Making Sense of Portraits in country houses

3 April 2024

Digby hall , hound street, sherborne at 3 pm and 7 pm

By Pompeo Girolamo Batoni 1708-1787

By Maria Anna Angelika Kauffman RA 1741-1807

By Sir Godfrey Kneller 1646-1723

Elizabeth Gunning Duchess of Argyll by Sir Joshua Reynolds 1758-64

By Sir Joshua Reynolds

Country houses are often full of historic portraits, but for to-day’s visitors it is not always clear who the sitters are, or why they mattered. Visitors in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, however, would have immediately known how to “read” the portraits and understand their visual clues. We will look closely at clothes, poses and accessories, and learn how to decode them. We can understand how they were used to communicate status, networks and identities. Many of Britain’s greatest artists, from Sir Anthony van Dyck to Sir Joshua Reynolds, are known for their portraits and we will explore how they pushed the boundaries of portraiture to depict their sitters in dazzling new ways. We will also look at some puzzles, finding that there is sometimes more to a portrait than meets the eye.

Amy Lim

Dr Amy Lim is an art historian and curator, specialising in British fine and decorative arts from the seventeenth to twentieth centuries. She is curator of the Faringdon Collection at Buscot Park, Oxfordshire, and of the Stanley Spencer Gallery, Cookham. She is also an exhibition researcher at Tate, contributing to British Baroque: Power and Illusion (2020) and the forthcoming Women Artists in Britain. Amy has degrees in History and Literature & Arts from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. She runs an online art dealership, and has published articles and essays on a variety of art-related topics from gothic garden monuments to female patronage.