We take the opportunity of the new Special Collections exhibition – exploring image-making in relation to the Leonardo da Vinci drawings on display at the City Art Gallery – to look at a collection of drawings held by the Special Collections.
The Librarian of the Hartley Institution was authorised to spend £5 a year (around £313 today) on Old Master drawings and by the late 1870s there was a growing collection. The album of 163 sketches by Francis Cleyn the Elder was one of these acquisitions.Unprepossessing in appearance, with its limp paper and parchment binding of the first half of the seventeenth century and sheets of a stained and dirty rag paper, the album represents one of the largest collections of Cleyn’s drawings and designs. Cleyn was best known for his tapestry designs, but he was also an accomplished designer of seals, title pages, book illustrations and decorative interior design schemes. Many of the sketches in the album have been identified as preparatory studies for engravings, sculpture and tapestries.
Cleyn was the chief designer at the Mortlake Tapestry Factory for Charles I of England and under the Commonwealth. Originally from Rostock, Cleyn worked first for King Christian IV of Denmark before Christian loaned his services to his brother-in-law, James I of England. James I set up the Mortlake Tapestry Factory in 1619: by the reign of his son Charles I it employed as many as 140 people and produced some of the finest tapestries woven in Europe in the 1620s and 1630s.Cleyn was considered one of the best ‘storytellers’ in English art and played a remarkable role in tapestry design. Among the drawings in his album are five for a series of ‘Love and Folly tapestries, for Charles I, which were probably prepared in 1626, perhaps in connection with the King’s marriage to Henrietta Maria, and three designs for the Mortlake series of ‘Horses’ tapestries — Perseus and Andromeda, Meleager and the Calydonian Boar, and Minos and Scylla, from a set of six. The ‘Horses’ tapestries were among the possessions of Charles I inventoried after his death whilst the Leonardo da Vinci drawings currently on display in Southampton and 11 other venues around the UK became part of the Royal Collection in the reign of Charles II in the late seventeenth century.
Drawings from the Cleyn album are on display in the Special Collections exhibition The Leonardo Link Image-Making from Anatomy to Code which opened on Monday 18 February.