Unravelling the past at Hardwick Hall

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In 2011, work began on one of the wall hangings from the Entrance Hall, depicting Penelope.

This large appliqué and embroidery work - one of a set of four which survive, each depicting a great woman from history or mythology - dates from the 1570s, when the Countess of Shrewsbury lived at Chatsworth. However, it uses fragments of much older church vestments which were removed from churches during the Reformation, some of which date back to the Middle Ages.

As a prized possession the Countess brought the panels with her from Chatsworth to Hardwick where they were displayed in the State Withdrawing Room. In the 20th Century, they were re-displayed in the Entrance Hall.

Who was Penelope?

The hanging tells the story of Penelope, the loyal wife of Ulysses, who remained faithful to her husband during the ten years it took him to return from the Trojan wars. To Penelope's right is Perseverance, holding an eagle that is striving to reach the sun and on her left is Patience with a lamb reaching up to her.

To Bess, Penelope and her Virtues represented qualities she believed a great woman must possess, and that having Penelope and the other Great Hangings was a mark of her status as a great woman herself.

Penelope and the other hangings are now considered some of the most important Elizabethan textile works in Europe, hence the great care taken to conserve them.

TLC at the Textile Conservation Studio

In 2011 we said our farewells and Penelope was carefully removed from her frame and transported to the National Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Norfolk for some tender loving care.

The hanging was removed from its lining, and both sections were cleaned very carefully to remove as much accumulated dirt as possible. Then the remedial conservation work began. This involved making small repairs to the fabrics to stabilize the piece, couching loose threads, and using pre-shrunk linen to support the embroidery.

Penelope's return to Hardwick

Penelope finally returned to Hardwick in June 2014, and was re-hung in our new Stitches in Time exhibition to fully showcase her restored beauty. She will be joined by the other three hangings, depicting Lucretia, Artemisia and Zenobia as they return from conservation over time.

Come and see Penelope in all her splendour at the Stitches in Time exhibition, and return in a few years when Lucretia, currently undergoing conservation, returns to us.

The work is largely funded by the Wolfson Foundation.