10 January 2018

Research by Angie Hobbs helps English Heritage interpret paintings at Bolsover Castle

Bolsover castle

Angie Hobbs has led a study with Dr Crosby Stevens, Honorary Research Fellow at the University, which has solved a centuries-old puzzle behind the meaning of mysterious paintings at Bolsover Castle. The study suggests that the paintings in the castle's keep were used as entertainment in 17th century private parties and plays organised by the Cavendish family.

Angie said: “The Little Castle at Bolsover was built by the Cavendish family between 1612-1621 - its function was to be a luxurious pleasure-palace and interactive and immersive space for amateur shows. Its walls and ceilings are decorated with some extraordinary and beguiling paintings and I was delighted to be invited to assist the historian Dr Crosby Stevens with their philosophical interpretation for English Heritage in association with Google Arts and Culture

“I believe that the paintings - and the whole interior structure - playfully re-interpret Platonic and Neoplatonic philosophy, very probably mediated by the works of the Renaissance philosopher Marsilo Ficino, particularly his famous de Amore (1484), which was still widely read throughout Europe in the early 17th century.

The paintings are designed both to reflect and to stimulate the intellectual and physical effort required to ascend from the earthly to the divine realm, and one of the chief questions they raise concerns the magically transformative role of sensual love in this ascent - indeed the paintings go further than either Plato or the Neoplatonists in suggesting that, providing it is virtuously conducted within marriage, the celebration of physical love has a purifying part to play throughout the ascent. Another intriguing suggestion is that the classical and Christian worlds are not in conflict but in harmony, and - radically - that classical Elysium is on a level with Christian heaven.”

Find out more about the study and the mysterious paintings at Bolsover Castle.

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