A trip to the Big City

Last weekend a couple of our lovely volunteers organised a coach trip down to London to see the ‘Elizabeth I & Her People‘ exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, and I went along to see it too. The exhibition gives a glimpse into the people in Elizabethan England and features several pieces from Hardwick’s own collection. I was really hoping to see the exhibition before it closed, given all the hard work we Chaps had put into getting our two lovely portraits ready for the loan. (Read more about that here)

The two portraits we loaned to the NPG

The two portraits we loaned to the NPG

The exhibition was only small but we managed to spend nearly two hours in there, looking at all the fabulous treasures there and admiring how wonderful our objects looked on display. It was such a different setting to see these familiar objects in. We were particularly looking at the lighting in the exhibition, it highlighted every detail on our newly conserved paintings.


It would be so nice to be able to do something similar at Hardwick but we are restricted with not having anywhere near enough electric points, and not being able to attach light to the walls or ceilings. We have been starting to look into different way of highlighting objects in our collection to show them off to their full potential. It’s a tricky thing to try to do but after seeing how good they look we want to try to do something. A project to be mulling over for the future!

I felt oddly proud of how Hardwick’s objects held their own alongside objects from all over the world, from collections like the Ashmolean’s and Private Collections. Our portrait of Queen Elizabeth was the main feature of the exhibit, the biggest, and in my opinion the best portrait of Queen Elizabeth there! Not only could you see her in the section with all the paintings of the Queen, but you could spot her from most points in the exhibition, and through an archway perfectly places to show our portrait off, with a seat in for people to sit and admire!

Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

It was fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives of so many different Elizabethan people, so many stories that I had never heard before. The people featured were such a cross-section, and lead such interesting lives! The portraits artifacts that accompanied them were of such good quality, I did have quite a few ‘Wow!’ moments.

Along with our two portraits, one of Elizabeth and one of our Bess, we also had some embroideries on display. These were two figures of men on a hunt embroidered on a backing of black velvet, and one of the lovely red velvet panel we have from a bed the Bess commissioned. This piece had the honor of being made into a pin cushion on sale ion the gift shop (I was very tempted but went with the from tree ornament instead). We were also included in a large part in the video that accompanied. I helped out the crew while they were filming the pieces and Hardwick looked amazing! It came off really nicely and hopefully will peak a lot of interest and inspire a few people to come and visit us.

The Embroidered Panel

The Embroidered Panel

A couple of my favorite objects (other than our portraits and embroideries of course!) included a beautiful sword, and a beautiful purse! The sword had engraved decoration on every part; I love it when weapons are both pretty and deadly! The purse also appealed to another thing I like, frogs. It was a really sweet little embroidered purse in the shape of a frog. Still can’t decide which one I would have taken home given the chance! There was a few pieces of really skilled embroidery on display that you can see some examples of here.

The Frog Purse

The Frog Purse

My Souvenir from the Exhibition

My Souvenir from the Exhibition

There was also a really lovely  pencil sketch of Queen Elizabeth, supposedly drawn from life, that really captured my imagination. There were several different paintings and portraits of Elizabeth looked like a different person in each so it made me wonder what she really looked like. I wonder what she was really like, and what her and Bess’ friendship was like too, if only Dr Who and his Tardis could come and help me find out!

I am so pleased to have been able to go down and see our ladies on display at such a prestigious London gallery. It fills me with pride and reminds me again how lucky I am to work somewhere with such a stunning collection of nationally important treasures! And as well as giving me a lot of food for thought (mainly about Elizabethan life) it has given us things to think about at work too. The exhibition is on until January and well worth a visit if you get a chance!

4 thoughts on “A trip to the Big City

  1. I know what you mean about wondering how Elizabeth looked and it would also be lovely to have more pictures of Bess – two women who I find enormously fascinating. Glad you got to see the exhibition.

  2. I love the little frog bag. I saw one near identical to it at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The author of English Embroideries, Mary M. Brooks shows a picture of that little 17th C. bag on page 76 with a full description of techniques used. She says that there is also a little frog bag from the museum of London but it is different. Thanks for showing little frog bag. I am searching through 2 books I have from Hardwick Hall to see if it’s in there.

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