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Must-see collection items at Dyrham Park

Visitors looking at a trompe l-oeil painting by Samuel van Hoogstraten at Dyrham Park, depicting a realistic view through a doorway
Samuel van Hoogstraten painting at Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

This article focuses on some of the incredible treasures in the collection at Dyrham Park. There are many more to discover inside the house, each with a unique story to tell.

A View Through A House

A pupil of Rembrandt, Dutch painter Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten was famed for his ‘trompe-l’oeil’ (‘deceives the eye’) pictures. He excelled in creating three-dimensional realities using nothing but oil paint.

After politician Thomas Povey commissioned Van Hoogstraten to paint A View Through A House, he hung it in his London townhouse. However, when Povey's nephew William Blathwayt moved into the newly built house at Dyrham Park, Povey gave him the artwork.

The painting seems to be telling a romantic story using symbolic elements: a love letter on the stairs, a caged bird set free, a broom and a key on the pillars. If this is a marriage negotiation, who's the fourth man at the window, his hand raised and ready to knock upon the glass? Is he about to declare his true love?

Delft ceramics

Dyrham Park’s collection of Delftware says much about two of the consuming passions among wealthy Europeans during the 17th century: Chinese porcelain and tulips. William Blathwayt (1649-1717) amassed one of the most important collections of Delft pottery in Britain, including extravagant flower vases, large plant tubs, delicate fruit baskets and much more.

Delftware was made for export in the 1680s and 1690s by potters in Delft, Holland. Objects were often painted to resemble Chinese porcelain, but they were actually made of faience, or tin-glazed earthenware. Due to dynastic instability in China, the export of porcelain came to a virtual halt for more than three decades.

Oil painting on panel, The Adoration of the Magi in the centre, with The Nativity by Night with Shepherds on the left wing, and The Flight into Egypt on the right wing, attributed to Jan van Doornik (active 1474-1511), circa 1530
Dyrham Park is home to a triptych oil painting attributed to Jan van Doornik | © National Trust Images

Flemish triptych

Although not currently on display, one of Dyrham Park’s most prized possessions is a Flemish triptych (a panel painting divided into three sections). The biblical scenes, believed to have been painted in oil by Jan van Doornik, date from around 1530.

Originating from Antwerp, the painting shows The Adoration of the Magi in the largest central panel, Nativity by Night with Shepherds on the left wing, and The Flight into Egypt on the right wing.

There are records of the painting at Dyrham Park dating back to 1710. The painting was located in St Peter’s Church on the estate, where a copy still remains.

‘This beautiful painting is full of rich colours, expression and life, and it’s incredible to think it’s coming up to 500 years old. We have a fine collection of art at Dyrham Park but this, for me, is the jewel in the crown and we are lucky to have it here with a copy in the church.’

- Eilidh Auckland, Property Curator

Oil painting on canvas. A Still Life of Flowers and Fruit arranged on a Stone Plinth in a Garden by Cornelis de Heem (Leiden 1631 - Antwerp 1695) at Dyrham Park, near Bristol and Bath.
Still Life of Flowers and Fruit arranged on a Stone Plinth in a Garden by Cornelis de Heem (Leiden 1631 - Antwerp 1695) at Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Floral vanitas

This floral painting (above) is a vanitas, a work of art that illustrates biblical teaching on the transience of life. The composition of fragile floral beauty set against decaying fruit, consuming creatures and encroaching weeds symbolises the fact that human life, however glorious, inevitably ends.

Painted by the Dutch artist Cornelis de Heem, it was probably bought by the owner William Blathwayt at the end of the 17th century. His education would've taught the skills needed to de-code this type of painting, and he would've understood the moral messaging behind the attractive scene.

Detail from a Delftware flower pyramid at Dyrham Park in Bath. 'Amorini' (infant cupids) are arranging flowers in an urn, framed by classical architecture.
Detail from one of Dyrham's flower pyramids | © National Trust Images/Robert Morris


A detail of one of the vase pedestals shows 'amorini', or infant cupids, arranging flowers in an urn, framed by classical architecture. The painted scenes take their cue from fashionable European gardens and Dutch formal parterres.

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Dyrham’s Delft pyramid vases

Pyramid vases – also known as flower pyramids – are ceramic vessels with individual sections for displaying cut flowers, especially tulips. They were particularly fashionable during the reign of William and Mary.

The pyramids consist of seven graduated tiers, with each tier acting as a receptacle of water for cut flowers. Flower stems are inserted through narrow spouts, modelled to resemble a serpent’s open jaw.

In the 17th century, these spouts would've been the perfect way to show off expensive ‘florist’ flowers. During this time, florists specialised in the cultivation of a select few plants, with tulips being the most prized of all.

In keeping with their 'Chinese' appearance, the vases resemble pagodas more than pyramids. Delft potters excelled in the art of combining stylistic elements from Europe and Asia to produce hybrid, contemporary designs, and the pyramid vase is an excellent example of this.

Entrance hall plaques

In the entrance hall at Dyrham Park are two framed Delftware plaques, a vision of China in blue and white. Dating from the late 17th century, the tiles show the Chinese countryside. In the foreground are large palm, banana and pineapple plants, around these are birds and a fox-like animal, while in the distance a small village with a pagoda and a mountain can be seen.

A group of Delftware urns at Dyrham Park, Bristol and Bath

Dyrham Park's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Dyrham Park on the National Trust Collections website.

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