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Portraits, Authenticity, and Copies in the 17th and 18th centuries

Thu 2 Nov 2017 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM  

‘Truth is the sole merit of most antiquities; and when we cannot discover the truth, what value is there in dogmatic error about things that have no intrinsic value?—and such were all our pictures before Holbein, and infinitely the greater part of our pictures since!’ (Horace Walpole to Sir John Fenn, in response to a query about a historic portrait, 17 September 1774)

Strawberry Hill was famously full of portraits, many of them collected as part of the broader antiquarian effort to form a narrative of British and European history. In this, as in other fields of painting, there was much less emphasis on the ‘original‘ than there is today. But, as a historian, Horace Walpole was greatly exercised by questions of authenticity, although his own collection of portraits included many later copies, both specially commissioned and unrecognized, as well as misdescriptions and deliberate fakes.

This study day will focus on issues and practices around meaning and authenticity in portraits in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is linked to the recent installation in the Holbein Chamber of digital facsimiles, made by Factum Arte, of George Vertue’s accurate copies, made in 1743, of 33 of Holbein’s famous drawings of the court of Henry VIII. Their acquisition in 1758 prompted Walpole to create the Holbein Chamber, inspired by Queen Caroline’s closet at Kensington Palace, where the original drawings were shown. The Holbein Chamber was in itself a partial facsimile, its ceiling being copied from that of the 16th century Queen’s Closet at Windsor Castle.

Refreshements including a light lunch will be provided.

For further information, including a list of speakers, please contact claire.leighton@strawberryhillhouse.org.uk