We couldn't do it without you - generous support from a volunteer helps Montacute House

Detail from Portrait of James 1 of England and VI of Scotland by John de Critz the elder

There are many beautiful objects at Montacute House. This one is special because of a very generous volunteer.

Sir Edward Phelips, builder of Montacute House, was an important member of the political elite at the court of James I.  It’s no surprise to find a painting of the King at the great country house of one of his most loyal courtiers. 

Portrait of James 1 of England & James VI of Scotland by John de Critz the elder.
Portrait of James 1 of England and VI of Scotland
Portrait of James 1 of England & James VI of Scotland by John de Critz the elder.

We think that this painting actually hung here at Montacute during Edward's lifetime.  Later sold by the family, it was rediscovered at an auction in 2011.  We rarely buy items just because of a family connection.  But this portrait is special.  Not only was it from the house, it is possible that it was given personally to Sir Edward by the King.  He may even have received it as part of recognising his role in prosecuting the gunpowder plotters, including Guy Fawkes, in 1606.

You can imagine the excitement of the property team when we were contacted by the auction house.  Could we bring the painting back to its original home?  

Volunteer speaking to visitors in the Great Hall at Montacute House
Volunteer speaking to visitors in the Great Hall at Montacute House
Volunteer speaking to visitors in the Great Hall at Montacute House

That we were able to make a bid for the portrait is entirely due to the generosity of a former volunteer guide, Moira Carmichael.  She had left a legacy which meant that we were not only able to bring King James back to the house but were also able to undertake a fascinating programme of research and conservation.

That research showed that the oil paints were brushed on to a wooden board made of three planks.  The marks of tools used to fit the boards together and level the surface are still visible on the back.

This portrait is based on an original pattern by the artist John de Critz the Elder (1551/1-1642).  There are records of payments for it in 1606 and 1607.  It’s one of a number of versions made in the artist workshops at the time.  Without TV or social media, the King relied on copies of portraits to make sure that his image was recognisable throughout the country

We are face to face with the first person to combine the thrones of England and Scotland.  But looking at this painting  I also also think of Miss Carmichael.  It feels such a personal legacy and so much a part of the spirit of Montacute House.