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Technical Case Study: The Dance of the Hours


The original roundal reinstated in the Music Room

The very process of conservation breeds discovery, and for Stowe the reappearance of the original Music Room ceiling roundel was a particularly significant find. The lavishly decorated Music Room, with mural paintings by Italian artist Vincenzo Valdrè (1742-1814), underwent careful conservation in 2012 after analysis of the painted finishes. Later the same year, Stowe School rediscovered the room’s original circular ceiling painting, the Dance of the Hours, also by Valdrè, at a private residence.


The original painting had been sold in 1922 and replaced in the Music Room by an inferior copy by Benjamin Gibbons, c.1963. After negotiation with the current owner via Christie’s auction house, the school successfully purchased the original in March 2013. Conservation work by Kiffy Stainer-Hutchins & Co. took place throughout 2013/14, generously supported by The Paul Mellon Estate and the reinstallation took place in April 2015.


Valdrè’s roundel was inspired by Guido Reni’s c.1614 Roman ceiling painting Apollo and the Hours, sometimes called Aurora, and was completed before 1781. Valdrè re-envisaged Aurora to better suit a focal ceiling panel that could be viewed in the round.

It was composed with the figures set around a central fictive light source, illuminated not by the depiction of a sun, but an ornate chandelier that once hung from the centre.

Making a tracing (Large)