Or, the art of British country house interiors

April 20, 2013

Powderham Castle

Powderham Castle in Devon was completed at the beginning of the 15th century for the long-standing Courtenay family [1]. Victorian renovations resulted in the house we see today; the exterior is a recreation of an idealized medieval castle, while the interiors are purely Georgian in style [2]. Part of the 18th century remodeling in the house included the impressive Music Room and Staircase Hall. These rooms among others were used to represent Darlington Hall in the filming of Remains of the Day


Courtenay family portraits are displayed throughout the house, including some works dating back to the 16th century [2]. Portraits came to be treated as heimlooms, intended to be passed down from generation to generation as part of the contents of the house [3]; this is particularly true with the long shared history of Powderham Castle and the family who owns it.



The spectacular Staircase Hall, with stylized plasterwork in deep relief and numerous portraits, was added to Powderham Castle in 1755 [1]. Stairs were a major focal point of many British country houses, as access to the more private upper level. Visitors privileged enough to ascend could pass by grand portraits of individuals crucial in shaping the character of the house; guests kept in main entertaining rooms on the ground floor could only look from afar.

 Remains of the Day- Staircase Hall

While the portraits themselves have impressive gilded frames, the ornate plasterwork combined with the unique blue color of the walls further emphasize these works. The relationship between an image and its frame is essential for contemporary viewing of portraits [4]; the singling out of these particular works for exhibition in the Staircase Hall and the effective double framing connote their extreme significance to the family. The portraits display aristocratic individuals in expensive outfits, casual but unquestionably proper and poised. Through their emphasized display, their legacy is reflected on the current owners of Powderham Castle.


Remains of the Day

The Music Room at Powderham Castle was added in 1794-6 as a venue for the third Viscount's coming of age ball [2]. Its Neoclassical coffered dome and marble chimneypiece, along with large, full-length portraits figure greatly into the room's grandeur. The Music Room shares the same eye-catching shade of blue as the Staircase Hall, which contributes to the room's whimsical and airy feel. The large portraits look very formal, with dark colors and heavy robes; this helps the room to strike the perfect balance between serious and jovial.

Remains of the Day- Music Room


Portraits by Kneller, Reynolds, and other artists in Powderham Castle contribute to the house's overwhelming atmosphere of family tradition [5]. Clearly, this is a country house that has belonged to the same family for over 600 years. Impressive portraits in the Music Room and Staircase Hall provide visual ancestral history for the Courtenays that is then transferred onto the Darlington family as the rooms are used in Remains of the Day.

Bibliography:

[1] The National Heritage List for England. “Powderham Castle.” Accessed April 20, 2013. http://list.english-
              heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1000698.
[2] The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses. “Powderham Castle.” Accessed April 20, 2013. 
             www.dicamillocompanion.com/Houses_detail.asp?ID=1632.
[3] Musson, Jeremy. How to Read a Country House. London: Ebury Press, 2005.
[4] Pointon, Marcia R. Hanging the Head: Portraiture and Social Formation in the Eighteenth-Century. New Haven: 
             Yale University Press, 1993.
[5] Sproule, Anna, and Michael Pollard. The Country House Guide: Family Homes in the Historic Houses Association
             Topsfield, Massachusetts: Salem House Publishers, 1988.

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