohs scale) and therefore fairly soft and easily worked. It is formed by the calcite deposits of hot springs and colouring is caused by the inclusion of iron oxides and other impurities.

This one is known in Italian as alabastro a tartaruga from its resemblance to a
tortoise shell (tartaruga is Italian for tortoise). It is found in the hot spring deposits of Iona in Tuscany. Travertines are also known in the stone trade as oriental onyx or onyx marble but in geological terms they are neither onyx nor marble. Continue reading

On this day… 1836

When reading through the Mistress of Charlecote this particular story made me chuckle. The story of the forgotten biscuits…

In 1836, our Mistress of Charlecote, Mary Elizabeth gave birth to Reginald Aymer and his christening was celebrated on 5th April 1836. Many members of the wider family came to mark the happy occassion.

Within Mary Elizabeth’s memoirs we discover that there was a very elaborate dinner – and it was the very first meal served in the new dining room! The table was adorned with a fine linen cloth with ‘the royal cypher that had once covered the Prince Regent’s table at Carlton House‘. On it was a silver gilt dinner service, gold coasters by Paul Storr and silver candelabra by de Lamerie. Oh and she wore diamonds that her husband, George, had bought especially for the occassion!

dining1

Following the christening, Mary Elizabeth shares with us this gem of a story…

Those who had been staying with us for darling Baby’s christening has only just departed when Lord and Lady Shrewsbury with Prince Doria, on their way to London, drove over to spend the day with us… The Prince was in raptures with old Charlecote, and so admired the large Florentine table in the Great Hall, which had originally stood in the Borghese Villa at Rome, and from whence it had been taken by the French in the time of Napoleon.

 

Detail of top of Pietra dura table in the Great Hall described in the Fonthill sale catalogue of 1823. A superb 16th-century marble slab, formerly in the Borghese Palace.

Detail of top of Pietra dura table in the Great Hall described in the Fonthill sale catalogue of 1823. A superb 16th-century marble slab, formerly in the Borghese Palace. / NTPL

It was bought by my husband at the sale of Fonthill for one thosand eight hundred guineas. (The Prince Borghese had recently married Lord Shrewsbury’s youngest daughter and Price Doria was engaged to Lady Mary Talbot, the eldest.)

(Here’s the bit I like!)

At luncheon the Prince liked the Charlecote biscuits so much that I said laughing, ‘You must carry some away,’ and so I ordered a packet of them to be put in the carriage. Just after they had started I saw the packed of biscuits left behind, so I  took it and ran after the carriage, and I caught them up before they got through the Park gate, and gave it to the Prince. When we went to Rome three years later he said to me he should never forget my running after him with the Charlecote biscuits.

They must have been good biscuits! ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

They must have been good biscuits!
©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Mistress of Charlecote: The Memoirs of Mary Elizabeth Lucy
(Book available for sale from the Servants’ Hall shop)

 

I imagine it to have been quite a sight, seeing the Mistress running to the gates with the biscuits… although saying that our shop team have often had to run after people who happen to have left things behind in the shop!

Imagine seeing a Victorian Mistress of Charlecote running to the gate!

Imagine seeing a Victorian Mistress of Charlecote running to the gate!

 

 

My favourite object… #4

The fourth item in ‘Our Favourite object…‘ series is, like Ruth and Becky’s favourites, to be found in the Drawing Room. Len, a volunteer room guide, tells us a bit more, and encourages us to look more closely at, the circular Italian table…

For a number of years this table was hidden behind the door in the billiard room where most visitors simply walked past it. It is now in a prominent position in the drawing room where a visitor’s attention can be drawn to it.

There are five pictures of Roman Ruins set with a malachite border.

a Table_top

Roman Forum

Arch of Constantine

Colosseum

Temple of Vesta

Pantheon

The guide book says they are pietra dure which is not quite true although they are tesselations or micro-mosaics.

With the naked eye a slight granularity can be seen in the pictures, particularly in the skies. A hand lens showed that the pictures were composed of particles which were thought to be small coloured glass beads (ballotini). However enlarged photographs reveal the pictures are composed of glass tesserae. These are not spherical but oblong. They are created by softening glass so that it can be pulled out into a long thread which is flattened on a surface. The glass is allowed to cool and then cracked or cut into lots of small pieces. Glasses of different colours are used. Byzantine artists used to sandwich gold leaf between two tesserae when creating icons. The tiny fragments are then arranged to form the picture. The craftsman here is working to a tiny scale and yet most pieces are perfectly aligned. Once the whole mosaic is formed it is reheated to a temperature sufficient to allow the tesserae to fuse to each other so the resulting mosaic is really a single piece of glass and quite stable.

Below are the individual mosaics. I thank fellow volunteer Chris Purvis for the photographs.

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Arch of Constantine

Arch of Constantine

Colosseum

Colosseum

Temple of Vesta

Temple of Vesta

f Pantheon_900

Len Mullenger, Room Guide

Packing up the house continues…

At this time of year our house elves are usually gearing up to get prepared for ‘putting the house to bed’ and the big winter clean. Instead we’ve been packing up and moving furniture about in readiness for our electrical rewiring work. It won’t be long now that the electricians will be moving in to start their work…

In this post, we thought that we’d share some photographs of the rooms as they are at the moment. We’re still open to visitors which gives you the chance to see all of the work that goes into caring for an historic house. Many of our visitors have been very intrigued and impressed to see this work in progress.

The Dining Room table has been moved and carpets rolled up, but we’ll need some help with the big items!

The Library has around 3,500 volumes which ALL have to be wrapped and packed away

Continue reading