3.1 Origin

The extensive sculptural assemblage currently on display at Wilton House appears to have derived from two major sources, both compiled under Thomas Herbert, eighth Earl of Pembroke (1656–1733): the collection of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel (1585–1646) and the collection of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, Chief Minister of France (1602–1661: Scott 2003, 39-49).

Howard's collection, better known as the 'Arundel Marbles', began following a tour of Italy conducted by the eighth Earl in 1612 (Vickers 2006, 6). By 1621, as Earl Marshal of England, Arundel 'was granted the customs dues of all the currants imported into England from the eastern Mediterranean', a position which seems to have put him in contact with a large number of merchants, most of whom were able to feed his ever-increasing appetite for classical sculpture (Vickers 2006, 7).

Arundel House, set in extensive grounds by the River Thames, became the repository of the Earl's burgeoning collection of ancient art. Following the English Civil War and the death of Thomas Howard in 1646, however, the collection came under threat, his son Henry, the ninth Earl, finding himself in severely reduced circumstances, having to sell 'the majority of the busts, together with a number of statues and bas-reliefs' to Thomas Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (Vickers 2006, 7). Some years later, possibly in 1717 (Peter Stewart pers. comm. 2011), Pembroke was able to secure the purchase of a further 52 busts 'with their costly variegated marble pedestals' from the Palais Mazarin in Paris (Michaelis 1882, 45). These had first been acquired by Cardinal Richelieu (1585–1642), with the active help of Thomas Howard, from a variety of locations in and around Rome, being later supplemented by his successor, Cardinal Mazarin.

Pembroke had wished to surround himself at Wilton House 'by the great men of old in effigy' (Michaelis 1882, 42). To this end, the Earl was keen that all the busts in his possession should be unambiguously identified and clearly named, something which Adolf Michaelis later castigated, noting that in order 'to satisfy that predilection, he was, it is true, liberal in bestowing great names upon busts impossible really to identify' (Michaelis 1882, 42-3). Not content with merely labelling (or relabelling) the artwork, the eighth Earl of Pembroke ensured that identity was permanently recorded by chiselling speculative names directly onto the busts, sometimes in Latin, 'sometimes in extremely questionable Greek' (Michaelis 1882, 46).

The nature of the ornate and highly polished inlaid marble pedestal may indicate that Michaelis no. 202 derived from the Mazarin collection, acquired for Cardinal Richelieu from sites in Rome and later enlarged through the auspices of Cardinal Mazarin. Unfortunately, as pedestals, bases and busts have, to some degree, been modified, altered and swapped around over time (Peter Stewart pers. comm. 2013), there can be no real certainty as to the source of the piece, nor its original context and nature of discovery.