Saturday, 3 October 2009

Dame Learning

Believed by some to be the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, Blickling Hall is one of the most perfect stately homes of England. Situated in Norfolk between Norwich and the coast, it was purchased in 1616 by Sir Henry Hobart and stayed with his family until it was sold in 1940. However, the Hobart Bull still bestrides the main entrance. And you can see a rather humourous bull on this modern sampler, together with the National Trust acorn. Inside the hall can be found Mortlake tapestries, and several examples of fine embroidery. (Be sure to ask in the entrance hall for the two free leaflets with charted excerpts taken from an embroidered prie-dieu.) I walked past and then returned to inspect the valance on the four-poster in the Chinese bedroom. I had assumed at first that the fine embroidery would have been imported via the East India Company, and seeing no description I asked the volunteer for more information. (It seems to me to have become a National Trust policy that many artifacts are now ommitted from room descriptions - which may be a result of targeted thefts.) However, the volunteer told me that the embroidery was a cut up Norwich shawl! On returning home, I looked through my books and discovered that this description is almost true. It was made from one of two 'shawl counterpanes' specially woven for promotional purposes by PJ Knights of Norwich in 1792. Originally 4 yards square and hand-darned with the royal coat of arms, one was presented to Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. The other, having the coat of arms of the Earl of Buckingham, was at some later date cut up and remade into the valance.
As a lover of emblems I spent a long time admiring the Jacobean moulded plaster work ceiling in the long gallery with its panels taken directly from Henry Peacham's Minerva Britanna. And I smiled at Doctrina (Learning) portrayed as ' a comely dame in yeares' within whose lap, 'an opened book appeares'. So, it was alright for some women to read, then?

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