Conservator Rachel Turnbull completes the conservation of the 15th century Madonna of the Pomegranate – a painting revealed to be a rare example by the workshop of Italian artist Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) which is now on display at the Ranger’s House in Blackheath.

Long believed to be a later imitation of his work, the discovery of the painting’s true origins was made while it was undergoing cleaning and the work’s true colours – hidden under more than a century of yellow varnish – revealed.

The painting depicts the Madonna and Christ Child flanked by four angels while the Madonna holds a pomegranate – a symbol of the future suffering of Christ. The angels hold lilies – a symbol of Mary’s virginity and purity, garlands of roses – a symbol of Mary’s love of God, and books of prayer.

The assumption that it was a later copy arose because of its variations from the original – now in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence – and the varnish that had concealed its quality. X-ray testing, infrared studies and pigment analysis have now, however, revealed it to be from the same Florentine workshop where Botticelli created his masterpieces.

English Heritage conservators removed surface dirt, nineteenth-century overpaint and old varnish to reveal the painting’s original vivid reds, blues and golds. It is believed this “tondo”, a kind of circular painting, is the closest existing copy of the original.

The painting was purchased by diamond magnate Julius Wernher in 1897 and subsequently found among the more than 700 artworks in the Wernher Collection, elements of which are on display at the Ranger’s House.

WHERE: Ranger’s House Chesterfield Walk, Blackheath (nearest train station is Blackheath); WHEN: 11am to 5pm, Sunday to Thursday; COST: £9.50 adults/£8.60 concession/£5.70 children (5-17 years) (members free; family tickets available); WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/rangershouse.

PICTURES: © English Heritage.

 

The Ranger’s House in Greenwich – home to a world class art collection known as the Wernher Collection – reopened to the public this week after a makeover by English Heritage. The property – a Georgian villa located on the edge of Greenwich Park – displays the collection – which includes more than 700 works gathered by diamond magnate Julius Wernher in the late 1800s – across 11 period rooms. Highlights include a gold earring in the shape of Victory (the Greek goddess of war) which dates from 2BC, a carved pendant in the shape of a skull from around 1500, a silver gilt, steel and nautilus shell cup dating from 1660 (pictured) and an enamelled jug depicting the Greek god Triton. The collection was originally displayed at Wernher’s London townhouse – Bath House in Piccadilly – and at his country estate, Luton Hoo in Bedfordshire, but after Luton Hoo closed in the 1990s, English Heritage agreed to display the collection at the Ranger’s House (which it had acquired in 1986) on a 125 year loan. Photographs showing how Wernher displayed his collection in his own homes have informed how the objects are presented in the house today. The house is open from Sunday to Wednesday until the end of September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/rangershouse. PICTURE: © English Heritage

 The Great Pagoda at Kew has been reopened to visitors for the first time in years following a four year restoration project. Built in 1762, the pagoda was used by the Georgian Royal Family to entertain visitors and was for the first 20 years famously adorned with 80 brightly coloured wooden dragons (until, that is, they disappeared in the 1780s when they were rumoured to have been used as payment for the Prince Regent’s gambling debts). Thanks to a major restoration project by Historic Royal Palaces in conjunction with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, dragons have returned to the structure and for the first time in decades visitors are being allowed access to the upper floors from where they can gain a birds-eye view of the gardens. They will also be able to learn about the role the pagoda played in planning for the D-Day landings and try out the automata on the ground floor for a tour in miniature of Kew’s Georgian ‘royal route’. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

