A Virtuous Woman

In association with University of Leeds and National Trust

Hardwick Hall 30th March - 3rd November 2024

A Virtuous Woman is a participatory textile artwork being created and participated with at Hardwick Hall. 

The inspiration
In 1573 Bess of Hardwick commissioned a series of five monumental applique embroideries - originally for Chatsworth, but moved with her to Hardwick Hall. The embroideries would have created a huge statement - each one measuring 3 metres tall, 3.4 metres wide. The appliques were created using recycled fabrics - including Catholic vestments acquired from the reformation of the church and the dissolution of the monasteries. Together, and individually, the embroideries were telling visitors what Bess wanted them to know about her - her tastes, her wealth, her education and her values. The textiles express this information through the women she has chosen to be depicted in them. Each embroidery features three archways - the central archway shows and ancient noblewoman Bess admires or aligns herself with, flanked by two smaller archways depicting the female personifications of virtue the noblewoman represents. The surviving four embroideries on display at Hardwick Hall feature the following noblewomen and their virtues are depicted: 
Lucrecia with Chasteti and Liberaliter
Penelope with Perseverans and Paciens
Zenobia with Magnanimitas and Prudentia
Athemesia with Constans and Pietas
The fifth embroidery hasn't survived through the centuries, but featured Cleopatra with Justicia and Fortitudo
The artwork
A Virtuous Woman is a contemporary "re-imagining" of the lost fifth embroidery. In homage to the original textiles, the applique is being created on the same size and scale and consists of recycled fabric donated by the people who occupy Hardwick Hall today - the National Trust staff and volunteers. The artwork is participatory - between April and June 2024 visitors to Hardwick will be able to take part in the creation of the piece, cutting, sewing, embroidering words of virtue or value we choose to live by today. From late July - November 2024 visitors will determine our Virtuous Woman - instead of recreating the Cleopatra piece, we will be asking visitors to nominate a contemporary Virtuous Woman whom we might align our values with today. 
Please note participation with the artwork is possible on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays - but please check the Hardwick Hall website for the up to date list of participation days.  
The Research
The creation and evaluation of this artwork forms the practice of my ongoing practice based PhD research with University of Leeds: "Deeper engagements? The role of public participatory contemporary art installations within heritage sites and collections" For further information on the PhD please email me at pcu1lrk@leeds.ac.uk