Tucked away in the Poulett chapel of St George’s Church, Hinton St George is one of the earliest works of scagliola in England. It is a remarkable work full of Baroque wonder. The Baroque in Europe arose circa 1600 and lasted until circa 1725. The memorial is for John Poulett (or Paulet), 1st Baron Poulett (d. 1614) and his son, the 2nd Baron (d. 1665). The monument dates from circa 1668.
The monument is constructed not of marble but of plaster, using a technique called scagliola. Scagliola is an artificial plasterwork used to imitate stone and marble. It was used widely in the classical world. Vitruvius, writing in the 1st C provided recipes for the plaster mix. The technique was rediscovered during the Renaissance and found its way to England in the 17th C. It lent itself to the elaborate decoration of the Baroque and Rococo architectural fashions. It was used for wall decoration, fireplaces, floors, tables and columns.[i]
The entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture describes scagliola as:
Imitation marble, known since Antiquity, and much used in C17 and C18 for column- and pilaster-shafts, etc. It is made of crushed calcined gypsum (or selenite), reduced to powder or plaster of Paris, mixed with isinglass (gelatine) or similar (Flanders glue or size was commonly used), and then the colours added. Veined marbles were imitated by mixing in different hues. The prepared mix was applied to the intended surface (usually a coat of lime and hair), smoothed, then rubbed down with a pumice-stone and a wet sponge before being polished with tripoli (diotomite) and charcoal using fine soft linen, then rubbed with felt dipped in linseed-oil and tripoli, then finally finished off with a rubbing of pure linseed oil. It was also called stucco lustro.[ii]
To tell the difference between marble and scagliola, David Harrison is his article on scagliola, written for The Building Conservation Directory, writes:
The difference between marble and scagliola can be established by feeling the surface – if it is cold, it is likely to be marble. Scagliola also produces a hollow ring when tapped. In appearance, marble is more translucent, although scagliola sometimes has pieces of alabaster or other semi-precious stones added to the mix to give localised translucence. Looking carefully at any damage holes or at the rear surface if this is accessible, a marble piece will look like marble throughout, whereas scagliola will have a distinct plaster backing behind the colour coat. The presence of masonry joints would also normally indicate marble, as scagliola is often used expressly to create continuous surfaces. Scagliola can also be identified if the surface has hairline cracks.[iii]
The Poulett (or Paulet) memorial is a work that demonstrates a high-level of skill. It is an expression of Baroque style that was more attune with Italy that Somerset. Although it has been designed to includes symbols and emblems important to the Poulett family.
On top of the sarcophagus is the allegorical figure of Fame. The figure once held two trumpets.[iv] Her feet rest on two skulls, beneath which spread out large free-flowing acanthus leaves, partly covering a central shell-like ornament. Supporting the sarcophagus is a harpy and two lions. It is flanked by the Poulett wild man and wild woman.[v] Behind the figure of Fame is a festooned, dark drape with a fringed hem and above is a garland laden with flowers and fruits.
At the top of the memorial two angels hold a wreath over the Poulett arms which is framed by scrolls. To the side of the angels are decorative urns with flames. The scagliola has been worked to imitate different coloured marbles and effects. The ionic pilasters support an elaborate entablature and gilded friezes. The larger frieze is gilded anthemion (stylised flower of the honeysuckle) and the smaller ones are an elaboration of egg and dart.
Below the entablature are tapered ionic pilasters worked to give a colourful marble effect and embellished with petalled-flower heads. A Baroque scroll with sprouting acanthus leaves provides a flowing edge to the monument. There is also foliage on the wall, which appears to be olive sprigs.
The epitaph to John Poulett, 1st Baron Poulett, states that he died in 1614. There is also an inscription for his son, the 2nd Baron, who died in 1665.
However, the monument is later and from the heraldry is identified to be after 1667.[vi] It was definitely in place in 1669 when Cosimo de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany stopped off at Hinton St George and visited the church.
