O ne recent Friday morning in May, Chatsworth House opened its doors earlier than usual. It was the day one special artwork from the historic country estate would be removed from its usual display, carefully packed and readied for travel. Its destination? Sotheby’s New York, where the galleries are being transformed into Treasures from Chatsworth: The Exhibition, a museum-quality presentation designed by award-winning Broadway set designer and Hamilton alum David Korins.
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Raffaelle Monti’s A Veiled Vestal Virgin was taken off the visitor route temporarily to join 42 other masterworks, including art, furniture, textiles and other precious objects, that will make the journey to New York. The treasures were carefully selected from the Devonshire Collection by the Duke and Duchess themselves, and encompass a wide breadth of mediums, genres and eras from the family’s vast collection, which was amassed over the span of 500 years. Among the highlights are Lucian Freud’s Woman in a White Shirt (Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014)) 1956–57, and Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing Leda and the Swan.
This mesmerising sculpture has been in the Devonshire Collection since the 6th Duke commissioned it directly from the sculptor’s studio in Milan in 1846. The following year, the piece was sent to England, where it was displayed at Chiswick House, the Duke’s residence outside of London. A phenomenal feat of artistic skill, Monti’s sculpture continues a trend long practiced by ancient sculptors, and notably among 19th century sculptors, to depict drapery and flowing fabric in marble and other solid materials. In 1999, the A Veiled Vestal Virgin moved to Chatsworth House, where a few years later, it made a cameo in the film Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley.
Before taking centerstage once more, this time as one of the highlights of Treasures from Chatsworth: The Exhibition, the Veiled Vestal Virgin first had to be carefully de-installed and packed for transit. Not wishing to disrupt the visitor’s route, where the sculpture was normally displayed, art handlers had only a few early morning hours to prepare her for travel.