Gardens, architecture, sculpture and fabriques, especially of the baroque kind. By David R. Marshall of Montacute Pavilion, Daylesford: the ultimate romantic getaway. https://www.dayget.com.au/montacute-pavilion-and-gardens
This series of posts (A-C) discusses depictions of small buildings that I feel inclined to appropriate to the category of fabriques. They work outwards from the fabrique to the image as a whole, as required. Images by the author unless otherwise stated.
The Fabrique on the Terrace
A painting by Sebastian Vranx in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, depicts a banquet in a villa (Fig. 1).
It has been dated 1610–1620. Vrancx was a pupil of Paul Bril in Rome in and this painting seems to draw on representations of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli, outside Rome, by Bril (see below), and probably the Villa d’Este directly. The building with two towers at the top left is how the main building of the Villa d’Este appears from the main side of the garden (that is, the fountain of the Organ area), which is how it appears in a frescoed view within the villa itself, which is probably the ultimate source (Fig. 2).
The details vary, but Vrancx and others around Bril, such as Willem van Nieulandt I and II, did not (mostly) paint accurate topographical views (the veduta as a popular genre had to await the eighteenth century), yet the topographical origins of their works, or sections of their works, are often evident.
To clinch the connection with the Villa d’Este there is, at upper left, a statue of Pegasus striking the rock to create the spring of Hippocrenes, the inspring well of the muses on Mount Helicon (Fig. 3).
This was a common trope in Renaissance gardens, and one of the most influential instances was at the Villa d’Este, where it is located in a position corresponding to the one shown by Vrancx. Brill, Vrancx, and Jan Breughel all made topographical drawings at Tivoli. The disposition of the garden, in the loosest sense, with a distant view to a city are also reminiscent of the ‘classic’ view in the Villa d’Este, where the city is Rome.
The fabrique of interest here is clearly a garden structure (Fig. 4), on a terrace above the sunken garden where the main action takes place.
It is quite a solid little building, but it is not clear what Vrancx is trying to tell us about its materials. The barrel vaulted roof is ribbed, like corrugated iron, which suggests trelliswork. On the other hand it appears very solid, with thick corner piers and a frieze shaped like coarse stonework, as if Vrancx is trying to tell us it is made of brick and pantiles (Fig. 5).
There is an aedicular doorway on the long side, and the ends appear to be solid. But inside the doorway one can see hints of a criss-cross pattern. In the centre of the roof is a drum zone on a rectangular plan with volutes at the corners, with round windows, a horizontal ellipse on the front and a circle or vertical ellipse on the side. There is a round window in the lunette of the end bay. Above this is a shallow vertical dome with external ribs and horizontal bands which is hard to read as other than trellis work. Yet the ribs on the fancy umbrella-like finial read better as tiles. There are round knobs on the top the arched ends of the bilding. Around the base are tall vases with tall plants. In the wall is a barrel vaulted gateway, which is necessarily masonry, but the extension at the back appears to be trelliswork, and there is a crowning ball, all of which points to the fabrique being trelliswork. The gate has a rectacgular extension to accommodate a niche, perhaps with a staue, with a shallow domed roof and gilded finial.
Typologically it reads like a chapel, but there are no crosses anywhere, Aesthetically it is interesting without being exciting. Usually with Vrancx there is a source somewhere, however transformed, and in this case I wonder whether it is the Villa d’Este, probably as represented by Paul Bril.
In Duperac’s well-known engraving of the project Villa d’Este (and its derivatives) in the sixteenth century (not everything shown was executed) we can see on the flat ground is a system of trellis–work tunnels with pedimented openings, octagonal crossing features, and gateways (Figs. 6, 7).
These are clearly the inspiration for the trellis work and domed building in Bril’s drawing of Work in the Vineyards: March, in the Louvre (Figs. 8, 9). In another Bril drawing (Fig. 10), where a version of the Villa d’Este main building can still be discerned, we see a more elaborate octagonal domed trellis work building.
(These are combined in Fig. 11.)
It is interesting that Bril in the first drawing shows a pepperpot with a ball finial on the top of the octagonal trellis structure. I am not sure what other data there is about the form of the Villa d’Este trellis-work as executed, but it is possible that it had such pepperpots, and that this is why Brill shows them. In the second drawing (Figs 10, 11) the octagonal building is separated from the rest, but it looks like it rises above a section of barrel-vaulted trellis-work with an arched opening. The frieze breaks out into a compound pediment, or else a shallow triangular pediment with a shallow segmental opening. There is a round opening in the octagonal dome and a pepperpot with a ball finial. Putting this against the Vrancx suggests the following scenario. The main barrel vault of Vrancx’s structure derives from the barrel-vaulted trellises, especially the one in the second Bril drawing, if not the Villa d’Este itself. The round-headed entrance was suggested by the one in the octagon in both Bril drawings, marriedto the pedimented opening in the barrel-vaulted trellis in Duperac. The rhythm of this with the round heated features in Duperace suggested the pedimented opening-rounded headed window sequence in Vrancx. Vrancx’s round dome can be seen as a variation on the octagonal ones, the oval windows a development of the round one in the secomd Bril drawing. The volutes and umbrella finial, however, Vrancx’s contribution, or are from some other source, as in the blockiness of his ‘frieze’.
Some may find such a reading too speculative, and there are a number of ways one can formulate Vrancx’s assumed choices, but I believe that this is the way an artist like Vrancx worked. The result is a building which can be understood an an original architectural creation (not such a pictorial one) that riffs on the trellis work of the Villa d’Este as seen through Bril’s eyes.
Marianna Haraszti-Takács, ‘Un tableau de Sebastian Vrancx à la Galerie des Maîtres Anciens’, Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, 1961, 18, 51-62. BHR (1947-): Per K 540-5470.
Louisa Wood Ruby, Paul Bril: the drawings, Brussels, Brepols, 1999. UniM Baill 741.9493 RUBY
 Sebastian Vrancx (Antwerp, 1573 – Antwerp, 1647), An Elegant Company Dining Outdoors, c. 1610–1620. Oil on oak. 91 × 126 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Inv. 58.27. Harlequin in Renaissance pictures It is discussed by Haraszti-Takács, but I do not have access to this at the moment. Katritsky. says that it is signed. See the summary of Vrancx;s relationship with Bril in Ruby, p. 45, which focuses on his Roman ruin drawings. Vrancx arrived in Rome in 1596 ‘and clearly went right to work in the Bril studio’. From the beginning he drew Roman ruins, and some of his drawings ‘have motifs that stem from the Bril studio.’ But views corresponding to Bril’s are often made from different angles, indicating that he drew to the same motifs independently.
 Paul Bril (1554-1626), Le Mois de Mars: le travail de la vigne, 1598. Encre brune; lavis brun; pierre noire; plume, 196 x 340 mm. Paris, Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques, Cabinet des dessins, Fonds des dessins et miniatures, Inv.19786. Recto.
 Paul Bril, Palace and Park with Terrace overlooking a River: May. Drawing, Paris, Louvre. Ruby, cat. 25.
This series of posts (A-C) discusses depictions of small buildings that I feel inclined to appropriate to the category of fabriques. Images by the author unless otherwise stated.
Sebastian Vrancx’s An Elegant Company Dining Outdoors, c. 1610–1620 in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, depicts a banquet at a villa (Fig. 1).
The table is spread with food, but the party is breaking up and entertainers have begun their act. There are plates, and hence places, for six people down the left side of the table, and there are corresponding plates on the right except for the fifth. There is one plate at the head of the table, and one at the foot. Assuming six settings per side, the seating totals 14. I can see twelve people who aren’t servants, including one on the stairs and a couple beside the parapet. If we privilege the figures over the plates, and assume that the extra plate on the left is an inconsistency, we would have five persons on each side with one at each end, so perhaps the true setting is 5+5+2 (12 in total).
At the head of the table the chair, a ‘captain’s chair’ of higher status han the others, has been pushed back, with some linen folded over it (Fig. 2).
This is clearly the chair of the host, but where is he? The couple by the parapet would have been on the right side, which leaves the man on the stairs as the host, though what he is doing here is unclear (Fig. 3).
He wears the same tall grey hat as the two mean on either side of the host position, both of whom wear swords, which may mean that they are all part of the same household.
If we go clockwise around the table the seating is as follows (Fig. 4).
A man receiving wine from a waiter (Fig. 5), whose left hand is close to, but does not touch, the hand of a woman beside him (Fig. 6).
This had seems to be resting on something; her other hand touches the edge of the table. She stares straight ahead at the woman opposite but is evidently with the man beside her. Next is a standing man wearing doublet and breeches who holds a fold of linen matching the one on the host’s chair over his right arm, and he supports his left arm on the table. Next is a woman in pink with a glass in her left hand and the other hand on her lap: these two must be a couple. Next is a woman wearing black with red hair and a ruff (Fig. 7).
She holds hands with the man at the foot of the table, also wearing a ruff and doublet. He has his arm outstretched, as if in conversation, Corresponding to the woman with a ruff is man in a tall black hat, ruff and doublet. One is prompted to read him as a woman but the clothing is male. He has no obvious partner unless it is the woman opposite and the man at the foot of the table is unattached but making progress with the woman beside him. Next would be the couple by the parapet (Fig. 8).
The woman was probably seated next to the foot of the table, which means that on either side of the foot of the table there would have been two pairs of women. The man wears a tall black hat, matching doublet and tunic-like breeches and a sword. Returning to the table, next comes a woman in blue and then the man to the right of his host, who wears a tall grey hat, leather doublet, and a roman-style leather(?) slashed skirt.
Looking more closely at the table setting, beside each plate is a small loaf of bread; I count 11, or possibly 12, loaves (Fig. 9).
The plate in front of the host has what looks like fruit peelings (Fig. 10).
