It is a collection assembled over the centuries by the Dukes of Portland and its diverse treasures include a pearl earring worn by Charles 1 at his execution and a work by Michelangelo on show for the first time in 50 years.
Later this month a dedicated new gallery will open on the Welbeck estate which will give the public a chance to take a look at the collection built up over 400 years by members of the same aristocratic family, giving a unique insight into changing personal tastes and fashions.
It is hoped The Portland Collection, which has over 11,000 objects, and which will see items displayed in the new Harley Gallery, will help attract more visitors to the historic estate, near Worksop, and in turn boost the local economy.
William Parente, grandson of the 7th Duke of Portland, said of the collection: “It has been painstakingly assembled by my family over the last 400 years or so.
“These things are our history; each generation learns from them and adds to them as they can. But they are also part of our collective history as people: they chart the way people, places, tastes and society have changed over the centuries – everyone should be able to enjoy them.”
Treasures in the collection include: Michelangelo’s Madonna del Silenzio (c.1538), a chalk drawing which will go on show for the first time in 50 years, Van Dyck’s painting of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford and advisor to Charles I, not publicly exhibited since 1960, a pearl earring worn by Charles I at his execution in 1649, a Portland Tiara by Cartier worn by Winifred, Duchess of Portland and a George Stubbs painting of the 3rd Duke of Portland on horseback outside the stables of Welbeck.
Lisa Gee, director of the Harley Foundation, a charitable trust which funds the galleries, said the pearl earring for her was: “one of the most moving objects in the collection.
“It was tradition in the 16th and 17th centuries to wear single earrings so this pearl earring you can see in lots of portraits of Charles 1.
“The story is that when Charles 1 was beheaded, he was taken from his jail, beheaded and from his severed head somebody gets that earring and gives it to his family as a memento.”
The chalk drawing by Michelangelo was bought by the 6th Duke of Portland in the 1930s.
The new Harley Gallery, opens to the public on March 20, and items will be rotated for exhibitions in the new space, located near the estate’s existing gallery. It will be open daily 11am-4pm and an inaugural display will feature miniature portraits from its collection.
Mr Parente added: “Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire have not had an easy time economically since the pit closures, and everyone locally, businesses, council, private individuals, has had to work very hard to make things happen.
“Trying to make the area a more attractive place to visit is obviously important, and as part of this we felt that the time had come to welcome the public to see the Portland Collection.”