As Christmas Day approaches I often find that I feel more fed up than festive and to combat this I am quite fond of doing something that captures the Christmas Spirit in some way. In previous years I have been to several National Trust properties to see these houses dressed out in period style Christmas decorations, some it has to be said are more successful than others. This year I went up to Petworth House to see their Festive offering – a fantasy creation of the palace of a middle eastern princes palace within the rooms of the house.
Balthazar’s Palace has taken over the ground floor of the house for the past month. Who was the originator of this truly original idea is not clear from the NT literature, but whoever it was deserves a Christmas Bonus!
According to the Petworth House newspaper “The Spaniel” the idea came from some photography of one of the paintings in the house’s collection – The Adoration of the Magi by Hieronymus Bosch.
As Andrew Loukes, House and Collections Manager says in the newspaper the figure of “Balthazar stood out so strongly that he simply had to be at the centre of our theme“. The set’s were dressed by a specialist events team called Oasis who worked with the House team to create a series of visualisations through the ground floor rooms of the house turning them into a mysterious and flamboyant Eastern Palace.
The entrance to the house is shrouded by a tent and drapes inside which is a panel explaining who Balthazar was.
Once inside the house you pass along a corridor shrouded in painted drapes covered with an Islamic pattern toward the entry to the Chapel (which was blocked off). All along the corridor stood large islamic style lanterns and the small balcony across the passage was decorated with twinkling lights and a solitary veiled figure stood watching the passing of visitors.
Large Islamic style lanterns throw beautiful shadow patterns up the walls, while a shadowy figure watches visitors pass by in to the Palace.
Turning a corner you find yourself in a dimly lit but sumptuously appointed room. To one side is a mannequin figure of Balthazar, celestial maps scattered at his feet while he gazes towards the window which has been covered with stencil stars. On the back wall is a portrait of one of the earlier Lord’s Leconfield appropriately attired in eastern dress!
Balthazar’s Palace state-room showing painting of one of the previous Lord Leconfield attired in Eastern dress. Star stencils cover the windows of the Palace room.
Moving on into a very dark room with the most enormous banqueting table covered with twinkling lights, exotic fruits, plants and beautiful tableware and glass. Sadly this room was too dark to photograph adequately.
Turning out of this room you find yourself in the Conservatory which looked resplendent dressed out with classical columns, palm trees, lanterns, urns and beautiful blue lighting. The attention to fine detail throughout the whole display was tremendous, and in this lovely tranquil room you could see beautiful painted butterflies and tiny exotic bird figures on the lanterns and palm trees.
The beautiful Balthazar’s Palace Gardens in the conservatory
Leaving the ‘gardens’ you find yourself in the Harem, dressed out with silk drapes and banquette’s covered with deep cushions. A moving shadow is projected under a gazebo showing members of the Harem dancing to exotic music.
The ‘Harem’ with dancers in the gazebo
The route out of Balthazar’s Palace takes you past the original painting which inspired the whole event – The Adoration of the Magi by Hieronymus Bosch (c1500)
The exact history of the Petworth painting is not entirely clear and may have been commissioned by a private client, and is most likely to be by Bosch himself. The original image forms the central panel of a triptych which now belongs to the Prado Museum in Madrid.
The whole event was immensely enjoyable and the team at Petworth and Oasis should be congratulated on producing such an imaginative and sumptuous display perfect for firing the imagination and remembering the Christmas Story.