National Trust exhibition shines dramatic new light on Ickworth’s architectural and artistic treasures

An immersive exhibition at the National Trust’s Ickworth in Suffolk is, quite literally, shedding new light on the Italianate house’s architectural and artistic treasures.

A complex scaffolding structure erected as part of a major £5million ‘Ickworth Uncovered’ roof conservation project – the largest ever investment by the Trust at the property – has shrouded the interior of the famous domed Rotunda in darkness.

The conservation charity is embracing the darkness by using innovative, theatrical lighting to illuminate key treasures from the collection, from portraits and miniatures to sculpture, porcelain and rare silver.

Ickworth was created in the 18th century by the 4th Earl of Bristol, known as the ‘Earl-Bishop’ and later enhanced by his son, to showcase a collection of magnificent art and other treasures amassed during Grand Tours of Italy.

Now, influenced by the classicism, colour and architecture of Ickworth and its interiors, London-based design studio The Decorators and lighting designers Studio Dekka, have used spotlights and floodlights in the entrance hall, stairway, first-floor landing and striking glass dome in the Rotunda roof, to transform these spaces and invite visitors to see the property and its art in a new way.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Titian’s enigmatic portrait of ‘An Unknown Man’ and Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s ‘Self Portrait’.
  • An elaborate Doccia porcelain fountain centrepiece depicting mermen and fish.
  • A recently-acquired silver toilet mirror commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Bristol in 1777 for his partner and mistress Mary Nesbitt.
  • Sedan chairs, swords, and 18th-century miniature portraits.

Chloe Woodrow, House and Collections Manager at Ickworth said:

“As the 4th Earl of Bristol’s grand Palladian vision, and then the ongoing work of his son, the 1st Marquess, who finished construction of the building, this iconic structure of light and dark was always intended to display great works of art.

“This exhibition will focus on that one central idea of Ickworth, with all its architectural and artistic treasures, as a home of great art, both past and present. We are very excited to offer today’s visitors this rare chance to experience the collection in a dramatic new way.”

National Trust exhibition shines dramatic new light on Ickworth’s architectural and artistic treasures
Doccia Fountain illuminated for Ickworth Uncovered ©National Trust/Jim Woolf

Xavi Llarch-Font, Director of The Decorators said:

“Ickworth Uncovered and the new house exhibition is a real moment in time in Ickworth’s history.

“We have been given a chance to create a highly theatrical and dramatic atmosphere, embracing the newly-found darkness that scaffolding around the Rotunda brings, without compromising Ickworth’s beauty.

“Even if you are familiar with this extraordinary place, you will see things that you have never noticed before.”

The new exhibition has been made possible thanks to a grant of £85,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Anne Jenkins, Director of England, Midlands & East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund said:

“Ickworth Uncovered provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal to the fascinating conservation work and enable them to explore the enviable collections and buildings of Ickworth, whilst learning new stories and discovering unseen treasures. We’re delighted that National Lottery money has opened up these doors to a host of new audiences.”

National Trust exhibition shines dramatic new light on Ickworth’s architectural and artistic treasures
Lighting of Flaxman’s The Fury of Athamas for Ickworth Uncovered ©National Trust/Jim Woolf

One of the National Trust’s most photographed buildings, Ickworth’s Rotunda will be covered in scaffolding for much of this year. The Rotunda roof will be re-tiled by a team of craftsmen, who will lay more than 40 tonnes of specially cut and shaped slate tiles. Work on the east link roof will prevent rainwater leaking in and protect the collection housed inside, while the addition of lightning protection to the roof and reinforcement of the underground vaults, means the National Trust is conserving Ickworth’s Rotunda from top to bottom.

In addition to the new exhibition, later this year Ickworth will display a newly commissioned artwork to mark the conservation project. To be created by internationally renowned artist Pablo Bronstein in collaboration with David Kohn Architects, the artwork will be inspired by the grandeur of the neo-classical Rotunda and will reflect elements of art and architecture in an outdoor setting.

The artwork has been commissioned through the Trust New Art programme, which sees contemporary art opportunities brought to National Trust places all over the country and has been made possible thanks to a £30,000 grant from Arts Council England.

A grant of £50,000 from the Wolfson Foundation has made the work to the vaults possible, allowing the National Trust to invest also in the conservation of the quietest, most hidden parts of Ickworth.

The new exhibition is open to visitors from Saturday 18 January and runs until 1 November, with conservation work due to be completed this summer.

For further information and opening times visit