Thursday, 22 April 2010

Hopetoun House

I went for a visit to Hopetoun House (Edinburgh) on the first day of its seasonal re-opening. The estate is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen so far, not only in Scotland but, I would say, in Europe. There’s so much to enjoy: the remote and quite location -between the waterfront and the country side- helps to create a special and solemn atmosphere before leading you to the magnificent and elegant architecture from the 18th century. The grounds are designed as a traditional British park, that leaves space to nature: long, wide fields of green grass, spaces open to the wonder of the eyes, tall ancient trees that reach the sky. It is a space to be walked slowly in silence, a space for contemplation: the yellow narcissus growing here and there, the sound of the tall fountain –visible from most of the windows of the House- will lead you. The interiors are not simply aristocratic: they are put together with a rare sense of beauty and wellbeing that permeates the space. Every room has a little treasure to offer to the visitor: this could be an ancient cot, a gorgeous embroidery, a marble fireplace with wonderfully sculptured figures, or maybe a carved wooden staircase, that draws your eye to one of the few Baroque ceilings existing in Scotland. A very special art piece sits quietly in one of the public rooms downstairs, “The Adoration of the Shepherds” by the Rubens School: although most of the surface was probably painted by his helpers, some attitudes and shapes of the characters carry the distinctive mark of the Master, creating the magic that hypnotises you in front of the big canvas. Good tours are offered for those who want to know more, the guides are enthusiastic and very keen on answering every question you might ask. They suggest, and give permission, to wander around the House on your own, after the guided tour, and this was in fact a very good idea: I could have a closer look at a wonderful picture of two tigers drinking on a river side, embroidered in silk.
I took more time to browse the lovely library, full of ancient publications, and I also found some surprises:
- first of all a wonderful collection of ancient literature: Greek historians and poets find their place near Latin authors.
- a masterpiece of Italian Linguistics, the very first “Dictionary of Italian Language” (“Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca”), published in 1612 by the Crusca Academy, that officially established the rules for modern Italian and is to these days a very important Institution. The copy at Hopetoun House is dated 1623 on the spine, underneath the title, but I don’t know whether this is an original edition or a much later copy. This Dictionary served as a model for the first English, German, French and Spanish Dictionaries.
- last but not least a good selection of Official Publications, their presence probably represents the interests and official role of the family during the ex British Empire: Victor, 8th Earl and 2nd Marquess (1887-1952) was civil Lord of the Admiralty from 1922 to 1924. He chaired the Royal Commission on Agriculture in India from 1926 to 1928. In 1928 he was made a Knight of the Order of the Thistle. He chaired the committee on Indian constitutional reform in 1933 and helped formulate the Government of India Act of 1935. Following his experience in India he returned there as Viceroy and Governor General from 1936 to 1943, almost two full terms of office, making him the longest-serving Viceroy. Some of the Australian titles I could spot are “The Debates of the Australian Federal Convention” and “The Catalogue of the Parliamentary Library of Queensland”. Even more interesting for us the presence of Indian Official Publications, published by the Royal Commission on Agriculture in India and also by the Joint Committee on Indian Constitutional Reform. Also worth mentioning are the volumes published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office “India: The Transfer of Power 1942-7”.
The Library (and Archives) have been put together by generations of the Hope family, who have lived here since Hopetoun was first built (1699). There is a catalogue of the Library, and some cataloguing of the Archive (which was carried out in bundles by the NLS some years ago). Both the Library and Archives are available for consultation, by appointment through the management office (
I will end by mentioning an Indian picture hang in a corridor: two bulls are fighting surrounded by a gorgeous border of water lilies, the image was probably originally created by Ajanta and copied here by S. Ahmed in 1933.

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