The Hatfield House paintings by Marcus Gheeraerts II
There were four ceiling murals (or frescos) in Hatfield House that Marcus Gheeraerts II painted (Several with Annibale Carracci and his best student directing).
They were kind of risqué so they were probably hidden with false ceilings. When they are located it will be very obvious that he painted them since they are done in his style and no one else's.
I have read on the Hatfield House web site that there are at least three rooms whose ceilings were covered over early in the reign of Queen Victoria.* The ceilings were pretty risque so knowing the nature of the queen, who visited Hatfield House, this could explain why those ceilings were hidden.
We kept Marcus busy when there was no work for him and that happened in falls and winters. Then during the summers he came out because of the annual plague outbreaks (or during other infectious outbreaks like smallpox and malaria).
We had artists doing lots of work in obscure places at Hatfield House just to give them work (read below here).
Every year for about three or four months during the summers plague or another disease broke out and dumped 50 to 100 artists on our doorstep. They were basically geeks who needed a mother to take care of them. (One main year was in 1611 when we were finishing up Hatfield House.)
Often the artists were subject to a 'five week itch'. After about five weeks they had to create, be that act, sing, paint or sculpt. London would draw them back in order to scratch that itch. I had to keep them all occupied or they would have all gone back to London to scratch their itch where many of those who stayed (there or in any major city) ended up dying.
On one occasion I distinctly recall getting right in the middle of the road with Robert and stopping 25 of them from going back to London. They stayed. For some reason I think I should add that other patrons of the arts including King James donated literally tons of food for them while we supplied them with the housing and work. We often had left over food for a long time afterwards.
The plague was a very big problem for painters for two reasons. One was the obvious close contact they had with their patrons for extended periods of time. The other was that those patrons often waited until they were literally dying of the plague before they decided that they wanted a portrait of themselves to leave their loved ones. One died while Marcus Gheeraerts II was actually in the process of painting him. Many others died between sessions. The real problem was that the plague could be spread by direct transmission and one single sneeze could bring death to England's greatest painter. Here is an article about the plague in London during these very years. These published numbers were very low, far lower than the true number of deaths. That was to prevent people from panicking.
From the midst of any disease outbreak on any painter could make a lot of money but half of them died when they did so.
How did I keep them from going back to London?
In about 1605 I pretty much invented the Grand Tour of Europe in order to locate the styles that I wanted for my home theater. (See here) I spent several months in central/northern Italy and wherever I went I kept seeing recently finished Annibale Carracci Bacchic murals (left), which are two words for what I could never put in a play for fear of getting it and me condemned by the pope. Annibale even drew female and child satyrs.
Yet, this faux Greek Art for the sake of putting pornography on the ceilings of Italy flourished in the form of frescos throughout much of the Renaissance. I first noticed Annibale's art in the Palazzo Fava in Bologna (about 20 miles from Sant Apollinare Nuovo near Ravenna). I found out that because it was pseudo-Greek the pope said nothing about it.
When we visited four years later Annibale had painted his masterpiece. It was the far more imposing, exposing and spectacular Ceiling frescoes in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome (left) which was paid for by none other than Cardinal Odoardo Farnese and it was (and still is) less than 2 km from that nosy condemning Pope. (right)
Yet the Vatican never said anything about all those pagan gods and goddesses in a Cardinal's home which were physically and politically near the Holy See.
I thought if they can get away with painting The Loves of the Gods in Rome then I could have Pan watching 3/4 naked women being chased by satyrs, centaurs and minotaurs on my ceilings as well. So that is exactly what I did.
Since we had children my murals are a lot more innocent and far less graphic than most Bacchic art. My intention was to create a flirtatious but not lewd scene vaguely reminiscent of A Midsummer's Night Dream (or more recently Alice in Wonderland). Actually from a 20st century viewpoint I have to say a better match would be a Tolkienesque Middle Earth and by an early 21st century viewpoint the video game World of Warcraft (though they all fall short of those murals). However, the Triumph of Neptune by Nicolas Poussin (and others by him) is pretty reminicent of one of my favorite murals at Hatfield.
I realized that I knew a painter whose technique was far better than any of the Carracci brothers. He knew the human form many times better than what Annibale Carracci did. Frankly Marcus Gheeraerts the younger was almost as good in that area as DaVinci. Marcus Gheeraerts mainly did portraits and practically the only people who could afford him were aristocrats and royalty. None of them wanted to be painted nude so he had never done many if any nudes.
