Thursday, 2 January 2014

Gloriana’s West Country on show



The Boyhood of Raleigh is one of the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir John Millais’ most celebrated works,  painted during his stay in Budleigh Salterton in 1870 

 With the quatercentenary of Sir Walter Raleigh’s death only four years away you could guess that at least one Fairlynch volunteer might be recalling the famous years of 2000 and even 1969. Those two high points in the Museum’s history were reached when Sir John Millais’ celebrated depiction of East Budleigh’s best known personality went on show. To greet the arrival of ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh’ at Fairlynch in July 1969 three members of the US Marine Detachment from its 6th Fleet HQ in London’s Grosvenor Square joined forces with three Royal Marines from Lympstone to stand guard over the painting, a military band played and Tudormania broke out. Visitor numbers at the Museum shot up. For the management of such a small institution as Fairlynch it was an amazing achievement.




 






















‘West Country to World’s End - The South West in the Tudor Age’ is the current exhibition at Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, better known to locals as RAMM. Exhibitions about this period usually focus on London, as pointed out by Prof Sam Smiles in the introduction to the book of the same title accompanying the exhibition. So it’s only right that the West Country should be spotlighted for the rich contribution that it made to the arts and crafts of the English Renaissance.


 


















In Exeter itself Tudor landmarks like the Guildhall, seen above, survived the destruction wrought by German air raids and city planners. They testify to the wealth of the city’s merchants, many of whom were involved in the cloth trade.  

As far as the role of the city planners is concerned, another worthwhile online resource to look at is the ‘Demolition Exeter’ site by fellow-blogger Wolfpaw, showing how much of the city’s heritage has been lost for ever. The pages dealing with the demolition of 38 North Street with its magnificent plaster ceiling are especially telling.  Click on 
http://demolition-exeter.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/no-38-north-street.html  to see what I mean. Fragments of the ceiling are on display in the RAMM exhibition.

 






















Equally associated with the cloth trade and happily another visitor attraction which has survived in today’s Exeter was St Nicholas Priory, pictured above, the home of the wealthy Hurst family between around 1575 and 1602.   


 






















The two jewellery shops in Goldsmith Street, just off the city’s High Street, serve as reminders of one of Exeter’s traditional crafts

The RAMM exhibition has some beautiful examples of elaborately worked gold and silver ware: Exeter alone boasted 23 goldsmiths in the 16th century.  I didn’t know about the importance of spoons for Tudor people.  

 






















The 'Exeter Salt' c. 1580
Image credit: http://artsconnected.org/resource/printImage/5058

Having set up the 2013 Fairlynch Museum exhibition ‘Sea Salt and Sponges’ which included a section on salt-making in the Budleigh Salterton area, I was interested in this image of the so-called ‘Exeter Salt’ made by city goldsmith Christopher Eston in around 1580, now in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Not to be confused with the equally stunning ‘Exeter Salt’ made by the 17th century Johann Hass in around 1630, presented to Charles II by the city of Exeter and now in the Royal Collection. Click on http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/31772/the-exeter-salt  to see it. 



 















Benvenuto Cellini's extravagant salt cellar
Image credit: Jerzy Strzelecki

Had I known about them I would have used these examples rather than the 'saliera' shown above made by Cellini for the French king Francis I. But that’s pretty spectacular as well. And of course the Italian sculptor’s masterpiece was also a fine example of sophisticated workmanship of the Tudor period.


  






















The oak door of No 10 Cathedral Close, Exeter. Image credit Derek Harper

Sadly for Budleigh people as I pointed out at http://budleighbrewsterunited.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/red-man-or-green-man.html   there is no mention of the All Saints Church carved oak bench ends in the exhibition. On display instead are the rather more sophisticated and later oak doors from Exeter High School attributed to craftsman Nicholas Baggett, similar in style to the door of No 10 Cathedral Close. Baggett’s work can also be seen at the city’s Guildhall.

However many of our Fairlynch volunteers will admire the mid-17th century bone lace collar and two cuffs from the Victoria & Albert Museum which are on display in the RAMM exhibition.


























Nicholas Hilliard in 1577, a self-portrait
Image credit: http://hu.wikipedia.org

Our knowledge of these West Country craftsmen is sometimes patchy. “The limitations of the source material mean that the West Country’s master craftsmen will always remain rather shadowy figures,” writes Susan Flavin in the book which accompanies the exhibition. By contrast there is a well presented section and a separate chapter on the miniature-painter Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1618), written by Karen Hearn. The son of an Exeter goldsmith he is famous for his portrait miniatures of many important figures of the age: both Elizabeth I and James I sat for him. But he was also briefly imprisoned for debt. 

