It is 10 degrees C with bright sun in Arbroath this morning. Hospitalfield House is cosy and inviting. The light streams through the windows warming up the entire area of the building on the east side. I had a lovely walk in the gardens this morning after breakfast. I am so impressed with the staff at Hospitalfield and the friendliness of the Scots. I feel completely blessed being here and while I came to do ceramics my interest has been consumed by the objects in the collection and some of the books in the library, such as The Art Journal, from the 19th century that are not available to me in Winnipeg. In talking with one of the other residents, Allan, who had ten new creative ideas yesterday, I am not allowing my academic identities collide. That said, having done graduate work in the history of sculpture, several of the pieces in the collection of Hospitalfield have caught my interest. Thank goodness that pouring my moulds allows me the time to pursue both interests – history and art and that I have given myself permission to slide back into the historical. Often students struggle with their course projects because they have a ‘fixed’ idea of what they want at the end. Hospitalfield is a place that allows you to take a different path if you find yourself on it. That is one of the other reasons that I am thrilled that this is not just a ceramics residency.
It is fabulous getting e-mails from some of you that read my blog. It is difficult to know if anything is of interest to anyone, so thank you.
We are slowly moving through Hospitalfield House now that more information is becoming available about the contents and uses of the rooms. The next room down the hall on the first floor is the anteroom. This is where Patrick Allan-Fraser met with his clients to discuss commissions. According to our guide, ‘it was cheaply done’. In 1877, the walls were covered with the first commercially available wallpaper. To make the embossed designs to try and replicate the 17th century embossed leather that we saw in the dining room, the manufacturers mixed woodflour and linseed oil and applied it to linen which was then adhered to the wall and could be painted. The wallpaper is still made in Lancaster; it is used for renovations to the walls of these stately homes. The arrival of cheap wall coverings completely wiped out the plaster industry in England.
This room also had gasoliers at each side of the fireplace. A gasolier is typically a chandelier with gas burners rather than light bulbs or candles. In some cases in Hospitalfield, they are wall-mounted or there is one, designed like a torch, on the grand staircase.
The anteroom also contains an unusual sculpture carved in marble by George Simmons. The title is Cupid with a Panther. There are pictures of Cupid Riding a Panther on 1st-century Roman walls but I have come up against a wall trying to find out about the artist, George Simmons and this particular piece. If you know anything at all, please write and let me know.
Behind the door in the anteroom is a picture by Francesco Francia of St Lucy with Madonna and Child. Francia was from Bologna. St Lucy has a very interesting legend. She is considered to be very brave. She grew up in Syracuse and lost her life during the early 4th century when Christians were being persecuted. She is well known as a defender of the Christian faith. One legend says that Lucy wanted to give her life to the service of the Church but her mother tried to arrange a marriage for her with a pagan. Lucy learning of this devised a plan to get her mother to change her mind. She prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha who told her that her mother was ill and that her sickness would be only cured through having faith. Lucy was to try and persuade her mother to give her dowry money to the poor and allow her to become a nun. Lucy’s mother was grateful but the bridegroom became very angry and reported Lucy and her strong religious convictions to the local governor, Paschasius. He ordered Lucy to be defiled by the guards. But the guards could not move her when they came to take her. They even tried hitching her to a team of oxen and dragging her. But it was to no avail. Then they tried to burn her. At last, they took their swords and put out her eyes. That was how she died. When her body was prepared for burial, everyone discovered that her eyes had been restored. In pictures, she is shown holding a dish containing her eyes. You can see it in this painting.
The ‘real gems’ of the house are the two rooms in the west wing. We will look at one of those today.
The central feature of the largest room is a marble fireplace carved by James Christie. The three allegorical figures, from left to right are Peace, Plenty, and Prosperity. Other details include strawberries and parrots from the coat of arms of the two families. The central figure, a cupid with both hands under his chin, was a later addition. Can you see the parrots and strawberries? The fireplace still works today and provides warmth to a room that does not start being warmed by the sun until later in the morning. Because of all of the wood and the tapestries in the house, in addition to all of the pictures, the blinds are generally pulled.
There was a huge interest in fossils and stones. A large piece of Jasper was found on the shore near the house and was turned into a table.
Tomorrow we will talk about the woodwork above the arches, the picture commissions in the room, and then we will take a tour of the harp room with its many curiosities.