The Romans are coming!

A conservator working on the marble bust of Caracalla at Wimpole Hall © Phil Mynott

A conservator working on the marble bust of Caracalla at Wimpole Hall

Latest update 09.05.2014 16:47

After an absence of more than sixty years, four 17th Century Italian busts of Roman emperors have returned to Wimpole.

The four magnificent Caesars are back on display in Wimpole’s grand Entrance Hall. The spectacular marble busts will be on show in a room they last graced in the time of Elsie Bambridge, Wimpole’s last private owner, who sold them. The four returning busts will re-join a fifth bust of a young Marcus Aurelius already at Wimpole.

The first two busts, those of Caracalla and a ‘Philosopher’ emperor, have been accepted by HM Government in lieu of inheritance tax, which is managed by the Arts Council. A generous grant from the Art Fund has enabled the National Trust to part fund the purchase of the second two marble busts of Trajan and another, as yet unidentified emperor.

Wendy Monkhouse, National Trust curator, said:

“It is wonderful to repatriate the four 17th century Italian marble busts of Caesars to Wimpole where they will be reunited with that of Marcus Aurelius. Their redisplay in the Entrance Hall will transform its character, and help visitors to enjoy some of Wimpole’s original 18th century grandeur and glamour. We can trace the provenance of the busts with Wimpole’s collection to at least the 1770s but they may have been among the great collector Edward Harley’s possessions, who loved Roman coins and antiquities as well as enlarging his famous library.”

Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair Arts Council England said:

“The Arts Council is thrilled that the AIL scheme has helped to return two of the 17th century Italian busts to their former home at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire. It is fitting that they have been returned to the same place where they stood together so many years ago, and are now available for the general public to see. This is the third time that an offer in lieu has been allocated to Wimpole Hall, and the Arts Council is proud that the scheme continues to benefit cultural institutions such as the National Trust, and more importantly, the visiting public.”

Stephen Deuchar, director of the Art Fund said:

“These important busts were once an integral part of the decorative scheme at Wimpole Hall, and we are so pleased to be supporting their return. The public will gain real insight to the importance of the classical past for Britain in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the quality of the busts makes them highly desirable acquisitions in their own right."

Marble busts of Roman emperors were popular with the owners of wealthy, grand houses because of their powerful evocation of classical history. No doubt they also found great intrigue in the characters whose personalities lived on within the stone.