Henrietta Louisa Jeffreys, Oxford University and the Pomfret benefaction of 1755 : vertu made visible




Dudley, Dennine Lynette

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In 1755 Henrietta Louisa Jeffreys, Countess of Pomfret, donated a substantial collection of Greco-Roman statuary to the University of Oxford. Once part of a larger collection assembled under Thomas Howard, 14th Earl of Arundel, the statues had descended to Jeffreys through the family of her husband, Thomas Ferrnor, having been purchased in 1691 for their country seat at Easton Neston in Northamptonshire. Oxford gratefully received this benefaction and it was publicly (and variously) commemorated. Emphasis on 'quality' and reliance on 'authority' have previously obscured the importance of the Pomfret statuary, subsuming it within Arundel's iconic connoisseurship. Interdisciplinary in approach, this dissertation employs new archival evidence to resituate the Pomfret marbles within larger historical and art-historical contexts and (citing contemporary images and texts) re-evaluates the collection's cultural significance. Adopting the approach of Dr. Carol Gibson-Wood, my work augments new scholarship concerned with reassessing the character of the early modern art market and its associated collecting practices. The primary concern in the dissertation is restoring the voice of Henrietta Louisa Jeffreys, whose motives for the benefaction have previously been misrepresented. Her personal response to social and cultural conditions actuated both her obtaining the statues and her dispensing of them. A second concern is to contextualize Oxford's status within the socio-political discourse of early Georgian England in order to demonstrate that the Pomfret collection was genuinely valuable to the Ufiiversity. The collection provided a collective symbol of vertu (which implied commitment to correct moral behaviour and taste) for that embattled academic institution and identified Oxford as a location of national importance. The dissertation's structure is provided with a third consideration which ultimately incorporates the other two - the provenance of the statuary. While proceeding chronologically from Arundel's acquisition through Oxford's reception, the historical details are augmented with analyses of how the collection was promoted and perceived. By revealing how ideals and ideologies of vertu informed the collection, its donation, its publicists, and its audience, this dissertation addresses the wider significance of the Pomfret benefaction in early modern England.