That gave me an idea and leads us back to how I kept Marcus Gheeraerts and the other artists from returning to London while the plague was still running its course. I had to make it fun for him and lots of others so they would not go back to London where they could make more money but die of the plague. The promise of being able to paint murals of nearly nude women did it. That works on most men and Marcus was no exception. The idea attracted him because nobody had ever asked him to do nudes before. He wasn't against it at all. He wanted to paint nudes very much.
I got him to stay until the plague had run it's course. Mainly because there were about '20 other cats with similar stripes' staying at Hatfield. That's a 400 year old slang meaning '20 other artist types'. 2/3 of those who stayed at Hatfield and at the old palace who came out from London were women and they were often quite willing to wear nothing but a thin scarf and a big smile in exchange for the great honor of posing for Marcus Gheeraerts the younger. It was too great a challenge for him to resist and the results are on four ceilings at Hatfield.
You will never guess who came over from France when he found out about the murals being painted? Annibale Carracci himself. That would have been about 1606-8 and the first of four ceiling murals Marcus painted. It was before Hatfield House was finished.
Nobody invited Annibale. He had gone to the country in France to stay with some friends. Possibly to escape the plague. Then he found out about what we were doing by word of mouth so he came to England. Many times England often had only about half the plague victims that France and Italy had. (Cooler weather must prevent the growth of fleas.)
Annibale came to Hatfield with a young boy, I think his son. It's what I recall since there were other boys his age there like Prince Charles (future King Charles) who he could play with. I found Annibale looking at the murals on the ceilings. He had knocked on the door but since there were about 50 artists staying at Hatfield someone just let him in thinking he was one of the group. I assume he just walked around and found Marcus and his entourage (which soon became Annibale's entourage).
I did not know who he was and after standing speechless for a long time he made his remark that 'if this was in a public building nobody would ever hire me again' since Marcus was better at technique. Mercury, arsenic and lead in the paints had destroyed Annibale fine hand control. (Like most painters Annibale often licked paint brushes to get a sharp point whereas Marcus's father who was a painter taught him never too. Hence his nerves were never poisoned and his paintings never suffered.)
Then Annibale asked about a empty part of the ceiling and then if he could paint it. I thought either he knew what he was doing or if he was faking then I could paint it over later. Then he bent over and was picking up paintbrushes when Marcus's assistant introduced himself and in return received a 'Hello, my name is Annibale'.
I thought, 'Shit! That's the man who took Bacchic Art to the extreme and he's the man whose work I am copying' so I snuck out of the room to regain my breath.
I can't recall how many of the murals he painted though. I think I'll be able to figure it out when I see them. I'll try to remember but I do know he painted at least part of one ceiling and also recall that I had to show his son where the bathroom was. Then I took him to where other boys his age were playing. In subsequent years Annibale's best student came in his place (Annibale had died).
I also remember being quite fond of Annibale, much to my husband's strange dismay. Annibale wasn't physically attractive at all which made it even worse for Robert to deal with. In fact he was almost an invalid due to his chronic misery and dismal outlook due to all the plague deaths. He was also very unkempt and he had almost half starved to death from neglect but I am always attracted to creative people and he was something else. His vast number of different painting styles were what still amazes me even in this life.
Just look at Annibale's the beaneater (left) and realize that it is the first 'impressionist painting'. Notice the uncanny resemblance of it to Renoirs self portrait (right) but it precedes Renoir by an amazing 300 years.
That is why I became a giddy girl when he was around. My husband Robert got kind of upset at my reaction because I got flustered around the likes of Annibale but never around kings, queens or other royalty whereas most people were the opposite. It seems I recall that Annibale also painted in a 'Degas style' but I have not been able to locate any examples yet. I hope nobody destroyed them thinking that they were too weird. The beaneater does lean toward it like in the general style of 'Before the Entrance on Stage' but Annibale used to paint an even more etherical style very reminiscent of much of Degas' work.
Annibale also had a Rubensque style as you can plainly see in some of his work such as Polyphemus Attacking Acis and Galatea at left (or Here and Here). He was painting in the 'Rubens style' a dozen years before Rubens did, which kind of makes you wonder why they call the style 'Rubenesque'.
His grasp of anatomy was not too far from DaVince's.
