The Tudor mansion housed a gallery and was home to a substantial art collection. The collection is said to have included works by Hans Holbein, Sir Anthony Van Dyck and Angelica Kauffman. Yet we know little of the contents of the collection prior to 1736. The situation is further complicated by the fire of 1745 and the collection’s dispersal in the late eighteenth century.
In February 1736, John Loveday toured Rycote, as a guest of the 2nd Earl of Abingdon, and noted in his journal that “the long Gallery of very great length, but not proportionably wide, is adorned with very good Portraits &c. In this Room & the Billiard-Table Room are Paintings of the Chief of this family from Richard Bertie.” Richard Bertie was a forbearer of the 2nd Earl of Abingdon and Loveday recorded the presence of two portraits of Richard’s wife Katherine Bertie, Duchess of Suffolk, in the gallery and the billiard-table room. A portrait of their son Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby, in full armour, was also in the billiard-table room. Two portraits of Robert Bertie, 1st Earl of Lindsey, were in the gallery and a third was to be found in the billiard-table room. Loveday also viewed a portrait of Montague Bertie, 2nd Earl of Lindsey, and his unidentified wife. This was probably his second wife Bridget Wray, suo jure Baroness Norris. His marriage to Bridget was the means by which Rycote came into the possession of the Bertie family. Loveday also listed in the gallery two portraits by Sir Anthony Van Dyck of James Stewart, 4th Duke of Lennox and 1st Duke of Richmond, and his wife Mary. Loveday remarked that a portrait of General Monk in the gallery had “a remarkably sleepy dull look.” The final portrait noted in the gallery by Loveday was of Colonel John Cromwell (Markham, ‘Tours of John Loveday’, pp. 283-4).
Thomas Delafield’s history of Rycote, compiled in the late 1730s and early 1740s, provides further evidence of the gallery’s contents. However, unlike Loveday, it is apparent that Delafield did not personally visit the gallery. Delafield claimed that the gallery housed a portrait of the four year old Charles I. He reasoned that it was probably commissioned to commemorate Francis Norris, Earl of Berkshire’s creation as a Knight of the Bath in the same ceremony as Charles in 1605. Loveday recorded the presence of several portraits of members of the Norris family in the gallery, but neglected to individually identify them (Markham, ‘Tours of John Loveday’, p. 283). According to Delafield, these included portraits of Sir John Norris; the Norris brothers; Francis Norris, Earl of Berkshire; Elizabeth Wray, suo jure Baroness Norris; and her husband Edward Wray. Delafield and Loveday both located a portrait of John, Baron Williams of Thame, and his wife in the gallery. Neither specified whether the portrait was of Williams’s first or second wife (Markham, ‘Tours of John Loveday’, p. 283; MS. Gough Oxon. 30, fol. 244v). In November 1745 substantial parts of the Tudor mansion were destroyed by a fire. It is impossible to know if any of the pictures recorded by Loveday and Delafield survived.
There are no surviving sources which describe the contents of the renovated mansion’s gallery. A 1780 sale catalogue of furnishings and fittings refers to a room named the "brown gallery" but states only that it contained forty-two landscapes and other family paintings (MS. Top. Oxon. b. 121, fol. 71v). This 1780 catalogue, together with another drawn up a year earlier, provide considerable information regarding other portraits and pictures located around the refurbished mansion. The large drawing room, for example, is described as containing full length portraits by Van Dyck of James Stuart, 4th Duke of Lennox and 1st Duke of Richmond; Robert Bertie, 1st Earl of Lindsey; Katherine Bertie, Duchess of Suffolk; and John, Earl of Oxford; with other paintings by Morland and Angelica Kauffman (MS. Top. Oxon. b. 121, fol. 36v). The Van Dyck portraits were possibly the ones seen by Loveday in 1736. A portrait of Henry VIII, attributed to Hans Holbein, is listed in the library (MS. Top. Oxon. b. 121, fol. 38v).
Portraits of the 1st and 2nd Earls of Abingdon, by Michael Dahl and Sir Godfrey Kneller respectively, may also have been housed at Rycote too, it being their primary seat. Dahl’s portrait of the 1st Earl is now in the Examination Schools of the University of Oxford. Kneller’s portrait of the 2nd Earl was bequeathed in the Earl’s will to his wife (MS. Top. Oxon. b. 177, fol. 19). Its current whereabouts is not known.
Much of the Rycote art collection was probably dispersed by the sales held in 1779 and 1780. Its fate remains unknown.
The Rycote picture gallery
The Tudor mansion at Rycote was home to an impressive art collection including, it is claimed, a portrait of the four year old Charles I.
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