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The collection at Knole

Close-up of carved and gilt table and candlesticks at Knole, possibly given by Louis XIV to the 6th Earl of Dorset in 1670. Gilded by Dupre, the tops are inlaid with pewter and brass
Close-up of carved and gilt table and candlesticks at Knole | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

Knole is home to one of the rarest collections of Stuart-era furniture, paintings, objects and textiles. The collection is incredibly well preserved thanks to Knole's first owner, Thomas Sackville, deciding to showcase his treasures from acquiring the estate in 1605.

Saving royal treasures

Thomas Sackville’s position as Lord Treasurer allowed him to employ the finest craftsmen from the Department of the King’s Works to produce Knole’s Jacobean interiors.

The royal offices held by subsequent generations of the Sackville family gave them the right to remove unwanted state furniture from the royal palaces. The quality and rarity of these pieces was recognised early on, both by the family and by interested visitors, and the furniture, tapestries and beds removed from the royal apartments were put on display at Knole.

Knole's portrait collection

The collection at Knole includes more than 300 paintings by 17th and 18th-century masters, many commissioned and collected by Sir John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset.

  • The Great Hall is lined with some of Knole’s most impressive portraits. Thomas Sackville’s portrait (attributed to John de Critz, Serjeant-Painter to the King) hangs on the south wall opposite the elaborate oak screen.
  • The Brown Gallery, along with Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, is the earliest surviving example of a portrait gallery in Britain and includes British sovereigns and religious figures.
  • The Billiard Room is home to some particularly interesting portraits, including that of Italian Renaissance painter Sofinisba Anguissola.
  • The Leicester Gallery is home to a group of portraits painted by, or from the studio of, Dutch painter Daniel Mytens.
  • The Ballroom is home to full-length Sackville family portraits, many of them in their original 17th and 18th-century frames. The portrait of Arabella Cope by Vigee le Brun is notable for being painted by a female artist.
  • The Reynolds Room is hung with a full-length Joshua Reynolds portrait of the 3rd Duke of Dorset, and another by John Hoppner of his wife, Arabella Cope, painted in the year they married. The paintings hang against a rare early 18th-century crimson stamped woollen velvet known as caffoy.

Read more about the collection of portraits at Knole.

A member of the conservation team standing on a small step ladder working on a piece of furniture at the Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio at Knole in Kent
Conservator working on the iconic Knole Sofa at the Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio at Knole | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Furniture at Knole

The finest collection of 17th-century English upholstered furniture in the world is on display at Knole. Much of it was made for the royal palaces of the ruling Stuart dynasty and is of the highest quality. The objects on display are the combination of several separate collections.

  • The Brown Gallery and Leicester Gallery are lined with early English furniture from the royal palaces, including X-framed chairs and footstools of royalty. Look out for the much loved and copied Knole sofa, built c.1635-40.
  • One of the discoveries made during the Inspired by Knole conservation project was the ebony Kussenkast, found in pieces in the attic. This Dutch 'cushion cupboard' is now on display in the Spangle Bedroom.
  • The Venetian Bedroom houses a bed, two armchairs and six stools made for James II.
  • The Spangled Bed is furnished with rare late 16th or early 17th-century silk hangings embellished with appliqué strapwork, silver and silver-gilt spangles, or sequins, from which the bed takes its name.
  • The state bed in the King’s Room, decorated with cupids, bows, arrows and flaming hearts, was made for the marriage of the Duke of York (the future James II) to his second wife Mary of Modena in 1673.

Read more about the collection of furniture at Knole.

Silver at Knole

In addition to its rare Stuart royal furniture, Knole is famous for its remarkable collection of silver, on display in the King’s Room since 1706.

Silver furniture was made in England from around 1660 until around 1710. Apart from the set at Knole only two other sets survive in England today, one made for Charles II and the other for William III, both of which are in the Royal Collection.

Silver pier table

One of the highlights is a silver table, decorated with images of fruit and foliage. The central oval panel of decoration portrays a musical contest between the Classical gods Pan and Apollo.

A surviving bill reveals that the table was made in England in 1680 by the prestigious Anglo-Dutch cabinetmaker Gerrit Jensen for Frances Cranfield, Countess of Dorset (1622–87).

Tapestries at Knole

The tapestries at Knole are some of the finest in the National Trust’s collection. Many were acquired by the 6th Earl of Dorset from Whitehall Palace in 1695.

Detail from an image of the Venetian Bedroom at Knole showing an opulent bed with blue-green velvet hangings and three 17th century tapestries hung on the wall - two depicting scenes from the life of Diana, and the other showing the story of Amadis de Gaule.
The Venetian Bedroom is home to three of Knole's finest 17th century tapestries | © National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel

The age of chivalry

Three of the finest tapestries in the collection are displayed in the Venetian Bedroom. Made in Delft by Francois Spiering in the late 16th or early 17th century, these tapestries are believed to have been owned by King James I and come from Whitehall Palace. They have been at Knole since at least 1706, when they were recorded in an inventory of the house, and have recently been conserved and rehung.

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Make do and mend

While the tapestries at Knole have been cared for and admired for centuries, over time some were recycled and made into cushions and seat covers. Although it’s disappointing to lose the complete tapestries, this gives us a fascinating glimpse into the make-do-and-mend approach taken by the former occupants of Knole.

Sculptures at Knole

Many of the sculptures at Knole were collected in the 18th century by the 3rd Duke of Dorset when on a Grand Tour of Europe. As well as these artworks, the showrooms at Knole have ornate sculptured decoration carved onto fireplaces, panelling and balustrades. Much of this work dates to the early 17th century.

Life size off-white plaster sculpture of Giovanna Zanerini, 'La Baccelli' the dancer and mistress of the 3rd Duke of Dorset, reclining on drapery at Knole in Kent.
Plaster sculpture of Giovanna Zanerini, 'La Baccelli' at Knole, Kent | © National Trust Images/Jane Mucklow

Venus or mistress?

Although the sculpture of a voluptuous woman at the bottom of the Great Staircase is described in inventories as a ‘Naked Venus’, the reclining figure is a sensuous representation of the Italian dancer known as ‘La Baccelli’, who was widely known to be the mistress of John Frederick Sackville, the 3rd Duke of Dorset. Perhaps understandably, the sculpture was banished in the attics when the 3rd Duke married Arabella Cope in 1790.

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A solid silver 'pier' style table at Knole in Kent which is elaborately patterned with distinctive curved 's' shaped legs set on round feet

Knole's collections

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

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