The Gateway at Montacute Pavilion and the Palazzo del Te

Although the gateway arch was initially intended to have been based on Serlio’s Libro Estraordinario, as it has unfolded it has become the Mannerist Gateway. The inside façade is based on Michelangelo’s Porta Pia, the outside one on Giulio Romano’s Palazzo del Te. One can suppose that Giulio created the external facade of the Porta Pia in the 1520s and it was destroyed during the Risorgimento (or earlier), and Michelangelo did the interior in the 1560s. Giulio, of course, anticipated the realignment of the Via Nomentana made by Pius IV …

This facade is currently under construction.

I always intended to make the exterior façade more aggressive and defensive than the interior façade, and so I toyed around for a while with massive rounded rustication. The ideal of an imminently falling keystone, like David Roberts’ view of a gateway at Baalbek was attractive (Fig. 1). I have also long had in mind the architecture parlante of Delafosse’s design for an imaginary prison, but this was a bit har to develop in this context. This lead me to various ruin fabriques at Schönbrunn (Fig. 2) and Eremitage (Figs 3, 4), the latter being more promising. This, however, really does read as a collapsing ruin, and is a bit too realistic. At one point I toyed with the idea of a broken lintel, tilting downwards in the middle, with big rusticated blocks above. In the end I decided this was a bit crass, a bit like something a contemporary starchitect like Gehry would do, like leaning or twisted office towers.

Eventually I settled on one of the interior courtyard facades of Palazzo del Te (Fig. 5). This is the complicated façade with the entrance. The pediment on brackets with the big rough keystone may look a little simplistic and linear but I seemed to work in the new context. The Doric entablature has the famous slipped triglyphs, one of the signature motifs of Giulio Romano’s Mannerism (Fig. 6). As Giulio uses it, it is more ornamental than threatening. That is, it does not convey a sense that the building is collapsing, but rather draws attention to the cleverness of the architect and to the way an entablature is constructed. As adapted, it is even more a sign rather than being expressive, in this case what it signifies, to the architecturally literature, is its source in Giulio Romano. Not being very expressive in itself, it is probably invisible to the profane observer.

The pediment and keystone, by contrast, have emerged as quite heavy and gutsy, and should have some expressive power (Fig. 7). Adapting this for once proved quite easy and pleasurable. I wanted to retain Giulio’s play of contrasts between rough textured blocks and smooth one. When I make the rough ones actually rough remains to be seen, but it might be worth pursuing, perhaps by mixing something gritty into the paint. Mostly I am relying on the distinction between timber 45 mm thick with rounded edges, and timber 35 mm thick with square edges. The design requires that these slabs be overlapped, and I am determined to properly master the router so I can do better lapping and tongue and groove joints. I have also realised that a planer-thicknesser might be useful, but this is an additional expense and I have nowhere to put these tools which have to be kept outside on the deck under tarpaulins.

With the dropped triglyphs, what is interesting is the fudging involved. With Giulio the triglyph and the section of entablature below has slipped. The architrave section has a slight taper, trying to convince us that the architrave is a straight arch consisting of multiple small pieces with sloping sides forming voussoirs. This is not very realistic, unless perhaps we consider it to be simply in relief, as it in fact is. Where a gap opens up at the top of the slipped triglyph (Fig. 8), Giulio actually tells us that the triglyph is quite shallow, resting against the wall behind and kept in place by the ‘flat arch’ architrave section. The triglyph is narrower than the architrave section, which means that there ought to be little square recesses above the architrave band, but Giulio, or later restorers, has ignored this or filled it in, which weakens the effect. I think I will restore these. The architrave section below is much deeper, and is slightly separated from the wall behind, to help cast a shadow and to heighten the viewer’s awareness of it as a true architrave (Fig. 9).

