We're taking a look at nine of the greatest objects on display in the National Trust's properties across Britain — this edition examines a painting that is small in size and large in meaning.
The National Trust’s collections are not only vast, but contain objects of astonishing beauty, quality and human interest. To coincide with the Trust’s 125 anniversary, we asked nine senior curators — including national experts in painting and sculpture, textiles, furniture and decorative arts — to choose their favourite object from among those in their care.
A Man Consumed by Flames by Isaac Oliver, about 1610. Watercolour and body colour with gold on vellum, at Ham House, Richmond-upon-Thames, Surrey
Chosen by Tarnya Cooper, curatorial and Collections director
Although we don’t know who this dashing and handsome man is, he has chosen to depict himself as someone utterly consumed by the forces of love and passion, perhaps as a romantic gesture for a lover. A clue is provided just above the sitter’s head, as the motto translated from the Latin reads ‘he becomes cold who does not burn’ (Alget qui non ardet), which perhaps indicates that love of various sorts is an essential part of the human condition.
The picture has been kept in the green closet at Ham House since 1677, and helps us understand how small-scale pictures were displayed in a 17th-century private house.