Miranda Rock of the Burghley horse trials chooses a floral masterpiece bought almost 350 years ago by two of her ancestors.
Miranda Rock on ‘A Still Life of Flowers in an Urn with Two Figures’ by Giuseppe Recco
‘This painting is one of a pair of magnificent still lifes, bought by the 5th Earl and Countess of Exeter in Naples in 1684 for 400 ducats. An inventory record of 1688 lists them as hanging in “My Lords Dressing Roome… 2 large peices of fruite & flowers in flower potts with black & Guilt frames by Reccus”. These pictures represent the Baroque ambition of two of my ancestors, who were fully occupied for nearly 30 years in the redecoration and lavish furnishing of Burghley.
‘John and Anne Exeter bought and commissioned hundreds of works of art on their three Grand Tours. At nearly 8½ft high, these canvases would have dominated the 5th Earl’s dressing room and created an extraordinary impression akin to monumental tapestries. I love the way they bring the impression of a garden into the house, facing out onto the remodelled parkland.’
Miranda Rock is the executive chair of Burghley, Lincolnshire, home of the annual horse trials
Charlotte Mullins on ‘A Still Life of Flowers’
A towering arrangement of tulips, wild roses, convolvulus and harebells rises above an ornate stone urn, as a further display marks a distant balcony with a mountainous landscape beyond. Across the curved face of the central urn, Perseus rides to rescue a bound Andromeda from a sea monster, whose head opens in a vicious bite and whose body spirals around to create the urn’s base. Perseus, dressed for battle, wields Medusa’s snake-haired decapitated head to petrify the monster as it rears up. Athena’s shield, used by Perseus as he killed Medusa, appears to rest on a table nearby, affirming Italy’s position as the continued centre of classical art.
This still life was painted by the acclaimed Neapolitan painter Giuseppe Recco. He was influenced by the naturalistic still lifes of his father, Giacomo, and uncle Giovanni Battista, but, by the 1680s, his mature style was theatrical and ornate. The relief carving on the urn is impossibly deep; the flowers fantastically coloured and layered. Still-life painters often created their arrangements using engraved books of flowers, paying little regard to when such plants bloomed or to their relative sizes.
After the pair had been sold, Recco was invited to Spain by Charles II, but he died shortly after arriving.
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