Treasures in the collection at Petworth

One of the first terrestrial globes sits in a new glass case

This year the National Trust are celebrating a Year of Treasures with the release of the book 125 Treasures. Discover five of the featured artefacts at Petworth, with many in new displays for up-close viewing along with their fascinating stories from Sat 4 Sep to Fri 26 Nov.

Molyneux globe, North Gallery 

This is the first English terrestrial globe and only surviving first edition. It was made in 1592 by the mathematician Emery Molyneux (d.1598). It was probably owned by Henry Percy (1564-1632), 9th Earl of Northumberland, known as ‘the wizard earl’ because of his interest in alchemy and science.

Visitors are invited to look closely like never before at this object's detailed engravings by Jodocus Hondius (1563–1612), which includes ships and fantastical sea monsters, as the globe is newly housed in a glass casing.

Terrestrial globe, Emery Molyneux and Jodocus Hondius, 1592
Petworth Molyneux globe
Terrestrial globe, Emery Molyneux and Jodocus Hondius, 1592

To find out more about the globe, you can read the article Molyneux globe at Petworth House

The Petworth sgabello chairs, North Gallery

These nine chairs are some of the first treasures to have benefitted from a £3 million gift from the Royal Oak Foundation. Dating from the first half of the 17th century, the chairs are based on Italian designs and were displayed in a grand chamber or gallery.

The chairs have undergone structural treatment and conservation of their highly decorative surfaces which include layers of at least three different paint schemes. Areas of loss have been toned down with watercolours, resulting in a consistent finish across the group. The gilding was dirty and brown from old restorations and cleaning has revealed brighter colours.

During this work we have discovered that the group of chairs includes six with longer elm seats and three with shorter oak seats, and noted differences in the carved decoration. Six of the chairs are being redisplayed for visitors to marvel at on plinths of varying height in the North Gallery, so people can try and spot the differences for themselves. 

One of an extremely rare set of nine black and gilt walnut English or Italian sgabello chairs
One of an extremely rare set of nine black and gilt walnut English or Italian sgabello chairs
One of an extremely rare set of nine black and gilt walnut English or Italian sgabello chairs

The emperor Nero as a boy, Little Dining Room 

In recent years this skilfully carved Carrara-marble statue has been identified as portraying the Roman Emperor Nero (AD 37–68) as a young boy. It’s one of only three examples still in existence, as many portraits of Nero were defaced or destroyed after his death. He was not a popular emperor and committed various acts of brutality during his reign, including the murders of his mother Agrippina and wife Poppaea, and the infamous burning of Rome.

This sculpture was bought in 1763 by Charles Wyndham (1710-63), 2nd Earl of Egremont, just one of 70 collected by him. He paid thousands of pounds to British agents in Italy, who sourced ancient Greek and Roman sculptures from historic sites and private collections, transporting them here to Petworth. This room was one of five used by the Earl to display this vast sculpture collection.

This sculpture of Nero as a boy was recently identified as one of only three likenesses in existence
The Emperor Nero as a boy marble statue in the Little Dining Room
This sculpture of Nero as a boy was recently identified as one of only three likenesses in existence

Portraits by Sir Anthony van Dyck, Red Room

These elaborate portraits show Sir Robert Shirley (1581–1628) and his wife Lady Teresa Sampsonia (c.1589–1668). Robert was an English ambassador to the Persian Shah Abbas the Great (1571–1629). Teresa, or Teresia, was a noble Circassian (from the north-east shore of the Black Sea in Russia) at the Iranian royal court, where she met her husband.

Robert and Teresa travelled across Europe, meeting with political and royal leaders on behalf of Shah Abbas. The couple travelled to Rome in 1622, when Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) was at work in the city. One of the most acclaimed and influential European artists of the 17th century, he excelled at richly detailed portraits such as these. Van Dyck shows Teresa seated on a Persian carpet, an object of wealth and status. Robert stands proud as an envoy of Persia, his bow and quiver contrasting with the swords worn by European courtiers.

Sir Robert Shirley and Lady Teresia Shirley by Van Dyck
 Sir Robert Shirley and Lady Teresia Shirley by Van Dyck
Sir Robert Shirley and Lady Teresia Shirley by Van Dyck

A Vision of the Last Judgment by William Blake, North Gallery

In 1808 Elizabeth Ilive (c.1769-1822), Countess of Egremont, commissioned the artist William Blake (1757–1827) to paint A Vision of the Last Judgement. The dramatic scene shows the moment when, according to the Christian faith, humanity is judged before Christ. 

The subject may have been particularly relevant to Ilive as this watercolour was painted after the Countess separated from her husband, due to his infidelity. A prominent female figure, surrounded by stars and children, has been interpreted as Ilive herself, and the seated male figure, sketching her, may represent Blake.

Blake's The Last Judgement was inspired by Michelangelo's Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel
William Blake's The Last Judgement, 1808
Blake's The Last Judgement was inspired by Michelangelo's Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel