The 'Orleans Room' at Castle Howard

Essay by Christopher Ridgway

It has become fashionable in recent years to write biographies about objects and, in the context of the Paul Mellon Centre project on display histories in country houses, it might be said that this research constitutes a collective biography of art works in buildings – exploring their assembly, arrangement, dispersal and so on. Relationships between paintings, sculpture and the decorative arts can be explored within specific interiors and architectural settings, and the research becomes in effect a larger group portrait when the findings across eight houses are compared and contrasted notwithstanding their chronological, geographical, social and cultural variations.

A logical development of this exercise is therefore to attempt a biography of an individual room and to reflect on how the constituent parts of its contents might have things to say about the construction and decoration of that space, the objects displayed and the motivations behind these arrangements of art works. As an exercise this has the appeal of intense focus but it is also fraught with complexity because no room in a grand historical house was ever furnished in isolation. Many interiors were designed to be experienced as part of a sequence within the building and thus the inter-relationship between rooms is critical. These spatial challenges to comprehending a room and its neighbours are amplified by temporal considerations too, since few rooms remained fixed in their appearance over the course of time. Reviewing a house like Castle Howard, one is forced to realise that the displays are ever evolving phenomena, with décor and contents changing frequently, prompted by changes in taste, fashion or as a result of modernisation, reconstruction or even calamity. Thus to fix a moment is to do no more than that. Visual and written evidence (either in the form of inventories or visitors’ descriptions) present no more than a single snapshot in the history of the space. Blink and the room will have altered its appearance, perhaps with only minor alterations or sometimes by way of a wholesale re-ordering. In this respect tracing display histories within a single building such as Castle Howard is an investigation of time and space through a specifically art historical focus. The objects and their changing contexts have to be comprehended and made intelligible, before successive changes dissolve each moment of stasis. Floorplans and elevations help visualise this process and are a helpful reminder that this exercise operates across horizontal and vertical axes, given that the display of art collections was by no means restricted to the piano nobile. Therefore, to extend the biographical analogy, the narrative encompasses multiple objects each with their own intrinsic identity but which act in conjunction with a host of related items and across multiple spaces. One is, in short, endeavouring to record the life of a community of objects, in an exercise that is at times akin to three-dimensional chess.

With these caveats in mind this essay singles out one room at Castle Howard and chronicles its various iterations over the centuries, all the time bearing in mind that what happened within this particular set of four walls was intimately bound up with occurrences elsewhere in the building.

At Castle Howard four rooms were specifically named in relation to the pictures they housed (fig. 1). These were the Mabuse Room where the famous Jan Gossaert Adoration of the Magi used to hang under lock and key; the Canaletto Room formed in the 1880s to house a large proportion of the Venetian vedute collection; the Janet Room named after the sixteenth-century chalk portraits of French nobility by Jean (or Janet) Clouet; and in the early twentieth century a drawing room that was characterised by the Reynolds portraits gathered there.1

Floorplan of Castle Howard from Vitruvius Britannicus, 1715, showing the sequence of state rooms along the south front as planned by Vanbrugh

Figure 1.
Floorplan of Castle Howard from Vitruvius Britannicus, 1715, showing the sequence of state rooms along the south front as planned by Vanbrugh, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

It is not an uncommon to find rooms named after artists or schools but what is less usual is to find a space named on account of the identity of the collection per se, as is the case with the Orleans Room at Castle Howard, after it was transformed to accommodate the 5th Earl of Carlisle’s purchases from the famous Orleans sale in 1798.

Vanbrugh’s Baroque mansion, begun in 1699, conceived the house in terms of two symmetrical projecting wings to the north, attached to a central block, distinguished by the domed Great Hall, with two suites of apartments on the south side of the building extending from the Garden Saloon. The 1715 floorplan illustrated the range of apartments east and west that were almost identical. In the south-east wing Carlisle’s private apartments included a Dining Room, Drawing Room, second State Bedchamber, two dressing rooms and an end room known as the Gallery or Little Cabinet. To the west of the Garden Saloon in the state apartments lay the Tapestry Drawing Room, State Drawing Room, State Bedchamber and State Dressing Room; the final room in this sequence was the gallery known as the Grand Cabinet, which boasted a large bow window designed by Hawksmoor. But the building as depicted in Vitruvius Britannicus in 1725 was an idealised one in that the west wing remained unbuilt, much to Vanbrugh’s chagrin. Between 1700 and 1750 the house was therefore three-quarters finished and this impacted on both the habitation of the building and the display space available inside.

This state of affairs was remedied in the 1750s when Sir Thomas Robinson built the west wing in a Palladian manner. However, in doing so he would remodel the final two rooms in Vanbrugh’s Baroque State Apartments, the State Dressing Room and the Cabinet. The Dressing Room was enlarged to become a three-bay interior; and the Cabinet was given a Palladian make-over with a trademark Serlian window to the south.

The Orleans Collection

The State Dressing Room in time became the Orleans Room, the focus of this essay. The earliest mention of the room is in 1745 when the Countess of Oxford recorded a yellow damask scheme that was repeated in the adjacent bedchamber.2 Then in 1759 the 4th Earl’s probate inventory provided the first detailed description of the room after it had been remodelled by Robinson, from which it is possible to build up a detailed picture of its appearance.3

On the south wall the three windows and carved cornices were ornamented with crimson silk damask curtains; between the windows were two large pier glasses in ‘gilt tabernacle frames’. Unusually for the inventory, the dimensions for these were added, each measuring 48 by 28 inches, and they would have sat comfortably in these spaces, which have a width of 46 inches and a height from the dado rail to the underside of the cornice of 132 inches (11 feet or c.3 metres). It might therefore be observed that these mirrors were relatively small for this space.

The furniture in the room comprised six mahogany French chairs upholstered in crimson flower and silver tissue ground velvet, with crimson serge cases. There was a wainscot dressing table with a crimson silk damask cover with a gold lace and fringe; standing on this was a small silver table mirror. Two large ‘foreign marble’ tables were ornamented with gilt brass mouldings; beneath each was a gilt ‘wooden cup’. There was a large sideboard table ‘curiously inlaid’ with various ‘kinds of foreign marble’ on a carved gilt frame and an ‘old India cabinet on a frame with a frieze cover’.4 Elsewhere in the room, above the fireplace were two small marble busts, and two small bronze figures and a small horse on ebony pedestals.

The walls were decorated with four pieces of tapestry depicting a ‘Roman Story’. These were part of a set of eight scenes elsewhere recorded as from the Gobelins factory, bearing the arms of France and Navarre and dating from the time of Henry IV (1552–1610); they were apparently made from a design by Julio Romano, recorded the triumphs of Julius Caesar and were ‘richly worked in silver and gold’.5 The other four pieces from this set hung in the first room in the state apartments, the Tapestry Drawing Room (fig. 2). Thus the emerging sense of the room is of the walls dominated by four square pieces of tapestry, which must have hung against some surface. The yellow damask from before the room was remodelled is unlikely to have survived the enlargement of the interior, but what the new wall coverings were is uncertain – presumably a textile of some kind or plain panelling. Nevertheless the colour spectrum – silver and gold thread, together with the characteristic dark reds and blues in Brussels tapestries, along with the crimson curtains and chairs – must have been spectacular. The room was not overly filled with furniture and we can hazard a guess that the marble tables were either against the east and west walls opposite one another or ranged either side of the fireplace on the north wall; the sideboard and Indian cabinet would have been on the other walls; and the dressing table and six chairs disposed around the floor.

19th century. Photograph. Castle Howard.

Figure 2.
The Roman Triumph tapestries, in situ at the second Howard family home, Naworth Castle, Cumbria, 19th century. Photograph. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

In addition five pictures were recorded in the room – ‘a family portrait over the chimney piece’, two over-door paintings and two Venetian views ‘over the pier glasses’. There are no clues as to the identity of these pictures: the family portrait is unidentified, and the over-doors (east and west) are unlikely to have matched the Marco Ricci scenes further east in the south front rooms, as these were painted specially for the spaces above the arched doorways in the Garden Saloon and its two adjacent rooms;6 the interiors beyond this central suite revert to square-headed doorways and so these pieces may have matched the two rectangular over-doors in the adjacent room. The two Venetian views from the large number of vedute collected by the 4th Earl in the 1730s and 40s could have been by Canaletto, Bellotto or Marieschi. However, the width of the space between the windows, generous for the pier glasses at 46 inches, means that these would have been from the smaller views either by Bellotto or Marieschi, which all had an average framed width of 42 inches; or possibly these were two lesser-known views of the Venetian mainland by Cimaroli with similar dimensions. Given that these last two vedute do not appear ever to have been arranged alongside the main assembly of views by Marieschi (16 in total) and Bellotto (14 in number but with a pair larger than the others), as recorded later in the Canaletto Room, it is tempting to think of the Venetian scenes in the Dressing Room in 1759 as those by Cimaroli.7

Here then is a snapshot of the interior in 1759, in a new arrangement dating from when Robinson began his work on the west wing in 1750. What we cannot be certain of is how the room looked prior to its remodelling by Robinson when it was a smaller two-bay interior. Ten years later the room was described in England Display’d and still referred to as a dressing room.8 There was no mention of wall coverings, or indeed of the tapestries, but two tables were singled out on account of their ‘very fine slabs of blood jasper’: these were probably the ‘foreign marble tables’ mentioned a decade earlier. A third table, ‘exceedingly elegant’ and comprising ‘an oval agate surrounded by modern mosaic’, was likely to be the mosaic sideboard from 1759; and a cabinet of ‘Amboyna wood’ most probably corresponded to the India cabinet. The bronze figures on the mantelpiece, now identified as Venus and Mercury, and the horse remained in position but the two small marble busts were not recorded. The pictures above the doors were now identified as ‘pretty’ landscapes and the two Venetian views are listed simply as ‘Caneletti’. The family portrait over the fireplace was not mentioned. From this account we can see that the room appears to have changed little in ten years, if we assume that the tapestries still hung on the walls. By the time of the next description in 1778, by Sir Richard Sullivan, more radical changes had occurred, particularly in terms of the picture hang, with paintings replacing the tapestries;9 this change would fit the maturing taste and growing acquisitions of the 5th Earl who, aged thirty, had begun a lifetime of purchasing, first on his Grand Tour in 1768–69 and subsequently in London.

This date of 1778 is also the first time the room is named the Green Drawing room, clearly on account of the textile wall hangings. Sullivan remarks on the two tables of ‘bloody jasper’ but devotes the rest of his short description to listing the pictures: ‘A Venetian nobleman, by Rembrandt; a nativity, by Annibale Carracci; John the Baptist’s head in a charger, by Rubens; Tancred and Ermina, by Guercino; a Holy Family, and an angel appearing to our Saviour, by Annibale Carracci; Abraham and Isaac, by Rembrandt; and Charles I taking leave of his son the Duke of York, by Van Dyck’ (fig. 3).10 There is no sense of how Sullivan might have been recording these pictures. Even if one assumes he was making a logical and sequential listing, his starting point is not known, although one might conjecture that having walked into the room through the east doorway, he might have begun with the pictures immediately visible on the west wall and worked in a clockwise direction. Equally, he might have walked into the room and turned to the first wall he had passed and began with an east-to-west description anti-clockwise. From this arrangement one can be confident that the large Guercino (98 x 112 inches unframed; fig. 4), must have hung on either the east or west walls: the width of the north wall spaces either side of the fireplace (at 130 inches or nearly 11 feet) is too tight for the picture. The arrangement of the remaining pictures has to be conjectural, especially as the three pictures by Carracci remain unidentified today.

Castle Howard.

Figure 3.
Reconstruction of the Orleans Room in 1778, at which time it was known as the Green Drawing Room, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

1649-50. Oil on canvas, 244 × 297 cm. National Galleries of Scotland (NG 2656).

Figure 4.
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino, Tancred finding Erminia, 1649-50. Oil on canvas, 244 × 297 cm. National Galleries of Scotland (NG 2656).

Digital image courtesy of Scottish National Portrait Gallery/Photo Antonia Reeve. (Free to use non-commercial)

In 1796 the Duke of Rutland visited Castle Howard as part of his extensive itinerary through Britain.11 He paused at length in the Green Drawing Room, which he described as an apartment ‘filled by a most valuable collection of first masters’, and he felt obliged to ‘afford a separate mention to each’ (fig. 5). On the surface Rutland was a methodical recorder. He began by mentioning two Van Dyck portraits over the doorways, ‘one of which represents the brother to Prince Rupert, Elector of Saxony; and the other, one of the Pembroke family’.12 His next point of focus was the wall to ‘the right of the eastern door-way’ and looking at the arrangement there he was struck by:

the most inimitable picture in the whole collection; the Lamentation of the Three Maries over the dead body of Christ; by Annibale Carracci the different shades of grief in whose countenances, are inimitably depicted. Upon this wonderful performance, which formerly held place in the Orleans collection, it would be useless to say much by way of description; its merits could not be exaggerated, nor indeed could they be done justice to by any attempt of that nature: suffice it to observe, that this picture presents to us a complete personification of Grief. It is kept under lock and key, similar to the Mabeuge [sic] at the opposite extremity of the house. Many stories are recorded of the esteemed value of this extraordinary work; such as the court of Spain having offered to cover its surface with Louis-d’ors, which would amount, by the trial, to 8000. An offer, within these last twenty years, from England, is said to have extended beyond that sum. By the most unexpected of events, the French revolution, and in the consequent wreck and subversion of princely grandeur, and property in France, it found its way into this country, and into the possession of the Earl of Carlisle.

Rutland was not alone in deeming the Carracci one of the two most important pictures in the collection along with the Gossaert (the ‘Mabeuge’ as he referred to it).13 Aside from his aesthetic response, and his anecdotes about the picture, perhaps the most noteworthy observation is that the Carracci, like the Gossaert, was kept under lock and key, which would have interrupted the visual and locomotive experience of the enfilade through these south front rooms.

Above the Carracci Rutland noted ‘a representation of the Discovery of the infant Moses; by Diego de Velasquez’. The Finding of Moses, now known to be by Orazio Gentileschi (fig. 6), would have dwarfed the smaller scene beneath it and left little space for any other pictures. Turning to the north wall he noted, ‘On each side of the chimney-piece are large Landscapes by Annibal [sic] Carracci; and over them is the Descent from the Cross, by Ludovico Carracci; and a Tintoretto, representing Two Dukes of Ferrara at High Mass’ (fig. 7). The last painting was attributed to Tintoretto until the middle of the twentieth century, when it was reattributed to Giralomo Bedoli. Before focusing on the portrait above the fireplace he listed the contents of the western wall:

Castle Howard.

Figure 5.
Reconstruction of the Orleans Room in 1798, at which time it was still called the Green Drawing Room, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

early 1630s. Oil on canvas, 257 × 301 cm. National Gallery, London (NG6684).

Figure 6.
Orazio Gentileschi, The Finding of Moses, early 1630s. Oil on canvas, 257 × 301 cm. National Gallery, London (NG6684).

Digital image courtesy of National Gallery, London. (All rights reserved)

circa 1540. Oil on canvas, 216 × 185 cm. Castle Howard.

Figure 7.
Giralomo Bedoli, The Dukes of Ferrara, circa 1540. Oil on canvas, 216 × 185 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

The western side of the room is occupied 1st, by a noble head of Snyders, painted by Vandyke: 2dly, a picture of St John, by Domenichino, the inimitable pupil of the Carracci; the colouring of which is wonderfully soft, and the expression in whose uplifted eyes conveys to the beholder a most accurate idea of meek and pious humility: 3dly, the Circumcision, by Joannes Belinus; who, it is worthy of remark, was Titian’s master and instructor: 4thly, an Old Woman by Bassano, very much in the style of Rembrandt: 5thly, a fine portrait of an unknown person, by Domenico Fetti: and 6thly an inimitable portrait of Annibal Caracci, by himself. This picture is not inaptly placed in the midst of some of the finest of his own works, and the spectator cannot but feel the highest admiration of his talents, who could transmit to posterity, pictures of a nature so different as the Three Maries, the two Landscapes, and his own Head; each of which is finished in the same style of excellence. Well indeed may we exclaim of this wonderful artist: Nil molitur inepte!14

Exactly how these were arranged is not recorded. It is possible that Rutland’s numbering was sequential as his eye ranged along the wall and yet his description has a sense of ranking the pictures in terms of artistic merit. However, assuming some element of pattern, it is likely that the arrangement was ordered in three columns. This can be confirmed in the detailed watercolour view of the room by Mary Ellen Best in 1832 (fig. 8), which reveals three columns, from right to left, comprising the Bassano above the Carracci self-portrait; in the centre an Entombment of Christ (then thought to be by Ludovico Carracci),15 above the Van Dyck of Snyders; and on the left, the Domenichino above the Bellini.16 But in 1796 the tally of pictures was not quite the same, for instead of the Entombment there was a portrait by Domenico Feti, known as The Music Master, hanging on this wall (figs. 9 and 10).

1832. Watercolour, 25 × 32 cm. Private Collection.

Figure 8.
Mary Ellen Best, The Green Drawing Room at Castle Howard, July 1832, 1832. Watercolour, 25 × 32 cm. Private Collection.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

The Entombment of Christ

Figure 9.
Luca Giordano (formerly attributed to Ludovico Carracci), The Entombment of Christ, c.1655, oil on canvas, 127 × 169.6 cm. Collection of Philbrook Museum of Art (1961.9.31).

Digital image courtesy of Philbrook Museum of Art (Public Domain)

Oil on canvas, 170 × 124 cm. Castle Howard.

Figure 10.
Domenico Feti, Portrait of a Man said to be a Music Master, Oil on canvas, 170 × 124 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

Rutland lists this sequence in this order: Van Dyck, Domenichino, Bellini, Bassano, Feti, Carracci. On the other walls in the room he had been meticulous about the ordering, recording which pictures hung above the lower ones, but he is silent about this with the western wall in the Orleans Room. How might these six pictures have been hung? Ranking them in terms of size from largest to smallest the sequence would read: Feti, Snyders, Bassano, Domenichino, Bellini, Carracci. The proportions the three smaller portraits (Bassano, Domenichino and Carracci) are squarer than the larger vertical shape of the Van Dyck and Feti portraits; the Bellini has a distinct landscape format. A fair assumption would be that the bigger pictures were hung at the higher level and that some element of patterning was desirable, as was evident with the other walls in the room. On this basis the western wall might have comprised the following three columns, from right to left, top to bottom: Snyders and Carracci; Domenichino and Bassano; Feti and Bellini (fig. 11). However, this arrangement might well have been different, and the wall perhaps appeared almost the same as in 1832 save for the central column with the Feti hanging above the Van Dyck as this was replaced by the Carracci Entombment (figs 12–13).

Castle Howard.

Figure 11.
Reconstruction of the west wall of the Green Drawing Room in 1798, showing an alternative hang, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

Oil on canvas, 94 × 78 cm. Castle Howard.

Figure 12.
Leandro Bassano, Portrait of a Woman said to be his Mother, Oil on canvas, 94 × 78 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

Oil on canvas, 58 × 47 cm. Castle Howard.

Figure 13.
Annibale Carracci, Portrait of a Gentlemen said to be a Self-Portrait, Oil on canvas, 58 × 47 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

Castle Howard.

Figure 14.
Reconstruction of the Green Drawing Room in 1825, based on the probate inventory of 1825., Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

The Duke reserved his concluding remarks for the portrait above the fireplace:

Before I take leave of this interesting room, I must not omit to mention a portrait of the present Earl of Carlisle, in his robes, by Sir Joshua Reynolds: which hangs over the chimney-piece, and which, although surrounded by the best works of the most pre-eminent ancient masters, stands the test of a situation so trying; and, without either offending the eye by the glare of its colouring, or escaping notice by want of expression, presents that happy equilibrium, which challenges, without fear, the severest criticism.

This portrait dominated the room and served as a suitable testament to the man who had assembled the paintings that surrounded it; artistically Reynolds was seen to hold his own with the old masters.

In the same way that the Antique Passage and the Great Hall came to be characterised by their assembly of antiquities, so the south front rooms provided a trajectory defined by the assembly of old-master paintings and English portraits. In terms of one’s locomotive progress through these interiors, the Green Drawing Room was the penultimate space along the enfilade that terminated in the neighbouring Museum Room, something apparent from the view of the room painted by Best (see fig. 8). This rare depiction of an interior at Castle Howard confirms the positions of many of the pictures on the walls but through the open doorway the terminus of the south front is visible with an ancient marble of a boy riding a goat in the west window bay (as remodelled by Robinson in the 1750s).17 The pictures displayed in the rooms preceding the Green Drawing Room were important masterpieces but there is little doubt that the 5th Earl conceived of the Green Drawing Room as a climax to this progress; one that represented the highpoint of his collecting over nearly three decades.

The Green Drawing Room also acted as a juncture architecturally (as it still does today), marking the moment when Vanbrugh’s Baroque shades into Robinson’s Palladian, and if anything the Museum Room beyond is a threshold space, acting as an ante-chamber to the Long Gallery beyond: both the Museum and the Long Gallery were decorated by Charles Heathcote Tatham between 1800 and 1810. The former space, as its names suggests, displayed antiquities and bronzes, with the latter transformed into a gallery area to be hung with large pictures and filled with busts, as Tatham was at pains to show in his illustrated prospectus.18

Mention of sequences of rooms only serves as a reminder that these rooms had something of a dual existence. They were particular spaces filled with particular objects, displayed in particular ways; yet they were also part of a bigger whole, a progression through architectural space that was defined by the succession of objects one encountered. Each room might be experienced momentarily and in isolation, in terms of its contents and the messages they articulated, but this would be quickly succeeded by the experience of the next room. Static admiration was balanced with dynamic progress, and a sense of accumulation of an assembly of art treasures the sum of which could be comprehended as greater than its constituent parts. This perspective teaches the value of understanding a room through the arrangement of its contents and how these objects ‘spoke’ to one another. At the same time this experience is necessarily limited given how reactions to each room could easily be conditioned by what has been seen before, as well as revised by what would be seen next.

Such was the importance of the Orleans purchases and their arrangement in the Drawing Room that it is easy to view the chronological narrative for this room as leading up to a climax in 1798, with a triumphal display that lasted for nearly a century before being dismantled. Between 1825, the date of the 5th Earl’s probate inventory, and 1880, when the room was last recorded before it was remodelled with a new doorway and its picture display entirely replaced, the Orleans Room hang appears to have been gradually supplemented by more old-master pictures, producing ever more dense hangs. Rutland recorded fifteen pictures in 1798 but the 1825 inventory listed sixteen in total.19 The most significant change was the exodus of the large Gentileschi from the east wall of the room to its new position in the Octagon at the centre of the Long Gallery (a space that had not been available before Tatham’s work a decade earlier)20 and the removal of the Feti to the neighbouring Billiard Room. This left two large spaces in the Orleans Room. The sequence of pictures listed in the 1825 inventory appears consecutive, starting above the doorway on the western wall with one of the Van Dyck portraits. The rest of the wall seems to have been shuffled to accommodate just five pictures; the north wall was the same as in 1796; and the large void in the eastern wall left by the Gentileschi was filled by two Tintoretto landscapes and the return of a Holy Family by Agostino Carracci to this space (which had disappeared some time after 1778; figs. 14 and 15). A listing of 1833 reduced the number to thirteen with the Tintoretto landscapes and Carracci Holy Family apparently omitted.21 Since they were recorded in situ four years later in another manuscript listing, one has to assume that this omission was either a lapse of memory or that subsequent list-makers may have worked from earlier listings and therefore relied on their second-hand information rather than an accurate and recent re-inspection of the walls themselves.22 By the time of the Best watercolour some pictures had shifted once more, principally the Tintoretto landscapes, transferred from the east wall to the north wall either side of the fire place and ranged above the Carracci landscapes.

Castle Howard.

Figure 15.
Reconstruction of the Green Drawing Room in 1832, at which time it was renamed the Orleans Room, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

Castle Howard.

Figure 16.
Reconstruction of the Orleans Room in 1880, based on the picture inventory by house steward John Duthie, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

Later Developments

In 1849 the total pictures in the room had risen to seventeen pictures with the addition of a Titian self-portrait but by 1874 the number had grown once more to include two pictures by Perugino of Abraham and Isaac and Adam and Eve, a rustic scene by Pieter van Mol, and an additional Van Dyck portrait of the Duke of Hamilton.23 By 1880, in the major inventory compiled by the house steward John Duthie, twenty-three pictures filled the Orleans Room, the newcomers including four pictures specifically mentioned as having returned from the London house after the death of the 7th Earl in 1864 (fig. 16).24 The van Mol had been noted in 1874 but now recorded for the first time were a landscape by Gaspar Dughet, a Carlo Maratta of the Holy Family and a Dosso Dossi Holy Family. In addition to these were a Bellini small head and a small picture of Cupid (tentatively attributed to Rubens). The biggest difference was that in 1880 (and in fact by 1874) the Reynolds of the 5th Earl had been moved from the room (fig. 17).25 Nevertheless the abiding impression is of an assembly that had stayed largely unchanged for many decades and it is likely that the core hang as recorded earlier in the century was significantly unaltered, with the newer and smaller pictures arranged on some sort of in-fill basis. The room could still justifiably claim to be the climax to the processional route along the south front, presenting a dense array of Italian old masters and Van Dyck portraits.

Castle Howard.

Figure 17.
Drawing Room, c.1890, showing the new location for the Reynolds portrait of the 5th Earl of Carlisle. Photograph, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

Castle Howard.

Figure 18.
Reconstruction of the Orleans Room after 1882. Digital image courtesy of Christopher Ridgway, Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

All this changed after 1882 when the room was converted to a private sitting room. A new doorway was added on the north wall, to the left of the fireplace; although it attempted to reproduce the mouldings of the two earlier east and west doorways, its size and proportion were very different.26 The addition of this doorway was necessitated by closing off the enfilade, turning what had once been a suite of through-rooms into enclosed individual units. In the adjacent room to the east, the doorways were closed and blocked by hangings and furniture; this meant that unless an additional door was fashioned the Orleans Room could only be entered through the western doorway from the Museum Room, thereby reversing the traditional direction of travel through these apartments. The northern doorway enabled access directly from the corridor behind this suite of rooms. But as the room changed its status and purpose (although, significantly, not its name), so too were the contents changed. Out went the entire assembly of old-master paintings to be replaced by a total of forty-nine pictures, a combination of contemporary family portraits and landscapes by the 9th Earl himself and in all likelihood his tutor Giovanni Costa (figs. 18 and 19). The sole picture dating from earlier that was admitted to this Victorian pantheon was a landscape by Zuccarelli, acquired by the 4th Earl on his Grand Tour in 1738–39 (fig. 20). A number of the new paintings are identifiable from the listing made by Lord Hawkesbury in about 1904 and they included a large oval as well as works in pastel and crayon and a large miniature on ivory.27

1886. Oil on canvas, 16 × 68 cm. Castle Howard.

Figure 19.
Giovanni Costa, Twixt Summer and Autumn, Pisa, 1886. Oil on canvas, 16 × 68 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

Oil on canvas, 94 × 144 cm. Castle Howard.

Figure 20.
Francesco Zuccarelli, Landscape with Peasant Women, Oil on canvas, 94 × 144 cm. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

circa 1958. Photograph. Castle Howard.

Figure 21.
The Orleans Room, circa 1958. Photograph. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

If we were to juxtapose a view of the room from the middle of the nineteenth century with one from the end, a dramatic difference would be immediately apparent, not just in terms of style, date and subject matter but also in terms of size and scale. The rational, patterned display, with balanced compositions and related themes clearly apparent in earlier descriptions had been replaced by a more subjective medley of mainly smaller family pictures. In itself this reflects how the room was no longer perceived primarily as a public display space, a stopping point in a suite or an extended gallery of rooms filled with eighteenth-century acquisitions and set-pieces: it was now a sitting room, albeit with a billiard table. According to this argument the arrangement of the room post-1880, filled with such different works, might represent a falling away from a point of perfection, even though the room continued to be named after its Orleans treasures, and was for a while decorated with William Morris Acorn pattern wallpaper. But the interior was to undergo several more bewildering transformations during the twentieth century. By the 1920s its late nineteenth-century iteration had been entirely reversed and a number of old favourites had returned to the walls – Carracci, Tintoretto, Bassano, Domenichino – in an arrangement that reflected the fashion for ‘Georgian taste’ during the interwar period.28 In turn this state of affairs was drastically interrupted when Queen Margaret’s School for girls was evacuated to Castle Howard in the Second World War and the interiors institutionalised to create classrooms, dormitories and other spaces for the pupils. Pictures and furniture were put into store and of those items that remained in the house a proportion was lost in the fire of 1940. During these years little thought was given to how best to display art works, if at all, and even when the pictures came out of store after 1945 there was a crisis of space in the building following the fire that had destroyed some twenty rooms.

George Howard (the middle son of Geoffrey Howard who had inherited Castle Howard) returned from the war, unexpectedly inheriting Castle Howard. Once the school had left he moved back into the building and then opened its doors to the public in 1952. In doing so he was obliged to recreate in some way the interiors of the past to present for the public a meaningful and enjoyable tour of the house. In 1948 he had returned the Orleans Room to how it had been in the time of his grandfather, filling it with landscapes by Costa and the 9th Earl and portraits by William Blake Richmond and G. F. Watts; but he included three landscapes by Ricci dating from when the house was first decorated at the beginning of the eighteenth century.29 Such was the resonance of its past that the room continued to be called the Orleans Room even though these pictures had either left Castle Howard or were hanging elsewhere in the building. However, this discrepancy between name and contents was addressed ten years later and the first modern guidebook highlighted the name, history and contents of the room past and present, which now included paintings by Carracci, Bedoli and Bassano (fig. 21).30 The difference between 1948 and 1958 crystallises the shift in the identity and purpose of the house, as its post-war meaning was defined by its status as a visitor attraction. It would have been perfectly possible for George Howard to have presented the Orleans Room with its selection of nineteenth-century landscapes and portraits but its impact on a public, understood to be interested in Georgian or eighteenth-century taste, would have been limited. Hence George Howard’s decision to return the interior to a grand display space that followed on from two similar rooms also filled with eighteenth-century paintings and furniture. Such was the unfashionable view of Victorian taste that the landscapes by Costa and the 9th Earl were relegated away from public view. Here was an instance of display dictated not, as in the past, by personal family taste but by the apparent needs or expectations of a far wider audience – the visiting public. There is little doubt that George Howard would have been pleased with this return to an eighteenth-century experience; it reflected his own pride in the collections as well as the zeitgeist for things ‘Georgian’ in the 1950s (fig. 22).31 This arrangement lasted more or less unchanged until the beginning of the twenty-first century when the green hessian wallcoverings (themselves a pale imitation of the green silk of previous centuries) were replaced by a turquoise silk damask. Once again the old-master pictures were moved on, this time to the adjacent Music Room, but most significantly the name for this interior was changed to the Turquoise Drawing Room. Coloured textile hangings, fresh gilding and new upholstery, as well as a selection of family portraits, now define this space (fig. 23).32 Of the history of the Orleans collection there is little mention.

circa 1972. Photograph. Castle Howard.

Figure 22.
The Orleans Room, circa 1972. Photograph. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)

Photograph. Castle Howard.

Figure 23.
The Orleans Room in 2020, now re-named the Turquoise Drawing Room, Photograph. Castle Howard.

Digital image courtesy of Castle Howard. (All rights reserved)


  • Head and shoulders portrait of Christopher Ridgway

    Christopher Ridgway has been curator at Castle Howard since 1984. He is Chair of the Yorkshire Country House Partnership, and Professor in the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates. Christopher has lectured extensively on the history of the Country House and is the author, with Terence Dooley, of The Irish Country House. Its Past, Present and Future (Dublin: Four Courts, 2011).