For the entablature to have slipped the architrave needs to have moved apart, but in practice things do not quite add up, especially on the right hand instance. Here the architrave block slopes at about 10 degrees and there is a gap which is filled at the bottom of the intact part of the architrave which forms prongs that seem to grip the slipped architrave and stop it slipping further (Fig. 10). As a result of all this the architrave band is significantly shorter than the space it supposedly once occupied, which is commensurate with the two halves of the architrave having moved apart. But there ought, therefore, to be corresponding gaps on either side of the triglyph slab. But this would imply gaps in the cornice above. In any case the idea of slipping — as opposed to splitting apart — is clearer if the triglyph fits tightly. Which brings us back to the architrave. If this had straight sides there would be nothing visually to stop it keep slipping, which is why the architrave has to be a flat arch. The whole slipping keystone motif is predicated on the idea of voussoirs, which is why the architrave needs it.

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Views of the Colosseum from the North 4: Panini’s ex-Earl of Dunraven Rome, a View of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, 1734

[For Part 1, of which this is a continuation, see

For Part 2, see

For Part 3, see]

The ex-Dunraven Panini is probably the earliest version of Panini’s Colosseum compositions, with a date that has been read as 1731, 1734 and 1735, and is now confirmed as 1734 (Fig. 1).[1] It is without question his prime Colosseum veduta.

Many of Panini’s subsequent paintings are capricci or vedute ideate (recognisable monuments combined in an ideal space, usually based on the Campo Vaccino-Colosseum area). The ex-Dunraven painting is unusual in that it can be considered to be primarily a veduta. Many of Panini’s early topographical views derive from those by Gaspar van Wittel (Vanvitelli), but we need to be careful about what we mean by ‘derive’. When Panini came to paint topographical subjects he was undoubtedly aware of van Wittel’s painting, the only consistent body of painted Roman views. He was also aware of the long iconographic tradition were always temptated to follow, even copy, these precedents, rather than start from scratch. Van Wittel is unusual, if not unique, in using a camera obscura set up on site, with the gridded image on the camera obscura screen carefully transposed to large drawings, many of which survive (see Part 3). It is likely something of the kind occurred when van Wittel first created his Colosseum composition, as he did with his view of Piazza S. Pietro. [2] Panini could have chosen to simply copy these paintings, and in the case of his first Piazza S. Pietro paintings he may have done just this. His Dunraven Colosseum, however, differs greatly from van Wittel’s, and is clearly quite freshly observed; indeed, it is quite his most interesting view of the Colosseum in terms of its topographical interest and the vitality of its details. There is no doubt in my mind that this painting is based on studies from life. There are, however, few, if any, drawings by Panini of complete compositions, and his practice seems to have involved studies – or notations – of details (we find some of these in the British Museum sketchbook).

Sightlines of Panini’s Dunraven Colosseum. A. The Colosseum. (Right and left refer to the point of view of the painting.) Looking at the Dunraven Colosseum (Fig. 4) starting at the point where the upper arcades have collapsed at the right there are 16 arches visible to the left of this point before they curve out of sight. Starting at the same point, the point where the arcades are lined up with the centre of one of the four arcs that form the curvature of the Colosseum, helpfully marked by Nolli, is the pier at the left side of the third bay (Figs 2, 3). This line gives you one line running through the viewpoint. By drawing a tangent to the pier at the left of the sixteenth arch provides another. These intersect at point A1, which is the viewpoint of the Colosseum component of the picture.

The door in the houses lining the road to the left appears to be taken from the same viewpoint, and seems to be the gate in the garden wall (F1c) rather than the door in the building (F1a) (Fig. 5). You can see its little tile roof, the rounded top of the wall, and two bollards. The building (F1a) is on the bend in the road, so strictly speaking (according to Nolli) ought to be visible. But if we look at van Wittel (Fig. 6), there is a hint of further curvature (as well as a rise in the road). Van Wittel emphasises the rustication of the gateway, which is hardly visible in Panini. Healso shows the bollards.

