Castle Howard: Masterpiece of the English Coutry House

Castle Howard, South elevation, with a view of the Atlas Fountain, a glorious sculptural extravagance built to a design by William Nesfield (1853). in the Howardian Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the heart of North Yorkshire.

Castle Howard is not a true castle, but this term is also used for English country houses erected on the site of a former military castle. It was where the Earl of Sandwich lived for a long time.

It is a private residence, and has been the home of the Carlisle branch of the Howard family for more than 300 years. Although building work began in 1699, the construction of Castle Howard took over 100 years to complete, spanning the lifetimes of three Earls.

The Dome is probably the most easily recognizable landmark of the house at Castle Howard. Impressive from the outside, it is only when standing beneath this extraordinarily airy and light baroque showpiece that you begin to appreciate what a remarkable architectural achievement it is. 70 feet in height, the lavishly painted Dome tells the allegorical tale of Phaeton, son of Apollo, who falls to earth from his father's chariot. The four large painted figures at the meeting of the columns that support the Dome represent the four elements; Earth, Fire, Air, and Water.

Castle Howard, the Antique Passage, lined with classical antique Roman statuary, mostly gathered by the 4th Earl during his Grand Tour in Italy (1738-1739). Most of the antiques are originals, dating to as early as the 2nd century AD.

Castle Howard, view of the Dome and The Great Hall.

A gorgeous example of George II period walnut and gilt open armchair

Castle Howard, the Chapel. George III period hall chairs, from a set of four, in the manner of Ince and Mayhew. Astonishing carving and detail, lovely gilt accents.

Castle Howard, the Chapel. George III period hall chairs, from a set of four, in the manner of Ince and Mayhew. Astonishing carving and detail, lovely gilt accents.

Castle Howard, the Chapel. Detail of the Neoclassical style carving adorning the benches and panelling.

The boldly carved gilt and marble-topped pier table, one of a pair, at the Long Gallery, Castle Howard.

Castle Howard, the Museum Room, containing an eclectic mixture of objets d'art, furniture, and furnishings collected over the centuries by the Howard family. This magnificent ebonized and gilt armchair, one of a set of four, retaining the original upholstery. Possibly by Charles Heathcote Tatham, who was employed to finalise the interiors of the house in 1810's.

Castle Howard, Crimson Dining Room. Adam-inspired satinwood serving table, lavishly adorned with ebony masks and swags, with a delightful parquetry top in various timbers, en-suite with two pedestals and a cellarette (below).

Castle Howard, Crimson Dining Room. Adam-inspired satinwood and parquetry cellarette, decorated with ebony swags.

Castle Howard, Turquoise Drawing Room, adorned with paintings by notable artists such as Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds, and a suite of seat furniture supplied by John Linnell.

Castle Howard, Turquoise Drawing Room. An open armchair, from a suite of seat furniture supplied by John Linnell for the house.

The Castle Howard Bedroom. The secretaire is drawn up, as if the resident of this room was about to sit down and pen a letter.

The Castle Howard Bedroom. The furniture for this room was especially commissioned by the 5th Earl and made by John Linnell in solid Brazilian sandalwood in 1777-1789.

The Castle Howard Bedroom. Open armchair, one of a set, in the Hepplewhite manner, adorned with delightful painted accents. The bedroom furniture was especially commissioned by the 5th Earl and made by John Linnell in solid Brazilian sandalwood in 1777-1789.

A George III period satinwood open armchair, one of a set, supplied by John Linnell to 5th Earl of Carlisle around 1780. The ball clasped finials are a recurring motif in Linnell's seat furniture.

Castle Howard is a magnificent 18th century residence set within 1,000 acres of breathtaking landscape.

Castle Howard, the Palladian West wing.

Above: The Mausoleum, the burial place for members of the Howard family. 90 feet in height, it is supported by a series of 20 pillars.

Below: Temple of the Four Winds (1739), built to a design by Vanbrugh. This classical domed temple with four porticoes was originally dedicated to Diana.

One of the premier stately homes of England, Castle Howard is a baroque masterpiece, more palace than house, conceived by Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, and executed by Sir John Vanbrugh from 1699.

That the ambitious 3rd Earl of Carlsle should choose to create so extravagant a showpiece home is not so surprising. More surprising by far was his choice of architect. John Vanbrugh was known in society circles as a young playwrite. He had no previous experience of architecture when Charles Howard handed him the commission for his grand new house. Vanbrugh drew upon the expertise of Nicholas Hawksmoor, former deputy to Sir Christopher Wren, in carying out his design at Castle Howard.

The style was ebulient; carved figures and flowing lines mixed with a panopoly of classical elements. Those classical elements were mixed in unusual fashion; the north front using the Doric order, the south front using Corinthian. When confronted with this oddity, Hawksmoor famously replied that no one could view both fronts at once!

However, at the time of Vanbrugh’s death in 1726 the house was incomplete; it lacked a west wing as attention had turned to landscaping the gardens. It was still incomplete when the 3rd Earl died in 1738. Little could both men have guessed that, when the house came to be completed by Carlisle’s son-in-law Sir Thomas Robinson, Vanbrugh’s flamboyant baroque design would be brought back down to earth by the 4th Earl’s conservative Palladian wing. When Robinson died in 1777 the interior was stll unfinished, and thus it remained until 1811, when Charles Tatham completed the decoration.

From the outside, the unbalanced appearance of the house provoked a mixed response, and many visitors noticed the disjointedness.

Source: David Ross; images: Peacock's Finest

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