The importance of Knole’s portrait collection can be overlooked. Only one of the Sackvilles, John Frederick, the 3rd Duke of Dorset, might be called a conscious collector of art, many of Knole’s pieces being acquired rather than commissioned.
The Brown Gallery portraits
But the house nevertheless contains the extraordinary 16th and early 17th-century portraits in the Brown Gallery, a Who’s Who of the great and good in England and Europe of the time, including British sovereigns and five prelates of the Church of England. This is, with Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, the earliest surviving example of a portrait gallery in Britain.
The Ballroom family portraits
Full-length family portraits are on display here, many in their original 17th- and 18th-century frames. Van Dyck painted the beautiful lady Frances Cranfield, Countess of Dorset; Vigée-Lebrun painted a charming portrait of Arabella Diana Cope, wife of the 3rd Duke, whilst other Sackvilles have sat for Kneller, Larkin and Sandars.
The Reynolds Room
Nine pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds are displayed here, including the portrait of Wang-y-Tong, the 3rd Duke’s Chinese page boy, the first naturalistic depiction of a Chinese subject in England. David Garrick, who dominated the London theatre during the second half of the 18th century was a close friend of both Reynolds and Samuel Johnson. The paintings hang against a rare early 18th century crimson stamped woollen velvet known as caffoy.
In the Cartoon Gallery
This long gallery is named after the Raphael cartoons, 17th-century copies of cartoons or full-scale designs for tapestries originally painted by Raphael in the 16th century. While not strictly portraits, these artworks depict scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul and make an instant impact as you walk into this longest of Knole's three galleries. The tapestries themselves, made following Raphael's original cartoons, hang in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.