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Drawing, Study for Staircase Decoration, Hanbury Hall, Worchestershire: Achilles Revealing his Identity, ca. 1710

This is a Drawing. It was designed by Sir James Thornhill. It is dated ca. 1710. Its medium is pen and brown ink, brush and wash on tan laid paper, lined. It is a part of the Drawings, Prints, and Graphic Design department.

This exuberant design for a staircase mural in the Italian Baroque manner was commissioned by Thomas Vernon, a wealthy lawyer and Member of Parliament, for Hanbury Hall in Worchestershire. A painted staircase was a significant status symbol at the end of the seventeenth century; the royal residences of Windsor Castle and Hampton Court had painted staircases by the Italian-born artist Antonio Verrio, while several great noble houses possessed murals by the French decorative painter Louis Laguerre. Sir James Thornhill, being a Protestant Englishman, was a popular choice among Whig patrons. The drawing’s fine lines and controlled washes of ink tell a story from the life of Achilles. Thornhill selected the dramatic moment when the Greek hero reveals his true identity at Court of Lycomedes, thus yielding to his destiny to join the Trojan War. The figure of Mercury bridges the space between the ceiling at his head and the wall at his feet, casting his shadow across the trompe-l'œil architectural framework. The placement of the deity boldly underscores the illusionism of the scene and draws the eye upward to the lofty host of Olympians on the ceiling. Thornhill, who had experience designing stage sets, had a flair for the dramatic and a talent for illusionistic perspective. He was later to gain fame for his work on Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

This object was donated by Mrs. Charles B. Alexander. It is credited Gift of Mrs. Charles B. Alexander.

Our curators have highlighted 2 objects that are related to this one.

Its dimensions are

40.5 x 20 cm (15 15/16 x 7 7/8 in.) Mat: 55.9 x 40.6 cm (22 x 16 in.)

It is signed

Signed in pen and black ink, lower left hand corner of scene in lower register: J Th.

It is inscribed

Inscribed in graphite, bottom of scene in lower register: Palace of Lycomedes

Cite this object as

Drawing, Study for Staircase Decoration, Hanbury Hall, Worchestershire: Achilles Revealing his Identity, ca. 1710; Designed by Sir James Thornhill (English, 1675 - 1734); England; pen and brown ink, brush and wash on tan laid paper, lined; 40.5 x 20 cm (15 15/16 x 7 7/8 in.) Mat: 55.9 x 40.6 cm (22 x 16 in.); Gift of Mrs. Charles B. Alexander; 1900-1-1

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Hewitt Sisters Collect.

This object has no known Copyright restrictions.

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<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url=https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/18105039/ |title=Drawing, Study for Staircase Decoration, Hanbury Hall, Worchestershire: Achilles Revealing his Identity, ca. 1710 |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=20 May 2019 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>