The amazing treasures found at East Anglia's National Trust properties included in new '125 Treasures' book
Every object tells a story... and the National Trust has more than a million to choose from.
Old master paintings, silverware that once graced aristocratic tables, and a rare photograph from the dig that unearthed an iconic archaeological find are among them.
Now, from its treasure trove of pictures, ceramics, furniture, statues, clocks, religious artefacts, textiles, and more the Trust has selected just 125 to star in a new book.
They include a number from its sites in East Anglia – the vast majority on show in the region’s great country houses.
Each object in the lavishly-illustrated book is accompanied by the story of the people who made, commissioned, acquired or used them.
The book, 125 Treasures from the Collections of the National Trust, should have been published last year to mark the organisation’s 125th anniversary but the Covid pandemic delayed completion.
Author Dr Tarnya Cooper, the Trust’s Curation and Conservation Director, said choosing what to include was a huge challenge.
“The National Trust’s collections are nothing short of remarkable,” she said.
“Over 60 curators and other specialists have helped select some of the most outstanding and internationally important museum-quality works, covering the ancient world through to the 20th century.
“Over time, key details about who created or commissioned them have sometimes been lost, but these objects still have their own stories to tell.”
No-one has more pride in these wonderful items than the people who care for them.
Chloe Woodrow is property curator at Ickworth House near Bury St Edmunds, which was built partly to showcase the precious artworks collected by the Earls of Bristol.
“It’s a complete privilege to come to work every day and in some cases – very carefully – handle these heavenly objects that are of international importance, she says.
“We are incredibly lucky that in the collection at Ickworth we have almost every kind of piece, including paintings, sculpture and ceramics.
“They are the best of the best, and we often have objects going off to be put on show at major institutions like the V&A.”
The building of Ickworth House was started in 1795 by the 4th Earl of Bristol Frederick Hervey who, believing he was unlikely to inherit the title, had gone into the Church and become Lord Bishop of Derry.
The Earl Bishop was an avid art collector and his dream was that the Italianate palace on his family estate would house his collection and be part home and part museum.
But his death in 1803 meant he never saw his vision fulfilled and it was completed by his successors.
“His idea was for it to be a museum and art gallery where he could invite young up and coming artists to view some of the best pieces of art and sculpture in the world,” Chloe explained.
“Everything we have here was collected by him or other members of the Hervey family.
“We have around 12,000 objects. Our team’s role is a mix of conservation work to ensure they are well looked after, doing really good research about them, and putting on exhibitions and displays to get people really excited about them.
“It’s a great honour to have some of them chosen for the book. I feel very proud that we have all these objects and are able to care for them to a really high standard.”
She finds it difficult to choose a favourite among those featured, but settles on a portrait of six year-old Spanish Prince Baltasar by Velázquez.
“It’s one of the masterpieces of our collection. It’s actually quite simple despite him being heir to the throne. The more you look at it the more you see the detail, and you can see where the artist has made changes.”
Another of her favourite pieces, which does not appear in the book, is a self-portrait by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, one of the most renowned female artists of the 18th century.
The 125 Treasures book celebrates works from all over the country, and also includes items kept at Anglesey Abbey near Newmarket, and Blickling Hall north of Thetford.
Most are worth a huge amount of money, but one is a simple photograph, taken on rare colour slide film, of the imprint of the ship burial of a Saxon king at Sutton Hoo in east Suffolk.
At Ickworth House...
Portrait of Prince Baltasar Carlos by Velázquez
The painting shows the six-year-old prince, heir to the throne of Spain, wearing simple hunting clothes.
He stands holding his gun with three dogs at his side. The two greyhounds are alert and upright, while a large brown-and-white hound snoozes on the ground.
Spanish court artist and master of portraiture Diego Velázquez presents the young Baltasar in the role of a huntsman, in command of the forces of nature.
Sadly, Baltasar did not live to become King. He died in 1646 aged only16.
Scrapbook made by a 12 year-old
A small 17th century religious community produced some of the most unusual illustrated religious books of the period.
The innovative scrapbooks were beautifully constructed from Continental prints and texts from the New Testament focusing on the life of Christ.
The community at Little Gidding near Huntingdon was founded by Nicholas Ferrar and his mother, Mary.
Creation of the books was largely the role of the women of the family.
The meticulous techniques of cutting and pasting, and disguising paper joins by using heavy pressure, even led some to speculate that they had invented a form of printing.
