A collection of 89 Roman and later Italian marble sculptures at Castle Howard has been 'saved for the nation' in a £5.4 million tax deal. But what exactly did our money buy us? STEPHEN LEWIS reports

HENRY Howard, the 4th Earl of Carlisle, was obviously a man with a taste for exotic things.

In 1738, having recently inherited Castle Howard from his father, the 3rd Earl, he embarked on a 12 month Grand Tour of Italy.

Henry was a wealthy man in his 40s, with time on his hands. He'd been to Italy once before. But this time, he was determined to 'do' the Grand Tour properly. His journey turned into a 12 month cultural odyssey and shopping expedition. He bought a huge range of antique statues and sculptures - many of them Roman marbles - as well as bronzes, coins and medals and some contemporary 18th century marble sculptures. He also commissioned new paintings of the Roman ruins in Rome, and in Venice bought dozens of views of the canal city by leading artists of the day, including Canaletto and Bellotto.

Henry returned to Castle Howard at the end of 1739 and over the next decade a flood of treasures arrived in Yorkshire from Italy. The Earl used them to decorate the inside of his Vanbrugh-designed stately home: assembling a collection that was considered exceptional for its size and importance even by the extravagant standards of the times.

Henry's son Frederick, the Fifth Earl, inherited his father's taste for collecting, and returned from his own Continental travels with yet more treasures. And there at Castle Howard these treasures remained, for generation after generation - a corner of Rome and of Italy in the heart of rural Yorkshire.

But the 20th century proved financially difficult for many of Britain's great country estates - and Castle Howard was no exception. Some artworks were sold at the end of the 19th century; more were sold by family trustees in 1944.

In 2015, meanwhile, Nicholas Howard - who took over the day-to-day running of the great house in 2014 from his younger brother Simon - announced that £10million worth of artworks would be sold at auction to secure the 'long term future' of the estate.

At the start of this month came further news: a collection of 62 Roman sculptures and antiquities and 27 later eighteenth century pieces, many of which had been collected by the 4th and 5th Earls on their Grand Tours almost 300 years earlier, had been 'saved for the nation' in a £5.4 million tax deal brokered by the Arts Council.

Under the deal, made under the Arts Council's 'Acceptance in Lieu' scheme and signed off by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, ownership of the pieces passed to the National Museums Liverpool in return for the settling of £5.4 million of an inheritance tax bill. The pieces will remain on display at Castle Howard.

Edward Harley, chairman of the Arts Council's Acceptance in Lieu Panel which negotiated the deal, says the collection is of 'great art-historical and archaeological importance'. More than that, it sheds unique light on the nature of the Grand Tours so enjoyed by the British upper classes in the 18th and 19th centuries - and on their determination to gather the world's treasures and bring them back to Britain.

"The collection's continued display at Castle Howard ensures it will ... be able to (continue to) tell the story of two great eighteenth-century collectors," Mr Harley said.

But what exactly did British taxpayers get for their money? We sent a photographer along to photograph some of the key items in the collection. And wonderful pieces they are too. Here are a few:

A marble figure of a boy riding a goat. This is a genuinely Roman piece of sculpture, dating from the 2nd century AD (so making it about 1,900 years old). It may represent a young Bacchus (the Roman god of wine-making, fertility and agriculture). The sculpture shows Bacchus wearing a garland of flowers diagonally across his body, and holding one of the goat's horns. Bacchus' head is more recent, as is the oval pedestal. The statue was bought by the 4th Earl of Carlisle, Henry Howard.

A Roman marble relief showing the winged goddess Victory with trophies of war, including a laurel wreath and a set of armour. The relief is thought to date from the late Roman Republic or early Roman Empire (ie first century BC or first century AD, making it about 2000 years old) and was bought by the 4th Earl.

A Roman alabaster or marble head of Jupiter Serapis, the king of the Roman gods. The head, with thick, curly hair and beard, dates from the 2nd century AD, making it about 1,900 years old. The body, with its tartan drapery, and the kalathos, or vase-shaped hat, are later. The head was bought by the 4th Earl.

A Roman marble head and upper body of a man in Roman tunic and toga. The head dates from the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD (making it about 1,800 years old) and the body is slightly older. The face looks careworn, with deep lines in the forehead, between the eyes and beside the nose and mouth, seeming to suggest a man of heavy responsibility. The statue was bought by the 4th Earl

Marble sculpture of a goat and two satyrs (a type of Roman woodland god, known for its drunken behaviour, with a man's body and goat's horns and legs). Made in the 17th century, this was bought by the 4th or 5th Earl while they were on their Grand Tour.

A plaster figure of The Dying Gaul. Gaul (what is modern-day France) was conquered by Julius Caesar between 58 and 50 BC. The noble Gaulish warrior injured in battle and calmly waiting for death became a popular theme of Roman statuary. This plaster figure was made in the mid 1700s AD in the 'antique' style - ie to resemble an original Roman statue. It is attributed to Luigo Valadier and was bought by the 5th Earl in 1768 for £25. It would have been almost new when he bought it, but he seems to have believed it was older than it was.

A plaster group sculpture of the Farnese Bull. This is an 18th century Italian copy of an older Roman statue which was itself a copy of an even older Greek sculpture. It tells a typically horrific story from ancient Greek myth - that of the punishment of Dirce, the wife of Lycus, ruler of Thebes. Dirce's niece Antiope was raped by Zeus, the King of the Greek gods. She fled and sought refuge with Dirce, her aunt. But Dirce, perhaps jealous, hated her and treated her brutally. Antiope gave birth to twin sons, Amphios and Zethos, and when they grew up the twins punished Dirce for her cruelty to their mother by tying her to a bull so it would drag and trample her to death. The sculpture shows Dirce being tied to the bull. It was bought by the 5th Earl.