Henry Aldrich, Dean of Christ Church from 1689 to his death in 1710 and Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford between 1692 and 1695 was a true polymath: theologian, politician, scholar, collector, musician, designer and architect. This concentration of interests and activities, combined with a powerful post which enabled Aldrich to promote and utilise them, made him ‘one of the most eminent men in England’ in the late 17th century. The Oxford Almanck, All Saints Church, Peckwater Quadrangle, books on mathematics, logic and architecture, hymns and catches owe their existence to Aldrich.
In his will he asked for all his private papers to be destroyed, but left his collections of musical manuscripts (c. 8000), books (c. 3000) and prints (c. 2000 - still in their original albums) to Christ Church. The image, therefore, that he successfully preserved, is that of a great connoisseur and lover of the arts.
With his collections still intact, the exhibition will concentrate on Henry Aldrich as a collector. His fundamental purpose as a collector was a strongly utilitarian one which prevailed over pure academic curiosity. He used his prints to design the poster-like images for the best-selling Oxford Almanack; some of his preparatory drawings have survived. These images had a huge influence and Aldrich can be credited with bringing the visual arts into the university environment in Oxford, which, until then, was strongly dominated by books and music.
Aldrich’s print collection and his blatant use of the images gives an interesting insight into the visual vocabulary of late 17th century Oxford. He collected prints after existing paintings, especially after Raphael, whom he greatly admired; but also important and rare original prints by Mantegna, Dürer and Rembrandt; some of them have been taken out of Aldrich’s albums for the exhibition. Several volumes of portrait prints, most prominently the series by the French printer Robert Nanteuil and the mezzotints by his contemporary, the English printer John Smith, show Aldrich’s interest and understanding for likenesses. His own counterfeit was widely displayed and there are still thirteen portraits of him in various parts of Christ Church today.
A glass window in Christ Church cathedral, now lost apart of some fragments, was also designed by him after prints in his collection. Furthermore, the window design and the prints offer a link to General John Guise (1682 – 1765), who was taught by Aldrich, and who bequeathed his large and important art collection to Christ Church. Several indications lead to the theory that Aldrich was a major influence behind Guise’s interest in art and his extraordinary bequest. Prints after Girolamo da Treviso’s Adoration of the Shepherds and Cornelius van Cleve’s painting of the same subject - which we know were repeatedly used by Aldrich - must have made such a deep impression on John Guise that he subsequently acquired the paintings, which he bequeathed to Christ Church.
Another impressive manifestation of Aldrich’s interests is Peckwater Quadrangle at Christ Church, built between 1706 and 1708. It is arguably Aldrich’s most prominent and lasting legacy. It is the combination of theory and practice which is specific to most of his interests and it also dominates his architecture. The quadrangle can be regarded as the first English Palladian building in Britain.
Aldrich’s considerable influence on the academic, political and social life of Oxford (and England) will be explored further during a study day on the 21st January 2011. The event will be open to the public. Tickets for the day (including lunch) are £20 (£15 for students). For availability and further details please check our website closer to the date. The Study Day is supported by the Patrons of the Picture Gallery and The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.
1 October – 30 April
Monday to Saturday
10.30am to 1.00pm & 2pm to 4.30pm
Sunday 2pm to 4.30pm
1 May – 30 September
Monday to Saturday
10.30am to 5pm
Sunday 2pm to 5pm
Christ Church, Oxford
Entrance via Oriel Square
Tel: 01865 276 172
www.chch.ox.ac.uk/gallery or visit Christ Church Picture Gallery's facebook page for more information.