Mobile Menu
From the organisers of
Home » News » Heritage » Heritage : Restoration or imagination?

Heritage : Restoration or imagination?

15 April 2010
The new Carrara Marble fountain in the Elizabethan Garden at Kennilworth Castle.

The new fountain at Kenilworth Castle is fit for a Queen. But which Queen? Elizabeth I or Elizabeth II? There is no doubting the skill of the carvers or the beauty of the Carrara marble fountain in the newly opened Elizabethan Gardens at Kenilworth Castle, but conservation purists have questioned whether this new work should have been put in the gardens at all. Here, sculptor Tim Crawley of masons and carvers Fairhaven & Woods in Cambridge, explains how the design of the new marble fountain was developed and addresses the question: Was it a work of restoration or imagination?

In 1575 perhaps the biggest ever party in the history of England was thrown. It was held at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire and celebrated the visit of Queen Elizabeth I. It was laid on by one of the two most powerful men in the reign of Elizabeth I – Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The 19 days of festivities were so lavish and spectacular that the party has passed into the country’s cultural history. It is possible that a young Shakespeare, who lived a short distance away in Stratford, attended the event and incorporated some of what he saw into the plot of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Later Walter Scott wove a romance around the event in his novel Kenilworth. There are two detailed contemporary accounts of the festivities, one by the poet and actor George Gascoigne, the other by Robert Langham, a minor courtier.

Before the party, Dudley had invested a fortune in the development of Kenilworth Castle, turning it into a truly palatial residence. Part of this development included the creation of an elaborate garden.

After the death of Dudley the Castle reverted to the Crown and during the Civil War part of the keep and some of the curtain walls were destroyed. From this date forward the great palace became a ruin.

Eventually, in 1984, English Heritage took over the site. In order to justify the maintenance of the Castle they need to encourage visitors and to enhance the experience of visiting the Castle it was decided to recreate Dudley’s garden.

The centrepiece of the garden was a fountain and this was described in detail by Langham. Designed as a privy garden, it was closed to all but the Queen’s closest companions. But one day, while the Queen was out hunting, Langham was allowed to sneak inside by Adrian the gardener.

He describes the fountain he saw as follows: “In the center (az it wear) of this goodly Gardein, was theer placed a very fayre Foountain, cast intoo an eight square, reared a four foot hy, from the midst whearof a Colum vp set in the shape of too Athlants ioined togeather a backhalf, the toon looking East, toother West, with theyr hands vphollding a fayr formed boll, of a thrée foot ouer: from wheans sundrye fine pipez did liuely distill continuall streamz intoo the receyt of the Foountayn, maynteyned styll too foot déep by the same fresh falling water: whearin pleazauntly playing too & fro, & round about, Carp, Tench, Bream, and for varietée, Pearch & Eel, fysh fayrliking all, and large; in the toppe, the ragged staffe, which, with the boll, the pillar, and eyght sides beneath, wear all heawen oout of rich & hard white Marbl. A one syde, Neptune with his Tridental Fuskin triumphing in hiz Throne, trayled into the déep by his marine horsez. On another, Thetis in her chariot drawn by her Dollphins. Then, Triton by hiz fyshez. Héer, Protheus hearding hiz sea buls. Thear, Doris & her dooughterz solacyng a sea & sandz.

“The wauez soourging with froth & fome, entermengled in place with whalez, whirlpoolz, sturgeonz, Tunneyz, Conchs, & wealks: all engrauen by exquisit deuize and skill, so az I maye thinke this not much inferioour vnto Phœbus gatez, which (Ouid sayz), & peraduentur a pattern to thiz, that Vulcan himself dyd cut.”

Two sources of information prove that Langham’s letter was not just fantasy. The first were the archaeological digs undertaken by English Heritage in 2004 and 2006. These uncovered the footprint of the octagonal basin, showing each side to be four feet wide and that the fountain was indeed made of marble. Two small chips were identified as white marble from Carrara.

The second is a panoramic painting of Kenilworth as it was in 1620, seen as an 18th century copy of a lost 17th century mural. Even though the garden seems to have been removed, the fountain remains, although the reservoir has been dismantled. The image is tiny and impressionistic, but clearly shows two figures supporting a vessel and gives a clear impression of the overall proportions.

Langham’s description is entertaining and evocative and the supporting evidence compelling. It was sufficient information from which to produce a design that could be built, although for it to be authentic much more information would be needed and this could only be found by comparative historical research.

There is plenty of documentary evidence that fountains were a common feature of Elizabethan gardens, although the only survivor in situ is at Bolsover Castle. There is also pictorial evidence of fountains within Nonsuch Palace, built by Henry VIII in 1540, and a surviving tapestry from Kenilworth from circa 1585 depicts two fountains that are clearly influenced by examples from engravings from the Low Countries and France. This was a source of information on continental style that was available to English artists at this period.

Many more fountains of the late 16th century survive in Europe and one in particular is remarkably similar in both design and iconography to that described by Langham. This is the town fountain of Friesach in Austria reliably dated 1563.

By combining the proven evidence specific to the Kenilworth fountain with the comparative historical research, it was possible to produce a drawing showing the structure, proportions and composition of an outline design.

The mouldings and assembly of the octagonal reservoir are taken from Friesach, while the inverted baluster on which the Atlas figures stand and the globe they support are taken from the Kenilworth painting. All conforms to Langham’s description, including the ‘ragged staff’, Dudley’s heraldic insignia, which tops the whole ensemble and which may still be seen in many places throughout the castle.

