Placing Faces: the portrait and the English country house in the long eighteenth century

Perry, Gill; Retford, Kate and Vibert, Jordan eds. (2013). Placing Faces: the portrait and the English country house in the long eighteenth century. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

URL: http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/cgi-bin...

Abstract

This is the first book to explore in detail the social, historical, political and aesthetic relationships between two important aspects of eighteenth century cultural life: portraiture and the country house, villa or estate. Houses (and their portraits) exploreastle.d inlcude Wanstead House, Althorp, Chatsworth, Narford Hall, Stowe, Knole House, Windsor Castle. As co-editor Perry has co-written the (10,000 word) Introduction which provides an overview of the complex and shifting relationship between works of art and their positioning within the spaces of a country house.
Her own chapter ‘Dirty Dancing at Knole’, explores the country house at Knole as a densely coded space in which portraits could contribute to both public and private meanings, and some of their gendered implications. She considers some of the less well documented aspects of Knole as both a repository of art and precious artefacts, and as a literal and symbolic representation of power and social relations. She focuses on representations of one of its most notorious celebrity occupants, the dancer Giovanna Baccelli, exploring the significance of the portraits of her commissioned by the Duke (Gainsborough Giovanna Baccelli,1782; Reynolds, Giovanna Baccelli as a Bacchante, 1783) and placed inside the house, and the ways in which her perceived status and her gender contributed to this accumulation and display of cultural capital at Knole. She also considers the relationship between Knole and the eighteenth century celebrity world of the theatre and its female performers, arguing that there was a complex interaction between the spheres of English hereditary power and status, and the brash, sexualised and trans-national culture of masquerade and the eighteenth century theatre. Perry suggests that these aspects can be seen to coalesce and even collude in the geography of this building and its valuable contents.

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