The art of Germany’s Weimar Republic goes on show at Tate Modern on South Bank from Monday. Magic Realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-1933 features about 70 paintings and works on paper drawn from The George Economou Collection – some of which have never seen in the UK before – and the Tate’s own collection. The display explores the “paradoxes” of the Weimar era, a time when liberalisation and anti-militarism flourished amid political and economic uncertainty (the title draws on the coining of the phrase ‘magic realism’ – today often associated with the literature of Latin America – by artist and critic Franz Roh in 1925 in an effort to describe the shift from the emotional art of the expressionist era, toward the unsettling imagery of this inter-war period). Works by artists like Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann will be presented alongside those of under recognised artists such as Albert Birkle, Jeanne Mammen and Rudolf Schlichter and others whose careers were curtailed thanks to the rise of Nationalist Socialism and its agenda to promote art that celebrated its political ideologies. Admission is free. Runs until 14th July, 2019. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

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Belle3

Part of the history of Kenwood House in north London hits the big screen this week with the premiere of the film Belle.

The film, which opens on Friday, is inspired by the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay and a slave woman named Maria, who spent her childhood years at the property in the care of her great-uncle Lord Mansfield (played by Tom Wilkinson) in the second half of the 18th century.

The idea for film was apparently sparked when Belle‘s writer Misan Sagay saw a painting of Dido which hangs at Scone Palace in Scotland (a copy of the painting, which was formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany but is now unattributed, can be seen hanging in the Housekeeper’s Room at Kenwood).

Lauren Houlistan, English Heritage senior curator, says Dido grew up at Kenwood from about the age of five (about 1766) and seemed to have been considered one of the family.

She says that while Lord Mansfield was “very fond of her”, Dido’s position was, however, “lower than that of her white, legitimate cousin, Elizabeth – Dido was given a smaller allowance and is noted as only joining visitors after dinner”. Dido is known to have managed the dairy at Kenwood in 1779 and was described as “superintendent” over the daily and poultry yard (for more on Dido’s extraordinary life, see our earlier post here).

Kenwood House was undergoing restoration when the film was being made so scenes for the film set in the house were shot at various other English Heritage properties including Chiswick House and the Ranger’s House in Greenwich.

WHERE: Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, Hampstead (nearest Tube stations are Golders Green and Archway/nearest train stations are Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood/.

PICTURE: Gugu Mbatha-Raw stars as Dido Elizabeth Belle and Sarah Gadon Lady Elizabeth Murray and  in Belle. © Twentieth Century Fox.

In the first of a new series looking at some of the favorite historical places of Londoners, Lynne Connell, a host at the Museum of London, nominates Greenwich…

“When I was a child my grandparents took me to Greenwich for the day.  I remember being very impressed with Admiral Nelson’s uniform (complete with blood stains) and the haunted tulip staircase in the Queen’s house. While we sat and ate cheese and onion crisps in front of the Cutty Sark, my Grandmother (who was a little eccentric) told me ‘there is so much history here you can feel it’.

“So what can you see in Greenwich today?

“You can visit the Greenwich Observatory, stand on the Meridian line and know you are in the centre of the world! Admission is free there, as well as the National Maritime Museum and the Queen’s House. You can also see the magnificent Wernher collection at Ranger’s House (free to members of English Heritage) and don’t forget the tiny Fan Museum.

“A favourite lazy Sunday morning, includes a stroll in the Royal Park to visit the deer enclosure, a leisurely coffee in one of the two cafes and a visit to the craft market.

“The remains of a Roman villa can be seen in the park and you can visit Princess Caroline’s bath. Don’t miss Queen Elizabeth’s oak, Henry VIII is reputed to have courted Anne Boleyn under the boughs of his ancient hollow tree. It fell during high winds in the 1990’s and is now slowly rotting away.

“Look down from the Observatory Gardens upon the magnificent Royal Naval College and go to visit the beautiful painted hall. Remember, beneath the college lie the remains of the Royal Palace of Placentia, birth place of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

“It is easy to get to Greenwich by over ground train, DLR or (to really pick up the atmosphere) by river boat.

“It is more than 40 years since my introduction to the history of Greenwich, and perhaps I am becoming a little eccentric myself, but my grandmother was right, you really can ‘feel the history’.”

PICTURE: Greenwich Park, © Anne Marie Briscombe (Royal Parks)