I mentioned in another post about the Gideon Tapestries and the huge project Hardwick is undertaking. The project has been going on for many years, and many more remain until all the tapestries have been conserved. I have been lucky enough to play a small part in this very large and very important project.
On monday we took down twelve portraits that were hanging where the returned tapestries will be going back up. Two tapestries have been away for conservation from the South end of the Long Gallery. The portraits hanging in the gaps were mostly Bess’ family tree and the portrait of her famous granddaughter, Arabella Stuart (or Arbella). Because these portraits are so important to the history of the property they still have to be visible during the few weeks we are working in the Long Gallery.
We built up the scaffolding in the Long Gallery, luckily it’s the second time I’ve done this so I knew what was going on and could be a bit more helpful. Hardwick’s scaffolding is twice the width of the one we used at Powis, but I can’t decide which is taller. We had two chaps on the top-level of the scaffold, and two on the middle-level, with the rest at the bottom, receiving the portraits and taking photos of our efforts.
I had been really excited about this project as whole, and taking down the portraits in particular as I had never done anything like this before. However when it came to it I was really quite nervous. These portraits are irreplaceable and completely priceless in what they mean to the property, and even the history of the nation. And there I was tying Arabella onto the lifting straps, good job I got my pioneering badge at scouts!
In the end there was no need to worry, the team are well-trained and have had plenty of experience moving portrait over the years. I really enjoyed us all working together and think we work brilliantly as a team. We took down the portraits by the door and re-hung them in the alcove on one of the Gideons that has already been conserved.
Then we took down Bess’ family tree, including the portraits of Young and Old Bess. These portraits will stay on A Frames in the alcove until the returned Gideons have been hung and the we shall put them back up next to where they have been hanging. Getting up-close and personal with these beautiful paintings was brilliant. The detail on them is exquisite and of course I was checking out the painted textiles!
I found myself wondering, again, what these people would have been like in person, and what they would be like compared to the idea these snapshots give of them. I would love to meet Bess, she must have had such a powerful personality! And Arabella seems like she would have been very interesting to get to know. She led a life that seems so alien, so different from my own, I can’t help but be incredibly curious about them.
Age, light and pollution mean these tapestries look so different to how they would have done to Bess, and the difference between the tapestries awaiting conservation and those that have been returned is staggering! However the project is still a long way from completion, and has been partially funded by donation from visitors to the Hall. Unfortunately this is the first re-hanging that will not be accompanied by taking down the next tapestries to be sent for conservation. Hopefully the amazing generosity of our visitors will not falter and we can continue this important work and conserve the whole magnificent set!
Next week is Phase Two, re-arranging the Long gallery, High Great Chamber and the State Withdrawing Room to accommodate up putting up the tapestries. Then on the 15th May Phase Three we will be actually re-hanging the tapestries! We are inviting the public in to watch us work, which I am really looking forward to. If you’re in the area come along and have a nosy! The tapestries have been away for three years and it is so exciting to be a part of the team getting to put them back again! Hopefully I can also be here to send the next ones off for conservation.
Many thanks the Claire again for the photos. Follow our progress on twitter at @NTChaps.