The Grand Tour, the two Horaces and the Court of Florence (1740-1786)

Monday 14 March 2022

A Caricature Group in Florence, c.1765-66 (oil on canvas) by Patch, Thomas (1720-82); 83.6 x 118.7 cm; Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, Devon, UK; © Royal Albert Memorial Museum

The third In Focus display at Strawberry Hill House from 27 March to 24 July 2022 was inspired by a survey of the architecture of Florence, richly illustrated by the renowned Italian architect Ferdinando Ruggeri in 1722, which has now returned to the house 300 years after its publication.

This display is dedicated to the Italian Grand Tour, in particular the friendship between Strawberry Hill creator Horace Walpole (1717-1797), and the British Envoy to Florence, Horace Mann (1706-1786). Both men were infatuated with Florence and the Medici family. "I can truly say that I never was happy but at Florence" wrote Horace Walpole in his correspondence (vol.19, pp.486).

Strawberry Hill contained a conspicuous number of Florentine works of art received as gifts or acquired thanks to the intervention of Horace Mann - Walpole's library included biographies, festival books, catalogues of the Medici's collections and books dedicated to Florence. Walpole even contemplated writing a history of the Medici Family, starting to prepare for it in 1759, but eventually dropped the project due to a lack of archival material.

The exhibition is inspired by three volumes of Studio d'architettura civile sopra gli ornamenti di porte, e finestre .. tratte da alcune fabbriche insigni di Firenze, which had been illustrated by the renowned Italian architect Ferdinando Ruggieri (1691-1741) and produced exactly 300 years ago in 1722. The volumes, which represent a rare survey of Florentine architecture, are illustrated with exquisite plates showing the works by the leading mannerist architects active in Florence between the end of the 16thand the beginning of the 17th century, including Ammanati, Buontalenti, Dosio, Vasari, Michelangelo and Cigoli.

Originally part of Walpole's Library, they were dispersed at auction in 1842 along with the rest of the collection. It is thanks to the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, administered by the Arts Council, that these three volumes have finally returned home. The purpose of the show is to place Ruggeri's volumes at the centre of a dense network of relationships and works of art that resonate with Walpole's infatuation with Florence and the Medici.

Mann, who arrived in Florence in 1737, was a leading figure at the Court of Florence, not only from a diplomatic point of view but also for his indefatigable promotion of the arts. Highly esteemed by the Florentine intelligentsia, he became a point of reference for all the British Grand tourists. Some of the most iconic objects in the Walpole collection were received thanks to Mann's mediation, from the portrait of Bianca Capello - the unfortunate wife of Francesco I de Medici - to the famous marble Roman Eagle, one of Walpole's most treasured trophies.

After Walpole's departure, the two men were never to meet again, however their correspondence, which covers over 40 years, constitute a lively and invaluable source of information about the cultural and artistic life of Florence at that time, while simultaneously illustrating in detail the artistic relations, antiquarian interests and dissonances in taste of the two friends.

"Their letters not only provide us with invaluable information about contemporary collecting, the Italian art market and British taste, but also about political matters and diplomatic conundrums."

Dr Silvia Davoli, Strawberry Hill's Curator
John Carter, The library at Strawberry Hill, 1784, Ink and wash, 24.7 x 31 cms, (9.7 x 12.2 in), Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University

The three volumes will be displayed together with a series of important paintings and objects coming both from public and private collections that tell us more about the passion of the two Horaces for Florence and their antiquarian pursuits. These include some of Thomas Patch's most distinctive paintings and engravings; various extraordinary portraits such as Walpole as a young grand tourist by Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera (Lord Cholmondeley's Collection) and Horace Mann by Anton Van Maron (private collection); a splendid trompe-l'oeil or inganno by Caterina della Santa with a dedication to Cavaliere Orazio Mann along with the typical grand tourist paraphernalia including antique gems, ancient coins, drawings and engravings.

Strawberry Hill House & Garden has been open to visitors for over 250 years. Created by renowned writer Horace Walpole (1717-1797), Strawberry Hill is internationally famous as Britain's finest example of domestic Georgian Gothic revival architecture. Walpole was a pivotal figure in 18th-century society, literature, art and architecture. The third son of Sir Robert Walpole, Britain's first Prime Minister, Horace Walpole was a man of many talents with a large network of influential friends. From 1739-41, Walpole embarked on a Grand Tour and European influences can be seen in the design of Strawberry Hill House and the works that formed its vast collection of treasures. He was author of the world's first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto.

Strawberry Hill Director Derek Purnell says, "We are really looking forward to starting 2022 with the latest in our series of 'In Focus' displays, all featuring objects and artworks that tell us the extraordinary story of Strawberry Hill and its inhabitants."

Strawberry Hill House & Garden can be found at 268 Waldegrave Road, Twickenham, TW1 4ST.

For more information visit: / Twitter @ strawbhillhouse / Facebook @StrawberryHillHouse / Instagram @strawbhillhouse.

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