Stonesfield Needlework

English, Early-18th Century

  • This item was purchased by Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock.

Needlework Carpet of the Roman Pavement at Stonesfield, Oxfordshire, bordered to top and bottom with a description of the pavement and of its discovery. English, early-18th Century. Sold to the Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock and displayed in their Roman Gallery.

101" x 82"  (2,57m x 2,08m).

Provenance :-  The  Strachey family, Sutton Court, Somerset. The most likely member of the family to have been the first owner of this needlework is John Strachey F.R.S. (1671-1743), known in the family as ‘The Antiquarian’. He lived at Sutton Court and had no fewer than nineteen children, all but one with his first wife, Elizabeth. He travelled all over the country, visiting local historical societies and investigating records, and wrote widely on his main interests of archaeology, cartography and geology.

Literature :-
Tom Freshwater, Jill Draper, Martin Henig, Sarah Hinds, ‘From Stone to Textile: The Bacchus Mosaic at Stonesfield, Oxon., and the Stonesfield Embroidery’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Vol. 153, No. 1, 2000, pp. 1-29.
Lanto Synge, Art of Embroidery, 2001, fig. 187, p. 201.

The inscription reads,
AN  EXACT  DELINEATION  OF  THE  PAVEMENT  IN  MOSAICK  WORK  LATELY  DISCOVERED  AT  STUNSFEILD  NEAR  WOODSTOCK  BY  AN  HUSBANDMAN  WHOSE PLOUGH  HITT  FIRST  AGAINST  AN  URN  WHEREUPON  HE  HAD  A  CURIOSITY  TO  DIGG AND FOUND THE SAID  PAVEMENT  THREE  FOOT  UNDER  GROUND  IN  THE MANNER  AS  IS  HERE  EXPRESSED  AND  WHERE  A  MARK  OF  THE  CREVICE  IS  A.  HIS  AX  STRUCK  IN  A  CAVITY.  WHICH  LEAVES  ROOM  TO  CONJECTURE  IT IS VAULTED  THE  LENGTH  OF  THE  SAME  IS  36  FOOT  AND  THE BREADTH  25.  THIS  WORK IS  COMPOSED OF SEVERAL SMALL STONES ABOUT THE BIGNESS  OF  A DYE  OF  DIFFERENT  COLOURS  WHICH  ARTIFICIALY  PLACED  APPEARETH  VERY  BEAUTIFULL  THE  OUTLETTS  B.  AT  THE  SIDES  ARE  FORM'D  WITH  LARGE  TILES THE  MEANING  OF  WHICH   IS  TO  BE  DECIDED  BY  THE  LEARNED  AND  THE  SIMBOLICAL  ORNAMENTS  OF  CONCORD    AND  MIRTH  GIVETH  OCCASION  TO THINK  THAT  IT  WAS  A  PLACE  USED  FOR  BANQUETS.   THIS  PEICE  OF  ANTIQUITY  IS  TO  BE  ESTEEM'D  THE  MOST  CONSIDERABLE  THAT  EVER   WAS  FOUND IN  BRITTAIN  OF  THE  ANTIENT  ROMANS.

The remains of a Roman villa were discovered at Stonesfield, near Woodstock, on January 25th, 1712, when ploughing a field, as is described in the inscription on this needlework. They were discovered in a field called Chesthill Acres, just half a mile south east of Stonesfield, and close by the Roman road, Akeman Street. The discovery, particularly of the very fine mosaic pavement, aroused great interest and many accounts of it were written and representations of the mosaic made, including an engraving by George Vertue. Vanbrugh, the architect of nearby Blenheim Palace, which was being built at the time, visited the site and removed a tile. Further pavements were uncovered much later, in 1779-80, but unfortunately none of them survived later than the early-19th Century, victims of disputes over the land, which was owned by three different landowners. As early as 1724, apparently, the main pavement was seriously damaged by its discoverer, the tenant of the land, he being in dispute with the landlord about sharing the profits of showing it (see William Stukeley, Itinerarium, 1724, p. 45).

This needlework of the pavement, with accompanying text, is taken from an engraving made at the time of the discovery of the pavement, which was used as the frontispiece of Samuel Pitiscus‘ Lexicon Antiquitatum of 1713. The engravings are usually unsigned, but a coloured example signed ‘E.L.’ has been in the Topham Collection of Drawings in Eton College Library since 1736 (see image on right, underneath main image). It has been suggested by M. V. Taylor that this engraving was made to be sold to visitors (see ‘The Roman Tessallated Pavement at Stonesfield, Oxon.’, Oxoniensia, vi (1941), pp. 1-8, and pl. I), and it seems reasonable to suppose that one early visitor was ‘The Antiquarian’ John Strachey, who then commissioned this needlework from the print which he had obtained at the site.

Other representations of the Stonesfield pavement are the engraving by Vertue referred to above, an engraving by Michael Burghers, the Oxford engraver, for Thomas Hearne, 1712 (the antiquary, Hearne, was one of the first visitors to Stonesfield after the discovery of the pavement and wrote a detailed account of it, ‘A discourse concerning the Stunsfield Tesselated Pavement’, published in Itinerary of John Leland, vol. viii, 1712), and drawings by William Lewington of the late-18th Century, made after the other pavements were uncovered in 1779-80 (the drawings now in the collections of the Society of Antiquaries). It was also sketched by Dr. Gardiner, Warden of All Souls, another early visitor to the site. Hearne also refers to ‘an inaccurate sketch by Mr. Webb, an Oxford painter’ (see Collections, III, pp. 319, 403), and this drawing survives, also in the Topham Collection, signed ‘Will:Webb Fecit’).

Another needlework of a Roman pavement, the only other known, was at Littlecote House, showing the mosaic pavement which was discovered in Littlecote Park  in 1730 (see Sotheby’s, Littlecote House, Nov. 20th-22nd, 1985, lot 604).  Both the Stonesfield and the Littlecote mosaics are included in William Fowler, Engravings of the Principal Mosaic Pavements, &c..., 1804, the date of the Stonesfield engraving being August 5th, 1803, that of Littlecote exactly three months later.

Stylistically, the main pavement at Stonesfield has many similarities of detail with mosaics found at the nearby villas at Chedworth and Woodchester in Gloucestershire, in particular the running floral scroll border, which is connected to a head in the same way in the Orpheus mosaic at Woodchester, and it has been suggested that these mosaics could be attributed to the same hand or workshop (Margerie V. Taylor, in Victorian County History, Oxfordshire, Vol. I, 1939, pp. 315-316). The medallion with Bacchus is also very like that on the pavement discovered in Leadenhall Street in 1803, now in the British Museum, which shows Bacchus seated on a tiger.

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