The plate to his left has an oval object, probably a slice of bread, perhaps taken from the host’s loaf. The other plates are bare. Each placing seems to have a knife, of which seven are clearly visible. Down the middle of the table are seven serving plates, four of which contain roast birds with this claws visible (and possibly a fifth), one of which seems to be in a foetal arrangement. One plate has a pie of some kind with a gridded pattern, perhaps strips of pastry. The last plate looks messy, perhaps because what it contained has been consumed. Two placing have wine glasses, one empty, one half full, while one woman holds a glass in her hand and the man at the left of the host is having his glass filled.
The party is being entertained by a troup of Commedia dell’Arte entertainers who emerge from a porch in the style of imaginary architects like Vredeman de Vries. Between the columns of the porch is the Doctor (I think) (Fig. 11), behind him an Innamorata, Pantaloon, and at the side is a lute-Zanni) playing his lute like a rock star (Fig. 12).
Between the steps and the table is a tumbler, which I think recalls Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Fig. 13).
A stool nearby may be part of his act. A white dog is reacting to him and a boy, or perhaps dwarf, flees from the scene; this is surely part of the act.
The most fascinating member of a troupe is a woman whose headgear is an extravagant, and perhaps trangressive version of the headgear of the two women nearest the head of the table, who must be aristocrats (Fig. 14). She is presumably the Innamorata, although in commedia dell’Arte the Innamorata is not normally masked.
I do not know the name of the starched-looking hairpiece. The player has a piece attached at the back of the hed to which red, blue and white plumes are attached, as well as semi-transparent forms that look like the wings of a giant insect like a dragonfly (Fig. 15).
There is another plume or feather attached at the top of the starched part. Her lace collar is artfully spiky and her decolletage is slightly more prominent than the other women. It would be good to know about the history and signaficance of the headgear of these three women.
Venus and Cupid
Another figure of interest is Venus in the group of Venus and Cupid at the foot of the stairs (Fig. 16).
This is rather unclassical in that Venus is as animated as the ‘living figures’ as unclassically alive. She has her hair up in a contemporarty style and displays a pert profile with uptilted nose (Fig. 17).
Her body displays a twist hat goes beyond classical contrapposto, and she displays it artfully displays using a cloak that is draped over her left arm and tied around her neck so that it falls down her back. Her hips are somewhat narrow, so that her right side forms a shallow undulating vertical line from armpit to Cupid. Her presence, of course, signifies hat it is a pleasure garden, as the acivities of the living figures make obvious. Matching her position at the base of the stairs us a statue of Apollo.
M. A. Katritzky, ‘Lodewyk Toeput: some pictures related to the “commedia dell’arte”’, Renaissance Studies, March 1987, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 71-125 JSTOR Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24410012
M. A. Katritzky, ‘Harlequin in Renaissance pictures’, Renaissance Studies , December 1997, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 381-419.
 Sebastian Vrancx (Antwerp, 1573 – Antwerp, 1647), An Elegant Company Dining Outdoors, c. 1610–1620. Oil on oak. 91 × 126 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Inv. 58.27. Image from the Museum website.
 The main discussion of Commedia dell’arte in paintings like this seem to be by Katritzky. My identifications of the figures is a little hazy.
This series of posts (A-C) discusses depictions of small buildings that I feel inclined to appropriate to the category of fabriques. They work outwards from the fabrique to the image as a whole, as required. Images by the author unless otherwise stated.
As with all paintings by Sebastian Vranx, his An Elegant Company Dining Outdoors the in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest is a composite of elements derived from various sources, which is what makes it interesting (Fig. 1). In part A I discussed the elements drawn from the Villa d’Este.
The foreground is essentially a stage set, with a portico with veined columns at the right facing a horseshoe staircase that encloses a statue of Pegasus striking the rock inspired by the one at the Villa d’Este. The middle ground sends mixed messages. There are formal gardens on either side of a pool which is almost impossible not to read as being set at a lower level than he main stage, but there are no steps on the path which is at the same level as the main stage. Similarly the wall at the left is both a wall with a gateway and a retaining wall of a terace that supports the trellis fabrique. The third distance is an open square surrounded by walls with a tower in one corner and a rusticated gateway. This has the air of being a space with topographical roots in some open space in Rome. Beyond this is the landscape proper.
The vanishing points of the porch, pool, and terrace are consistent and located low on the centre line of the rusticated gate (Fig. 2). The vanishing point of the wall with a tower is shifted slightly to the right, and possibly fractionally lower. The trellised archway at the end of the pool is in fact huge, much higher than the porch if it were repeated at the near end of the pool.
The pool (Fig. 3) has steps leading down into the water on three sites. There are ducks on the water, but the steps imply that one could enter the pool,perhaps for swimming.
The Trellis Herms
Although difficult to see, it is clear that the ends of this trellised archway are terminated with grotesque herms in what is presuably blackened wood (Fig. 4). They are highly elongated with big bellies and possibly male genitalia (or is the right hand one female?), with some drapery above the shaft. The heads are indistinct and possibly grotesque.
These seem to be derived from a source like plate 29 of Vredeman de Vries’ Hortorum Viridiariumque, Antwerp, 1583, plate 29 (Fig. 4a).
The Rusticated Gateway
The rusticated gateway is seen through the trelis arch a nd is set in the wall of the final courtyard (Fig. 5).
It is a fairly standard Mannerist gateway with banded columns, stepped voussoirs, an oval shield over the keystone, a split pediment and transitional volutes (Fig. 6).
 Sebastian Vrancx (Antwerp, 1573 – Antwerp, 1647), An Elegant Company Dining Outdoors, c. 1610–1620. Oil on oak. 91 × 126 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, Inv. 58.27. Image from the Museum website.
There was also, it seems, a Chinese bridge that went with the ‘house’ or temple. I can’t seem to find any primary sources for this. This is long gone.
There is today a Chinese bridge nearby made of brick and stone, which was erected in the nineteenth century. There is a nice view of the Chinoiserie fabrique from the top, some distance away (Fig. 32). This bridge has on the inside of the parapet at the highest point a plaque with a coronet, an initial with a G in it, and the date 1876 (Fig. 33). Conner writes that it was built in 1870—an error? Conner links the substantial nature of this bridge to an exhibition of things Chinese that followed the ending of a war with China in 1842. This is: Wm. B. Langdon, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Chinese Collection, now exhibiting at St. George’s Place, Hyde Park Corner, London, with condensed Accounts of the Genius, Government, History, Literature, Agriculture, Arts, Trade, Manners, Customs And Social Life of the People of the Celestial Empire, London: Printed for the Proprietor, and to be obtained only at the Chinese Collection, 1842.
Langdon gives an interesting attack on the
opium trade and Christian missionaries:
If European and American traders may fairly blame the illiberality of the Chinese, these have certainly just ground of complaint against them in the illegal practices to which their cupidity tempts them. Fifteen to twenty millions worth of opium has been for years, in defiance of the laws and known wishes of the government annually emptied upon the shores of China by Christian merchants!
Alas for missionary effort, so long as the
grasping avarice of the countries whence the missionaries come, sets at naught
every Christian obligation before the very eyes of the people whom it is sought
to convert. Most devoutly do we long for the auspicious day, when the pure
religion of Jesus, shall shed its sacred influences on every human being; but
we believe it will not come, till the principles of that religion shall take a
firmer hold upon the affections of those who profess to enjoy it, and rear a
mightier embankment around their sordid and stormy passions. When the
missionary shall find an auxiliary in the stainless life of every compatriot who
visits the scene of his labours for purposes of pleasure or of gain, when he
can point not only to the pure maxims and sublime doctrines proclaimed by the
Founder of his faith, but to the clustering graces that adorn its professors,
then indeed will the day dawn, and the day-star of the millennium arise upon
As Conner points out, this exhibition
included architectural models, including bridges. In
contrast to earlier Chinoiserie bridges, Chinese bridges, according to Langdon,
were substantial and made of stone, and in many respects were like European
bridges. The stone slabs, are ‘frequently fourteen feet long by four or five in
breadth’. He also stresses that they do not have keystones. The only one he
illustrates is the ‘bridge at Honan, near Canton’ (Fig. 34), but this is taken from a painting, not a model. It is
debateable whether this bridge lacks keystones. There are three arches,
rendered as somewhat parabolic, with straight rising ramps and a solid parapet
with relief ornament.
The bridge items are as follows:
[Case X. Lacquered ware and articles of vertù.] On p. 55, No. 140. Model of a bridge at Fo Shan, near Canton, built of granite, and of excellent workmanship. Bridges in the vicinity of the city, are constructed as footways, though horses are sometimes taken over. Fo Shan is a village situated a few [p. 56] miles to the S. W. of Canton, where most of the manufactories are carried on, and said to be as populous as Canton itself.’
[Case XI, Numerous miscellaneous articles] p. 57, no. 189, ‘Model of a bridge of one arch, near Canton.’
[Case XV. Models of Chinese Summer Houses] p. 67. No. 353. Bridge at Honan, near Canton, built of granite. [presumably a model]
[Case XVIII] p. 73. No. 361. Bridge of five arches, at Fa-Tee, built of granite. The solid and substantial manner in which the stone bridges are built, can hardly fail to interest the visitor to this collection; while the style, buttresses, breakwaters, &c., will remind him of the modern structures of London and of Europe generally. It is remarkable, that the Chinese construct arches without key-stones, as will be seen on reference to these models. The blocks of stone, or rather slabs, which form the level of their bridges, are frequently fourteen feet long by four or five in breadth; how they manage to place them in their proper positions seems extraordinary, as no machinery for the purpose has been found, and the Chinese assert it is accomplished merely by manual labour.
[Case XVIII] p. 73, No. 371. Specimens of stones of which the above bridge is built.
‘PAINTINGS. [The enumeration of pictures in the collection commences with No. 1000, which the visitor will find on the left hand of the screen fronting the entrance to the saloon. It may be proper here to remark, that all paintings and drawings in this collection are by Chinese artists exclusively.]’. This seems to go to no. 1119. All these on pages 111-124. No. 1260 is on p. 139.
p. 121, 1087. A river scene and bridge.
p. 122, No. 1092. Water view, with bridge.
p. 139, No. 1260. Bridge at Honan, near Canton (Fig. 34).
