A revealing text for understanding the hold that Spanish painting of the 17th century had over the imagination of art-lovers in Britain and France during the first half of the 19th century is the description of the ancient Scottish seat of the Roman Catholic earls of Glenallan in Walter Scott's The Antiquary. The late Countess, 'partly from a haughty contempt of the times in which she lived, partly from her sense of family pride', had not permitted the interiors to be modernised. The 'valuable collection of pictures', which hung in 'massive frames . . . somewhat tarnished by time', included 'family portraits by Vandyke and other artists of eminence', but was richest 'in the Saints and Martyrdoms of Domenichino, Velázquez and Murillo' - and the 'manner in which these awful, and sometimes disgusting, subjects were represented, harmonised with the gloomy state of the apartments'. Beyond the picture gallery was the Earl's private chamber, its high walls hung with black mourning cloth. 'Two lamps wrought in silver' shed an 'unpleasant and doubtful light' on a silver crucifix and 'one or two clasped parchment books'. 'The only ornament on the walls was a large picture, exquisitely painted by Spagnoletto,' of the martyrdom of St Stephen.
LRB 10 July 2003 | PDF Download