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Novello Cowden Clarke Collection Guide

Novello collection guide image BC MS NCC/9/2/43


The Novello Cowden Clarke Collection was donated to the University by descendants of the family in 1953 and represents the activities of an extraordinary Anglo-Italian family of artists, musicians, writers, publishers and actors during the long nineteenth century. 

In addition to the significance of their own cultural contributions, the Novello Cowden Clarke family operated as part of an influential network which included Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Leigh Hunt, John Keats, Charles and Mary Lamb, Felix Mendelssohn, William Morris, Florence Nightingale, Gioachino Rossini and Mary Shelley, which emerge through a substantial series of letters and related materials.

This large and diverse collection includes published volumes, pamphlets, periodicals, autographed letters, manuscripts items, sketchbooks, drawings, watercolours and prints, oil paintings, printed and manuscript music, maps, photographs, greetings cards, press cuttings and jewellery. It will be of considerable research interest to historians of art, literature, music, publishing, performance and health, while also lending itself to many other transdisciplinary approaches.

About the Archive

The collection is comprised of two connected parts: the papers and correspondence of the Novello Cowden Clarke family and a library of books collected by the Cowden Clarkes. This large and diverse collection includes published volumes, pamphlets, periodicals, autographed letters, manuscripts items, sketch books, drawings, watercolours and engravings, oil paintings, printed and manuscript music, maps, photographs, greetings cards, press cuttings and jewellery.

The main body of the collection is arranged biographically and chronologically by year of birth, from Giuseppe ‘Joseph’ Novello (1744–1808) to Valeria Gigliucci (1849–1945). Each of the eighteen family members represented in the collection have their own series, each of which is divided into files of related materials, which are generally further subdivided into records for individual items. In addition to the biographical arrangement is a general Novello Cowden Clarke family series, which includes material related to more than one member of the family and material without specific attribution to a single person. 

Correspondence between members of the family and their personal and professional networks is contained in a letters series of more than 1,200 items. Together they illuminate both the everyday lives of the Novello Cowden Clarke family and the broader social, political, economic context in which they lived and worked. Where items of correspondence had been inserted into books by their recipient or owner, the location has been preserved for context.

The Novello Cowden Clarke Collection was donated by the great-granddaughters of Vincent Novello, Donna Nerina Medici di Marignano Gigliucci and Contessa Bona Gigliucci. It was presented to the University of Leeds for inclusion in the Brotherton Collection in 1953. Additional items were contributed by another great-granddaughter, Donna Beatrice Notarbartolo Gigliucci, and by Roger H. Ellis. 

The collection was fully listed in 2022–23 with the support of a private donation, building on the original handlist from 1955.

Artworks in the University of Leeds Art Collection

The collection includes eight oil paintings, six of which are portraits or self-portraits and two with biblical and literary themes. Three of the portraits are by Emma Aloysia Novello, representing the MP Richard Cobden, the French actor and playwright Michel Baron (after a portrait attributed to Claude Lefebvre in the collection of Dulwich Picture Gallery) and the spice merchant and art collector Cornelis van der Geest (after Anthony van Dyck, in the collection of the National Gallery). There is also a self-portrait by her brother (Joseph) Alfred Novello and portraits (Joseph) Alfred Novello and his brother in law Charles Cowden Clarke by the Italian artist Giovanni Mazzini.

While the Novello Cowden Clarke collection contains the papers of the artist Edward Petre Novello, including his sketchbooks, drawings, oil sketches and watercolours, three of his full-size, completed oil paintings were bequeathed to the National Portrait Gallery by Contessa Bona Gigliucci, entering the collection in 1983 following her death the previous year. Dating from the early 1830s, they include portraits of his father Vincent Novello and sister Clara Anastasia Novello in addition to a group portrait of the Novello family and friends. Preparatory sketches for this group portrait form part of the collection.

Searching the Collection

Use the dedicated search bar at the top of this page to search exclusively through the Novello Cowden Clarke Collection. Material from the collection can also be found via searching the general Special Collections catalogue, using appropriate keywords such as “Novello Cowden Clarke”. By using the Advanced Search option, you can include the classmark “BC MS NCC” to narrow your search to items from this specific collection.

To help get started, researchers may find it useful to watch videos on how to use the catalogue to access material in Special Collections. The videos explain how to search material via the catalogue, use a collections hierarchy, and find digital collections.

How to Access the Material

Researchers can access material from the Novello Cowden Clarke Collection in a number of different ways: 

  • for consultation in person in the Brotherton Research Centre
  • for consultation virtually with a member of the Brotherton Research Centre team
  • by ordering high-quality images through the Brotherton Research Centre’s digitisation service

Please see the Plan a Visit page for more information about these options. 

Material from the Novello Cowden Clarke Collection can also be used to support teaching within the University. Please see the Teaching Support page for more information on how to reserve material for teaching or group study sessions. 

Further Information

For further help or information, please contact the Brotherton Research Centre team at

In our catalogue