|The Bacchant Children of the 2nd Earl Gower|
Visiting British stately homes is my favourite summer pastime. It is fascinating to see how the source of the money (usually mining, slavery or imperialism in India) was systematically obscured. Financial capital was exchanged for cultural capital in a neoclassical idiom, including Palladian architecture. Having your child painted in an antique fancy-dress costume was a particular obsession of mine-owners, planters and nabobs who fancied themselves as Hellenistic philosopher-kings.
I have amassed a large collection of images of benighted children of plutocrats dressed as Hermes, Diana and Julius Caesar. Here are the top three in my collection, in ascending order.
|Future Slayer of Irish Rebels|
First, Master Watkin Wynn (1772–1840), fifth Baronet Williams-Wynne, as the infant John the Baptist. I do not know whether his parents had remembered their theology: John may have said cute things about lambs but he ended up beheaded. In the event, Master Watkin grew up to amass a cavalry regiment and play an enthusiastic role in putting down the Irish rebellion of 1798.
|Apollo or Ascanius?|
Second place goes to the portrait of an unknown boy, said to be dressed as Apollo, at the Treasurer’s House in York. It is not just the Arcadian landscape, the gorgeous tomato-coral silk mantle, the faux-antique boots and the elegantly curving bow. It is the arrogance of the posture and facial expression, the patrician glossy ringlets and that bossily pointing finger. I wonder whether he isn’t intended, rather, to be dressed as Ascanius, the hunting son of Aeneas to whom so many crowned heads of the European Ancien Regime traced their ancestry.
|Sex goddess-appropriate role for a toddler?|