Hardwick's world-famous collections
Hardwick is internationally renowned for its collections, most notably its textiles, largely sourced and collected by Bess of Hardwick in the later years of the sixteenth century. Four years after Bess moved into Hardwick she compiled a list of all the objects in the house, giving a unique insight into the furnishings of an Elizabethan house.
By the mid-1590s when Hardwick was taking shape, Bess had already furnished her great house at Chatsworth but could only bring a small proportion of the contents with her when she moved back to Hardwick, so in the winter of 1592 Bess went on a shopping spree while in London. Amongst her purchases were the Gideon set of tapestries purchased from the estate of Sir Christopher Hatton for the huge sum of £326 15s 9d (from which £5 was deducted because Bess had to change the Hatton coat of arms to her own). From the same source Bess purchased a smaller set of tapestries that now hang in the Drawing Room and a set of tapestries that hang in the Green Velvet Bedroom. The set of tapestries in the High Great Chamber, telling the story of Ulysses, were also brought second hand but have been in the High Great Chamber since 1601.
The noble women
As well as fine tapestries Hardwick also has some of the finest early embroidery in the country, not least in the large scale set of embroideries known as ‘the noble women’. This is a set of four (originally five) hangings that all take their subject matter from worthy heroines and their virtues. These pieces were made by professional embroiderers while Bess lived at Chatsworth and are made out of a patchwork of pieces of velvet, cloth of gold and figured silk, part cut out of medieval church vestments. We're undertaking a long-term conservation project to conserve these pieces; the first two back from conservation, Penelope with her associated virtues of Perseverance and Patience, and Lucretia are on display on the Ground Floor of the house.
More than just textiles
While Hardwick is known for its textile collection there are other parts of the collection which have national significance. Chief amongst these is the Sea Dog Table, a walnut table, supported by chimeras or sea dogs resting on tortoises, and partly gilded. The table was based on engraved designs of about 1560 by the French architect Du Cerceau. Another favourite is the inlaid chest initaled G T, constructed by German craftsmen in London. It is assumed that this chest was created for Gilbert Talbot, Bess's son in law.
Hardwick contains many portraits, many of family members but the most notable amongst them is a famous portrait of Queen Elizabeth I, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard (c.1547-1619), that features an amazing dress covered with fantastical sea creatures.
Other lesser known highlights include the Ming dynasty ceramics, seventeenth and eighteenth century tester beds and intricate intarsia panels.