FOUR hundred year old drawings of the moon’s surface and magnificent artwork that escaped the eyes of the taxman are on display at Petworth House for the first time.
The illustrations of the moon, by Thomas Harriot, are two of a number of previously unexhibited works of international importance from the private rooms at Petworth House.
They were deemed so accurate that they were studied by Russian scientists who visited Petworth House in the 1960s, before launching their first moon rocket into space.
Making the earliest telescopic observations in England, he sketched the moon on July 26 1609 at 9pm when it was five days old, viewing it through a telescope with a magnification of 6.
He sketched it again a year later on July 17 1610, by this time he had a telescope giving him a magnification of 10.
Other notable inclusions from Petworth’s private collection are Andrea del Sarto’s ‘Madonna and Child with Saint John’, and Paris Bordone’s seductive ‘Portrait of a young woman’.
Due to overpainting in the 19th century (a clumsy attempt at conservation), their provenance remained hidden from National Gallery experts brought in to advise the government in the 1950s on paintings that could be accepted in lieu of Petworth’s inheritance tax.
This new tax legislation – now commonplace – was introduced as a direct result of Petworth’s nationally important collection being at risk of dispersal because of impending heavy duties.
These and the moon sketches form part of the exhibition ‘Remastered: From Bosch to Bellotto’, on show until March 6 which brings together 50 of Petworth’s key early European masterpieces in a way they have never been seen before.
“After three sell-out winter exhibitions featuring major loans, we decided to mount a show which celebrates the quality of the outstanding art collection already here at Petworth,” said Andrew Loukes, Petworth’s curator of collections and exhibitions.
“Artist John Constable famously referred to Petworth as ‘that house of art and the collection is widely regarded as the most important in the care of the National Trust. So, we wanted to re-present it for our visitors in a way which has never been done before.”
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