The Wrest bridge is likewise solid, being
made of brick and stone, and has a lot of charming features, although one does
not a first read it as being Chinese. By contrast, wooden bridges based on
Palladio, such as the one at Wörlitz, are often interpreted as being Chinese
when they are not. This bridge is a good example of how the choice of the
Chinoiserie manner is primarily an opportunity to employ a varied repertory of
forms in new ways that do not refer to classical models or to established
traditions of, in this case, bridge-building.
Here the main arch is a compound arch that
is neither Chinoiserie Chinese nor real Chinese and not dissimilar from many
eighteenth-century bridges (Fig. 35).
The novelty is the way the bricks project to form ribs (Fig. 36). There is the Western emphasis on the central keystone,
but it is not the traditional downward tapering wedge-shaped stone but a
rectangular block that expands into a wedge running the other way that supports
a projection that runs up to a ball on the parapet, thus inverting the
orientation and function of the wedge form. Meanwhile (Fig. 35) the brick stringcourse starts by following the main arc of
the compound curve before curving upwards to run horizontally onto the bank.
The parapet does the same thing before being cut away to make the parapet much
lower on the back. This creates a nice wavy line terminated by another stone
ball. The view of the approaches (Fig. 37)
is also pleasingly sinuous in the way the low parapets on the bank splay
outwards to echo the sinuosity of the main parapet. The main parapet sections
are ornamented with recesses rectangles in the brickwork (Figs 33, 36), which might have been suggested by something like the
Honan bridge but is emphatically devoid of Chinese reference.
It would be good to know more about this
Jemima also had a Chinese boat for the lake (Fig. 38). But that is another story.
 A Descriptive Catalogue of the
Chinese Collection, Now Exhibiting at St. George’s Place, Hyde Park Corner,
London, with Condensed Accounts of the Genius, Government, History, Literature,
Agriculture, Arts, Trade, Manners, Customs And Social Life of the People of the
Celestial Empire. By Wm. B. Langdon, Curator of the Collection. Tenth English
Edition, London; Printed for the Proprietor, and to be obtained only at the
Chinese Collection. 1842.
There is not much Chinese about the fabrique. It has a dragon on the pinnacle, which was easy to miss in 2013 (Fig. 4), but must be much more conspicuous now that it has been gilded (Fig. 13). It has the double concave roof with solid upturned eaves that seems to have been particularly favoured in England as a signifier of Chinese buildings. There are upturns at the corners, but these are not true Chinese upturned eaves, but simply wooden scrolls that pick up the concavity of the roof (Fig. 14). Bells hang from these, as in the Nanking pagoda in Nieuhoff (Fig. 15).
There is fretwork, only a few pieces of which are in any way Chinese. The point of Chinese fretwork is that it provides the opportunity to create regular or irregular geometrical patterns, preferably complicated, that lack members that continue from one edge from another, except around the edges. In other words, if you follow a piece it will almost always stop short before very long. The pieces are often at right angles to each other, with some at 45 degrees or diagonals, but need not be; indeed, there is quite a tradition in English Chinoiserie for quite odd angles, as in Paul Decker’s series of etchings, which deserve further study (Fig. 16). These must be inspired, if not modelled on, similar plates in Chippendale’s director, which came out in 1754 (further edition 1755 and 1762) (Fig. 17). What is unclassical about these designs is that there is no regular grid underlying the design, unlike a Greek meander (Fig. 18). This is what makes them unsatisfactory to the classically-trained eye, and helps provide the subversive element necessary to Chinoiserie.
Decker’s designs for railings are a little
like Serlio’s designs for garden squares: they are much too complicated
actually to be made. Indeed, the Chinoiserie fret is a genre almost entirely
devoid of structural thought. How on earth is one meant to join all these short
sections of square-section wood? In furniture, perhaps, but as gates or fencing
panels they would distort in no time, and have no resistance to side impacts.
If you tried to make them today you would use welded square tube, or else last
cut them from a flat sheet of metal, which would make them as tacky as those
laser-cut decorative panels you can buy at Bunnings.
Consequently the nearest thing to a Chinese
fret at Wrest Park, the rails at the side, are made of metal: they look to be
square section steel tube, and are surely modern (2013) (Fig. 19). In the 2016 photos they appear to be unchanged. Would the
originals have been of wrought iron or wood? Their pattern seems to follow what
we see in the watercolour (Fig. 3a),
but this is not quite clear enough in the reproduction. The pattern is a fairly
timid Chinese fret: it is made on a not-quite regular grid: the horizontal
divisions are equal, but the vertical divisions are not quite regular (Fig. 20). This suggests that it was
designed by starting with the three posts which are set at an unconsidered
distance from the side walls, making regular horizontal divisions, dividing the
second and fourth rows half way between the posts, then setting the outer verticals
within the posts to make the width of the vertical panels the same as the
horizontal ones. The outer vertical panels are three horizontal bays high, the
inner only two, but alternated across the centre post to give the only note of
vitality to the pattern.
The band of ‘frets’ below the upper roof (Figs 21, 22, 23) is more meander that
Chinese fret, and looks a bit like a complex Greek fret or swastika meander (Fig. 18),
but it isn’t. Nor does it have the syntax of Chinese frets. The basic idea is a
rectangular U-shape that faces alternately up and down, with stems. This leaves
negative shapes that are either rectangular S-shapes, reverse S-shapes, or
simple bars. The designer basically drew a series of equally spaced vertical
lines, and six equally spaced horizontal lines, the spacing in both directions
being the same.
The ‘frets’ below the main roof consist of
alternating wide rectangles and circles that in the outer bays become vertical
rectangles and ovals, as if being squeezed (Fig. 24).
The other pseudo-fret is on the filled
walls panels of the outer bays (Fig. 25)
which are filled with an applied rectangle of pale blue and an interlaced
hexagon (or hexagon and square) pattern.
The function of the building is clearly
that of a ‘summerhouse’: a place to sit in shade within the garden with an
outlook, in this case to the stream and presumably the original Chinese bridge.
Typologically some sources call it a Chinese ‘temple’, as do the restorers, while
writers today often call it a Chinese ‘house’.
Decker’s first volume of Chinoiserie designs (Chinese Architecture, Civil and Ornamental, 1759) is strong on typological labels. Plate 2, a ‘Royal Garden Seat’ (Fig. 26) bears a certain resemblance to the Wrest Park building, but is more truly a framed seat, like a baroque throne room baldacchino. What is interesting here is how there is a focus on a framed picture above the seat, which is not the case at Wrest where the regular vertical panels prevail, but it must be remembered that there were once pictures of some kind (see above). In plate 7 (Fig. 27) Decker shows a ‘Summer House’, a ‘Repository’ (i.e, a storage shed) a ‘Temple’ and a ‘Garden Seat’. The ‘temple’ and ‘depository’ are variations on the theme of the enclosed octagonal pavilion, while the ‘garden seat’ is open on all sides and again has the throne-room-with-baldacchino focus on the seat back. The summer house is a bit hard to read, but seems to be a enclosed space with a front door and a kind of colonnade or veranda at the sides. Plate 8 (Fig. 28) shows an ‘Umbrellod Seat’ and a Garden Temple’ while Plate 9 (Fig. 29) shows an ‘Alcove’, all of which are variations on the baldacchino-seat idea.
Plate 10 (Fig. 30) is the ‘Summer Dwelling of a Chief Bonzee or Priest’,
which is closest to the summer house idea, being an enclosed space with a wide
opening at the front and seats at the back, but the caption has it wandering
into the genre of representations of historical Chinese buildings (rather than,
as with the other examples, the representation of English garden buildings in
Chinoiserie style), as well as the hermit’s grotto (the thatched roof), and
there are some Rococo C-scrolls and shell forms as well. All-in-all, the Wrest
Park structure is not a very good fit with Decker’s typologies, but in Decker’s
terms it is more of a ‘garden seat’ (open at the sides, with a seat at the back
for looking out from) than a ‘Summer House’ or ‘Summer Dwelling’, which for
Decker is more enclosed. One gets the idea that Jemima and Decker are not on
the same page, even though Decker’s plates were hot from the press a year or so
before she started work. Indeed, compared to Decker the Wrest Park design is
rather dull and fails to fully exploit the possibilities of fantasy that
Another possible inspiration is a Chinese
bed. One appears in Langdon’s 1840 catalogue as ‘a Chinese bedstead’ (no. 1271,
between pages 140 and 141, text on p. 140, Fig.
31) and it resembles a little the Wrest Park fabrique. Could
the designer have been thinking of something like this?
And what about Chambers (see above)? Are there useful stylistic or typological connections with the illustrations in Chambers’ Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines, and Utensils, published in 1757, shortly before the building of the Wrest Park fabrique? The answer is: no. Chambers’ designs are far too solid, and even when fanciful or inaccurate are informed with his experience of actual Chinese buildings. They are not Chinoiserie.
Thomas Chippendale, The Gentleman and
Cabinet-maker’s Director: Being a Large Collection of . . . Designs of
Household Furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and Modern Taste …, London,
Complex Greek meander, from Abraham Swan, The
British Architect, 1758, plate LV (detail).
Complex Greek meander, from Abraham Swan, The
British Architect, 1758, plate LV (detail).
 Paul Decker, Chinese Architecture, Civil and Ornamental, London, 1759. 23 plates
plus a frontispiece. Each plate etching and engraving, 23 x 28.2 cm. V&A
Langdon, 1840, no. 1271, between pages 140 and 141, text on p. 140: ‘Chinese bedstead, furniture, &c.
Specimens of Chinese furniture are abundantly displayed in this collection; the
beds of the Chinese, in general, are composed of mats, placed on two or three
boards, laid on forms or benches, and covered with a canopy, supported by
bamboo sticks of silk gauze or cotton curtains, and a musquito net in the
summer. Various kinds of bamboo pillows are also exhibited.’
