Sussex artwork: Sir Matthew Fetherstonehaugh by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni
PUBLISHED: 10:22 27 July 2020 | UPDATED: 11:57 27 July 2020
©National Trust Images/John Hammond
An analysis of a portrait on display at Uppark in West Sussex, one of a matching pair commissioned during Sir Matthew Featherstonehaugh’s Grand Tour
This portrait of Matthew Fetherstonehaugh is one of several painted during a Grand Tour in which he and his wife, Sarah, spent two years travelling through France and Italy. It was on this trip that they acquired many paintings and objets d’art with which to decorate Uppark House, their marital home purchased in 1747, just two years before setting off on their travels.
It was painted by Pompeo Batoni, an artist known for his technical ability, who began to specialise in portraits initially because of the quantity of affluent nobles on tour who invariably ended up in Rome and who wished to return home with mementos of their journey. His trademark style and his use of fictionalised Italianate landscapes as backdrops became the popular standard for the genre amongst British nobility. His affluent clientele afforded him a very comfortable lifestyle. By his early 40s he owned a large house on Via Bocca di Leone in Rome. The house included his studio, naturally enough, but also exhibition rooms for visiting clients and a drawing academy where he would train aspiring artists and benefit from their labour. Visitors to Rome may well unknowingly gaze through his academy windows as his house now forms part of the flagship store of the luxury retailer Hermés.
Did you read our interview with award-winning Sussex artist Faye Bridgwater?
It was common amongst popular artists then, as it is now, to work with studio staff. Assistants contribute to many of the more mundane tasks, freeing up the principal to work only on the key features of a painting. Almost certainly, the skyscape, foliage and perhaps even the clothing would have been started, if not entirely completed, by studio assistants. In this portrait, Sir Matthew is seen holding a wreath made from cherries, figs and pears. In the complimentary portrait of his wife, Sarah, which also hangs at Uppark, she is pictured glancing back towards her husband whilst wearing the wreath upon her head.
There is both religious and secular significance to the fruit. The cherry is seen as the fruit of paradise and is often held by the infant Jesus. The fig was frequently used as the fruit of knowledge particularly by southern European artists to whom the fig was more prevalent than the apple. The pear frequently appears alongside Jesus and alludes to his love of mankind. However, alongside the sheaf of wheat held in Sir Matthew’s right hand, the fruit might also symbolise a rich and bountiful harvest and be indicative of the Fetherstonehaughs’ hopes for their marriage. The name Fetherstonehaugh is one of those great English words designed to fox foreigners and allow a moment of superiority from those who know its correct pronunciation. If you don’t already know a pleasant day out at Uppark will reveal all.
The painting can be seen at Uppark House, South Harting, Petersfield, West Sussex, GU31 5QR.
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