Friday, 2 March 2012

Saved for the Nation

Fantasy Bob is sure that all cricketers will join him in rejoicing that one of the most important works in the National Galleries of Scotland has been saved for the nation.

For the cool sum of £45m the Duke of Sutherland has agreed to sell Titian's Diana and Callisto to the NGS and the National Gallery in London rather than put it on the open market which would undoubtedly have taken it to some rich museum in the USA.  Cricketers in Scotland may therefore continue to marvel at this masterpiece, albeit only for half the year - but half the year is better than none.

There is a cricketing interest in this painting (and its companion Diana and Acteon which was similarly saved a few years ago).  At this point, FB's world wide readership of 3 is saying to themselves, 'I bet he's now going to say that this is one of Titian's most important cricket pictures. He'll say that it shows the Nymphs XI in the showers after their cup winning victory against Jupiter's Occasionals, or some such drivel.'

Fantasy Bob is hurt that his readership should think him so facile. He has long accepted that Titian overlooked cricket as a subject. This is possibly for the reason that as a Venetian he would have had no exposure to it, even the game had existed at the time he was active in the 15th Century. These aren't bad reasons as reasons go. But FB inclines to the more aesthetic line that Titian's palette favoured red and blue and he was not so attracted to the swathes of green and white that he would have had to put on the canvas to represent cricket faithfully. Anyway, whatever view you take on this point, this painting is not a cricketing scene.

Ursa major aka
the plough or the big dipper
Instead, it shows the nypmh Callisto being discovered  in a pregnant state by her skipper Diana. Callisto, who was the most beautiful of the most beautiful, has been impregnated by that randy old chief God Jupiter who had pursued her passionately but had to take on the form of Diana successfully to impose himself on her. The usual plot line in  EastEnders. Anyway Diana is cross as cross can be to find her favourite nymph has been up to no good and turns her into a bear.  Naturally, anyone would. Years later, as they say, the son Callisto bore, named Arcas, encounters her as he hunts in the forest, he is about to spear her when Jupiter intervenes to place mother and son amongst the stars as ursa major and ursa minor - dominant features of the night sky in the northern hemisphere. Stars cricketers can bowl by.

But the cricketing interest is that the paintings were owned by the Duke of Sutherland and acquired when that family was one of the wealthiest and most influential of the British aristocracy. The family's association with the Highland clearances gives them a mixed reception in Scotland and FB will pass over the irony of them still extracting large sums from the Scottish polity. 

Another masterpiece
But in the mid 19th Century, the Duke of Sutherland's Cricket Ground at Trentham near Staffordshire was on the circuit.  In 1851 it played host to the All England XI, which included in their number John Wisden and George Parr who took on the Gentlemen of Staffordshire.  All England scored 215 off 182 4 ball overs.  22 Gentlemen could only muster 43 in their first innings - Clarke taking 12 for 22 - and were 32 for 7 when the rain came to their aid.  In 1865  another 22 Gentlemen could do little better being beaten by an innings and 18 runs in a single day's play.

Another Sutherland estate was also in Staffordshire at Lilleshall and this passed into state ownership in the mid 20th Century and became the Lilleshall Hall National Sports Centre, once the site of the FA youth academy, and now home to British gymnastics and archery. Lilleshall Cricket Club's ground was also a part of the estate and was developed with assistance from the Duke of the time. 

But that is not the cricketing connection. The family name of the Sutherlands was Sutherland-Leveson-Gower. A distant relation of that line is the David Gower, FB's all time favourite batsman. There is no question as yet of it being necessary to save David Gower for the nation, but should it become necessary FB is sure that all cricketers will rally round.

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