The relationship between the Chinese fabrique
she built and Wrest Park and the 20th century structures is not
completely clear to me. Apparently the stone base is original,
but Conner writes that ‘the pavilion survived (although as a ruin in its last
years) until the 1950s. According to the 2011 guidebook it was rebuilt in the 1940s
and restored again.
Was it rebuilt again in the 1970s? Conner
notes that at the time of writing (his book was published in 1979) the
Department of the Environment was replacing it ‘with an identical pavilion,
albeit with fibreglass roofs’. This is presumably the structure that I saw, but
I could not see any fibreglass. The implication is that nothing apart from the
base of that version was original. The 2016 version will be explored below.
The only contemporary view, reproduced by Conner (Fig. 38, p. 68) (Fig. 3a), is a watercolour which his caption says comes from the sketchbook of Jemima’s great-nephew, the 1st Earl de Grey. Who was he exactly? It can only be the 2nd Earl de Grey, who was Thomas Philip de Grey, 2nd Earl de Grey, 3rd Baron Grantham and 6th Baron Lucas, KG, PC, FRS (1781–1859). He was the eldest son of Jemima’s younger daughter, Mary. The Marquesate Grey expired with Jemima’s death in 1797, and was revived as the earldom of de Grey (not Grey) for her eldest daughter Amabel Hume-Campbell, who was in 1816 created 1st Countess de Grey, with the earldom passing to her male line. This meant that, since she was childless, it passed to the eldest son of her sister Mary Jemima, who had married Thomas Robinson, 2nd Baron Grantham. It would be good to have more information about this sketchbook.
Apart from being a politician the 2nd
Earl de Grey was an amateur architect and designed the new Wrest Park house
(1833-39) when he inherited in 1833; he was first president of the Institute of
British architects in 1834. The literature on Earl de Grey includes: The Earl de Grey’s account of the building
of Wrest House, History of Wrest House, introduction by A. F. Cirket, The
Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, Volume 59, pp. 65–87, Bedford 1980; and
Charles Read, Earl de Grey, London
2007. Susan Jenkins, ‘Cherubs and Chintz: among the triumphs of the 1830s
restoration of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, was the sitting room of the Countess
de Grey. Today, her remarkable interior scheme can be pieced together through
scraps of evidence, revealing the tastes of the house’s former owners’, Apollo, vol. 173 June 2011, pp. 70–76.
This is mainly about the redecoration of the Countess’s bedroom, especially
chintzes, but has something about the cherubs in the ceiling roundels.
The watercolour has slightly more vertical
proportions, and looks less like a shed. Fig.
3b shows the view in 2013 from a similar angle, corrected somewhat for
parallax using the distant view from the 19th century bridge (see below). This shows that the
draftsman has slightly exaggerated its verticality. The base has not changed.
In its details the drawing corresponds well with the 1979 version, which would
have made use of this drawing. Differences include:
(a) The orientation of the dragon finial (Fig. 4) is reversed.
(b) The lower rectangular panel, like the
rest of the trim, is painted Indian red, but it is not clear whether the
draftsman shows this.
(c) The most interesting difference is the
treatment of the roof sheeting. In 2013 the roof, judging from my photos,
consists of single pieces of sheet metal, presumably galvanised steel. There is
talk somewhere of fibreglass, but from the way the edges are folded I find it
is difficulty to believe that this refers to the roof. But perhaps it is, with
metal flashing at the eaves? The watercolour shows vertical seams, which is how
the 2016 restoration does it, using long strips of copper. However, unlike the
2016 restoration in the watercolour shows the seams at the upper edge of each
roof section splitting into v-shapes, with a band of diamonds across the middle
of the upper sections. I imagine this could be done using pieces of copper with
ridges and foldovers, but it is interesting that the 2016 restoration does not
attempt this. Possibly in the original this pattern was created more
decoratively, but I doubt it.
Photographs taken before the 1950s would be
useful here to show the original structure but there do not seem to be any.
The Wrest Park fabrique in 2013 was not in good condition. The structure is basically made of sticks: that is, what look to be 4 inch (90-100 mm) square posts (they could be larger as I did not measure them) (Fig. 5). The colouring was cream, with a burnt sienna red trim and some pale blue. The roof (Fig. 6) was a curved sheet of some kind, which might be the fibreglass referred to above, but where it is folded over at the edge it must surely be metal. Is this flashing, or was the roof actually metal and the business about fibreglass a hum? There was no visible internal roof structure (Fig. 7). There was a band of fretwork that acted as the vertical ‘wall’ below the top roof which was open to the inside. Above this is a flat ceiling with what looks like sheets of plywood with cover strips. The plane of the fretwork continues downwards to box in the lower roof. My initial reaction to this was that it was rather dull and routine, suggesting that the designer had lost interest in the Chinoiserie theme and was just finishing it off as best they could (assuming that it follows the original design). However, while working through another design I realised that these double roofs are not so easy to construct. It is difficult to fit a set of continuous rafters into such a shape, and it is much easier to run horizontal rafters at the lower roof level, and then built up the upper section with vertical walls corresponding to the plan of the upper roof, which is what has been done here. Nevertheless, in the 2013 version not attempt has been made to enliven this structure so that it has any interior interest. (The 2016 renovation follows the same structure, but I have no images to show the finishes of the ceilings.)
There are five bays across the front, the four outer bays having are the same narrow width, the outermost ones filled (Fig. 8). The next thin bays are open, as is this the central bay, which is about 2.5 times the width of the outer bays, totalling 6.5 bays. The back walls is again sticks 4 inches square with panelling between, a total of 6 bays which as a result makes each bay slightly wider than the front bays.
The temple was restored again, most thoroughly, in 2016 (Figs 9-12). This is illustrated with very informative photos on the website of the company that did the work, T. Butler and Co., although the text is mainly about their virtues in the OHS department. http://www.t-butler.co.uk/project/wrest-park-chinese-temple/ This tells us that the cost of the restoration was £65,000. The photos show that there was a fair amount of rot at the corners, and that the pre-2016 rafters were shaped from a red-coloured wood, but one seems to be of plywood (Fig. 9). Another photo (Fig. 10) shows a similar red wood, probably the same timbers, but the one at the corner has been built up with what looks like treated pine. Then (Fig. 11) they added shaped eaves from what looks like treated pine, with plywood (6 mm?) butted up to this and screwed to the rafters. For the metal cladding they went the whole hog and used sheet copper with ridge seams (Fig. 12). This provides no opportunity for the patterning seen in the watercolour (see above). The use of this material is almost certainly unhistorical.
From website http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wrest-park/history/:
‘In the early 18th century
Anthony’s son, Henry, Duke of Kent (1671–1740), laid out what is now Wrest’s
most exceptional feature, its massive formal woodland garden, enclosed on three
sides by canals. He employed leading architects and garden designers –
including Nicholas Hawksmoor, Thomas Archer, Batty Langley and William Kent –
to create an ordered landscape of woodland avenues ornamented with statuary and
garden buildings. These included Thomas Archer’s baroque pavilion,
with its trompe l’œil paintings by Louis Hauduroy.
On the duke’s
death his granddaughter Jemima, Marchioness Grey (1723–97), inherited the
estate. She showed a keen interest in the gardens. In 1758 she brought in
‘Capability’ Brown, a leader of the new English landscape style of the time, to
soften the edges of the garden and remodel the park, while preserving the heart
of the formal layout. Brown himself realised that to do more ‘might unravel the
Mystery of the Gardens’. His work is commemorated by the ‘Capability’ Brown
column, built for Jemima by Edward Stevens. Jemima also added a
Chinese temple and bridge, the Mithraic altar and a bath house.’
Butler and Co. website: ‘This project was to refurbish the Chinese Temple at
English Heritage’s Wrest Park Site. Whilst a relatively small job, it had
several challenging elements, in the detailed bespoke carpentry aspect of the
work and the logistics of working on the Wrest Park Site.
Located within the large grounds of
Wrest Park, which is open to the public for most of the year, one of the key
challenges was ensuring the safety of the public and EH Staff. We achieved this
by ensuring that the work area was at all times fenced and segregated, all site
staff understood that even though the site seemed remote, gates were to be kept
shut and protection in place at all times. All site deliveries were planned and
programmed, delivery vehicles were met offsite by a banks-man and escorted through
We were able to ensure that all
vehicles driven to the work area followed site rules (speed and weight
restrictions). Detailed planning of deliveries ensured that vehicle traffic
through the publicly accessed grounds was kept to bare minimum.
Whilst carry out this contract, other
Contractors were undertaking a major project to relay access paths, including
the access to our site. We were required to minimise the impact our works had
on this project by planning, coordination and cooperation. We ensured that both
contractors could safely work around each other – both projects finished
Wrest Park has an interesting Chinoiserie fabrique (Fig. 1) which is of interest because it has recently been restored (not for the first time) which allows us to come to grips with the structure. I examined it in June 2013 shortly before the restoration of 2016, which is documented in photos on the restorer’s website. I have not yet found a publication arising from this.
The most useful account I have found is in
Patrick Conner’s Oriental Architecture in
the West, London: Thames and Hudson, 1979, a book that I have found to be
extremely useful and reliable (pp. 68–70).
The sources he cites are letters between
Jemima Grey and Lady Gregory of 5 July 1748, 4 September 1748, 25 July 1760, 13
June 1781, and letter of Elizabeth Anson to Jemima Grey 20 August 1750, all in
the Bedfordshire County Record Office; Joyce Godber, The Marchioness Grey of Wrest Park, Bedfordshire Historical Record
Society, 1968, The Publications of the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society;
v. 47 (State Library of Victoria, Storage. S 942.56 B39P). Joyce Godber is also
the author of History of Bedfordshire
1066-1888, Luton, Bedfordshire County Council, 1969. Also Harris, Chambers (see below).
