Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Sotheby's Sale - Part 1

You may have noticed that the Ashdown House Blog has taken a six month sabbatical. Now we're back, and what better way to start the new season of blogs than with a selection of items from the recent Sotheby's sale of the contents of Ashdown House.

There were many fine paintings in the sale but one of particular interest was the Allegory of Love by Sir Peter Lely. This is thought to represent William Craven and Elizabeth of Bohemia. The Sotheby's catalogue gives the provenance of the painting as "by descent in the Craven family..." This begs the question of whether the painting was one of those bequeathed to William Craven by Elizabeth or whether he commissioned it originally. The date of the painting is not recorded in the catalogue.

An inventory of the paintings at Coombe Abbey in 1769 states that "an allegorical painting" was hanging in Lord Craven's dressing room. No such picture was listed in the 1866 catalogue of paintings at Coombe but a photograph from Ashdown dated 1913 shows it hanging on the stairs so it may have been transferred from one Craven property to the other at some point in its history.

If the picture does represent William Craven and Elizabeth then it sheds a very interesting light on their relationship, not least because it would be a contemporary reference to a romantic connection between the two of them. Craven was devoted to Elizabeth's service for over thirty years and was both a financial and an emotional support to her during the years of her exile and widowhood. He also provided a house for Elizabeth when she returned to London in 1661 and the diaries of Pepys and Evelyn record that they were seldom out of each other's company. There was some gossip about their relationship but no contemporary written reference to any marriage between them. The marriage was later spoken of as fact in the Craven family but there appears to be no evidence to support it. The painting is therefore both a clue and an enigma.