Maybe we have it all turned around and these styles should be named Annibale Carricci #1 style, Annibale Carricci #2 style, Annibale Carricci #3 style, etc. The most interesting thing is that you can't tell his work by looking at it like you can Marcus Gheeraerts or even DaVinci's. The styles he painted are just too different. Some of his styles are unique such as this painting and especially this one.
Being an Italian Annibale had to follow in the shadow of Leonardo Da Vinci. If Annibale had come along first people probably would have paid far more attention to the other styles of painting which he developed. Da Vinci was a tough act to follow for anyone. I think the real problem is that people don't know how to classify Annibale's work so they dismiss him. He was a much greater painter than anyone ever gave him credit for.
Since we have all been exposed to impressionist art it's nearly impossible for a person now to understand how completely radical this style was in the early 17th century. It was a solid departure from the painting styles which were known. Previously almost all styles were based on making the people (and usually everything) look as realistic as possible. To make a person appear unnatural, as in the Beaneater, was considered heretical by the church since it was a distortion of a person's God given appearance. Part of the genius of impressionism is the way it can symbolize how the subconscious mind (what we used to call the spiritual mind) interacts with the conscious mind and modifies the end result of what we think we see. This was all unheard of then, so many people just said he had become crazy and syphilitic which of course he was not or he would have been put in an insane asylum long before he died (he painted the Beaneater over 25 years before he died). Many fools make such claims about geniuses (and spiritual people) just so they can more easily dismiss their talent since they don't have the same gifts and won't take the time or make the effort to develop them.
Annibale ended up giving the murals at Hatfield much more direction. He took over the entire operation. First he painted several figures by himself to establish that his abilities were superior. He did this to everyone's satisfaction. Then Marcus and he painted faces and figures while about eight other artists painted most of the rest. Others came along and spelled them. Even I took to helping by painting most of the hands, feet and some of the legs. I was pretty good with clouds too. Not the puffy little ones but the big billowing broody kind. Annibale also laid out and drew the difficult images. He trained us all to make ceiling frescoes. They need to use a form of perspective within perspective to come out right. I wonder if I can recall how it is done.
For five years, at least, Marcus painted ceilings for us part time. I am pretty certain there are murals in four rooms at Hatfield. As many as two may be at the old palace but I think they are all at the 'new' Hatfield House.
Annibale died in 1609 and I think he painted for us in 1606. Since it is recorded that we did not get Hatfield until 1607 that makes resolving these dates pretty hard. I think the dates may have gotten a little scrambled. We may have moved into Hatfield as early as 1604 though the title was not officially signed over until 1607. I'm pretty certain all the 4 ceilings were at Hatfield although one or two of them may be in the old palace. They should all be there though.
I am saved. This page says we came into possession of Hatfield in 1605. (Those above dates sure came close to making me out a liar didn't they?) I am probably wrong about his being there in 1606. The worst outbreak of the plague during that era was in 1608 so that is probably when he visited. Then, as I have mentioned his best student came over from Italy to help us.
It's strange, I can distinctly remember that we had the ceilings in 4 rooms painted but for the life of me I can't recall which rooms they are in. It would be a lot clearer and I could probably clear up everything completely if I were standing in those rooms. However, I have never even been to England in this life so from here in Arizona it is all 'foreign' to me.
Now you can see why I keep saying there is probably $80 many million dollars (and a whole lot of prestige) above the 'newer' ceilings in some of those rooms. I'll take those murals if Lord Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury doesn't want them. I think they would look nice on the ceiling of my apartment. At least they would look a lot nicer than they look under 1 1/2 inchs of lath and plaster. I know how they can be located. Drill a 1/4 inch hole in the false ceilings and look up inside there with an endoscope. Two people can do the entire house in 3 hours. One to do the drilling and looking and the other to hold the ladder. Someone can come along later and spackle the holes closed using a spatula on a pole.
It's a Greek style in any case and it was in probably in 1607 that Marcus Gheeraerts started them. He stayed for a few months during the summer at Hatfield House. The plague was full bore and killing lots of people but he wanted to work and was ready to go back into the pestilence of the London plague outbreak though it would have likely meant his death. So we found work for him to do at Hatfield in the form of murals and various paintings such at the one of my son (here). I made certain the plague had run it's course before I allowed anyone to go back to the city.
Marcus was around so much that I can't recall when he painted all the murals but he painted lots of paintings of us and our friends. First there are the two paintings of Queen Elizabeth we hired him to paint (drop down below).
