The last few weeks at work have been spent preparing for a big holiday, not for any of us Chaps, but for two of our portraits. ‘Young Bess’ and Queen Elizabeth I have just left Hardwick in preparation for being put on display in the National Portrait Gallery, London.
Both ladies usually live in the Long Gallery, so after months of planning the first stage I had to really get involved in was taking the two portraits down from where they were hanging and positioning them at the end of the Long Gallery. The was fairly easy with Young Bess, as she is relatively small and could be reached with a ladder. She was one of the portraits we moved in May when we were re-hanging the Gideon Tapestries. However Queen Lizzy was a bit of a different matter!
As our portrait of Queen Elizabeth is so large we had to build a scaffold tower in order to get her down. Luckily since I have been at Hardwick us Chaps have had plenty of practice, so we put the tower up and called in reinforcements to help with lowering her, and then lifting her onto her specially built A-Frame (also know as the most complicated flat pack ever – with no instructions and no one who remembered how it had gone together last time!).
I was stood at the bottom of the scaffold tower ready to receive her majesty as she was lowered by the people on the scaffolding.In order to allow those on top to reach we couldn’t have the tower too far from the wall. This meant that once she was lowered there wasn’t a huge deal of room between tower, portrait and wall, and I had to fit in there too. This wasn’t too much of an issue, as long as I didn’t breath out! Don’t think I ever want to be that up-close and personal with a royal again!
After she was on the ground we picked her up and put her on her A-frame with no problems, roped off the end of the Long Gallery and awaited the conservators who were arriving that Wednesday. This was a really exciting opportunity for visitors to see conservation in action, done by painting specialists.
Elizabeth’s portrait originally had a different frame, the one she is currently in is a Sixth-Duke-ism. It is a huge, heavy wooden structure that was originally molding at Chatsworth re-purposed. It is the frame that really makes carrying her portrait so heavy! During the conservation work both ladies were taken out of their frames, and cleaned. Bess’ gilded frame also had some stabilising work done on it, so it could be safely transported without any loss.
It was fantastic to get up close to these two beautiful portraits, and once they were cleaned we lit them up with Goliath lights and the detail we could see was wonderful! I could see things I had never noticed where there, like the detail on Bess’ black gown.
The portrait of Bess is believed to have been painted between 1560 – 1569, based on the style of clothing she is wearing, by a follower of Hans Eworth. It is the earliest portrait we have of Bess, and reveals a different side of her from the stern, matronly image the other two portraits of her hanging at Hardwick. The clothing and jewelry are expensive, she is showing her wealth, and it is a really lovely garment, with what looks to be some fine needlework on it.
The Queen Elizabeth I portrait is full of symbolism, which makes it really interesting. It was painted in 1592, when Elizabeth was nearly 60 years old. She doesn’t look her age at all, and looking at the proportions you can tell it is not the most true-to-life image ever, but one had to be flattering to the monarch or else! It was given as a gift from the Queen to her good friend Bess.
After the conservation work we had to get the ladies down from the top floor and then packed, ready to go. Luckily the NPG had arranges for a company to come and do the moving and packing, Crown Fine Art. We had not worked with the company before so were a little nervous. However they were absolutely brilliant, really switched on and worked quickly and efficiently. There were a few nerve-wracking moments as the guys carried Lizzy down the stairs, just because of her huge size, but she got down safely.
She was then carefully packed up and put into a special made Travel Frame ready for her journey. Young Bess, because of her smaller size, has a very padded chunky metal case for the journey. Once the two were packed that just left the final stage on our end, getting the picked up and into the lorry.
The paintings were picked up on wednesday, and it was fairly straight forward if a little nerve wrecking. One at a time the crates were lifted onto a little piano trolley and rolled out the front door, down the main path and to the lorry, where they were then loaded. The problem here was how tall Lizzy is, the little piano trolley, and less than smooth pathway! There were a couple of wobbles on the way but eventually she was safely in the van and ready to go! What you can’t see on this picture is me standing behind the crate, biting my lip!
The exhibition at the National Portrait Galley is called ‘Elizabeth I and Her People’ and runs between 10th October and January 5th. It will display a variety of portraits of not just the nobility, but people from all walks of Elizabethan life. It focuses on Elizabeth’s 40 year reign, which was a time of expanding horizons, discovery, invention and the emergence of new technologies, fashions and opportunities. Along-side the portraits, some of which have never been on public display before, there are artifacts of Elizabethan life, creating a varied and interesting glimpse into that ‘Golden Age’. It is really exciting to think that I have helped in some small way with this exhibition, and I’m so proud for Hardwick to have two of our portraits, and two embroideries, chose to be displayed! All in all I hope the ladies enjoy their holiday, and hope to get down to see them and the exhibition!