Fame and Victory restored

2 November 2016


During Easter 2016 our appointed conservation team completed extensive work to Francesco Sleter’s (1685-1775) ceiling painting Fame and Victory. The ceiling is above the eastern Grand Staircase and dates from the 1740s when Viscount Cobham was improving his home. Cobham commissioned Sleter to create grand iconographic themes of victorious warfare and civil justice. As a military man these themes were an important part of how Cobham wished the world to see him.

This image shows the discolouration of the varnish layers and over painting. The blue squares indicate test cleaning carried out before the conservation work began. 

Conservation of this ceiling was required due to historic damage to the surface of the paint. Over the years the ceiling had suffered trauma. When the school first arrived at Stowe in 1923 they put in miles and miles of plumbing – boys needed baths. However they did not always put the pipes, or indeed the bathrooms, in the best places. Above this ceiling is a bathroom and over the years there has been a leak or two. This water ingress had gradually damaged the paint and varnish layers and the original paintwork, along with some Victorian over painting and layers of varnish, had discoloured and the surface of the paint was beginning to flake.

Scaffolding in the process of being erected in the eastern Grand Staircase.

Erecting a huge scaffold, making it safe for the present day pupils of Stowe School to still pass below, the conservators worked away gradually revealing the original paint. There were many decisions to be made – do we remove the poor quality Victorian over painting? Do we touch up the paint today? Do we add a layer of varnish to protect the painting?

After weeks of careful work the ceiling was finally revealed. A beautiful tromps l’oeil effect, a wonderful allegorical subject and paintwork more delicate than we had imagined.

Discovery of a floral motif under the layers of paint on the east Grand Staircase walls.

But this is not the end of the story – while working away on the ceiling one of our conservators found something on the wall directly below the painted ceiling. Find out what happened next and follow our progress on social media with the hashtag #StoweDiscovery

Thanks to the World Monuments Fund (UK) with whose help we were able to complete this exciting project.