Pattern and Repetition


Pattern and Repetition

In this blog series, our curators, archivists, conservators and learning team will be bringing together works of art from across the Collection under one theme. From armour and jewellery, to portraits and porcelain, read about some of the most fascinating and marvellous pieces in the Collection here.

Explore the theme of Pattern and Repetition in our latest blog, from Riesener's beautiful desk marquetry to a stunning late 18th century, Indian shield made from buffalo hide.

Fall-front desk, Jean-Henri Riesener, 1783

The French cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener is renowned for producing furniture with beautiful marquetry decoration. Many of the pieces he created for members of the French royal family feature a specific marquetry design consisting of a trellis pattern surrounding flower heads, as seen on this fall-front desk delivered to Marie-Antoinette in 1783.

Creating the marquetry would have been a complicated and time-consuming process which involved cutting and arranging hundreds of separate pieces of wood veneer; each flower alone is made up of twelve or thirteen pieces.

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Shield, Indian, late 18th century

Made of buffalo hide and lacquered for durability and hardness, this shield provides an unexpected canvas for the artist. In its design, it parallels contemporary Indian textiles. Its white ground evokes the white wool popular throughout the subcontinent as a base for expensive embroidered textiles. Meanwhile the overall composition is reminiscent of the classic rug design with a central medallion, a field, and a border.

These parallels remind us that an ornate shield like this is a fashion item, made to show off the wealth and good taste of the ultimate owner. The shield is unlined to show off its translucence: further evidence for the quality of the leather and the skill of the artist.

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Sèvres, Cup and saucer painted by Jacques-François Micaud, 1767

The elaborate pattern on this matching cup and saucer is typical of Sèvres’ production during the 1760s. It consists of a guilloche —a classical motif resembling interlaced ribbons— that combines garlands of pink roses and laurel wreaths. The resulting undulating spaces are filled alternatively with a stripped pattern of blue lines and gilded dots, and with a sablé-gilded ground that resembles glistening sand. Blue roundels overlaid with gilded motifs of stylized flowers and spiralling foliage complete this dynamic composition.

Ceramic artists at Sèvres invented a wide range of patterns inspired by the fashionable fabric designs available in the Parisian luxury-goods market. These designs were known at the manufactory as ‘frises riches’ (rich friezes) or ‘étoffe riche’ (rich fabric) and were particularly popular on tea wares.

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Prince Baltasar Carlos at the Riding School, Studio of Velázquez, c.1636

As court painter, Diego Velázquez was tasked with portraying the members of the royal family. Amongst these was Prince Baltasar Carlos, Philip IV’s and Isabel of Bourbon’s only son and heir to the Spanish throne. Velázquez’s portraits of the Prince offer chronicle of the young Prince’s life. He returned to the subject on numerous occasions, painting him at different ages and under various guises. In turn, his portraits were often copied by his studio and distributed amongst the Spanish nobility and European royal families.

Prince Baltasar Carlos at the Riding School is an example of a copy after the painting fully attributed to Velázquez now in the Westminster Collection. Both paintings depict Baltasar Carlos riding his poney in front of his apartments at the Palace of the Buen Retiro in Madrid. Yet there are many notable variations in their compositions. Whilst in the Wallace painting two dwarfs and King’s Master of Hounds, Juan Mateos, stand beside the Prince, in the Westminster painting, there are other members of Baltasar Carlos’s entourage present. In front of Juan Mateos is the Prince’s valet Alonso Martinez del Espinar, who hands the tilting lance to the Count-Duke Olivares. Moreover, in the background of the Wallace painting, there are two women on the balcony, whilst, in the Westminster picture, figures on the balcony are the King and Queen, and a woman, possibly one of the Queen's ladies in waiting, the wife of Count-Duke Olivares. However, whilst in the Wallace picture, the tiltyard is visible, in the Westminster painting, this one is obscured by the characters standing in front of it.

Velázquez, Prince Baltasar Carlos at the Riding School, Westminster Collection

In the Westminster picture, the Count-Duke portrays himself as the mentor of the Prince. His prominent position in the composition shows his importance in the upbringing of the Prince. The painting was in the family of the heirs of the Duque, suggesting he might have commissioned it. It has often been debated that that one was the prime version and that this painting was the secondary version, painted after 1642 when Olivares fell from grace from the King and was expelled from the Court. However, this raises questions as to why the Wallace picture was painted. Could it be a sketch for the Westminster painting, painted at the same time, could it be a later version, or could it have been commissioned by another member of the Court who also wished to portray himself as the Prince’s tutor, as Olivares had done?

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