Jemima Grey, née Campbell (1722–1797) was
the only child of John Campbell, 3rd Earl of Breadalbane, and granddaughter and
heiress of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Kent (1671–1740), the creator of Wrest Park. In 1740
Jemima was married to Philip Yorke (1720–1790), son of the 1st Earl
of Hardwicke, the Lord Chancellor. Hardwicke died a fortnight later, following
which Jemima succeeded by a special remainder in her own right as Marchioness
Grey, as well as being Countess of Hardwicke and heir to Wrest Park.
Philip and Jemima, who were then very
young, travelled a lot around England, recording their impressions in letters
and diaries. They saw the Chinese pavilions at Studley Royal (1744, 1755),
Stowe (1748), Wroxton (1748), Richard Bateman’s house (before 1756) and
Shugborough (on several occasions).
Through this ‘the marchioness in particular
developed firm opinions on style and arrangement’.
She was dissatisfied with the classical fabriques at Stowe, finding that the
park lacked ‘Variety and Surprise’ and the buildings were too ‘heavy’. She particularly
liked Gibb’s Gothic fabrique and the ‘Chinese Room’ (the one now returned
there), which she wrote was ‘the prettiest I have seen, & the Only One like
the Drawings and Prints of their Houses’ although ‘it stands in a dirty Piece
By 1758 they tackled the gardens at Wrest
Park, employing Capability Brown. They
also built a Mithraic altar, a bath house and a
‘Capability’ Brown column, which was built by Edward Stevens. Conner points out that Jemima was in the vanguard of taste‘ and ‘her
ideals prevailed in many landscape gardens of the 1750s and 1760s’. By
1756 she was ‘almost tired of the
Chinese’ and favoured the Gothic of Strawberry Hill.
Interestingly, she made a distinction
between Gothic and Chinese in terms of scale. Criticising ‘Dickie’ Bateman’s
Park at Old Windsor, she found the scale of his Gothic to be too small:
One could suppose Oneself before in a
Chinese Baby-House, but can never be reconciled to a Gothic One’. … [Gothic
should be] more Great & Solid & Awfull & Magnificent’.
This is an important distinction:
Chinoiserie cannot be sublime. Gothic was strongly associated with vast
cathedrals and abbeys and their ruins: it is about religious emotion,
sublimity, and the past. Chinoiserie, by contrast, belongs in the present and is
imprecise in its associations. It had connotations of extravagant inventive
fantasy that the Gothic lacks.
Conner, citing Godber, states that in
September 1761, ‘when the external paintwork was completed’ Jemima sent
instructions for the painter to begin work on the interior: ‘[a]nd he may begin
first with the yellow paper .. which he knows should not be made deeper than a
straw colour …’. It would be good to have the whole passage. This is in Godber perhaps? Harris
also states that the sources call it a ‘Chinese Temple’, but this needs to be
confirmed. (Conner calls it a Chinese House.)
The Wrest Park fabrique is supposed to have
been designed by Sir William Chambers. It gets an entry in John Harris’s 1970
monograph (which I have found to be unreliable in a lot of ways), as
‘attributed, c. 1766’. He states that
it ‘was decorated by Peter Falconet between 1766 and 1769’ and that ‘it is
therefore tempting to associate its design with Lord Hardwick’s [that is,
Philip Yorke, 2st Earl of Hardwicke and husband of Jemima Grey] call
to Chambers on 18 May 1767 to come to his town house in St. James’s Square and
“settle with him”’. Conner, however, points out that the documentation indicates that
the fabrique was constructed in 1761, ‘but this does not rule out the
possibility of Chamber’s authorship.’
Perhaps not, but it is why Chambers name was mentioned, and neither Harris nor
anyone else seems to provide stylistic reasons why it should be by Chambers.
Given how involved with fashionable design Jemima was she may not have needed
to outsource the project to a big name like Chambers. Moreover, they employed
Capability Brown, and Chambers was antagonistic towards Brown.
And where does Harris’s statement that it ‘was decorated by Peter Falconet between 1766 and 1769’ come from? It seems that Peter Falconet painted a portrait of Chambers, but what is Harris’s source here? His references are to E. Edwards, Anecdotes of Painting, 1808, p. 40; E. von Erdberg, Chinese Influence in European Garden Structures, 1936, p. 188, fig. 52. It turns out that his source is Edwards, who gives a one-page life of Peter [Pierre-Étienne] Falconet, who was the son of Étienne-Maurice Falconet the famous French sculptor (Fig. 2). Edwards states that ‘[h]e was for some four years in London’ and ‘his name stands in the catalogues of the Exhibitions [of the Incorporated Society of Artists] from 1767 to 1773, soon after which he returned to Paris’. But where does Harris get his date range of 1766 to 1769 from? Edwards is internally contradictory in that in his third paragraph he states that ‘In 1766, he [Falconet] obtained a premium for painting in chiarooscuro, twenty guineas’, which, from the amount, has to have been in England. Does Harris have some other source?
Edwards is hostile towards Falconet as an
historical painter. He states that ‘in 1768, he obtained, for an historical
picture, twenty-six guineas: in this last work, it was evident, that the
extravagant and outré manner of
Monsieur Pierè, who at that time was the fashionable historical painter at
Paris, had tainted the mind of the young Falconet, as it also corrupted the
taste of all the students then in the French Academy’. ‘Monsieur Pierè’ is
Jean-Baptiste-Marie Pierre (1713–1789), director of the Académie and Premier
Peintre du Roi of painting from 1770, and painter of religious works at
Saint-Sulpice, who was perhaps a bit to Catholic for Edwards.
No-one seems to mention Falconet him as a
decorative artist apart from Edwards. Perhaps Edward Croft-Murray does?
On Falconet at Wrest, Edwards states that
‘[h]e practised sometimes in history, at other times portraits, and also
painted ornaments; of the latter, he left a specimen, in a Chinese temple at
Wrest*, in Bedfordshire’. His asterisked footnote reads ‘Wrest, the seat
of the then Marchioness de Grey, now in the possession of her eldest daughter,
Baroness Lucas, in her own right, the window of Lord Polworth.’
On Falconet, there is an entry in the DNB. L.
H. Cust, revised by Tina Fiske, ‘Falconet, Pierre-Étienne [Peter] (1741–1791)’,
Oxford Dictionary of National Biographyhttps://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/9120
Published in print: 23 September 2004. This tells us that he was sent to London
by his father to work under Reynolds in 1765, and went to Saint Petersburg to
join his father (who was working on his equestrian statue there) in 1773. This
entry only refers to his portraits; it makes no reference to Wrest Park or the
decorative painting referred to by Edwards.
of the Data on the Chinoiserie Fabrique at Wrest Park
What Harris seems to be doing is to
assemble Chambers-related data that clusters around his estimated date of
construction of c. 1766. To those already
mentioned he adds that ‘[i]t may be relevant that Edward Stevens was working at
Wrest in 1770’. He built the Capability Brown column there (Wrest Park
website). Stevens was Chambers apprentice, whom he took on in 1760 (Harris, p.
10.). Harris’s source for this is from someone who consulted the Bedfordshire
Record Office archives, where there is a bill for work on ‘the Cascade Bridge
and the Cold Bath’ on 31 August 1770.
If we cut through all this to the hard
data, what we have is:
(a) there is documentation that in
September 1761 the exterior painting was just complete and decoration of the
interior with yellow paper was beginning. The name of the decorator is not
given. Apparently. It would be good to see the full transcript of this
(b) According to Edwards in 1808, Falconet painted a ‘specimen’ of ‘ornaments’ in ‘a Chinese temple’ at Wrest which must date from between 1765 and 1773. One wonders what this actually means. A ‘specimen’ sounds like a discrete piece or a sample. There is no obvious place for extended decorative work, but if it were a stand-alone panel or something like that it could have gone anywhere, for example on the back wall.
Conner, 1979, p. 69, citing Godber, 1968, p. 68
the long demolished Legeay business, and his unsourced drawings …
John Harris, Sir William Chambers: Knight
of the Polar Star, London: Zwemmer, 1970, cat. 149, p. 254. The rest of the
entry is about other work at Wrest in 1770 on the Cascade Bridge and Cold Bath
by Edward Stevens. Harris cite RIBA letters, Hardwick to Chambers 18 May 1767;
E. Edwards, Anecdotes of Painters,
1808, p. 40; and E. von Erdberg, Chinese
Influence on European Garden Structures, 1936, p. 188, fig. 12.
John Dixon Hunt, The Picturesque Garden
in Europe, London: Thames and Hudson, 2002, p. 56: ‘Above all, his
[Chambers’] professional, personal and political antagonism to ‘Capability’
Brown ensured that the Chinese mode was seen as an energetic alternative to
Brownian parkland …’. Mind you, Jemima
could clearly reconcile the Chinese mode with employing Brown. Perhaps there is
something in the Capability Brown literature on this?
Within a month of the destruction by fire
of the roof and flèche (crossing spire) of Notre Dame in Paris, proposals by
architects for their replacement abound. Why are these designs so awful? The
answer is simple: they lack respect. Architects, and Kevin McCloud, continue to
trot out the tired idea that first had currency in about 1870: that
architecture must express the nineteenth/twentieth/twenty-first century. So,
the argument runs, Viollet-le-Duc’s flèche expresses the nineteenth century, so
we need to get a cool modern architect to design one that expresses the
twenty-first century. And why stop there? Why not do something cool where the
roof used to be? In practice, this means the architect digs into their
repertory and finds a way of applying this to the site.
This misses the crucial point:
Viollet-le-Duc was trying to create a medieval flèche, not a nineteenth-century
one. His argument ran rather differently. What did the medieval church have?