  1. Mabuse was the name by which Jan Gossaert was commonly known, adapted from the town of his birth, Mabeuge in modern-day France. The Adoration of the Magi was purchased by the 5th Earl from Michael Bryan in 1796; see The Diary of Joseph Farington, ed. Kenneth Garlick, Angus McIntyre and Kathryn Cave, 17 vols inc. index, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1978–98), vol. 2, p. 512. Known previously as the Blue Room, the Mabuse Room, in the eastern range of apartments, was named after the artist by 1837; Castle Howard Archives (hereafter CHA), H2/1/6, p. 36; however, the painting had hung in that interior since it had been purchased and was first noticed by the Duke of Rutland on his visit; John Henry Manners, Journal of Three Years’ Travels through different Parts of Great Britain in 1795, 1796, and 1797, 3 vols, London: J. Brettell, 1813, pp. 92–3. What caused the room to be re-named is not known. The Canaletto Room was formed in the 1880s when twenty-four vedute were gathered into what was previously a dining room to the east of the Garden Saloon; it was first recorded as the Canaletti Room in a floorplan of 1883 (CHA, Estate Office Principal Floorplan, 1883–84); the first catalogue entry for the room, describing it as ‘The Old Dining Room or Canaletti Room’, is in Lord Hawkesbury, Catalogue of the Portraits, Miniatures &c at Castle Howard, n.d., c.1904, p. 13. The Janet Room was a small chamber adjacent to the Mabuse Room; the earliest mention of the sketches is in Manners 1813, pp. 93–4; but the room was not named after the collection until the 1870s; CHA, H2/1/10, p. 36; the portraits were reproduced in Ronald Gower, Three Hundred Portraits . . . by Clouet, Auto-lithographed from the Originals at Castle Howard, 2 vols, London: Sampson, Low, Marston, 1875, but were sold to the British Museum in 1889; see CHA, J17/26 and J22/74. By the close of the 19th century the drawing room to the west of the Garden Saloon was hung with several Reynolds portraits, illustrated in H. Avray Tipping and Christopher Hussey, English Homes, Period IV, vol. 2: The Work of Sir John Vanbrugh and his School, 1699–1736, London: Country Life, 1927, p. 30, fig. 43. This led John Cornforth to call it the Reynolds Room, which in all likelihood it was known as colloquially; ‘Castle Howard, Yorkshire’, Country Life (4 June 1992), p. 75. All four of these rooms were lost in the fire of 1940. Some confusion exists around the dates of Rutland’s visit to Castle Howard and his descriptions of the collection on view then. The published edition of the Journal in 1813 chronicles his northern tour between July and October 1796 but it is difficult to match this date with the presence of the Orleans pictures at Castle Howard given that the syndicate between the Duke of Bridgewater, Earl Gower and the Earl of Carlisle with the dealer Michael Bryan was not signed until 13 June 1798, although by this date the actual purchase of the pictures for £43,500 had taken place. The exhibition of the Italian paintings at Bryan’s gallery in Pall Mall and at the Lyceum on the Strand did not open until 26 December that year. Rutland’s account of these pictures at Castle Howard in 1796 raises the possibility that either Carlisle’s share of pictures had already been transported to Yorkshire, for which there is no evidence, or that Rutland somehow revised his description after 1796 but kept the same date for his visit. He did add a footnote to the Castle Howard entry after his visit, which recorded a change to the Long Gallery, but the printed text does not seem to have incorporated any obvious updates. This is a frustrating anomaly especially as Rutland’s descriptions are among the most detailed there are of Castle Howard in the eighteenth century.

  2. The Countess of Oxford visited in April 1745; Historical Manuscripts Commission, 13th Report, 1891, ‘The Manuscripts of his Grace the Duke of Portland, [formerly] preserved at Welbeck Abbey’, vol. 6, London, p. 183.

  3. CHA, F4/1, p. 18.

  4. For the interchangeable use of Chinese or Indian for almost any design or commodity from Asia in the 17th and 18th centuries see David Beevers, ed., Chinese Whispers: Chinoiserie in Britain, 1650–1930, Brighton: Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton and Hove, 2008, p. 13.

  5. Cornforth 1992, pp. 74–7.

  6. The two styles of Ricci over-doors are variously illustrated in Tipping and Hussey 1927, figs 31, 32, 38, 41–4. See also Anthony Geraghty’s case study here, ‘Castle Howard: The Architecture of the Interior’.

  7. For the identification of these two pictures see Dario Succi, Marieschi: Opera Completa, Treviso: Zel Edizioni, 2016, pp. 34, 42, figs 28 and 29.

  8. England Displayed: being a new, complete, and accurate survey and description of the Kingdom of England and Principality of Wales . . . By a Society of Gentlemen, 2 vols, London: Ablard and Browne, 1769, pp. 145–7.

  9. Sir Richard Joseph Sullivan, Observations made during a Tour through parts of England, Scotland and Wales. In a Series of Letters, London: T. Bechet, 1780, Letter XX, August 1778, pp. 179–84.

  10. Today the Rembrandt is unidentified and its whereabouts unknown; the Annibale Carracci Nativity; the Rubens of Salome and John Baptist is still at Castle Howard; the Guercino was sold in 1995 and is now in the National Gallery of Scotland; the Agostino Carracci Holy Family is possibly the picture of the same name in the collection today identified as by a follower of Guido Reni; the Angel appearing to Christ remains unidentified; the Rembrandt Abraham and Isaac is still at Castle Howard and now attributed to Fiammingo; the Van Dyck of Charles I and his son is now identified as a version of Lely’s Clouded Majesty by Henry Stone and also remains at Castle Howard.

  11. Manners 1813, pp. 96–8.

  12. Both Van Dyck portraits originally purchased by the 5th Earl from Michael Bryan in 1796 were sold to Colnaghi in 1901 and are now in the Corcoran Gallery, Washington DC; see CHA, J22/73.

  13. The Gossaert was regularly singled out as among the most important pictures in the collection. Thomas Frognall Dibdin claimed: ‘It merits a far-fame; for of its kind and by the master, I should call it quite unrivalled’: such was his admiration that he found himself staring ‘with fixed eyes, and almost bending knees’ in front of it; A Bibliographical, Antiquarian, and Picturesque Tour in the Northern Counties of England and Scotland, 2 vols, London: C. Richards, 1838, vol. 1, pp. 235–6. Gustav Waagen, visiting in 1838, offered a more sober assessment of its qualities; Works of Art and Artists in England, 3 vols, London: John Murray, 1838, vol. 3, pp. 201–3, no. 17; The Athenaeum journal considered it the most important Netherlandish painting in the collection; ‘The Private Collections of England’, vol. 27, no. 2553 (30 September 1876), p. 439. Such was its status that it comes as no surprise that the 9th Earl should have offered it to the National Gallery in 1909; not only did the trustees agree that this was a pre-eminent picture but the public did too after the picture had passed to the gallery; CHA, J22/133. Dibdin’s reaction to the Carracci Three Maries was even more breathless: he declared it ‘one of the four greatest pictures in the world’ and immediately genuflected in front of it; Dibdin 1838, pp. 237–9; Waagen felt too that the picture ‘justly . . . enjoys its high reputation’; 1838, vol. 3, p. 207. Of the paintings at Castle Howard offered to the National Gallery by the 9th Countess, the Carracci was selected by all the trustees; CHA, J22/133. Both the Gossaert and Carracci received extensive praise in The Illustrated Hand-Book to Castle Howard, Malton: Henry Smithson, 1857, pp. 18–19, 25.

