Palladian Perfection of Chiswick House

Palladian Perfection of Chiswick House

August 6, 2017

Arguably the finest remaining example of Neo-Palladian architecture in London, the house was designed by Lord Burlington, himself a talented amateur architect and (in the words of Horace Walpole) "Apollo of the Arts", with advice from his protégé, the painter, architect and garden designer William Kent, who also took a leading role in designing the gardens.

Burlington built the villa with enough space to house his art collection, regarded as containing "some of the best pictures in Europe", and his more select pieces of furniture, some of which was purchased on his first Grand Tour of Europe in 1714. 

Original drawing of Lord Burlington's Chiswick House

Influenced by their travels on the Grand Tour, Lord Burlington and William Kent rejected the showy, Baroque style, fashionable in England, in favour of a simpler, symmetrical design based on the classical architecture of Italy.

They championed the work of the Venetian architect, Andrea Palladio and Chiswick House was one of the earliest English examples of what is called “neo-Palladian” style.

The finely carved Corinthian capitals on the projecting six-column portico, carved by John Boson, are derived from the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome.

It is considered, that Chiswick Villa is inspired in part by several buildings of the 16th-century Italian architects Andrea Palladio and his assistant Vincenzo Scamozzi.

However, Lord Burlington's library list at Chiswick shows that he was not restricted to the influence of Andrea Palladio. He owned books by influential Italian Renaissance architects such as Sebastiano Serlio and Leon Battista Alberti, and his library contained books by French architects, sculptors, illustrators and architectural theorists.

The short sections of crenellated wall with ball finials which extend out either side of the villa were symbolic of medieval (or Roman) fortified town walls, and were inspired by their use by Palladio at his church of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice and by Inigo Jones (1573–1652)

The brick-built Villa's facade is faced in Portland stone, with a small amount of stucco. The finely carved Corinthian capitals on the projecting six-column portico, carved by John Boson, are derived from the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome. The inset door, projecting plinth and 'v'-necked rusticated vermiculation (resembling tufa) were all derived from the base of Trajan's Column.  

Chiswick House has been linked with Freemasonry, and is believed by some scholars to have functioned as a private Masonic Lodge or Temple (unaffiliated to Grand Lodge), given that many of the ceiling paintings by William Kent in the Gallery and the Red, Blue and Summer Parlour Rooms contain iconography of a strong Masonic, Hermetic, and possible Jacobite character.

Vitruvian scroll, favoured by classical architects and named after Vitruvius, a Roman architectural historian of the 1st century BC.

Lord Burlington’s friend and collaborator William Kent designed furniture specifically for the house. 

These hall armchairs made to William Kent's design are on loan from Chatsworth. The giltwood torcheres are by Benjamin Goodison.

One of the few original hall chairs designed by William Kent for Chiswick.

Superb japanned and parcel gilt chairs, designed by James Wyatt, commissionned by Lord Burlington’s grandson, the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his wife, Georgiana, who re-decorated the house to reflect their Anglo-French, neoclassical taste. These chairs were recorded at Chiswick House in 1860.

Richly decorated Blue Parlour Room at Chiswick, hung with sumptuous cut velvet wall coverings.

This side chair was designed especially for Chiswick House. It is unusually small, to suit the proportions of the villa. There is a scallop shell on the top rail – a motif which was frequently used by the designer William Kent. The legs are carved with fish scales and there are female masks on the knees. These masks represent Venus, while the decoration refers to her mythical birth from the sea. 

Three concentric relieving arches at rear of the villa containing Venetian windows. This arrangement derives directly from drawings by Andrea Palladio in Lord Burlington's collection.

Never intended as a private residence, Chiswick House remains a bold architectural experiment, which was to influence the building of Georgian England.

 

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