Sightlines of Panini’s Dunraven Colosseum. B. Distances. Looking to the right of the collapsed upper stories, the structure is hard to read because the arcades on different levels merge, but there are two steps back in levels (Fig. 2). From the line of the edge of upper outer bays, there are 3 bays of the middle row of arches, as Nolli confirms, followed by 8 bays (if I have not miscounted) of the inner row of arches before the Colosseum curves around at the right. This provides one of four points than can generate two converging sight lines: (a) the edge of the Colosseum to the left edge of the monastery of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and (b) the left edge of the Arch of Constantine line to the apse of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. This points to a viewpoint further to the left than the first (A2). This is necessarily so, as SS. Giovanni e Paolo is not visible from point A1.

This suggests that Panini made two separate drawings from life, one of the Colosseum and the street, the other of SS. Giovanni e Paolo and the Colosseum.

The presence of the high ground in the foreground, which is the remains of the platform of the Temple of Venus and Rome, confirms that his viewpoint was near point A2: the corner of the temple platform in Fig. 3 is exactly on the sightline left edge of Arch of Constantine–apse of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Moreover, mound 2 is in the right place for such a viewpoint. The fact that these relationships works so well suggests that all of the side to the right of the Colosseum, foreground and background, is based on a single drawing.

Height. Panini’s horizon is lower than van Wittel’s, near the bottom of the first arcade and at the level of the temple platform, and a little higher than the garden wall at F1c. He shows road 5 below the temple platform. The viewpoint (K2) would therefore have been at the level of the temple platform. As Rossini’s view (Fig. 7, also Fig. 3) shows, the nearest high point across road 5 that would provide a viewpoint with the corner of the temple platform (K2) in line with the Arch of Constantine/SS. Giovanni e Paolo is on wall C, to the west of building G.

Conclusion. It seems likely that Panini’s Dunraven painting is a topographical paintings made from studies made on site, but that instead of using a single ‘camera obscura’ viewpoint like van Wittel, Panini made studies from two slightly different points (A1 and A2), one of the Colosseum and the street, the other of the view towards SS. Giovanni e Paolo from a little beyond the platform of the Temple of Venus and Rome, probably on wall C.

Panini and van Wittel. Because of his camera obscura technology, Van Wittel places distant elements in their correct topographical relationships, and can convey a great deal of information about the area between fore- and middle grounds to effectively map the space. Panini, by contrast, works from drawings—to judge from the British Museum sketchbooks, little more than notations—of self-contained units that are combined plausibly but not necessarily as accurate views from a particular viewpoint. He takes the basic distribution of elements and renders individual buildings accurately enough, but manipulates their positions compositionally and spatially to get the effect he wanted. Because of this the veduta ideata came naturally to him, and even his most assertively topographical pictures tend in this direction. Because the viewpoints used in the Dunraven Colosseum are relatively low, his composition resolves itself into a series of vertical planes, whereas van Wittel describes a horizontal plane extending out from his viewpoint, even if he pictorialized the foreground a little to avoid looking down on it.

Compared to van Wittel, Panini, at least in the Dunraven picture where he is new to the subject, picks up on numerous little pictorial incidents that enliven what could easily become a monotonous subject. The rendering of the arches in particularly lively (including the numbering of each bay with Roman numerals, which needs further investigation), as are the views through to glowing pink inferno-like interiors (Fig. 8). It is as if Panini has painted the gesticulating figures in front to draw our attention to them. And the landscape details are delightfully naturalistic: the view of SS. Giovanni e Paolo looks as if it were painted by Annibale Carracci (Fig. 9). Another delightful detail is the little bridge of Roman brickwork near point L (Fig. 10), presumably from some Roman ruin, which I am inclined to believe is topographically factual though I have not seen it elsewhere (it’s site is hidden by mound 2 in van Wittel).

