Top 5 objects
There are lots of items from Knole’s collection currently being worked on in the conservation studio, from upholstered chairs to leather chests and ornate picture frames. Many objects are still in the showrooms and will be conserved over the next two years. These are five objects we’re conserving, which showcase the variety of work being carried out on Knole’s vast collection.
Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex (1575-1645)
This large oil painting features Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex and Baron Cranfield. Knole owes much of its impressive furniture collection to Lionel Cranfield. His daughter Frances Cranfield married Richard Sackville, 5th Earl of Dorset, in 1637 and, as a result, the Cranfield’s collections from Copt Hall came to Knole at the end of the seventeenth century.
Cranfield was knighted and sat in the House of Commons from 1614-1622. He was recognised for his services by James I and was appointed Lord High Treasurer in 1621. In this full-length portrait, he is shown in his robes as Lord Treasurer.
He lost his positions and influence shortly afterwards as he opposed war with Spain, which incurred the hostility of notable peers at court. Impeached by the House of Commons for corruption, he was found guilty by the House of Lords in 1624 and was sentenced to lose all his offices, to pay a heavy fine and to be imprisoned. However, he was released from prison after a few days and was restored to his seat in the House of Lords in 1640.
Four people were required to move this huge painting from its home in Knole’s Leicester Gallery. In the studio, Knole’s conservators will be conserving the frame and freelance painting conservators will conserve the painting. They will surface clean the painting and consolidate the layers of gilding on the frame. It is a rare frame and research is being undertaken to learn more about the blue and gold pigments.
This leather trunk is significant because it was used as an original means of transporting Lionel Cranfield’s collection from Copt Hall to Knole in the seventeenth century. Knole’s impressive furniture collection came to be from the union of two collections – including that of Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex. The initials on the top of the trunk are ‘L 1637 M’, proving that it belonged to Lionel Cranfield himself at that time.
This leather trunk is very rare because of its age and type – such functional pieces are usually less likely to survive than display pieces. Trunks like this one were stored in the attics at Knole for years, containing papers, letters, books, textiles and personal items.
In 2016, three letters dating back to the seventeenth century were found under the floorboards in an attic space called the South Barracks. The letters are dated 1603, 1622 and 1633 and give an intriguing insight into running a country house 400 years ago.
We believe the letters must have fallen between the floorboards when the trunks were moved in the attics – where they remained undisturbed for hundreds of years, until Knole’s archaeology team came across them during conservation work.
The trunk has been conserved and a humidifier was used to soften the degraded leather and relay it onto the wood. The trunk will be returned to its former home in the South Barracks, when the attics open to the public in 2019.
This stunning piece of silver work is part of the silver furniture collection usually on display in the King’s Room at Knole. We have yet to uncover the stories behind the silver dish, although we know from its hallmark that it was produced in London in 1662. It is clearly an ornate piece designed to impress and show off the owner’s wealth and status.
The dish has a central cartouche that has been added and may cover an earlier inscription relating to who commissioned and owned the piece. Knole’s conservators will carefully clean the silver dish in the conservation studio and investigate what is behind the later addition. We hope that we will be able to learn who owned the dish by doing some research into the cartouche.
The Knole Sofa (also known as the Knole Settee) is a couch chair made of beech and covered with crimson velvet and passementerie with cushioned wings. It is an iconic piece of furniture in Knole’s collection and launched a thousand imitations across the world.
This distant ancestor of the modern sofa was originally used in quite a different and much more formal way. It would have been used as a chair of state and it is possible that a monarch would have received guests on the sofa, sitting beneath a canopy in a state dressing-room, in Whitehall Palace.
Built c.1635-1640, the sofa is still covered in places in its original red velvet. It is usually on display in the Leicester Gallery at Knole, behind glass to preserve it in environmentally stable conditions. In the studio, conservators will surface clean the fabric and restore the profile of the sofa. They will uplift the base of the sofa to better support the structure and upholstery.
Ribbon framed panel paintings
These paintings are from a set of 44 oval portraits depicting both historical figures and important contemporaries, including Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Jane Seymour and Thomas More.
They were commissioned by Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, in 1605 to emulate a royal collection. It was not unusual in the homes of the aristocracy at this time to commission a job lot of portraits to showcase their sophistication and wealth.
The paintings were moved to the Brown Gallery in 1793 on the request of John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, where they were displayed until recently. As conservation and building work took place in the Cartoon Gallery in 2016, we discovered the original oak frames of some of these portraits, hidden behind the caffoy (rich red wall covering). These earlier ribbon framed panels have given us information about the previous picture hang in Knole’s showrooms.
In the conservation studio, conservators will examine the stability and movement of the wooden panels and the paint layers on the panels. They will clean the decorative surfaces and replace missing elements of the ribbons.
Acoustic emissions technology (tiny microphones listening to sounds within wood at cellular level) is also being used to help us to predict when cracks in the wood will occur under different conditions.