Victoria here, taking you today to the London suburbs to see a benchmark in the evolution of English architecture. Chiswick House was built by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) in the second quarter of the 18th century. Not only is it a lovely jewel-box of a structure, it had a widespread and lasting influence on subsequent buildings in Britain.
Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, 4th Earl of Cork and Baron Clifford (1694–1753), inherited a great deal of money and property upon the death of his father, Charles Boyle, in 1704. A few years later, young Richard made several Grand Tours of Europe during which he became especially interested in the designs of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). Lord Burlington also met William Kent (1685–1748), a painter born in England, who also took up architectural, furniture, and garden design.
When he returned from Italy, Burlington set about building Burlington House in Piccadilly in London. At right, the elevations by architect Colen Campbell, of 1725. Today’s Burlington House, the home of the Royal Academy of Art, looks quite different, having been greatly modified in the 19th century, though some of the original work can be seen, particularly in the John Madejski Fine Rooms inside.
Lord Burlington was an eager amateur architect, meaning no disrespect, in the same way the aristocrats of his time encouraged and participated in music, the arts, and sciences. One of his first projects, now demolished, was the Bagnio or Casino in the gardens of Chiswick, left. He designed and built it with Colen Campbell in between his trips to Italy, where he studied the buildings of Palladio. It had several rooms, but was in the nature of a garden folly or decoration.
Palladio’s La Rotunda (left) in the Veneto Region of Italy is a prime example of his work, a direct influence on Burlington, Kent, Campbell and many others who soon championed their own versions of Palladianism.
The popularity of the style spread quickly through artistic and wealthy aristocratic circles in Britain.
Among the many properties inherited by Lord Burlington was a medium sized Jacobean mansion west of the city used as a summer retreat to get away from the heat of London. After a fire in 1725, Lord Burlington redid the house, adding a villa with a connecting structure. The mansion itself was pulled down
in 1788 leaving the villa, part of the connecting link, and the gardens. The villa now known as Chiswick House was used as an office, gallery and rooms for entertaining. In Part Two, we will explore the actual building and its garden.
Lord Burlington (left) used his great wealth in sponsoring the work of many artists, architects and musicians. Handel was first a guest at Chiswick in 1712, and came back many times. The English Heritage Guidebook to Chiswick comments on the character of Burlington’s work: “Lord Burlington’s principal objective was to recreate the architecture and gardens of ancient Rome (and) re-establish its meaning…which told a story or painted a moral. Chiswick House incorporates an allegorical exposition of the polite arts; its garden includes reference to political liberty.”
Another house greatly influenced by Palladio and perhaps by Burlington is Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia. Jefferson was also a gentleman architect and there is no doubt that his tastes and those of the American founding fathers resembled the tastes of those British aristocrats who also loved Palladianism and the neoclassical styles of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
In Part Two, we will explore the specific design of Chiswick House, which incidentally is prounced Chis-ick, with a silent W.
For more information on Chiswick, click here.
For an interesting article on recent developments, click here