Installation of della Robbia style Altarpiece
2nd January 2018
In 1898, Elizabeth Gaskell’s daughters, Meta and Julia, purchased a nineteenth century della Robbia style altarpiece which was gifted to the recently founded Whitworth Art Gallery. In a happy reversal of generosity, it has now been given to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House by the Whitworth Art Gallery and is on display in the hallway in the house from January 2018.
Elizabeth Gaskell, whose writings often made reference to the plight of the urban poor, during the Industrial Revolution, loved High Renaissance Art (perhaps surprising for someone who was a Unitarian – she was the daughter of a Unitarian Minister and was married to a Unitarian Minister) and made several visits abroad including a three month visit to Italy when she visited Rome, Florence and Venice. The della Robbia, in the form of a large ceramic altarpiece, was purchased in Venice in 1898 by her two daughters who shared their mother’s love of High Renaissance Art. Shortly afterwards they presented it to the newly established Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.
Although research has shown that the piece is a nineteenth century copy, it is evident from their letter to Charles Eliot Norton in November 1898 that they believed the altarpiece to be an original della Robbia.
…….I thought it just possible that you might care to see the enclosed, which appeared yesterday in the very widely circulated Manchester Guardian. I am also directing to be sent you straight from the photographer’s, – a photograph taken from a Della Robbia plaque which Julia and I picked up …(do you say ‘picked up’ when you have given a large sum for it in a well known shop!) …this spring at Venice; and which we have “presented” to the Whitworth Institute here. Though I assure you I do not write for that reason, it would be a great satisfaction to me to know whether you think it a Luca, an Andrea, or a Giovanni. There has been a great discussion amongst experts……..
M.E.Gaskell, 15 Nov 1898*
From January 2018 visitors to Elizabeth Gaskell’s House will be able to see the newly restored della Robbia style alterpiece on display in the hallway. The Manchester Museum undertook the professional cleaning, conservation and installation of the artwork which is now especially impressive in its new location. The House is open to the public every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, 11am-4.30pm. Private tours available on other days. See elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk for more information
*Excerpt taken from the Letter’s of Mrs. Gaskell’s Daughters 1856 – 1914 by Irene Wiltshire.