For over a century, sketches from some of the most famous and respected Old Masters have been kept out of the public eye for reasons of conservation, remaining safely stored at Chatsworth House.
However, the archives have been opened up, and visitors can enjoy these works in a show entitled Old Master Drawings Cabinet. The public can once again come face to face with brilliance in its most raw form – the humble drawing.
The 12 drawings from the Devonshire Collection, which is considered to be the finest private assortment of Old Master works in Britain, second only to the Queen's extensive Royal Collection, are housed in a special, purpose-built cabinet.
Having been in the family since the 1720s, the drawings were originally kept in bespoke albums in Devonshire House, until the 6th Duke of Devonshire brought them to Chatsworth in the 19th century.
By the turn of the 20th century, appreciating that the lighting of the home was not conducive to their preservation, it was decided that they should be removed to protect their integrity. In 1906, they were finally taken down and put into storage.
Although the reason for their absence is understandable, it has nevertheless been to the detriment of the public, who have missed coming face-to-face with drawings that reveal aspects of an artist's imagination in such a way that a final work of art cannot.
The Old Masters who form this very small but striking exhibition include Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Brueghal the Elder, Annibale Carracci, Albrecht Dürer, Leonardo Da Vinci, Claude le Lorrain, Jan Gossaert (also known as Mabuse), Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian and Van Dyck. An ensemble like that in name alone is enough to take one's breath away.
The Old Master Drawings Cabinet at Chatsworth House runs until 9th November 2012.