The RAMM exhibition includes a number of these miniatures, with magnifying glasses thoughtfully provided by the curators.  Other larger and often striking paintings are on display, ranging from Joan Tuckfield, the widow of an Exeter cloth merchant, to Queen Elizabeth herself. More portraits of Tudor personalities include those of John Russell, Earl of Bedford and Lord Lieutenant of Devon (1485-1555) by Hans Holbein the Younger, Sir George Carew (c.1504-1545), the naval commander who drowned when his flagship the Mary Rose sank during the Battle of the Solent; Sir Richard Grenville (1542-1591) and Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540-1596); and the antiquaries John Hooker (c.1527-1601) and Richard Carew (1555-1620).  

Budleigh people will admire the life size portrait of Raleigh and his son in the exhibition. But I wondered why, unlike the portrait of Sir Francis Drake also on display, it’s not accompanied by a heading and more detailed biographical text. The little detail of Wat’s death in 1618 during Raleigh’s last and fateful expedition to the Indies could have been mentioned,  along with the story of the suicide of Raleigh’s commander Lawrence Kemys. Seemingly overcome by remorse and feeling responsible for the young man’s death he first shot himself before plunging a knife into his heart: events which were sad precursors of Raleigh’s own death on the scaffold nine months later.  And perhaps this corner of the exhibition should have been where a copy of Sir Walter’s History of the World should have been displayed. Published in 1614 it’s on loan from Exeter Cathedral Library.

Drake deserves the attention he receives in the RAMM exhibition, not just for his circumnavigation of the globe but for his role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada to which a section of the Exeter exhibition is devoted.  On loan from the Worshipful Company of Apothecaries is a stylised depiction of key elements of the Armada story: the alarm beacons, Queen Elizabeth at Tilbury, and the sea battle at Gravelines.  It is viewable at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada


This 19th century illustration by the American Henry Howe shows John White and his family at the baptism of his grand-daughter Virginia Dare, named thus “because this childe was the first Christian borne in Virginia.”  It comes from the book by William A. Crafts  Pioneers in the settlement of America: from Florida in 1510 to California in 1849, Boston 1876. 


Also featured at RAMM are the efforts to colonise the New World by largely Devon-born explorers: Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Raleigh and Grenville.  Rather different from Hilliard as an artist was John White, (c.1540-c.1593), celebrated for more than 70  watercolour depictions of American Indians along with the flora and fauna that he encountered during his stay in the New World in the 1580s. Probably born in Cornwall - his coat of arms has associations with Truro -  he was sent to America by Raleigh as Governor of the settlement on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, known as the ‘Lost Colony.

RAMM is a fine museum for the vibrant and historic city of Exeter and ‘West Country to World’s End’ will inspire me to learn more about the age of the Tudors in this part of England.
I’ve still not taken a Red Coat tour after six years of living within easy reach of the city. Click on  http://www.exeter.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=668 to find out more.

Maybe a Red Coat guide can tell me about Mr John Palmer, mentioned in this inscription at the almshouse which he endowed on Magdalen Street. Maybe he too should have been featured in the exhibition at RAMM.

A visit to the vast expanses of the Exeter museum inevitably brings home the contrast with quirky little Fairlynch so I could not understand why some of the exhibit notices were placed at a child’s level. And it’s such a fine exhibition that you might expect to see more publicity given to it at the Museum’s entrance, with instructions on how to find it. But these are quibbles.

 






















A sketch for the arms and crest granted to John Hawkins, 'Canton geven by Rob[er]t Cooke Clar[enceux] King of Arms 1568'. The bound African slave on the crest reflects the trade that Hawkins pioneered.
Image credit: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk by permission of The College of Heralds, London (1568)

Not such a quibble - and an omission which has caused disquiet among some visitors and correspondence in the local press - is the absence of any mention that one of Gloriana’s Devon heroes was the nation’s first slave trader.  The role of Admiral Sir John Hawkins (1532–1595) as the Englishman who founded the triangular slave trade means that Plymouth will always be inextricably linked with this most inhumane of practices,  admits its City Council.  Click on http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/homepage/leisureandtourism/libraries/history/historyroom/slaveryandabolition/johnhawkins.htm  to read more.   Inhumane? Yes, but no more so than the wars and cruelties of the past, including religious persecution and public executions, that sit so uneasily with the Renaissance tradition of courtliness, scholarship and artistic splendour.

Hawkins’ notoriety as a slaver is mentioned in the book to accompany the exhibition, but perhaps a reminder could have been found for the exhibition itself.    Slave chains like these are among RAMM’s many artefacts.

Admittedly from a much later period they could have served as a guilt-assuaging  reminder that Devon people like the Exeter-born missionary Henry Townsend (1815-1886) were among those went out to Africa with the intention of helping its people rather than enslaving them.  Click on http://www.rammuseum.org.uk/collections/collectors/henry-townsend-1820-1885 and on http://www.dacb.org/stories/nigeria/townsend_henry.html  to read a much fuller biography.

‘West Country to World’s End - The South West in the Tudor Age’ continues until 2 March 2014 For more details click on http://www.rammuseum.org.uk/












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