The State Music Room at Stowe is one of the great jewels in the crown of this magnificent house. Its ornamentation is pleasing, gracious and intriguing.
Accounts of the décor, furniture and artists are given elsewhere (for example, Stowe House, Michael Bevington 2002 and The Stowe Catalogue Priced and Annotated, Henry Rumsey Forster 1848). This note focuses on a single panel, featuring Apollo, and a woman and child.
The Music Room and the panel we are examining was painted by Vincenzo Valdre (1742–1814). Bevington suggests that the room was finished after 1781 and I know of no more precise date for its completion.
Bevington almost says it, as others have before and since. “Perhaps it is not too-far fetched to see in the attractive lady before [Apollo] a reminder of Lady Buckingham, herself a keen musician,” he writes. This is too coy. The sitter for the Grecian lady playing her lyre in an offering to the god of music is without a doubt Mary Nugent—Lady Buckingham, who from 1784 was the Marchioness of Buckingham. The following portraits illustrate the likeness (Valdre c. 1780; Unknown c. 1770; Reynolds 1780-82).
We need entertain no discomfort in recognising the lady of the house as the sitter for a portrait that borders on the raunchy. Mary Nugent, politically minded, devoutly catholic and the mother of a duke to be, was a lady who loved art, music and fun in equal measure. Betsy Wynne’s diaries, and a host of letters give witness to the merriness and gaiety at Stowe at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.
And of course, her son was the model for the cherub. You only need to look at the eyes. They are Richard Temple’s eyes.