  14. The line from Horace’s Ars Poetica, I.145, translates literally as ‘one who does not work at anything ineptly’; it is usually rendered as ‘not to work in vain’ or ‘to do one’s best’.

  15. The Entombment, attributed to Ludovico Carracci, was sold from Castle Howard in 1944. The whereabouts of The Entombment was until recently unknown to me, but immediately following the launch of Art and the Country House information come to light that the picture, now catalogued as by Luca Giordano, is in the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma, to which it was donated by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. I am immensely grateful to Tanya Paul, formerly curator at the Philbrook, and now Isabel and Alfred Bader Curator of European Art at the Milwaukee Art Museum, for bringing the current whereabouts of the picture to my attention.

  16. Caroline Davidson, The World of Mary Ellen Best, London: Chatto and Windus, 1985, p. 36.

  17. The marble boy on a goat is still in the collection today.

  18. Charles Heathcote Tatham, The Gallery at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, London: T. Gardiner, 1811.

  19. CHA, H2/11/2, p. 12.

  20. Gentileschi’s Finding of Moses was attributed to Velázquez until the middle of the nineteenth century. It hung in the Green Drawing Room/Orleans Room from 1798 until c.1815–20, when it was moved to one of four large walls in the centre space of the Long Gallery, the Octagon; there it was accompanied by an earlier occupant from the Green Drawing Room, Guercino’s Tancred and Erminia, which had hung there between 1792 and 1796 when it was moved to make way for the Gentileschi; the Guercino was hanging in the Octagon by 1815; ibid., H2/1/2, p. 27, and H2/11/2, p. 14.

  21. Ibid., H2/1/5, pp. 1–2.

  22. Ibid., H2/1/6, pp. 9–18.

  23. Probate inventory of the 6th Earl, ibid., H2/11/3, pp. 128–9; H2/1/10, n.p. The two pictures by Perugino were re-attributed to Marco Basaiti and sold to Colnaghi in 1922; the van Mol was sold at Christie’s, London, 18 February 1944, lot 7; the Van Dyck portrait of the Duke of Hamilton was re-identified as the Duke of Richmond, H2/11/3, no. 143, and sold at Sotheby’s in 1926; it was probably the same portrait that appeared at Sotheby’s, London, British Paintings, 9 November 1994, lot 20.

  24. For Duthie’s inventory see CHA, H2/1/13, pp. 31–6; for the 7th Earl’s probate inventory of 1865, H2/11/5, p. 174.

  25. By 1880 five Reynolds portraits had been assembled in this drawing room: of the 5th Countess, the 5th Earl in his Thistle robes, another smaller portrait of the earl, Lady Caroline Howard and the 6th Earl when a boy. The first two pictures remain in the collection today; the smaller half-length was sent to Naworth Castle in 1923; ibid., H2/1/37, no. 94; the Lady Caroline Howard was sold in 1925 and is now in the National Gallery, Washington DC; ibid., no. 97; the half-length of the young 6th Earl was burnt in 1940. In 1904 Hawkesbury recorded six portraits in the room; c.1904, pp. 15–17; by 1918 this had been reduced to four but did include what came to be seen almost as a pair, the Thistle robes portrait of the 5th Earl, and Omai, H2/1/29, p. 1. Three of these are shown in the illustration in Tipping and Hussey 1927, p. 30, fig. 43. Leif Jones’s ‘Catalogue of the Pictures at Castle Howard’, 2 vols, lists six portraits in the room in 1926: of Omai, the 5th Earl as a boy, the 5th Earl in Thistle robes, Admiral Byron, the 5th Countess and Lady Caroline Howard; H2/1/37, nos 45, 58, 69, 86, 91, 97.

  26. The 1865 probate inventory contains a later pencil note against the Orleans Room: ‘Now Billiard Room and a door made into passage, 1882’; ibid., H2/11/5, facing p. 33. It is first marked in on a floorplan c.1920.

  27. Hawkesbury c.1904, pp. 30–34, nos 387–436. These included portraits of the Dowager Lady Stanley, Countess Granville, the 6th Countess of Carlisle, the 9th Earl of Carlisle, Lady Cecilia Howard, Lady Mary Howard, the 9th Countess of Carlisle, Lord Morpeth and studies of Tennyson, and William Morris by Jane Hawkins; the landscapes were unpecified apart from a series of views of the Nile by the 9th Earl.

  28. Catalogue of pictures compiled by the 9th Countess, CHA, H2/1/29, pp. 33–4; catalogue of pictures compiled by Leif Jones, 1926, H2/1/37–38, under artist names.

  29. Christie, Manson & Woods Ltd, London, ‘Valuation for Insurance of the Castle Howard Collection’, September 1948, pp. 3–5.

  30. Castle Howard guidebook, 1958, pp. 11–12.

  31. As a hands-on owner George Howard would frequently be involved in hanging paintings and arranging furniture in the weeks before the house opened to the public in the spring; see his letter to Lucette McKenzie, secretary of the York Georgian Society, 25 March 1964, George Howard Papers, CHA, TB30, Meeting Papers and Correspondence 1963–64.

  32. These iterations are recorded in new editions of the guidebooks printed in 1972, 1988, 1997 and later editions after the redecoration in 2002. At the time of writing discussions are being held for refurbishing the room once more; on this occasion this would be as a direct consequence of restoring the burnt-out Cabinet Room (formerly the Reynolds Drawing Room), which will mean importing items from other spaces and in effect kick-starting a chain reaction through this entire suite of rooms.



by Christopher Ridgway
20 November 2020
House Essay
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Cite as
Christopher Ridgway, "The 'Orleans Room' at Castle Howard", Art and the Country House,