A Brief Bio on Curt

Curt DiCamillo is an American architectural historian and a recognized authority on the British country house. He has written, lectured, and taught in the U.S. and abroad on British history and architecture and leads scholarly tours that focus on the architectural and artistic heritage of Britain and its influence around the world. Since 1999 Curt has maintained an award-winning database on the web, The DiCamillo Database of British & Irish Country Houses (which you’re looking at right now!), which seeks to document every English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish country house ever built, standing or demolished, together with a history of the families who lived in the houses, the architects who designed them, and the history of the houses’ collections and gardens.

In recognition of his work, Curt has been presented to the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and The Prince of Wales. He is a member of The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain and is an alumnus of both the Royal Collection Studies program and The Attingham Summer School for the Study of Historic Houses and Collections. In addition, Curt is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, is listed in Who’s Who in AmericaWho’s Who in the World, is a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a member of the Council of the American Museum in Britain.

Curt is the Curator for Special Collections at the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, the largest and oldest genealogical society in the world. Previously, he served for nine years as Executive Director of The National Trust for Scotland Foundation USA, based in Boston, where he was responsible for raising over $7 million for the Trust (he currently holds the position of Executive Director Emeritus). Before that Curt worked for 13 years for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A native of the Philadelphia area, he grew up in Central Florida with his sister, the award-winning children’s book author Kate DiCamillo.

Robert Adam's Sculpture Gallery at Newby Hall in Yorkshire puts Curt into a state of ecstasy

All of these have appeared as part Curt's "One of my favorite things" email series

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa

April 11, 2020

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, 1647-52

Made by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1647-52. Photo by Livioandronico2013 / Wikipedia. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

In these unprecedented times, I find much solace in art and beauty. As many of you know, I am neither Catholic nor a fan of Baroque art, which makes it all the more remarkable that I think Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa to be among the most awe-inspiring things ever created by human hands.

Located in the Cornaro Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome, this white marble sculpture portrays an angel and the Spanish Saint Teresa of Ávila, a 16th century mystical, cloistered Discalced Carmelite reformer and nun. The scene depicts an experience Saint Teresa describes in her autobiography when she was visited by an angel of God:

“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it.”

The sublimity of this 17th century set piece, generally considered to be one of the masterpieces of High Roman Baroque art, always overwhelms me. I call it a set piece because Bernini designed not just the sculpture, but the explosion of materials and color that surround it, including the hidden yellow stained glass window that naturally illuminates the golden rays that reach down to the angel and Saint Teresa.

Chippendale Hall Chair from Harewood House

August 30, 2020

Hall Chair, Thomas Chippendale, Harewood House

Made by Thomas Chippendale, probably circa 1770. Photo by Dadero / Wikipedia. This photo is in the public domain.

Neoclassicism brings me immense joy, which is why I am particularly excited to share this painted beechwood hall chair, dripping with Neoclassical elements, that was made by Thomas Chippendale in the 18th century for the entrance hall at Harewood House in Yorkshire. One of a set of eight, this chair remains in the divine Robert Adam room for which it was designed. I should also mention that hall chairs were made to be decorative additions to a hall; they were not meant to be sat upon :-).

Chippendale, of course, is considered the finest English furniture maker of all time. He was born very close to Harewood (in Otley) in 1718 and died in 1779 in London. Besides his scrumptious furniture, his fame rests with his 1754 publication, The Gentleman & Cabinet-Maker’s Director, the first example of a cabinetmaker publishing his designs.

Harewood House is still owned, and lived in, by the Lascelles family, who built it in the 1760s and 1770s (it is today the seat of David Lascelles, 8th Earl of Harewood). Scholars believe that Harewood contains the finest collection of Chippendale furniture in the world. You can see more photos of Chippendale’s creations, together with images of Harewood’s interiors, on my website.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Argyll from Kedleston Hall

October 26, 2020

Made in London by Louisa Courtauld, 1772-73. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This is what I consider to be one of the most beautiful pieces of silver ever created: a Neoclassical English argyll that has been in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, since 1985.

Argylls are pretty much forgotten today. In the 18th and 19th centuries they were used for keeping gravy warm. This was accomplished by hot water in a self-contained vertical cylindrical tube that was inserted into the gravy. The argyll was invented at the suggestion of John Campbell, 5th Duke of Argyll, who was frequently cranky because the gravy arrived cold at his dinner table at Inveraray Castle in Argyllshire. You won’t be surprised to learn that this all happened in frigid Scotland!

This exceptional piece of silver was made by Louisa Courtauld, a Huguenot refugee who became one of the leading English silversmiths in the 18th century. Her family’s home, on Princelet Street in the Spitalfields section of London, is today a museum of immigration and diversity.

Commissioned by Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron Scarsdale (1726-1804), this argyll was designed to complement Curzon’s grand, new Neoclassical house, Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire. Today owned by the National Trust, you can see more photos of this astonishing house on my website.