Sense and Sensibility: An Essay on Chiswick House and Gardens

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Sense and Sensibility

An essay on Chiswick House and Gardens

  1. Introduction

On Burlington Lane, Chiswick, in the London Borough of Hounslow in England, stands Chiswick House (Fig.1, 2), the first and one of the finest and therefore the most important Neo-Palladian style villas in the country. The 65 acre gardens of the house are also one of the earliest examples of the English Landscape Gardens. Chiswick House was built between 1726 and 1729, designed by Richard Boyle, the third Earl of Burlington (Lord Burlington), who was a great patron of arts as well as an amateur architect, with advice from William Kent, the painter, garden designer and architect who created the gardens of the house. This essay is going to look into the architectural history of Chiswick House and discuss the relationship between Lord Burlington and William Kent who were very different in background, personality, and their styles.

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  1. Palladianism to Neo-Palladianism

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) was a highly influential Venetian architect. He sought for the purity of architecture through symmetry, perspective, and the theory of ideal proportion derived from his close study of ancient Roman architecture (especially Roman temples), which were all immortalized through his buildings and his The Four Books of Architecture (I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura). In Palladios architectural treatises he followed the principles defined by the Roman architect Vitruvius and his 15th- century disciple Leon Battista Alberti, who adhered to principles of classical Roman architecture based on mathematical proportions rather than the rich ornamental style also characteristics of Renaissance.[1] However, Palladio did not merely copy Roman architecture and reproduce them. Instead of making antiquity the basis or blueprint of his designs, he used them as his springboard - Palladio saw through the antique architecture and used them to inform his own style – which means that even though he seems to be recreating Rome in the 16th century, he was using the forms of Roman architecture without reproducing Roman buildings; in other word, Palladio reinvented the antiquity for his own day but not merely plagiarizing the past examples. The style based on Palladio’s theories and work is called Palladianism.

In the seventeenth-century, British architect Inigo Jones (1573-1652) played a crucial role in introducing Palladio’s treaties to United Kingdom. Inigo Jones studied Italian architecture and Palladio’s works exclusively and got inspiration from both Palladio’s works and theories and the Roman antiquity for his own architecture such as the Queen’s House and the Banqueting House, and became very influential for English architecture in his own time and a century later when the full potential was realised during the Palladian revival led by Richard Boyle, Lord Burlington.

In the early eighteenth-century, “Burlington wished to cultivate a new taste for Palladianism in Britain. In doing so he banished the Baroque influence of Wren, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor which had been dominant for over fifty years.”[2] Through his close study of Palladio’s drawings (he owned almost all of Palladio’s drawings), Inigo Jones’ interpretation of Palladianism and his use of ornament and Roman antiquity, “Neo-Palladian” style was developed in Britain.

The style emphasized Roman villa and palace building type, and some other characteristics such as columns, plain walls, temple front and Venetian windows, which were placed on the facades repeatedly. Furthermore, neo-Palladian villas did conform to a type: of compact plan with a central hall and a room each side, sometimes with the staircase set in the middle with the rooms arranged around it, and with an elevation to front and back that reflected this plan in its window disposition, so the hall would be lit by three windows (often identified by a portico), and the rooms each side by one.[3]

  1. History

""After Lord Burlington’s second Grand Tour to Italy, the villa was built. For the first few years, it stood alongside the old Jacobean house which came with the Chiswick property when it was purchased by his grandfather, the first Earl of Burlington, in 1682. Due to the fact that the Villa is not designed for normal residence use but for Lord Burlington to display his collection of arts and books and to socialize, the villa doesn’t have bedrooms or a kitchen, therefore all the ordinary affair of life such as eating and sleeping must be taken place in the old Jacobean house. However, the inconvenience caused by the separation of the entertaining and living areas lead to the construction of a two- storey link building in 1732. In 1788, the fifth Duke demolished the old Jacobean house and added two substantial wings (Fig.3) to the Villa allowing the house to be used for normal occupation, and the gardens were also remodeled by both the fifth and the sixth Dukes. When the ownership of Chiswick House was passed to the Ministry of Works in 1948, a restoration campaign aimed at returning the villa and the gardens to their original appearance was undertaken.

