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Dining Room

This room was the parlour in the sixteenth-century house and as such has always functioned as a place for eating and drinking. There is no surviving evidence to suggest its appearance prior to the 1760s, when the room was substantially remodelled by William Constable. He commissioned a number of designs from the architects Robert Adam (1729-98), Thomas Atkinson (1728-92) and Timothy Lightoler. Once again Lightoler secured the commission with a design centred on the figure of Bacchus.

Drawing on contemporary interest in the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum, it is suggested that the ceiling was modelled on an ancient Roman painting found at Gragnano. The plasterwork is by Giuseppe Cortese (1725-78), a leading Italian stuccoist based in York who worked primarily in Yorkshire. The carved doorcases are the work of Jeremiah Hargrave (1726-1786) of Hull, as are the side tables and pedestals for the sculpture. The pair of wine-coolers or cellarets, surmounted by crouching Bacchic panthers, were designed by Lightoler but executed by Hargrave. Carved in wood, they were initially painted to resemble porphyry marble and only gilded in the nineteenth century. 

All the relief and free-standing plaster sculpture is by William Collins (1721-93). Collins was a pupil of the sculptor Henry Cheere (1703-81), eventually establishing his own workshop at Hyde Park Corner in London. A member of the Incorporated Society of Artists, his work can be found in a number of country houses including Harewood House and Nostell Priory. Collins provided the life-size figure of Bacchus for 16 guineas in January 1768. In the far bay of the Dining room, sitting in two niches, are the groups of Mercury and Cupid playing dice and the rather amusing infant satyr with a dog. The latter piece appears to have been something of a private joke, for the dog is modelled on Winifred Constable’s lapdog.

The overmantel plaque of Bacchus and Ariadne riding on a panther and some of the other reliefs were modelled on famous antique cameos illustrated in Pierres Antiques Graveés, published in 1724 by Philip, Baron von Stosch and Bernard Picart. William Constable owned a copy of this book and it survives in the library at Burton Constable.

Bacchus, as the god of wine and hospitality, is a fitting theme for the Dining Room and the tablet inset into the chimneypiece depicting Aesculapius, the god of medicine, alludes to the notion that good eating contributes to good health. A surviving bill for the tablets secures its attribution to Collins: the work was supplied in January 1769 at a price of 16 guineas

The dining tables and chairs of 1768 are by John Lowry (fl.1740-93). There were originally 14 mahogany chairs with ‘seats stufd & coverd in blue Spanish Leather’ for which Lowry charged 10 shillings apiece.

On the far side-table sit three eighteenth-century knife boxes  bearing the arms of Edward Sheldon who inherited Burton Constable on the death of his uncle William in 1791. Such knife boxes were usually commissioned on inheriting an estate to display newly-acquired silver cutlery, which would also have been engraved with the new crest. Regrettably, the silverware no longer survives in the collection.

In the nineteenth century the room was redecorated and the walls, which were originally pink, were painted green by Wright & Dreyer of Hull, with additional gilding applied to the decorative plasterwork and carved woodwork. The window curtains and elaborate pelmets date from this period as do the ormolu chandelier, the gilt-wood wall sconces, fire-screens with Berlin woolwork (made by the ladies of the house), the hot-cupboard and butler’s tray.

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