William Bankes had admired the work of the Italian sculptor Carlo Marochetti since the 1830s and, during the 1840s and ‘50s, Bankes commissioned a number of fine pieces of work from him, destined for Kingston Lacy.  By the early 1850s, Marochetti was living in England and had acquired considerable fame.

In a letter to his sister, Anne, Countess of Falmouth, who was living at Kingston Lacy, Bankes described Marochetti’s daguerrotypes (photographic images on silver-plated copper) for two medallions to be installed in the Hall at Kingston Lacy.

Bronze medallion by Marochetti, set in an openwork Carrera marble stove

Bronze medallion by Marochetti, set in openwork Lorandini stove in Carrara marble (smallest)

William Bankes appears to have had a particular fondness for tortoises and a number are to be found carved into various pieces of furniture around Kingston Lacy. He asked Marochetti to make 16 bronze sculptures of small tortoises to support some marble urns (‘upright vases’) which now stand on the terrace. Bankes was very particular about the accuracy of his commissions and required Marochetti to use a live tortoise as his model.

Paris,   Octr 28 1853

“My dearest Anne

Letter. WJB to Anne (Marochetti sculptures) - smaller - 1040x1280The same post as brings me your kind & acceptable details of Marochetti’s visit, brings me also one from himself, in which he encloses the most beautiful Daguerrotypes of the medallions for the Hall openworked-pedestals, the one from that which was sent up to him, the other from the companion as he has modelled it; nothing can be so perfect or so completely as I could have wished ! He has adopted but greatly improved upon my suggestion. I quite long to send you such pretty things, only you will soon see the originals for I have ordered the casting. This is not a fruit of his visit, for he had it ready before he came to Paris.

Think of my carrying a live Tortoise in a bag all the way from the Palais Royal ! He had offered to super-intend & direct the casting of these for my upright vases, I knew his hands to be too full to think much of such trifles at his return, & moreover Tortoises bury themselves before the end of this month, so, the only way to make sure of having them this year in Bronze was to induce him to take one with him from home as his ‘compagnon de voyage’, & I actually went and fetched it myself; which perhaps you will call to mind when you see it multiplied to the number of 16; the success of the casting of the first he writes me, has been admirable.”

The little bronze tortoises made for William Bankes can still be seen at Kingston Lacy near Wimborne in Dorset.

Bronze tortoise made by Marochetti for William Bankes, c.1853
One of a set of four Verona red marble urns, fluted with bulbous base and carved with acanthus, by Barrini mounted on four bronze tortoises by Marochetti. On a Portland stone base.
One of a set of four Verona red marble urns, by Barrini mounted on four bronze tortoises by Marochetti. © National Trust Images


2 thoughts on “A passion for tortoises

  1. I have seen somewhere that there are two talks, one on 26 Jan and one on 22 Feb, about this project, at the DHC. But neither on the DHC’s news page, nor on this project blog, can i find any reference to the talks. Are they happening? If so, please can we have a line or two here on the blog and preferably also on the DHC news page, to confirm them? thanks in advance.

  2. Work is ongoing on the collections, and we have just found two letters from Marochetti to George Bankes, (William’s brother), which tell us that the costs were as follows:

    Medallion with coat of arms – £35,
    Sixteen bronze tortoises – £65
    and Twelve bronze vases – £167.

    These letters show that some of this was still outstanding at the time of William’s death in 1855, and that George had to pay the outstanding amount.

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