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Lecture: “Lords, Ladies, and Mummies: Highclere Castle, the Real Downton Abbey”

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Please note: This program is now full!


Join us for our next Tuesday Night Club: FYI Night on Tuesday, January 29, at 7pm as Curt DiCamillo presents Lords, Ladies and Mummies: Highclere Abbey, the Real Downton Abbey. Join us after Curt’s talk for wine and snacks. Suggested donation: $5.00, free for members. Seating is limited for this program, so reservations are strongly advised.  Please email info@loring-greenough.org or call 617-524-3158.


Although famous today as the country house depicted in the fictional television series Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle in Berkshire, England has a rich and fascinating history that goes far beyond its television fame.  While Highclere stands on the foundation of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Winchester (who owned the estate from the 8th century), since 1672 Highclere has been the seat of the Herbert family, later Earls of Carnarvon. During the 18th century, the old house was converted into a classical Georgian mansion; however the major transformation—from the 18th-century building to the English Renaissance revival-styled confection that exists today—was done in the 1840s by architect Charles Barry (brought in by the 3rd Earl Carnarvon while Barry was also designing the Houses of Parliament).


Highclere’s exterior is decorated with features modeled after Renaissance architecture, while the famous Great Hall is based on an Italian Renaissance central courtyard. The lavish interiors incorporated the family’s art collection, including a 14-foot-tall Van Dyck portrait of Charles I, 17th-century Spanish leather wallpaper, 16th-century Italian embroideries, Napoleons desk and a library with over 5,500 books.  Later renovations occurred under Lady Almina, the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild, one of the richest men in late 19th-century England.  Lady Almina’s husband, the 5th Earl, financed the 1922 Egyptian expedition that discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun before he succumbed to a sudden death that led to the urban legend of the “Mummy’s Curse.” Highclere contains an Egyptian collection, the 5th Earls treasures, some of which were only rediscovered in the house in 1988.


Mr. DiCamillo will explore Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey, linking it to other Victorian country houses. He will also explain how the fictional Downton plot line has unexpected echoes of the house and family’s complex history.


Curt at the iconic Attingham Park, Shropshire, May 2012


JP’s own Curt DiCamillo is an architectural historian and a recognized authority on British country houses. He has written and lectured extensively in the U.S. and abroad on the subject and has taught classes on British culture and art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Curt regularly leads scholarly tours that focus on the architectural and artistic heritage of Britain and its influence around the world (www.dicamillocompanion.com/tours). Since 1999 he has maintained an award-winning database on the web, The DiCamillo Companion to British & Irish Country Houses. The database seeks to document every English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish country house ever built, standing or demolished, together with a history of the families who lived in the houses, the architects who designed them, and the history of the houses’ collections and gardens (www.dicamillocompanion.com).


In recognition of his work, Curt has been presented to the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and The Prince of Wales. He is a member of The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain and is an alumnus of both the Royal Collection Studies program and The Attingham Summer School for the Study of Historic Houses and Collections. In addition, he is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, is a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, a trustee of the Nichols House Museum in Boston, and a member of the Advisory Board of Samuel T. Freeman & Co. of Philadelphia.


Before going into private practice, Curt served for eight years as Executive Director of The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, based in Boston. Previously he worked for 13 years for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A native of the Philadelphia area, Curt grew up in Central Florida with his sister, the award-winning children’s book author Kate DiCamillo.

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