Failing that, what might it have had? Failing that, what is the best design I
can come up with in the medieval style. Is it beautiful in the way that
comparable medieval structure are beautiful? And would this design evoke
(rather than express) what I value in the Middle Ages? And Viollet-le-Duc,
because he had devoted his life to such questions, came up with something that
did all this. To be sure, because he was working in the nineteenth century, his
structure is a nineteenth-century one. His Middle Ages was not, and could not
be, the Middle Ages’ Middle Ages, but he did not set out to express the
nineteenth century. He wanted to create a medieval structure, because the
Middle Ages, and medieval buildings, were good. By being humble in relation to
the Middle Ages, he succeeded in inscribing himself into Notre Dame. His work
became part of it.
Compare this to the crassness of contemporary architects. The tenor was set by Pinault, the Bettencourt Meyers family, and Patrick Pouyanne, who immediately attempted to inscribe themselves into the building, and so give themselves eternal life, by offering huge sums to rebuild it. They were followed by Macron, promising to rebuild within five years in order to inscribe himself into the rebuilding process: ‘it was rebuilt on my watch’. Architects quickly followed. Being all ego, they attempted to inscribe themselves into the monument and so appropriate to themselves its timeless importance, its holiness even. (The moment is perhaps ripe to redo Erwin Panofsky’s Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism as Notre Dame and Hyper-Capitalism.) It is the same way that artists operate, seeking to colonise historical art museums in order to boost their egos: people go to an art museum to see Rembrandt, because Rembrandt is a great artist: if I replace Rembrandt with myself people will go to the art museum and see me; therefore I am a great artist, as timelessly significant as Rembrandt.
It would be a different matter if
architects were presenting designs that attempted to be to ‘truly’ medieval. That
might be interesting.
with a Haddo provenance that comes up at Christie’s, New York, in May prompts some reflections on the elusive
patronage of George Gordon, Lord Haddo, who died in 1791 in a fall from a horse.
He is generally agreed to be the subject of a portrait by Pompeo Batoni at
Haddo House, and it is assumed that he is the member of his family who acquired
two Paninis, the one at Christie’s and another now in the Liechtenstein
collection in Vienna.
There were also two Paninis at Haddo House, an Interior of the Pantheon now in the Liechtenstein collection (Fig. 1), and Capriccio View of the Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus and the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Colosseum, with an Obelisk, to be sold at Christie’s, New York in May 2019 (Fig. 2). There seems to be little written on the paintings at Haddo house, mostly now nineteenth-century works, but the Pantheon is visible in one of the photos of Haddo Hall in the 1890s published by Eileen Harris in 1966 (Fig. 3). The two paintings are unrelated commissions: the Pantheon is signed and dated 1735 and the Colosseum is signed and dated 1744. I can’t see the Colosseum in any of the photos published by Harris but presumably it was there somewhere. Harris makes various citations to ‘Haddo House Estate Muniments’ including ‘Inventory of Furnishings 1894’ so there is presumably some documentation of the collection at the end of the nineteenth century, if not earlier.
The Colosseum is a somewhat unusual painting
for Panini. It presents itself as a view from between the Colosseum and the
Arch of Constantine looking towards the Arch of Titus, the Palatine and the
Temple of Venus and Rome, but is in fact an assemblage of discrete components
with made from various viewpoints and heights that add up to a plausible
topographical view. But I won’t go into that here.
assumption that the Paninis were acquired by George Gordon, Lord Haddo, derives
from the fact that the acquisition of a Panini implies antiquarian interests,
which research (mainly by Francis Russell) has shown Haddo seems to have had.
Central to this issue is Haddo’s Batoni portrait (Fig. 4). Initially the identity of the sitter was unclear, but the only possibility, given that it is dated 1775 and has always been at Haddo House, is George Gordon, Lord Haddo. The Haddo title was at this date reserved to the eldest son of the Earl of Aberdeen. George Gordon never succeeded, and so was Lord Haddo from his father’s death in 1745 until his own in 1791. His son was Lord Haddo from then until his grandfather’s death in 1801, when he became the 4th Earl.
the Batoni is signed and dated 1775 it is significant that George Gordon, Lord Haddo
is documented as being in Rome from 26 December 1774 to 9 April 1775, when he
could have commissioned it in person. His Roman movements are known from the diaries
of Roger Newdigate, as was first pointed out by Francis Russell, who wrote that Newdigate saw Haddo
in Florence on 12th December 1774, drank
tea with him and Mr Livingston at Siena on the 20th and visited them both in
Rome on the 26th, two days after his own arrival. Thence- forward they met
regularly until 9th April 1775, for dinner, for tea or for prayers on Sunday mornings.
On at least three occasions James Byres was of the party, understandably in
view of the cicerone’s own Aberdeenshire connexions. Haddo, … invited Newdigate
to dine with him on his birthday, 6th February.
is known for its unusual choice of antique props: as Ingamells puts it, ‘the
surrounding statuary suggests a serious interest in antiquity’. Namely, the statue of a priestess carrying a
vessel at the left ‘bought by Benedict XIV from the Villa d’Este, Tivoli, in
1753 for the Museo Capitolino … is unique in Batoni’s oeuvre’ (Clark and
Bowron). The relief is a detail in reverse of the right
side of a sarcophagus of a child depicting the legend of Prometheus that
entered the Museo Capitolino in 1733 from the collection of Cardinal Alessandro
Albani. It had been published by Montfaucon, 1721, vol. 1, p. 4, fig. 4, but it
is hard to find this online. Does the reversal imply Batoni used an
intermediary source that was reversed? Clark and Bowron do not say.
In addition, as Russell noted, Haddo was a subscriber to Clérisseau’s Monuments de Nismes, finally published in 1778 (Fig. 5). The subscribers from ‘Angleterre’ are headed by Milord Dunmore and Milady Dunmore, followed by ‘Milord Haddo’ and ‘Milord Trentham’. Lord Dunmore (1730–1809) was the last colonial governor of Virginia and was responsible for the ‘Dunmore Pineapple’ of 1761.
purchase of signed Paninis of the Colosseum/Arch
of Constantine/Arch of Titus and the Interior
of the Pantheon fits such interests well, so on this scenario, as in the
case of Batoni, the purchase of his Paninis can be seen as the choice of
someone well-informed about antiquities, rather than simple tourist mementoes.
There is a
fly in the ointment, however. Haddo’s date of birth has traditionally been given
as 1764, which makes him impossibly young for his Grand Tour (only 10 or 11
years old). Francis Russell in 1973 published a reference to him in 1777 when
he is described as a ‘young man’, and Batoni’s sitter is certainly this. Russell at this point concluded from this that
the Batoni was actually dated 1785, but this has not been accepted as the date
on the painting is clear enough and fits the references on Newdigate’s diaries.
Consequently Clark and Bowron in 1985 concluded that the birthdate is wrong and
gave Haddo’s dates in their entry on the Batoni simply as ‘died 1791’). That the 1764 birthdate is in error is
generally accepted. Francis Russell in
1991 revised it specifically to 1754, although as far as I can tell there is no
hard data for this, and is presumably based on the assumption that at some
point a ‘5’ has been misread for a ‘6’. The revised edition of Clark and Bowron (2016)
accepts the 1754 birthdate.
however, be good to have some hard data on Haddo’s date of birth. Wikipedia and
genealogical sites give the day and month as well as the year: ‘28 January 1764’; his date of death, with is
uncontested, is ‘2 October 1791’. These dates go back at least to Burke’s
peerage in 1845 and Lodge’s Peerage of 1843 (under Aberdeen, Earl of) (Fig. 6). It is likely that the ultimate
source is Haddo’s grave in the churchyard cemetery at Methlick, Aberdeenshire. The churchyard website
a picture of the grave but all you can see is a coat of arms (Fig. 7); there is nothing claiming to
be a transcription of writing on the grave that might give the date of birth. The Wikitree genealogical website, however,
publishes what looks like a gravestone inscription:
GEORGE Lord Haddo b.28 Jan.
1764 Grand Master Mason of Scotland d.suddenly 2 Apr.179l aged 27 & was
buried here & of his wife CHARLES (sic) BAIRD Lady Haddo dau. of WILLIAM
BAIRD of New Byth d. Clifton 8 Oct.1795 aged 38 & buried here 7 Nov.l795. 
The source is not very clear; it is given as ‘[MI Methlick]’ which seems to refer to the churchyard.
If this is what this is, it is interesting that the
age at death, 27, correspond to the 1764 birthdate, not 1754. This suggests
that the gravestone has not been simply misread; that if there is an error, the
error was in the information given to the composer or carver of the
In addition, the DNB entry on his son, the Fourth Lord
Aberdeen, gives the date of his parent’s wedding as 1762: ‘The third earl was a colourful character. In
1762 he had married Catherine Elizabeth Hanson, the daughter of a
Yorkshire blacksmith, in a literally shotgun marriage [citing J. W.
Walker, Wakefield, its history and people, 2nd ed., 2 vols, 1939, 2.530–31,
and W. Yorks. AS, Leeds, correspondence with Lord Canning; papers relating to
Hanson family]. This again seems to be very specific and fits
the 1764 birthdate not the 1754 one. It is dismissed in Clark and Bowron, 2016.
On the other hand, according to the presumed grave
inscription, Lord Haddo’s wife was seven years older that he, being born in
1757. (Their marriage took place on 18 June 1782). This is unusual for an aristocratic marriage at
the period, but not impossible. Since the fourth Earl was born on 28 January
1784, this would make her 27 at the time, when Lord Haddo was either 20 or 30,
depending on the preferred date of birth; and age of 30 derived from a 1754
birthdate sounds more plausible.
To conclude: while it makes sense to follow the Batoni
literature a revise Haddo’s birthdate back a decade, it is a little worrying
that there is a cluster of data pointing to the later date. It would be good of
research from the Haddo end in Scotland could turn up more about George Gordon,
Lord Haddo; it seems hard to believe that there is not more about him somewhere.
Who acquired the Paninis?
As I have indicated,
the case for the Paninis having been acquired by Haddo is largely
circumstantial, being based on the assumption that they are the sort of
pictures that would have interested a patron with antiquarian interests, the
evidence for which is the company he kept in Rome, the relatively unusual
background antiquities in the Batoni, and the fact that he subscribed to
Clerisseau’s book on Nimes.
