Ask a Biltmore Curator
More From Biltmore 04/04/22
Written By Amy Dangelico
While our curators work mostly behind the scenes, their efforts are evident throughout every inch of Biltmore House and beyond. A vital part of preserving the estate, this team is responsible for researching, documenting, and interpreting the collections, historic interiors, and history.
Our curators have tons of fascinating information to share, so we’ve put together a round-up of some of our most frequently asked questions for them to answer.
Did any royalty ever come to visit Biltmore?
“The Biltmore House Guest Book includes signatures from an assortment of noblemen and women including barons, baronets, an earl, a countess, and a baroness. No true royalty visited Biltmore, however, until His Royal Highness Charles, the Prince of Wales, came here for his architectural school which took place at Biltmore House in July of 1996. If you count American royalty, presidential visits to Biltmore have included William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama.” – Lauren Henry, Associate Curator
How many rooms in Biltmore House have not been restored?
“All of the rooms on the main tour and a few rooms on the behind-the-scenes tours have been restored over the last 50 years. I would estimate that there are close to 100 rooms that have never been restored, and there are many rooms that were restored that need revisiting since we continue to make new discoveries in our research. Our most recent restoration project was the Oak Sitting Room.” – Darren Poupore, Chief Curator
How many books are in the Library, and how many are first editions?
“Today, there are 10,285 books housed in the Biltmore House Library. Because many first editions are not labeled as such, it is hard to know which are without researching every single one. One of my favorites is a first edition of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859).” – Lauren Henry, Associate Curator
Is there a list of all the paintings in Biltmore House?
“Yes, the collections managers use a database of every object in Biltmore House and this includes 213 paintings on display and in storage. The paintings on view are primarily located on the first floor and in common rooms on the second and third floors.” – Lori Garst, Associate Curator
Are there any secret rooms, doorways, or passageways in Biltmore House?
“Though none are truly ‘secret,’ there are many hidden passageways and concealed doors in Biltmore House. Some were designed for the convenience of guests, while others gave domestic staff a way to move about without disrupting the household.” – Darren Poupore, Chief Curator & Lauren Henry, Associate Curator
What is the story behind the chess set in the Library?
“The chess set is one of my favorite objects because it reflects George Vanderbilt’s studious personality. Can you imagine receiving Napoleon Bonaparte’s chess set for your 21st birthday? After Napoleon’s death, his heart was sealed in an urn and temporarily placed on this chess table!” – Darren Poupore, Chief Curator
What is the oldest piece in the Biltmore House collection?
“It is impossible to say what the oldest object in Biltmore House is with certainty, as George Vanderbilt collected many antiques, but one of the oldest is the biblical tapestry displayed by the Grand Staircase which dates to the late 15th or early 16th century.” – Lauren Henry, Associate Curator
What’s the most rewarding part of being a curator?
“For me, the most rewarding part of being a curator is the never-ending process of discovery. Just when you think you ‘know’ an historical figure, you find something that reveals another layer of significance. My favorite discovery was the unexpected history of the Halloween Room.” – Leslie Klingner, Curator of Interpretation
I have visited four times 1910 was the first and my son and family of ten went this. Past Nov and the love it
Thank you very much for using and acknowledging my photo! Lovely article.
Napoleon’s chess set is my favorite item at the Biltmore. The last time I saw it, I said to the lady standing next to me, “That’s Napoleon’s chess set!” She replied with equal excitement, “Pretty cool, right!” It was a wonderful visit.
A wonder-filled blog!
The Oak Sitting Room is a real surprise.
Where are the paintings which formerly were hung here?
Thank you for your comments. The two large portraits by John Singer Sargent that were in the Oak Sitting Room for many years have been relocated to the Breakfast Room where they hung originally.
The tapestry above the fireplace in the library is not the original, and the last time we visited no one knew what was originally in its place. Has anyone discovered what tapestry was originally there?
Dear Crystal< Thank you for your question. We shared it with our Museum Services team and they provided this answer: "We do know what was originally there! The original came from the home of William Henry Vanderbilt, which his son George Vanderbilt inherited when his parents passed away. The original was titled La Bohemienne or The Fortune Teller. It was a part of the Fetes Italiennes (Italian Village Scenes) series designed by Francois Boucher in the mid-18th century. The current tapestry, dating to the 17th century, was purchased and hung by John F. A. Cecil in the late 1920s, likely… Read more »
The behind the scenes people are amazing. I’ve been to Biltmore at least 15 times and each time is as amazing as the first!