‘Life in the library’

West, Susie (2013). ‘Life in the library’. In: Retford, Kate; Perry, Gillian and Vibert, Jordan eds. Placing Faces, the Portrait and the English Country House in the Long Eighteenth Century. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 63–95.

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


The country house library in the long eighteenth century was an important resource for the creation and maintenance of cultural life. Libraries have been noted for their non-book collections, particularly assemblages of antiquarian curiosities and fine art groups of coins, medals and small bronzes. Little attention has been paid to portraiture within the library, beyond the antique tradition of author portraits above the bookcases. The uses of portraiture within this distinctive type of room are shown to relate closely to the design scheme for the room, and its evolving place within the country house plan. Narford Hall, Norfolk, has an interior scheme created from 1718 enhanced by a portrait scheme c. 1725, commissioned by Sir Andrew Fountaine. There is a biographical logic in the way in which portraits are paired and opposed. Read with the ceiling paintings, and portraits at vary scales in miniatures, intaglios and as statuary, the library room suggests representations of an English cultural dominance, in opposition to that of France or Italy. Sir Andrew was a gentleman scholar of the Palladian revival, an associate of Lord Burlington, and his library represents a new direction in the presentation of book rooms. In the context of Palladian libraries, the Narford room is exceptional in its iconographic complexity.

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