The volume featured in the book was made by 12-year-old Virginia Ferrar, with handwritten additions by her father, John.
Georgian silver tureen
This is one of the most important pieces of silver in the National Trust’s collections.
It was commissioned by George William Hervey, 2nd Earl of Bristol (1721–75), showing that the Earl Bishop’s predecessors also appreciated fine craftsmanship.
In Georgian society, the ostentatious display of silver was an indicator of wealth, taste and judgment. Wealthy households would place beautifully designed silver tureens steaming with soup at the head of the table for all the diners to see.
The Ickworth tureen was created by German-born silversmith Frederick Kandler, who was adept at interpreting Continental fashions for an English market.
At Anglesey Abbey...
Atlas ordered by a Queen
Cartographer Christopher Saxton produced the first national atlas of the counties of England and Wales with the support of Queen Elizabeth I in 1579.
Accurate maps were critically important at a time when the country feared invasion from Spain.
Saxton spent years surveying the counties, and the engravings were undertaken by a team of Netherlandish engravers.
The atlas went through numerous revisions, and the version at Anglesey Abbey, with a portrait of Elizabeth I on the frontispiece, is from 1590.
Saxton’s maps were so accurate they were used and revised until 1801, when the Ordnance Survey began publishing its inch-to-the-mile series.
Gilded stag cup
This exquisite cup would have been recognised as a masterpiece of a goldsmith’s work by its original unknown patron or purchaser.
It was made by Melchior Baier (d.1734) in Augsburg, Bavaria, then the most important centre of fine goldsmith production.
The stag is so minutely detailed it can be identified as a red deer, an animal hunted only by the nobility. Around its neck it wears a pendant with a red garnet to further enhance its rarity and beauty.
Marble sculpture by Antonio Canova
The figure of a young boy posing with his bow and arrow went through an identity crisis before ending up at Anglesey Abbey.
By the time it was put on display as a garden ornament in 1965 it was described as a ‘French marble figure of Apollo’ rather than the work of one of the most celebrated sculptors of the 18th century.
Antonio Canova was outstandingly talented and won commissions across Europe, including from the Emperor Napoleon. This figure was commissioned by the future Baron Cawdor while travelling in Italy in 1786, and installed in his house in London.
But by the 20th century it had somehow lost its attribution to the renowned artist. After being acquired for Anglesey it was re-identified as a famous work by Canova.
If you arrive at the right time at Anglesey Abbey, you can enjoy a spectacle that has delighted guests since the 1800s.
This clock, in the shape of a pagoda, not only tells the time but also puts on an automated show every three hours.
A tune plays on 12 bells, while three jewelled pineapple plants on each tier of the pagoda lift from their pots and spin around.
The rare clock is attributed to the eminent 18th-century jeweller and automaton-maker James Cox (1723–1800) and is likely to have been a special commission for a wealthy collector.
Shield of Achilles
The exploits of the ancient Greeks were a source of fascination and inspiration in the early 19th century. Jeweller Philip Rundell commissioned artist and sculptor John Flaxman to design the shield of Achilles as described in Homer’s Iliad.
In the myth, Hephaestus, the god of metalworking, formed ‘an immense and solid shield’ for Achilles.
At the centre of the shield is the radiant sun god, Apollo, surrounded by the constellations. Five of these shields were made in silver gilt between 1819 and 1824, one for King George IV.
This example, made of solid silver then gilded, was purchased in the mid-20th century by the 1st Lord Fairhaven for his home, Anglesey Abbey
At Blickling Hall...
Rare translation of the Bible
This unusual translation of the Bible provides a remarkable window into early North American colonial history. It was written in Wôpanâak, an Algonquian language spoken by some native peoples of the east coast.
This lost language is now being revived with the help of this publication, which effectively provides a key to its reconstruction.
The book was mainly the work of Puritan missionary John Eliot (1604–90) and was used to encourage the Native American population to convert to Christianity. Around 1,000 copies were printed, but few survive today.
At Sutton Hoo...
Photograph of “the ghost ship”
In 1939 the ship burial of an Anglo Saxon king was discovered at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge.
Archaeologists uncovered the traces of the ship and an astonishing collection of treasures.
Shortly after the discovery, schoolteachers and amateur photographers Mercie Lack and Barbara Wagstaff were given permission to record the fossil of the ship.
Lack described it as a ‘kind of ghost ship’, and the images she and Wagstaff took provide valuable information about this excavation. The image in the book was taken with rare colour slide film.