Discovering the History of a Hidden Artwork
One of the most exciting things about working as the curator of a historic country house is the simple fact that one can never fully know the history of every single object in your care - and the hope that one day you may discover a lost treasure hidden in some forgotten nook that no-one has seen for centuries.
The sculpture sent for conservation this week of a slave in chains (a subject which does, I must confess, rather discomfort all working on the project) is not, I fear, a lost treasure I've unearthed from nowhere. However, it has been sitting sadly in the rather unglamorous section of the old servants quarters that today forms a never-seen store room.
The history of this piece is still something of as mystery; while it is believed to be one of four bronzed plaster sculptures purchased from by William Constable in 1760, this has never been absolutely confirmed.
Its similarity to other sculptures from this purchase signed ‘John Cheere fecit’ has led to it being tentatively identified as being by Cheere also. An 1841 account of the hall by writer George Poulson following his visit to Burton Constable describes the work as being on display in the Staircase Hall alongside Cheere’s very similar works.
However, recent study has identified the figure as being copied from one of the figures from the monument of Four Moors by Pietro Tacca. Further research into catalogues of Cheere's work reveal that he never recorded creating a statue of this title or description. Truly a mystery!