But we need to explore
the other possibilities. Haddo’s eldest son, George Hamilton-Gordon, also Lord
Haddo from his father’s death until 1801, when he became Earl of Aberdeen on
the death of his grandfather, the 3rd Earl, travelled in Europe from
1802–04 , including Rome from some point in 1802 to before April 1803, and was
a Member of the Society of Dilettanti. As befits a man of his generation, he
was more interested in Greece than Rome, and spent time in Greece as Asia Minor.
He left diaries (not yet consulted) which might throw more light on this.
The 3rd Earl can also not be ruled out. In the Haddo collection there is a painting of David and Goliath (Fig. 8), formerly given to Domenichino but downgraded by Spear to possibly a Tuscan artist, that was purchased from Christie’s, 14 June 1794, lot 55 (£4.4), by the 3rd Earl. (The sale catalogue annotations simply say ‘Aberdeen’ (Figs. 9, 10).) A search of the Getty Provenance index throws up only a few transactions by him from 1781 (none earlier) to 1801, all at Christie’s. These were mostly sales of Dutch paintings (but one Pellegrini), either mythological scenes or farmyard scenes, in 1781, 1782, and 1786. His purchases were a Luca Giordano Mars and Venus in 1782, the Domenichino in 1794, and a Peter Lely full-length portrait of the Duke of Monmouth in 1796 which was sold for a third of the price in 1797. None of these paintings were particularly important or valuable (the maximum price was £4.4). The 4th Earl’s purchases were likewise few but much more significant. They included a Portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici by Sebastiano del Piombo after a Michelangelo drawing, which cost £525 in 1805 (sold by Robert Heatchcote or others and now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas), and a Tintoretto The Doge and the Court of Venice Returning from the Ceremony of Wedding the Adriatic for £105 in 1813 (sold by Richard Westall). He also acquired a Murillo in 1805 from one of the first sales of Spanish paintings imported from Spain, and an anonymous Interior of the Inquisition bought in Dublin that supposedly had belonged to the 4th Earl of Bristol.
A search in the Getty
Provenance Index does not return anything for ‘Haddo’, but a few items for ‘Gordon’
are interesting. These, of course, could refer to any number of people by this
name, but in a Christie’s sale of 9–10 May 1785 several drawing consigned by
the dealer Noel Joseph Desenfans (1744-1807) (whose paintings would form the basis of the Dulwich
collection) were purchased by ‘Gordon’. What is interesting in this context is that
these included a Clérisseau and two Paninis. A ‘Gordon’, presumably the same
one, also consigned two Paul Sandby drawings that were bought in. (As an
aside to an aside, for two paintings at a Christie’s sale a month later on 9-13
June 1785 the buyer was ‘ Lrd W Gordon’, which must be Lord William Gordon
(1744–1823), the last colonial governor or Virginia.)
Another ‘Panini’ at Haddo House
At Haddo House there is another painting that is currently attributed to ‘circle of Panini’, a Prison Interior (Fig. 11). This has nothing to do with Panini. The left half is a fairly exact copy of Piranesi’s Carcere Oscura from the Prima Parte (1743) (Fig. 12). It is enlarged (less than 2X) and proportionally close but not exact. The interesting thing is that the composition has been doubled to create a two-arch design, using the same elements. It is almost as it if was a exercise in mastering Piranesi’s perspective.
Bowron, 2016: Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni: a complete catalogue of his
paintings, New Haven and London: Yale University Press in association with
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British
Chamberlain, 2004: Muriel E. Chamberlain,
‘Gordon, George Hamilton, fourth earl of Aberdeen (1784–1860)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,
Clark and Bowron, 1985: Anthony M. Clark
and Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni : a complete catalogue of his works,
Oxford: Phaidon, 1985.
Harris, 1996: Eileen Harris, ‘Adams in the
family: Wright and Mansfield at Haddo, Guisachan, Brookhouse and Grosvenor
Square’, Furniture History, vol. 32,
1996, pp. 141–158.
Ingamells,1997. John Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701–1800.
New Haven and London, Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in
British Art by Yale University Press.
London, 1991: John Hardy and Francis
Russell, Patronage Preserved: and
Exhibition of Masterpieces Saved for Country Houses, exh. Cat., Christie’s,
Russell, 1994: Francis Russell, ‘Notes on Grand Tour
Portraiture’, The Burlington Magazine,
vol. 136, No. 1096, July 1994, pp. 438–43.
the Princely Collection. Giovanni
Paolo Pannini, The Interior of the
Pantheon in Rome, 1735. Oil on canvas, 127 cm x 99 cm. Signed and dated on
the pedestal of the column to the left: JO. PAULUS PANNINI MDCCXXXV. Inv.-No.
GE166. Provenance: until 1791
probably owned by George Gordon, Lord Haddo; until 1969 in the possession of
Major David Gordon, Earl of Haddo, Aberdeenshire; sold at auction at Sotheby’s,
London, in 1969; acquired in 2001 by Russell, 1994; rince Hans-Adam II von und
zu Liechtenstein.) (Information frrom Liechtenstein
Paolo Panini, Capriccio View of the Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus
and the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Colosseum, with an Obelisk, Oil on
canvas, 105.2 x 98.2 cm. Signed and dated ‘I. PAVL PANINI / ROMÆ 1744’ (lower
right). Provenance: Private
collection, Florence. David Gordon of Haddo, Haddo House, Aberdeen. Anonymous
sale; Hampel, Munich, 26 June 2014, lot 198, where acquired by the present
owner. (Information from Christie’s, New York.)
References to the Haddo House collection in the Batoni literature, not
consulted by me, include Forbes, Sir William (1739-1806) 6th Baronet, Journal of a Continental Tour 1692–93,
National Library of Scotland, Manuscript Collections, MS.1539-1545; Cosmo
Gordon, A Souvenir of Haddo House,
Tuffiff, 1958, unpaginated.
 Eileen Harris, ‘Adams in the family:
Wright and Mansfield at Haddo, Guisachan, Brookhouse and Grosvenor Square’, Furniture History, vol. 32, 1996, pp.
141–158, National Trust of Scotland photos.
For the Batoni, which belongs to the National Trust for Scotland and it at
Haddo Hall, Aberdeenshire, see Clark and Bowron, 1985, cat. 394; Bowron, 2016,
cat. 394 on pp. 497–98; the VADS record by David Taylor.
Artist and Patron in the North East
1700–1860, Aberdeen Art Gallery, 1975, cat. no. 12, the sitter was given
as George, 3rd Earl of Aberdeen. (From Clark and Bowron and
Russell, 1994, p. 442; Ingamells, 1997, s.v. ‘Haddo, George Gordon, Lord,
1764–91, p. 439). Russell cites Warwickshire Record Office, Warwick, Newdigate
 Muriel E. Chamberlain, ‘Gordon,
George Hamilton, fourth earl of Aberdeen (1784–1860)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/11044.
Chamberlain is the author of M. E.
Chamberlain, Lord Aberdeen: a political biography (1983) which
I have not consulted. The Wikipedia version is ‘Lord Aberdeen married Catherine
Elizabeth Hanson (c. 1730–March 1817 Rudding Park House), daughter of
Oswald Hanson, in 1759; they had six children. According to recent sources, she
was the cook at the Stafford Arms in Wakefield, and a handsome woman of 29. She
apparently blackmailed him into marriage with a loaded pistol after he had
Sale Christie’s, London, 14 June 1794, Lugt 5225, Domenichino (Domenico
Zampieri) (Italian), David with the head
of Goliah, seller Christie’s, sold,
4.4 pounds to ‘Aberdeen’. From Getty Provenance Index. For the painting, still
at Haddo hall, see the entry by David Taylor. in VADS (Visual Arts Data Service):
The essential information is: Attributed to circle of Domenichino, probably
about 1620, David with the Head of
Goliath, National Trust for Scotland (Haddo House), accession number 79-72.
Oil on canvas, 104.1 x 74.9 cm (estimate). Purchased from the 4th Marquess of
Aberdeen and Temair 1978. From Taylor’s entry: ‘Borea, E., Domenichino, Milan, 1965, p. 55, n. 56; Spear, R. E., Domenichino, New Haven and London, 1982,
vol. I, p. 211-12, no. 58, n. 19. A version of the painting shows David’s left
arm, still holding his sword, raised in the upper left hand corner of the
canvas (Museum of Fine Art, Budapest). Evelina Borea, in her 1965 monograph,
thought the Haddo picture was by Domenichino and the Budapest picture was a
copy of it. However, Richard E. Spear in his 1982 monograph, says the Haddo
picture has been wrongly attributed to Domenichino, and tentatively suggests it
may by a Tuscan artist.’
 Sales at Christie’s, London, by the 3rd
Earl of Aberdeen: Herman van der Myn, A
pair, nymphs with satyrs, 1–2 June 1781, lot 46, £4, sold by Smith; Abraham
Hondius, Venus and Adonis, 7-8 June
1782, lot 47, bought in for £1 but, successfully sold four years later: on 25-26 May 1786, lot 41, £1.8, bought Seguier;
Abraham Diepenbeek, The head of our
saviour, June 7–8 1782, lot 49, £3.3, bought Halked; Jan Siberechts, A landscape, with a farm yard and figures,
7–8 June 1782, lot 72, bought in for £1.6; Antonio Pellegrini, Mars and Venus, 25–26 May 1786, lot 43,
?£1.1, unknown buyer; Willem Romeyn, A
farm yard, 25–26 May 1786, lot 42, £1.7, bought Seguier.
 Purchases at Christie’s, London, by the 3rd
Earl of Aberdeen in addition to the ‘Domenichino’: Luca Giordano, Mars and Venus, 7–8 June 1782, lot 28,
£1, seller Robn; Peter Lely, A
whole-length portrait of the Duke of Monmouth, 11–12 March 1796, lot 11,
£4.4, sold by Benjamin
Van Der Gucht; this was then sold on 8-9 December 1797, lot 57, for £1.5, no
This is The Infant Christ as the Good
Shepherd. See Dulwich catalogue.
