VIEW OF WARDOUR’S HIDDEN TREASURES
Financial Times – 9 September 1994
Wardour Castle, in Wiltshire, feels like the setting for Brideshead Revisited. It is one of the great 18th century houses of England. It was built for Lord Arundell in the 1770s, with both a house and chapel designed by James Paine. Outside they are severe and uncompromising. Inside, they both contain brilliant surprises. In the house, there is a staircase that is an architectural tour de force and the whole interior of the chapel is a decorative triumph.
The recent history of Wardour has not been entirely happy. In 1960 the great house became Cranborne Chase School. Inevitably new buildings were added, and alterations were made that changed the character of the place. The school closed a few years ago and the house has been sold to be divided into apartments.
The chapel had an independent existence run by the Jesuits who have cared for its treasures, and in 1992 a programme of structural repair was undertaken. An appeal was launched and funds are needed to complete the work.
As part of this appeal an exhibition and sale of paintings has been mounted at Christie's in London. One hundred artists were commissioned to paint their impressions of Wardour and the results are on view at Christie's in Ryder Street, St.James's, London, SW1, until September 9.
During this week it is not just the paintings that are on view but also a display of some of Wardour's hidden treasures. There are historic vestments of extraordinary quality as well as silver and gold - a reflection of the panoply of worship from the 18th century.
Short of visiting the chapel itself (Wardour is near Tisbury, in Wiltshire) it would be difficult to think of a more imaginative evocation of a great building than this exhibition.
Although technically a private chapel, it is the size of a major parish church. James Paine finished it in 1776 and then Sir John Soane added to it in 1790. Its visual climax is the sumptuous altar which was commissioned from that master of the Roman Baroque, Giacomo Quarenghi.
Great and splendid rituals must have been conducted around this altar and they were enhanced by the vestments and precious vessels.
It is important not to miss the vestments which are some of the finest examples of ecclesiastical needlework to be seen anywhere. The three-dimensional quality of the work on the famous Westminster chasuble is staggering. Tudor roses, portcullises, flueurs-de-lis and pomegranates are scattered across red velvet with a liberality that is gloriously extravagant. We are in the arcane world of the orphrey and dalmatic, the cope and the chasuble - theatrical yet sacred garments that are a far cry from the hessian cross stitch garments that pass as vestments in the modern catholic and Anglican church.There are several paintings that evoke the chapel well - work by Alan Dodd, Edmund Fairfax-Lucy, Jane Dowling and Riccardo Cinalli is some of the best. There is enormous variety and work in all media - even a set of painted porcelain; teapot, cups and bowl - inspired by Wardour and made by Melinda Patton.
The idea of encouraging contemporary artists to contribute their work to help save an older work of art is an inspired one. Wardour Chapel of All Saints is celebrated by this exhibition and shown to be one of the great 18th century churches of Europe that deserves to be perfectly restored.