He painted Robert twice (which I need to locate) and me six times (4 are in my bio). Here is a son of mine that I had Marcus paint to keep him busy during the 1608 plague outbreak. Then here is one he painted of our son William Cecil.
Why do so many paintings of my family still exist? Probably Hatfield House was one of the few estates in England that wasn't gutted during a revolution nor was it one that the holdings weren't sold off due to necessity throughout the centuries. At other estates canvases were often stripped and repainted but our family never needed money, Robert and I saw to that by trading in the orient. We were probably involved with a group of merchants called by the strange name 'The Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies'. It wasn't at all strange since the company later became the East India Company. Records may be hard to locate for the simple reason that we knew great investments when we heard of them (and I still do). When ever people found out that Robert Cecil was involved in a venture they would copy us. That would cut into our profits so we always used a different name such as 'Pope' and usually hired proxies to represent us. I do recall that we were heavily invested in the Virginia Company. Although it was not an earner we did help start what later became the USA.
I wonder who finally sold off most of those paintings? Probably it happened when people forgot me and instead they believed the false death notices designed to throw off assassins. Probably after about a hundred years had passed.
In any case Marcus came and painted at a reduced rate not only when the plague hit but in winters, when he wanted to meet women, when he was between jobs in London but also he came out simply for fresh air, to hunt and to take a break. He was always on my A list for parties and did I hold the 'in' parties. He told me he got an average of two commissions every time he went to one of my parties.
He would often work for half a day and then go hunt and play games with the people who were always around. It worked out quite well. I got murals painted by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger which are priceless since they are the only murals that he ever made. Oh yes, one of my best lady friends got a husband and three children out of the deal.
The thing that I liked about Marcus Gheeraerts (and what most people hated) was that his paintings were always a true representation of the person being drawn. You could not pay him enough to paint you 1/10 of a percent less ugly (or more pretty). In other words his paintings were like photographs.
Robert even hired him to paint Queen Elizabeth during the start of a plague outbreak that failed to materialize but it was a time when nobody hired anybody:**
..."The Rainbow Portrait", painted for Robert Cecil by Marcus Gheeraerts, the Younger, c. 1600, formerly attributed to Issac Oliver, on display at Hatfield House. Here
We also paid for 'The Ditchley Portrait'.
(In 1592),The Ditchley portrait was commissioned by Sir Henry Lee, the Queen's champion, in order to curry royal favour after he annoyed Elizabeth by setting up house with his mistress at Ditchley in Oxfordshire; the portrait affirms that his first love is Elizabeth. Here
It is said to have been paid for by Sir Henry Lee to assuage Queen Elizabeth's feelings because she was jealous of me since he was living with me in sin as Anne Vavasor when actually I had just gotten married to Robert Cecil and she had made the match. The painting was actually paid for by Robert and me and was a gift of appreciation.
My supposed affair with Sir Henry Lee was just to throw spies off my trail. The best part of the whole thing with Sir Henry Lee, who was exceedingly old, was when they wanted me to write both an epitaph and a eulogy for him. This is how I humorously got out of the last one by ruining the first one.
Marcus felt I was a good enough friend to experiment on with some new and 'entirely wonderful colors' (those are direct quotes) adding that the pigments were new he then gave me this frightening blue hue to my skin. Or as Tate Gallery's Richard Cork wrote:
Almost as white as a corpse, she can easily be imagined lying horizontally on a tomb.Here
I should write and tell the Tate that I did not die (ever) and it was just the pigments, probably they were organic dyes that oxidized and changed color. The painting looked fine for awhile, it just glowed strangely in certain light (probably UV). Then after about seven years Marcus noticed the flesh tones were just starting to fade in some other paintings he had done at the same time so he touched it up on the cheeks, chin and nose using his regular paints. In the last 400 years it has faded a lot more and he is not around to touch it up. Someone then ended up with a painting of a purple me. Marcus made a second one just like this one but with my children in it. The face in it was purple too but someone repaired it or hid our features by repainting it with a nice flesh color! Compare them here It's definitely me in both of them and that is easy to see by comparing the dresses.
I think the Cecils got a good deal there.
* My sense is that the murals are all still there but only covered up.
One of the murals may be in 'The Chinese Bedroom'. The page on the Hatfield House website states that 'Originally the room was twice its present size and formed part of a suite which was set aside as special apartments for the King....the ceiling all date from the first half of the 19th century.'
