Are these feathered friends or foes? A Marble Roundel at Leeds Castle, Kent

Venetian marble roundel displayed at Leeds Castle - Image copyright owned by Leeds Castle Enterprises Ltd
Venetian marble roundel displayed at Leeds Castle – Image copyright owned by Leeds Castle Enterprises Ltd

What draws you to your favourite object? Is it the way it feels in your hand, its history, smell or a memory it evokes?  And from amongst so many objects, how do you choose?

Nic Fulcher has been the Heritage Manager at Leeds Castle for the past seven years and his main roles is to take care of the castle’s collections.  He tells me his favourite object has to be this gorgeous roundel, well that’s this week’s choice – when I originally asked him it was a Ming Dynasty plate! But with over 2,000 items, a large archive and nearly 3,000 books at his disposal you can’t blame him for changing his mind.

Close up of marble roundel - image copyright owned by Leeds Castle Enterprises Ltd
Close up of marble roundel – image copyright owned by Leeds Castle Enterprises Ltd

Made from marble, the roundel is about 38cm in diameter and very heavy.  Dating from around 1300 AD it is most likely to be Venetian and depicts two stylised birds in a linked style that makes Nic wonder whether they are ‘kissing or fighting.’ As a purely decorative piece it is most likely to have been used in a church, cathedral or even a grand Venetian house of the time and Nic says: ‘I never cease to be amazed by the overall design balance of the piece and the detail of the birds.’  He adds that he has ‘no idea how hard it is to achieve this in marble, but it is staggering, given the basic tools that would have been used.’

Another reason for it being his favourite links directly back to Leeds Castle as the roundel dates from roughly the same period that the medieval castle was constructed, a time of high medieval courtly behaviour when King Edward I was on the throne. The Kings second wife, Margaret of France, was gifted Leeds Castle following their wedding in 1299 and the couple even spent some of their honeymoon there.

Much of the roundel’s history is unknown but it was bought by Lady Baillie, the last private owner of Leeds castle in 1938 and visitors can find it displayed in the Banqueting Hall.

Lady Baillie, the last private owner of Leeds Castle.  Image copyright is owned by Leeds Castle Enterprises Ltd
Lady Baillie, the last private owner of Leeds Castle. Image copyright is owned by Leeds Castle Enterprises Ltd

Lady Baillie and her designers were responsible for the acquisition of many of the objects now in the castle’s collection and Nic says ‘I never cease to be amazed by the quality and beauty of the objects, there are some remarkable pieces including tapestries, fine art and porcelain’.

After ten years, Nic is now leaving Kent to take up a new position at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon.  I’m sure he will find many more ‘favourites’ there but before he goes, I would like to thank him for taking the time to talk and email me on numerous occasions.  I would also like to thank Gemma Wright for her assistance.

So do you agree with Nic? Have you visited the castle and seen this piece or does your heart belong to something else? Please do leave a comment and let me know.

And if you would like to plan a visit, you can find full details of Leeds Castle’s opening times and visitor information here.

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