  1. Sense and Sensibility- Lord Burlington and William Kent
  1. Sense- Lord Burlington (1695 1753)

Lord Burlington (Fig.4) was not only a great patron, but also a talented amateur architect who was one of the first English noblemen who achieved great succession on completing their education by Grand Tours. His first journey through France and Northern Italy to Rome was taken place in 1714 to 1715, during which he purchased most of the furniture that were later placed in the Villa. By the time Lord Burlington returned, Vitruvius Britannicus by Colin ""Campbell and Leoni’s translation of the Four Books of Architecture by Andrea Palladio were published, both of which made strong impression on Burlington and therefore motivated him to pay a second visit to Italy in 1719. With more developed architectural knowledge, Burlington saw again not only the splendours of the architecture of ancient Rome but the effect of the adoption some hundred and fifty years earlier of Roman architectural principles by the Italian architect Palladio and his colleagues, whose designs in the Roman manner had become a feature of the landscapes of Northern Italy. [4]In order to understand the classic tradition, instead of closely inspecting or making detailed drawings of the Roman ruins and sites, Burlington relied on Palladio and his pupil Scamozzi as his interpreters. He also was inspired by his own drawing collection which includes Palladio’s works. According to Howard Colvin, Burlingtons mission was to reinstate in Augustan England the canons of Roman architecture as described by Vitruvius, exemplified by its surviving remains, and practised by Palladio, Scamozzi and Jones.[5]

In John Charlton’s “A History and Description of CHISWICK HOUSE AND GARDENS”, it described Lord Burlington’s new vision of architecture as a new architectural religion with Palladio as Mahomet, his Four Books of Architecture as the sacred text, and Inigo Jones as the major prophet. Of the new cult Lord Burlington was to be the high priest and Chiswick the temple.[6]

  1. Sensibility- William Kent (1685 1748)

""William Kent (Fig.5) was originally a painter- apprentice. He was supported by some generous gentlemen to study Italian painting in Rome, in which he formed a strong interest in not only the buildings but also the landscape. He met Lord Burlington during Lord Burlington’s second trip to Italy in 1719. A strong friendship- or rather, an unexpected friendship- between Lord Burlington, the formal, reserved aristocrat and Kent, the ebullient, boozy irreverent Yorkshireman. With the help of Burlington, Kent developed from a second- rate painter to the most influential architect and garden designer in England in 1730s and 1740s, standing only second to Burlington in history of Palladian. Kent’s designs show great freedom as well as inventiveness, moreover, he was a versatile designer who covers architecture, furniture, garden, fashion and other product design.

  1. Further discussion of the style and design of the Villa

The Villa was modelled on Villa Capra (La Rotanda) by Palladio (Fig.6). Instead of becoming a copyist by searching the truth and correctness of the Roman buildings, Lord Burlington’s design show a sense of freedom on his interpretation.

  1. Conclusion

Bibliography

  1. John Charlton, 1958 “A History and Description of CHISWICK HOUSE AND GARDENS” Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London
  2. English Heritage, CHISWICK HOUSE AND GARDENS Guide book
  3. John Harris, 1994, THE PALLADIAN REVIVAL: Lord Burlington, His Villa and Garden at Chiswick Royal Academy of Arts
  4. Chiswick House and Gardens Trust: http://www.chgt.org.uk/index.asp
  5. Great Buildings Architecture: http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Chiswick_House.html
  6. RIBA: http://www.architecture.com/LibraryDrawingsAndPhotographs/Home.aspx

Image Sources

  1. Chiswick House

http://www.gardenvisit.com/garden/chiswick_house_garden

  1. Bird eye view http://www.culture24.org.uk/science-and-nature/environment/art53724
  2. Floor Plan of Chiswick house with wings

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Floor_paln_of_Chiswick_House_with_additional_wings.jpg

  1. Richard Boyle, the 3rd Earl of Burlington

http://www.vam.ac.uk/users/node/17609

  1. William Kent

http://www.gardenvisit.com/biography/william_kent


[1] Trewin Copplestone, 1963 World Architecture: An Illustrated History from the Earliest Times Hamlyn…P.250

[2] RIBA website: Definition of Neo-Palladianism http://www.architecture.com/librarydrawingsandphotographs/palladio/andreapalladio/palladianismdefinitions/neopalladianism.aspx

[3] John Harris, 1994, THE PALLADIAN REVIVAL: Lord Burlington, His Villa and Garden at Chiswick Royal Academy of Arts…P.105

[4] John Charlton, 1958 “A History and Description of CHISWICK HOUSE AND GARDENS” Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London… P.4

[5]

[6] John Charlton, 1958 “A History and Description of CHISWICK HOUSE AND GARDENS” Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London… P.6

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