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Title North Writing Room Chimney Board
Collection English Heritage (Audley End)
Artist Rebecca, Biagio (Italian painter, 1735-1808, active in Great Britain)
Date 1769
Description This is one of a set of five chimney boards (of which only four survive) pained by Biagio Rebecca (1734/5-1808) for Sir John Griffin Griffin, 4th Lord Howard de Walden, 1st Lord Braybrooke to complete the remodelling and decoration of a suite of five rooms at Audley End commissioned by him from Robert Adam (1728-1792) between 1763 and 1777. A receipt dated 12 December 1769 records that Rebecca was paid: 'Twenty Guineas for painting Five Chimney Boards and mending four full length pictures'. In the eighteenth century the chimney board was the most usual means of concealing an empty fireplace during periods of disuse, while in the previous century it was common to place a vase of flowers in an empty fireplace, later it became frequent practice to depict flowers on a chimney board. The present examples are in keeping with Adam's austere classical designs for Audley End, they are painted in grisaille, in imitation of antique bas-reliefs. In this example, perhaps intended for Lord Howard's Writing Room where 'A painted chimney stop by Rebecca' is recorded in the 1797 inventory of the house, a central roundel with two putti and foliate spandrels is painted in white on a blue ground. It is notable that the putti carry different attributes: one the bow and arrow of cupid, the other the pinecone tipped thyrsus, an ancient fertility symbol associated with Bacchus, this suggests that the passionate spirit was symbolically intended to reigned in this room. The source for this design remains unidentified.
Current Accession Number 81030248
Subject mythology (Bacchus)
Measurements 110 x 110 cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Purchased from Hon. Robin Neville by HBMC 1985.
Provenance Commissioned from the artist by Sir John Griffin Griffin, 4th Lord Howard de Walden, 1st Lord Braybrooke, and paid for 12.xii.1769; recorded in the inventory of the purchaser, 1797; then by descent.
Publications Gilbert, C. and Wells Cole, A., The Fashionable Fireplace 1660-1840, Temple Newsam, Leeds, 1985, p. 47, no. 59.
Notes Biagio Rebecca (1734/5-1808) was born at Osimo near Ancona in Italy. He studied at the Accademia di San Luca, Rome where he became a lifelong friend of Benjamin West, in 1761 he travelled to England with the portraitist James George with whom he was in partnership for a short time. He became one of the first students of the Royal Academy Schools on 31 January 1769 and was elected an Associate member of the RA in 1771. Rebecca was a highly skilled and prolific decorative painter and collaborated with the Adam brothers, with James and Samuel Wyatt and with Henry Holland and James 'Athenian' Stuart. He gained a considerable reputation for his grotesque paintings and grisaille bas-relief paintings, examples of which are at Somerset House, London, Audley End, Essex, Heaton Hall, Lancashire, Harewood House, Yorkshire and Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. Additionally Rebecca painted portraits and produced designs for stain glass, and book illustrations. He died at his lodgings in Oxford Street and is buried at St Pancras churchyard, London.
Rights Owner English Heritage Photo Library
Author Francesco Nevola



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