Saturday 30 January 2016

A Plaster Statuette of Shakespeare after Scheemakers at Arniston House.

 The Arniston House, Plaster Statuette of William Shakespeare.
After the Monument in Westminster Abbey.
Perhaps by John Cheere.
Plaster Statuette of William Shakespeare
After the Monument by Scheemakers in Westminster Abbey.
Possibly cast by John Cheere.
Approximately 12 inches tall.
In the 'Skied' Library at Arniston House, Midlothian, Scotland.
This statuette is one of a collection of plaster casts in the Skied Library at Arniston House which was designed by William Adam, father of the Adam brothers in 1725, for the first Robert Dundas (1685-1753), Lord President of the Court of Session.
William Adam designed the first phase of the building at Arniston the East wing and central portions which was constructed between 1726 and the 1740's, the west wing was constructed to the specifications of John Adam in the 1750's.

In 1819, 4015 volumes are recorded there. This library was replaced by a new library on the first floor level some time after 1819.
Most of the 16 busts are now believed to have been collected in Italy by the second Robert Dundas II, (1713 - 87) also a Lord Presidents of the Court of Session, whilst on his grand tour in the 1730's when he was studying at Utrecht University, but the figure of Shakespeare after Scheemakers monument and the accompanying statuette of Hercules after the Rysbrack Hercules at Stourhead and the bust of Newton are later casts perhaps by John Cheere but given the subjects could be by Harris of the Strand or Robert Shout of Holborn.

An undated list from the Arniston Muniments, Bundle 171 (Small Volume) personal Accounts Book of R Dundas (1750 - 85) records 'the busts in the Library at Arniston'

Sir Isaac Newton        Diogenes
Aristotle                      Lucretia
Nero/supposed            Zeno
Jeron                           Antinous
Vestal Virgin             Solon
Homer                         Socrates
Cuero                          Euripides
info from Architectural Heritage, vol 12, 2001. Pat Wigston

The attribution of the figures and at least the bust of Newton to Cheere is based on the fact that work on the the Library refurbishment commenced in February 1756, when the alterations were made to the joinery and paint work and the busts were cleaned under the supervision of Edinburgh Wright George Stevenson. Stevenson had worked for the Dundas family since the 1730's at their town house in Edinburgh, at Ormiston Hall in Lothian and at Arniston. The Library was repainted by James Norrie the Edinburgh house painter who invoiced for £14 14 8d for painting the library in "oil white" for March and April 1756.  Norrie also gilded he capitals in library in1756.

The woodwork of the library was oak grained probably in the early to mid 19th century this graining remains - the original white paint can be seen on the interior of the bookcases.

An invoice for 10 shillings from George Stevenson was paid in April 1756 for hanging and mending old windows, and washing and cleaning the heads that stands in the library (bundle 236 Arniston Muniments).

All the plaster casts in the library have been painted a uniform orange brown to give the appearance of terracotta. This is probably the earliest collection of reproduction of classical plaster busts in England still in their original setting.
Both Lord Presidents studied law at Utrecht as part of the well-known temporary migration of Scottish legal scholars between the 1680s and 1750s.
It has been assumed in the past that the busts were from the workshop of John Cheere - but they are too early if collected in the 1730's given that Cheere did not start in business until 1739,  a close inspection reveals that the majority which have turned socles have a thin surface layer of approximately 5mm thick of a variegated coloured yellow and dark brown plaster giving them a Sienna marble like appearance, which I have never encountered before.
Given that the originals for some of these busts are in the National Museum in Naples, Italy it is distinctly possible that this bust and its fellows came from a workshop in Naples or Rome.

