Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Chiswick House

Last week my classmates and I visited Chiswick House and Gardens in Hounslow, London. For info on how to get there and the opening times click here. The building we see today is how it has looked since 1950 but before then it was much larger with protruding wings at either side. Logic would lead you to believe that if the rest of the house was damaged during air raids during the war then there would be a great impetus to conserve and repair the house but no - oh no - it was someone's bright idea to tear some (most?) of the house down. The convent in Milan where Leonardo's Last Supper is was badly hit during the war but you don't see the Italians just knocking it down, do you? Although, maybe it was fate that the house should be dismantled - given most of the property that had been on the site was gone anyway (there was a massive Jacobean house that stood beside it that was demolished in the 1780s). As luck would have it, during the demolition a part of the house that was there before the addition of the wings (by the Duke of Devonshire: the same man who tore apart the Jacobean house) was found and it has since been restored from the ground up. That is not all though, the house has had a colourful history thanks to the financial difficulties of its owners. Their inability to keep the house running meant that it has been a mental hospital and a firestation before it was sold to Middlesex Council and then taken under the wing of English Heritage and ultimately given its Grade I listed building status.

Casting aside all the alterations made throughout time, the original house was built for Lord Burlington in the 1720s in the back garden of his Jacobean House already mentioned. It was designed by Burlington himself while William Kent gave him a helping hand with the interiors and gardens. It was initially separate from the neighbouring house. However, the house (in Burlington's time) did not have any real practical rooms. There was a number of halls, galleries and so forth but no kitchen or bathroom. There was, notably, a wine cellar. The villa was obviously an entertaining space but the issue still remains: where can you eat, and more importantly where could you go to the toilet? Burlington resolved this with ease: one would walk along the garden to the neighbouring house to use the facilities that are lacking in the villa. This was probably all well and good until he remembered he was in England and therefore decided it would be best to create a room to 'link' the two houses together. This is the part of the house that was rediscovered when demolishing the Duke of Devonshire's wings (of which the architect was John White). 

We came in through the car park which first takes you through a series of  maze-like gardens by William Kent before it leads you here - at the side of the house:

Despite having been told that the house is not particularly big (by country house standards) it is still underwhelming to see the size of it in person. The gardens are very beautiful and full of people so in general it is quite a cheery place - but - first impressions were not great. 

However when you turn the corner things begin to make sense. This is thought to be the best surviving Palladian exterior in England and it is incredibly beautiful and reminds us all of the Villa Rotunda. It is not overwhelmingly decorative and that is because Lord Burlington believed a house is a reflection of the gentleman that owns it; therefore, it needs to be calm and perhaps even austere on the outside while on the inside lively and personal.

My favourite part of the facade are these staircases. I don't know why - they just are. I'm not much of a photographer so believe me when I say there is a statue of Palladio behind the staircase in the first picture  while there is a statue of Inigo Jones behind the staircase in the picture directly above (I think it is that way round...). Regardless of the which way round they are, they are there to pay homage to the creator of the style that Burlington has used (Palladio) while equally claiming that English architecture is the best (Jones).

This was originally the entrance before Lord Burlington moved the road further in front of the villa (yes- he moved a road). This is a sphinx. They are the symbolic gate keepers of secrets and riddles and suggest that Lord Burlington wanted his house to be mysterious and baffle his contemporaries (which it did). In line with the secrets and mysteries idea my lecturer mentioned an article that was written about 20 years ago that entertained the possibility that Burlington was a Jacobite. For a man in his position,being found supporting the Catholic Old Pretender would be disastrous. But, the article suggests, he was keeping his wits about him and ensuring that upon a possible Catholic return he was not punished.

Palladianism was the style of a new Britain. At the beginning of the 18th century the political intrigue that denied The Old Pretender his throne had to extend far enough into culture as to consolidate the new Britain that it had created. It was the Whigs who took it upon themselves to be the government in support of George II and Lord Burlington was (supposedly) a Whig. Thanks to Colen Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus (1715-25) that promotes Palladianism as the only style fit for the new king, Burlington (and others) turned their back on the Baroque style and took up the Palladian style.

The octagonal gallery.


The 3 pictures above are of the 'Dome Saloon'. It has some beautiful plaster work with a coeffered ceiling (although they seem to be EVERYWHERE) and a cute pattern on the floor that I liked. It was quite a small space, as is all of the house really, and it is hard to imagine any real big dinner parties happening here. It is the biggest room, or at least less narrow than the others, but still a banqueting table would not fit comfortably here. Perhaps then, it is changing trends at parties among the elite. No longer would people spend their time together all night but they'd venture off into different areas of the house to engage in different activites: cards, reading, dancing...?

This is the ceiling to the central part of the Gallery. The Gallery is made up of three small rooms. The outer two rooms are octagonal with absidal ends and a richly decorated coeffered ceiling. This room, the middle room, is rectangular. I believe it is this image that Burlington believed was by Veronese (important because he painted for Palladio). It's not.

Mythology: Burlington was part of the gang of people who began to look back to Renaissance sources and see them in light of the people who inspired them. Therefore, it is not surprising that Burlington played around with mythology in his design. He was incorporating the language of the ancients but for his own use. This here represents the origins of the Corinthian order as described by Vitruvius. If you look closely you'll see what appears to be acanthus leaves coming out of a head. The story is that a girl died and her maid places a basket on her grave from which acanthus grew. He was showing us that art and architecture was important to him and that he was no fool - he shared secrets with Vitruvius.

This ceiling is potentially by Kent. It represents the three arts.

This is the Red Velvet room. Red Velvet was seen as a good combination of colour and texture from which to hang art. The inventory says that there was an awful lot crammed in here.

Same as the Red Velvet room - but in blue. The roof represents architecture and quite fittingly Burlington used to display his drawings by Palladio that he had collected on his second Grand Tour here. 

The Green velvet room.

I was given a plan of the house as it was in the 18th century and this - as per the inventory made upon Burlington's death suggested - was a bedroom. The bottom picture was the bed chamber while the top picture was the closet. Very small.

The garden is still for the most part a formal one. Although, there have been a handful of places that have been left to grow. Pretty nonetheless.

Lastly, they have a cafe and a field with loads of games on it. Including this connect 4 that I won..... (and lifesize chess but I don't know how to play it...)

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