College treasures on display in Madrid exhibition, Treasure Island: British Art from Holbein to Hockney.

Four items from Sidney Sussex’s historic collections are currently on display in Madrid as part of an exhibition Treasure Island: British Art from Holbein to Hockney.

The guest curator of the exhibition at the Fundación Juan March is Sidney’s own Richard Humphreys, an art expert who will also be known to many in the College community as the author of the recent Sidney Sussex: A History.

The College has lent to the exhibition three volumes that together attest to religious change and conflict in these isles.  The oldest item is a Psalter, probably produced in Exeter and illuminated in Oxford c. 1330. Psalters are among the commonest books of the earlier middle ages. A later Protestant iconoclast has literally defaced virtually every image in this manuscript, these Virgin Saints (see image) having had their faces scratched away.  The image is currently being featured on the front of the Chapel term card. In the Litany, all the saints save Thomas of Canterbury and John the Baptist have a line drawn through them.

The other two volumes are a 1612 copy of the King James Bible, and a 1632 edition of John Foxe’s account of the history of Protestantism from Wyclif to the accession of Queen Elizabeth, the Actes and Monuments, which is perhaps better known under its more polemical title Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.  In the exhibition the book is open at a woodcut illustrating religious change in the reign of Edward VI.

The exhibition also features Sidney Sussex’s remarkable portrait of Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford (1581-1627), which was recently purchased by the College following a generous donation by Dr David Fyfe. Painted around 1620, the portrait is both beautiful and striking with Lucy seated before her books, face turned to the viewer.

Lucy was a great patron of the arts, and with her mother bequeathed some 180 volumes to Sidney in 1616.  Most had belonged to her brother, who had been a student at the College a decade earlier.  Their father, John, Baron Harington of Exton, had been one of our Foundress Lady Frances’s executors, and the Haringtons were cousins of the Sidneys. 

Writing in Pheon in 2011, Professor Claire Preston suggested that ‘Lucy is a symbol not only of the early years of Sidney Sussex, but of the forward-thinking ethos of the Foundress and her milieu.’  Given the prominent position of Lady Frances Sidney’s tomb in the Chapel of St Paul in Westminster Abbey and Lucy’s own career of patronage of the arts, the portrait’s significance is surely clear; it is a wonderful glimpse into Sidney’s connections in Jacobean England.

The exhibition opened on 5 October, 2012, with an introductory lecture from Richard Humphreys and a concert of Elizabethan music.  This was followed a week later by a performance of renaissance choral music by Alamire, under the direction of Sidney’s Osborn Director of Music Dr David Skinner.  The concert was also recorded for transmission by Radio Clásica, part ofSpanish broadcaster RTVE.

Further Sidney input has come from Professor Tim Blanning, who has contributed an essay to the exhibition catalogue on 'England and the British Isles 1500-2000'.  Professor Blanning also a delivered a well-received lecture to a full house at the Fundación's theatre on 'The Protestant Reformation and British culture 1500-1800'.

More than a companion to the show, the catalogue gathers together images and ideas with period texts, some of which have been published in Spanish translation for the first time.  The catalogue will be deposited in the Muniment Room as Sidney’s own record of the exhibition.

The exhibition runs until 20 January, 2013.

This is an archived news story, first posted in 2012.

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