 I am so far not aware of any in depth research into the manufacturing of plaster casts of classical subjects either on the continent or in England in the early to mid 18th century.
Certainly casts were available in Paris in the late17th Century, Louis XIV ordered a set of casts for the French Academy in Rome. A set of casts were sent to the Hague Academy and in 1687 Nicodemus Tessin noted that it was easy to obtain permission to buy casts which Guillaume Cassegrai was taking from French moulds. In 1698 Tessin sent casts to Sweden from Paris which were later to adorn the Academy of Arts. In 1713 the Elector Pallatine had a collection of casts made in Rome for a projected academy and shortly afterwards were on view in Dusseldorf.
In the mid 18th century Joseph Wilton certainly collected casts in Italy as did Matthew Brettingham the younger.
For Brettingham and Statuary see his Rome Account Book (1747 - 54). John Kenworthy Brown, Published by the Walpole Society 1983.  available online for free if you sign up. -
Brettingham had intended to open an Academy in London on his return from Rome and had purchased many plaster casts of classical statuary. He had struck a deal with Paulo Posi to obtain casts of subjects in the Vatican Collection. Coutu suggests that Prince Frederick was enthusiastic about the idea which eventually came to fruition with the opening of the Charles Lennox, the third Duke of Richmond's Gallery at Richmond House in Whitehall in 1758. Unfortunately although highly regarded it only survived as a place for artists to study and draw from the antique until about 1768 when the Duke appears to have lost interest. The foundation of the Royal Academy in 1768 must have hastened its demise although the casts remained at Richmond House until 19 July 1820 when the majority were sold by Christies. 
see also - ‘The Duke of Richmond’s Gallery in Whitehall’, British Art Journal X.1, 2009. Kenworthy Brown. This is an account of the Duke’s academy of plaster casts, for artists and students of art, 1758-1767: details of the location, contents and the students who attended. This is an expanded version of a paper read at a conference on Plaster Casts, at Oxford, September 2007.
See also -Taste and the Antique, Yale 1981 and 1998 by Nicholas Penny and Francis Haskell chapter XI -The Proliferation of Casts and Copies. 

see also - Then and Now: Collecting and Classicism in Eighteenth-Century England by Joan Coutu, 2015.
The High Library at Arniston
Designed by William Adam in 1726.
From Vitruvius Scoticus
by William Adam
Showing the position of the busts as conceived by William Adam.

I am very grateful to Henrietta Dundas for allowing me the opportunity to visit Arniston and to photograph the busts and statuettes in the upper library.
It is my intention to publish further on the 16 plaster busts and plaster statuettes of Hercules and Shakespeare in due course.
 For Arniston House see -
For more on Arniston see -
Vitruvius Scoticus - William Adam - the engravings were made in London in 1727 or Edinburgh in the 1730's published by William Adam in 1748 but he work was not finally completed until 1812.
Arniston Memories -George Omond, Edinburgh. 1887.
Country Life, Christopher Hussey, 15 - 22, August 1922.
The Dundases of Arniston, Scottish Field, June 1953.
Arniston and the Country Seat, Burlington Magazine, March 1969.
The Adam Family at Arniston, Mary Cosh, Architectural History. Vol 27. pages 214 - 230, 1984
William Adam  (1689 - 1748) John Gifford Mainstream Publishing.1989
For William and John Adam and their work for the Dundas Family at Arniston see -
Architectural History, Vol. 27, Design and Practice in British Architecture: Studies in Architectural History Presented to Howard Colvin (1984), pp. 214-230 The Adam Family and Arniston - Mary Cosh.
Available at -

For further studies on the architectural and decoration history of Arniston and the Dundas family
see -
 Architectural Heritage, vol.10, November, 1999. - Arniston House: A recently discovered account for plasterwork. Pat Wigston.
Architectural Heritage, vol. 12, November, 2001. - A Grain of Truth. Pat Wigston. Notes on the Library at Arniston,
Architectural Heritage, vol. 15, 2004. - The Decorative Evolution of the John Adam Dining Room at Arniston House. Pat Wigston.
Photograph of the Chimneypiece at Arniston Country Life 1922
Showing the bust of Homer and the statuettes of Shakespeare and Hercules.
Plaster Statuette of Hercules - Possibly by John Cheere.
Approximately 12 inches tall.
I will be posting more on the 16 busts at Arniston in the near future.
Arniston House
Arniston House,
North Front
Photograph Bob Smith
Arniston House,
South Front.
Arniston House,
North Front
Robert Dundas II (1713 - 87),
in old age.
Engraving by William Sharp After Raeburn
504 x378mm.
British Museum

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