Further detail, however, was still required. Langham described the subject matter of five of the eight relief panels of the reservoir and the marine iconography he established clearly needed to be continued in the remaining three.

It was decided to draw the subjects from the Roman poet Ovid’s narrative poem, The Metamorphoses. This is known to have been one of Elizabeth I’s favourite books and Dudley was the patron of the first English edition, published in 1567. The poem is a racy account of the history of the universe, weaving together the lives and loves of gods and mortals, describing their frequent transformations, often into animals and plants.

Thus, to the five subjects mentioned by Langham – Neptune, Thetis, Triton, Proteus and Doris – were added Europa, Perseus & Andromeda, and Caenis.

For the imagery, it was decided to use contemporary engravings of sea gods by Galle and Collaert, who were active in this period in Antwerp, which was a great centre for the production and export of engravings of classical mythology.

This would be supplemented with illustrations of The Metamorphoses by Virgil Solis, published in 1563 in Nuremberg. By adapting this imagery to conform with Langham’s descriptions, it was possible to produce a suite of designs that could claim to be authentically of the period.

Having finalised the design drawings, the next challenge was to produce models for the carvings that would look convincingly Elizabethan in style. In order to achieve this it was necessary to research comparative contemporary work, both on the Continent as well as in England.

There is no record of who produced the statues at Kenilworth, but there is plenty of evidence concerning sculptors and workshops of the period, especially those producing work for the court and aristocracy. For a project of such importance it can be assumed Leicester would have employed a first rate sculptor, capable of working in marble and with a knowledge of the classical.

The Cure workshop in Southwark would have been capable of work of this quality. It was established by William the Elder who had arrived in England from the low countries in 1541, summoned by Henry VIII to work at his new palace of Nonsuch. By 1575 William’s son, Cornelius, was working with his father and it is recorded that he worked in marble, had travelled and ‘sen much worke in forrein places’, produced models for sculptural schemes and was apparently involved in the manufacture of garden fountains at Hampton Court and Greenwich Palace. He was an ideal candidate for the commission at Kenilworth. He had the skill, knowledge, experience and resources to carry the project through.

By studying the works attributed to the Cure workshop it was possible to begin to find clues to the style and quality of the work that was commissioned at Kenilworth.

A likely influence on Cure would have been the mannerist School of Fontainebleau, if only due to its relative proximity. The semi-nude draped stucco figures used at Fontainebleau in conjunction with strap work to frame the frescoes would have provided ideal prototypes and were themselves influenced directly by Italian Mannerist style. Drawings by Nicholas Bellin show that work of just this type and quality could be seen at Nonsuch.

With this kind of imagery in mind, the next stage of the work was to model the design in clay. The first step was to employ a pair of models to set up the poses and work out the compositional relationship between the two Atlantes.

The provision of a full-sized globe and a circular base corresponding to the top of the column on which the figures stand allowed experimentation with the models to achieve the most satisfactory pose.

Standing back to back, the models took up the classic ‘contraposto’ pose so common in the Renaissance. It gives an impression of grace and poise. In this pose most of the weight of the figure is taken on one leg, while the other is slightly bent at the knee. The effect is to give an elegant ‘S’ curve to the posture. The globe they hold forces the chins deep down onto the chest to great effect, for when in position on the central column of the fountain the figures look directly down at the viewer below, creating an impression of stoical resolve and endurance befitting two figures holding up the heavens or earth that the globe represents.

The positioning of the arms gives further dynamic interest. They are set alternately high and low around the globe.

The modelling of the figures was a two stage process as recommended in a treatise by the Renaissance sculptor and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini when he wrote: “To succeed with a figure in marble, the art requires a good craftsman first to set up a little model about two palms high, and in this model he carefully thinks out the pose, making his figure draped or nude as the case may be. After this he makes a second model of the size his marble is to be; and if he wants it to be particularly good he must finish the large model much more carefully than the small one.”

In the larger scale models, particular thought was given to the treatment of the heads as their detailing could give an Elizabethan character to the sculpture. The highly accomplished double tomb of Sir Philip and Thomas Hoby at Bisham was an ideal model as it has been attributed to Cornelius Cure and dates to 1566.

Interestingly, this tomb seems to be the first to introduce the idea of the semi-reclining figure to English tomb design and may be compared to the famous 1557 Tomb of Charles de Maigny by the French Mannerist Sculptor Pierre Bontemps.

Further links to France are suggested by the fact that Sir Philip Hoby was ambassador to the French court. All of this is tantalisingly circumstantial.

Whatever the truth, the use of these heads as a basis for those of the Atlantes gives an Elizabethan look to the figures which otherwise might be difficult to distinguish from other periods.

The relief panels were modelled directly from drawings. A tracing was made from the full size design and transferred to the clay by ‘pouncing’, that is by laying the tracing onto the clay surface and pricking through the outlines with a pin. This is a traditional technique used in the Renaissance period. The forms and details of the design can then be worked up in relief, taking care that the specified depth of the relief, in this case 50mm, is not exceeded.

With the production of the models, the design process was complete and it then remained to realise the project in marble.

I will tell the story of the marble selection, masonry, carving and fixing in a future edition of Natural Stone Specialist, although it should be noted here that the techniques used, apart from the assistance of power tools, were basically identical to those of the Renaissance period.

While this work might not be in the current spirit of conservation, I think it is legitimate restoration. The definition of the word ‘restoration’ is “the reinstatement of something that once existed back to its former place and condition”. In this sense, the new fountain at Kenilworth could be described as restoration.


Share this page