Christie’s, London, 9–10 May 1785, all these on 9 May, Lugt 3879; all purchased
by ‘Gordon’: Lot 53, Clérisseau, Charles Louis (French), One, Clarissau [High Finished Drawings], seller Noel Joseph
Desenfans, sold, 0.8 pounds; Lot 64, Panini, Giovanni Paolo (Italian), Two, Pannini [High Finished Drawings],
seller Noel Joseph Desenfans, sold, 0.4 pounds; Lot 59, Vlieger, Simon De
(Dutch), One, De Vlieger [High Finished
Drawings], seller Noel Joseph Desenfans, sold, 0.9 pounds; Lots 62a and b,
Picard (Picart) (French) and Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian), Two, Picart and Guerchino [High Finished
Drawings]; seller Noel Joseph Desenfans, Sold, 0.13 pounds for both. From
Getty Provenance Index.
Christie’s, London, 9–10 May 1785, on 9 May, Lugt 3879, with ‘Gordon’ as
seller: Lot 68, Sandby, Paul (British), One, a view on the terrace of Windsor
Castle, P. Sandby, framed and glazed [High Finished Drawings] (companion to
lot 69), bought in, 11.0 pounds; Lot 69, Sandby, Paul (British), One, another view of ditto [Windsor Castle],
the companion, ditto [framed & glazed] [High Finished Drawings]
(companion to lot 68), bought In, 8.18 pounds. From Getty Provenance Index.
Lots 70a and b, John Fyte, Dead game and
a portrait, capital; and Anonymous, Dead game and a
portrait, capital, 14.3 pounds.
 From the VADS entry by David Taylor: Circle of Panini, Giovanni Paolo, A Prison Interior (or Prison of the Inquisition). National Trust for Scotland (Haddo House). Acc. no. 79-40. Oil on canvas 59.6 x 86.3 cm (estimate). Purchased from the 4th Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair 1978. Provenance: By descent in the Gordon family. Notes: ‘The frame includes a label with a painted inscription reading ‘PRISON OF THE INQUISITION/ PANNINNI [sic]’. The NTS paintings list for Haddo House calls the artist Giovanni Paolo Pannoni ’ Description: ‘This fanciful interior was painted by an artist in the circle of the famous veduta painter Paolo Giovanni Panini (about 1692-1765). Typical of Panini’s style, the imagined prison scene shows great attention paid to architectural details and the rules of perspective. Small figures in the foreground include two monks, a washer woman and a man on all fours passing a bowl of food to an unseen person through a grill on the floor.’
Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Carcere
Oscura, from Prima Parte di
Architettura, e Prospettive (Part One of Architecture and Perspectives),
1751. Etching, image 36.5 × 23.7 cm; inscription) 2.2 × 23.3 cm. Metropolitan
Museum of Art, New York. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937. Accession Number: 37.45.3(5).
What is the Baroque? Is it a period, a style, a civilisation, or a critical concept? It is all of these. ‘Baroque’ was a term that came into use in the eighteenth century as a negative descriptor of the style of the art of the seventeenth century. Like most such terms its meaning was elastic, with a general sense of ‘bizarre’, ‘excessive’ or ‘misshapen’ (like a baroque pearl). As Ernst Gombrich pointed out long ago, most Western art style terms are variations of ‘non-classical’, the classical being the norm against which all art was measured. Nineteenth-century German historians dropped the negative connotations, and because they were interested in the essential nature of an ‘age’ (the Zeitgeist, literally ‘spirit of the age’) the Baroque as a period-style term emerged. This idea still has popular currency, as when newspapers at the end of each decade try to define the characteristics of ‘the sixties’ or ‘the noughties’. ‘The sixties’ is clearly an arbitrary set of chronological boundaries, but ‘the Baroque period’ is more vaguely defined chronologically, and also in geographical extent. And whatever the chronological and geographic limits, is it really true that everything within them dances to the same tune?
Recognising these problems, and having lost interest in the German idealist philosophy that underpinned ‘the Baroque’ as a period style, art historians at the middle of the twentieth century sought to make more rigorous the concept of style while dropping the insistence on period, before losing interest in style altogether and moving on to other methodologies. ‘Baroque’ became a useful and generally agreed shorthand for a certain body of art beginning around 1600 in Italy, exemplified by the painters Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, the sculptor Bernini, and the architect Borromini, which could be usefully extended to other parts of (especially Catholic) Europe that was influenced by or developed from this. Musicologists use the term in a similar way (Bach, Vivaldi). The end of the Baroque ‘period’ is generally agreed to be around 1750, when for art historians ‘Neoclassicism’ (Jacques-Louis David) begins, and for musicologists ‘the Classical period’ (Mozart) begins.
But the essentialist usage of Baroque lingered, and received encouragement from French poststructuralist theory, which was interested in ‘epistemes’: ‘the body of ideas which shape the perception of knowledge in a particular period’ (OED). It was taken up by Spanish historians, such as José Antonio Maravall, who re-centred the Baroque from Italy to Spain. For historians in Franco’s Spain and Latin America ‘the Baroque’ provided a concept that was both historically grounded in the seventeenth century and potentially oppositional. Or more commonly, the Baroque it is seen as the embodiment of a religious movement, the Catholic Counter-Reformation.
More recently, cinema studies scholars have returned to the art historical idea of the Baroque as a style in order to extract from works of seventeenth century art principles or processes that can be discerned in contemporary cinema, and by extension in contemporary art and culture generally. These principles might be quite closely tied to particular formal operations in seventeenth century art, such as ‘a self-reflexive attitude to its methods of construction’ (in other words, the way that in a ceiling like that by Andrea Pozzo in S. Ignazio in Rome, the spectator simultaneously experiences an illusion while being aware that this is what it is). Or they might be something more abstract, such as ‘a sense of performativity and theatricality’ or even ‘madness of vision’. In seeking analogies between seventeenth-century art and twentieth- and twenty-first century cinema the concept of ‘baroque’ serves as a filter, so that the ‘baroque’ aspects of seventeenth century art and culture are privileged.
Manifestations of ‘the Baroque’ subsequent to the seventeenth century are naturally labelled ‘Neo-Baroque’. These can be straightforward imitations or revivals, such as the interest in ‘baroque’ (that is, seventeenth-century French) architectural style around 1900 (examples can be found in London and Melbourne), or the fascination with baroque style embraced by the aristocratic arty set in England in the 1920s and 1930s, such as the photographer Cecil Beaton, who were reacting against the rise of modernism and social democracy. It can be contemporary art that draws its inspiration from the art of the seventeenth century. In contemporary cultural criticism, ‘Baroque’ and ‘Neo-Baroque’ can be used as critical terms that parallel, or form a subset of, postmodernism. Or they can refer to quasi-mystical philosophical concepts unconstrained by place or period ‘radiating through histories, cultures, and worlds of knowledge’ (Deleuze). Because there is now no single significance of the term ‘baroque’ it can mean everything or nothing depending on what the writer wants to say.
But the one thing common to most usages of ‘baroque’ is the visual. Whereas other intellectual endeavours may be driven by economics, politics or morality, by science or numbers, the exploration of ‘the Baroque’ is driven by imagery, whether literal or metaphorical. If you see Andrea Pozzo’s ceiling at Sant’Ignazio, Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, or Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, you are engaging with the Baroque and you can go from there.
This brings us back to the ideas that cluster around the original meaning of ‘baroque’. First, that it is non-normative in some way: non-classical (art); privileging creating invention over correctness (architecture); oppositional left versus authoritarian right (politics); illusionistic as opposed to representational (cinema studies); fantastic as opposed to realistic; over-the-top as opposed to straitlaced. There is a witty piece by Ellen Wills dating from 1979 that opposes ‘baroque’ sex to ‘classical’ (e.g. “Location: Outdoors is classical, except for crowded nude beaches. The back seat of a car is classical if you’re a teen-ager, baroque otherwise. … Clothing: The only truly classical outfit is nothing. Clothing evokes fantasy and fantasies are baroque. Black lace underwear is of course the classic baroque outfit. Red is baroque, as is anything see-through. Frilly white nightgowns are a baroque impulse with classical content.’
Second, that it is centred on Catholic Europe of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Put the two back together and you are presented with a box of fireworks exploding with forms, operations and processes. For those who do not dogmatically claim to already know all the answers, the Baroque is a treasure house of possibilities that might help us understand our present condition.
Gombrich, Ernst H., ‘Norm and Form: The Stylistic Categories of Art History and their Origins in Renaissance Ideals’, in Norm and Form: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance, London and New York: Phaidon, 1991, pp. 81-98.
Wölfflin, Heinrich, Renaissance and Baroque, London: Collins, 1964 (first published as Renaissance und Barock, 1888).
Ackerman, James S. and Rhys Carpenter, Art and Archaeology, Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice-Hall, 1963.
Maravall, José Antonio, Culture of the Baroque: Analysis of a Historical Structure, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, originally published as La cultura del Barroco. Análisis de una estructura histórica, Barcelona: Ariel, 1975.
Ndalianis, Angela, Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.
Buci-Glucksmann, Christine, The Madness of Vision: On Baroque Aesthetics. Translated by Dorothy Z. Baker. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2013 .
Calloway, Stephen, Baroque Baroque: Culture of Excess, London: Phaidon, 1994.
Deleuze, Gilles, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
Beaven, Lisa and Angela Ndalianis, Emotion and the Seduction of the Senses: Baroque to Neo-Baroque, Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2018.
Ellen Wills, ‘Classical and Baroque Sex in Everyday Life’, in Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.
A garden is both a real place, and a cloud of possibilities. What you will find here will be both something real, and something that may or may not become real. For this reason you will find no map: Instead you will meet fragments, part real, part possible.