Cosimo de Medici went on a European tour and arrived in Plymouth in 1669 when he was 26. He was accompanied by Count Lorenzo Magalotti whose job it was to keep a travel diary. On the 9th April 1669 the Duke and his entourage visited the 3rd Baron Poulett at Hinton St Geroge. The Duke dined with him, rode in the deer park and walked in the garden. The party departed on the 10th for Dorchester. The dairy entry for the Hinton St George visit records:
On the Gospel-side of the church is a chapel of the family of Paulet, in which are deposited several members of the family ; amongst the most distinguished, is that of my Lord Paulet, father of the present baron, which, besides being more modern, is worthy of notice, from its being built in good style, of coloured stone, and illuminated with gold ; it is also adorned with a sepulchral urn, supported by two satyrs, under which is the epitaph.[vii]
The monument has been identified to be likely the work of Italian artisans Baldassare Artima and Diacinto Cawcy. Adam Bowett suggests that the work is more probably Artima’s but they may have worked together on it.[viii] This analysis is based on stylistic comparison as no known records have come to light.
Perhaps in a leap of imagination, the fact that Lord Poulett was well acquainted with Cosimo de Medici prior to his visit, led somehow to the introduction of the artisans. The detour to Hinton St George from the Duke’s journey eastwards had its significance.
This remarkable monument, it appears, is the first example of scagliola in England. The more well-known scagliola chimneypiece in the Queen’s Closet at Ham House in Surrey was from circa 1672 (by Baldassare Artima).[ix]
I wonder what the country parishioners of Hinton St George thought of the exotic and elaborate monument built by Italian artisans. I also wonder what they thought of the appearance of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and his entourage in their village.
After my visit to the church in February 2020 I went with a friend to Dorothy’s Tea Rooms to escape the hail and biting cold wind. I can thoroughly recommend the cream tea!
[i] David Harrison, ‘Scagliola’, The Building Conservation Directory, (Cathedral Communications, 2013) https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/scagliola/scagliola.htm [accessed 20 February 2020].
[ii] James Stevens Curl and Susan Wilson, The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), p. 674.
[iii] Harrison, ‘Scagliola’.
[iv] Julian Orbach and Nikolaus Pevsner, Somerset: South and West (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014), p. 361.
[v] Orbach, p. 361.
[vi] Orbach, p. 361.
[vii] Count Lorenzo Magalotti, Travels: Cosmo the Third: Grand Duke of Tuscany, Through England During the Reign of King Charles the Second (1660), Translated from the Italian Manuscript in the Laurentian Library at Florence, To which is preferred: A Memoir of His Life (London: J. Mawman, 1821) < https://archive.org/details/travelsofcosmoth00magarich/page/142/mode/2up> [accessed 21 February 2020], p. 143.
[viii] Adam Bowlett, ‘New Light on Diacinto Cawcy and The Barrow Monument’ (Suffolk Institute) http://suffolkinstitute.pdfsrv.co.uk/customers/Suffolk%20Institute/2014/01/10/Volume%20XLII%20Part%204%20(2012)_New%20light%20on%20Diacinto%20Cawcy%20and%20the%20Barrow%20monument%20A%20Bowett_424%20to%20433.pdf[accessed 22 February 2020].
[ix] Bowlett, ‘New Light on Diacinto Cawcy and The Barrow Monument’.
Bowlett, Adam, ‘New Light on Diacinto Cawcy and The Barrow Monument’ (Suffolk Institute) <http://suffolkinstitute.pdfsrv.co.uk/customers/Suffolk%20Institute/2014/01/10/Volume%20XLII%20Part%204%20(2012)_New%20light%20on%20Diacinto%20Cawcy%20and%20the%20Barrow%20monument%20A%20Bowett_424%20to%20433.pdf> [accessed 22 February 2020]
Harrison, David, ‘Scagliola’, The Building Conservation Directory, (Cathedral Communications, 2013) <https://www.buildingconservation.com/articles/scagliola/scagliola.htm>[accessed 20 February 2020]
Magalotti, Count Lorenzo, Travels: Cosmo the Third: Grand Duke of Tuscany, Through England During the Reign of King Charles the Second (1660), Translated from the Italian Manuscript in the Laurentian Library at Florence, To which is preferred: A Memoir of His Life (London: J. Mawman, 1821) < https://archive.org/details/travelsofcosmoth00magarich/page/142/mode/2up> [accessed 21 February 2020]
Orbach, Julian and Nikolaus Pevsner, Somerset: South and West (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014)
Stevens Curl, James and Susan Wilson, The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture, 3rd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015)