This room was made for King James and was likely redecorated for Queen Victoria. She could not very well go to sleep while looking up at a satyrs seducing virgins could she? After all she was known as the world's biggest prude. The result was a new ceiling 'from the first half of the 19th century'.
This room has been split in two so a second mural may in the adjacent room. If a mural was painted there then it is one that Marcus did entirely on his own.
I think they just covered it over so it could be revealed later on, maybe when Queen Victoria died. Then they forgot about it. I really doubt they destroyed the murals because of their value. They don't make foolish Cecils and never have so they are probably still where they were painted. (Oh Cecils have always had their moment's like everyone else but it's spontaneous and even those moments are in the best interests of a broad section of society and it still seems to be as they are good people. Their intention seems to be as beneficent as possible to society which is exactly how the family used to be.)
It did not take a lot work to add a false ceiling to the pre-existing one. I do recall that was a real high ceiling to begin with, approaching 20 feet, so there was plenty of room to add a false ceiling.
The best one was on the ground level and fairly well lit by sunlight. I think that one is in the Long Gallery (which we called the Long Hall). They say: The ceiling, orignally white, was covered with gold leaf by the 2nd Marquess. The 2nd Marquess was running the show during Queen Victoria's reign and again it may have been to cover up 'lewd scenes' and not a 'white ceiling'. I wonder what other ceilings were changed during that era? I'll bet there are two others that were changed at the same time. Here is a very nice statement from the Marquess of Salisbury:
We have recently uncovered the fine ceiling at the top of the Grand Staircase which was painted in 1846 for the Royal visit of Queen Victoria. Hidden under a thick coat of white paint for years it is now undergoing restoration. Here
That makes three ceilings that were repainted or covered over in the same era. I think when they discovered the 1846 painting they may not have dug deep enough. What is underneath the 1846 paint? An early 1600's ceiling mural?
What I am getting at is this. There have been very few changes made to Hatfield House in the last 400 years but about half of them seem to have involved covering over what was on three of the ceilings and the three were all changed in one ten or twenty year period. That is very suspicious, don't you think...or do they not allow you to?
I'm certain that all the murals are still on the ceilings and just covered over although some water damage may have resulted in loss. By that I mean I recall that there was some water damage near the edge of one of the murals (and near the corner of one of the rooms) by 1619. Then the cracks silted up or the wood swelled and the leak stopped by itself. (I actually remember looking up at the damage. It's strange the odd things that I sometimes recall.) That might have been in the 'Armoury' but I can't know for certain if that is the fourth ceiling with a mural on it or not. Was a new ceiling put up there recently (in the last 200 or so years)? That certainly is not a normal early 17th century style for a ceiling and it does not look familiar to me. They say nothing about the ceiling having been later added but that doesn't mean it wasn't. I also seem to recall that the ceiling was higher but that could be because I was shorter in that life than I am in this one. That ceiling looks pretty similar in style to the one in the previously mentioned 'Chinese bedroom' which 'date from the first half of the 19th century.' I remember! There is a mural on the wall of the armoury but I can't recall whether or not there is one on the ceiling. It was a learning mural. It was our attempt to learn the techniques for doing the main ceiling mural. This was prior to Annibale Carricce coming along. He was definitely an answer to our prayers. You will see that it lacks the professionalism and the genius that Annibale later provided. '
**It was the strangest 'almost outbreak' of the plague. About 1 in 50 people did die but that was nothing when only a few years before 1 in 5 died and at other times it was as high as one half. (Since they never counted all the victims the numbers reported were often less than half of the real figures. Many who died were just thought to be among the many that move to other areas.) It may have been a different strain or else since all deadly infectious disease outbreaks, including the small pox outbreaks, were called 'plague' it could have been something else. This time like all the other times the plague killed all the rats, which was the frightening first warning that it was on it's way and it did kill all the cats but it left almost everyone, the dogs and most other animals alive. I wonder what disease it was.
Dogs usually died more often than humans as did happen to my dog here. You may have known him as that impulsive character who was always running after women, Falstaff. Well, women say that men are not much different than dogs and since nobody caught on I proved it 100%. What did surprise me is how much most women like him! You will read here on that same page the first ever public announcement and warning that the plague was spread by fleas and not rats as everyone else thought which I had determined by empirical observation.
Do you not remember, a' saw a flea stick upon Bardolph's nose, and a' said it was a black soul burning in hell-fire? King Henry V Act 2 Scene 3
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