[1] Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691–1765 Rome), Rome, a View of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, 1734. Oil on canvas, 99 x 135.5 cm. Signed with initials and dated on the step, lower left: I.P. P. 1734. Arisi 224. Provenance: Earl of Dunraven, Limerick; with Herner Wengraf, London, 1972; Rome, Finarte, 12–13 December 1973, lot 55, reproduced pl. XXIX; anonymous sale (‘The Property of a Gentleman’), London, Sotheby’s, 1 November 1978, lot 43, reproduced in colour (unsold); private collection.


[2] Christoph Lüthy, ‘Hockney’s secret knowledge, Vanvitelli’s camera obscura’, Early Science and Medicine, vol. 10, issue 2, 2005, pp. 315–339.

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Views of the Colosseum from the North 3: Gaspar van Wittel’s View of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, c. 1707

[For Part 1, of which this is a continuation, see

For Part 2, see]

Gaspar van Wittel was unusual, if not unique, in using a camera obscura set up on site. The gridded image on the camera obscura screen was carefully transposed to large drawings, many of which survive.[1] It is likely something of the kind occurred when van Wittel first created his Colosseum composition, exemplified by a version with Robilant + Voena in 2008 (Fig. 1).[2] This is datable to 1707.[3] His first version probably dates to 1703.[4]

Van Wittel’s viewpoint in plan. (Left-right orientations adopt the point of view of the painting.) Looking at the van Wittel Colosseum (Fig. 2) starting at the point where the upper arcades have collapsed at the right, there are 13 arches visible to the left of this point before they curve out of sight (Fig. 3). Starting at the same point, one can see straight down the first and second arches. A line through the middle of the pier between these gives us one line running through the viewpoint. A tangent drawn to the pier at the left of the thirteenth arch provides another. These intersect at point A1, in front of building G, which ought to be where van Wittel placed his camera obscura.

Other sight lines can be plotted on Nolli (Figs 4, 5.) From the line of the break in the upper outer bays, there are 3 bays of the middle row of arches, as Nolli confirms, followed by 8 bays of the inner row of arches before the Colosseum curves around at the right.

The start of the apse of SS. Giovanni e Paolo lines up with the right edge of a house and a little to the left of the Colosseum.

The right edge of the Arch of Constantine lines up with a point near the broken aqueduct near SS. Giovanni e Paolo about two arches width to its left.

The centre of the Meta Sudans lines up with the right side of the central arch of the Arch of Constantine.

A point to the right of the transept of S. Giovanni in Laterano lines up with the edge of the Colosseum.

These all converge near point A1, but slightly to the top left (north west).

Averaging all this data, one can conclude that van Wittel’s painting, with its broad extent, is taken from near point AF.[5]

Van Wittel’s viewpoint in elevation. Van Wittel’s horizon is aligned with the middle row of arches of the Colosseum, the bottom of the attic of the Arch of Constantine, and above the top of building F. As in modern photos and Rossini’s Esquiline view show (Fig. 6 and Part 2, Fig. 3), the level of the top of the temple platform (just visible at the right) comes at the middle of the lower row of arches of the Colosseum. This means that van Wittel’s viewpoint is quite elevated. Taking into account the plan viewpoints, the only plausible point for the point where he set up his camera obscura is on the upper storey of building G. In Rossini’s panorama view (Part 1, Fig. 8) this is shown to be quite high, higher than building F and comparable with the second level of Colosseum arcades. In Rossini’s Esquiline view the line of the middle of the second Colosseum arcade is aligned with the upper storey windows of building G.

It seems fairly certain, therefore, that van Wittel set up his camera obscura in one of the rooms in the upper level of building G.

Roads in van Wittel. Rossini reveals the various routes across the space to the north-west of the Colosseum, which can be indicated on Nolli (Fig. 7). The main routes were from the Via Labicana (and ultimately S. Giovanni in Laterano), throught the Arch of Constantine to Piazza S. Gregorio, through the rch of Titus to the Campo Vaccino and the city centre, and up the road to SS. Andrea Apostolo e Bernardino. There was a secondary road up Road 5. These routes worked there away around two mounds, mounds 1 and 2 (they had been levelled by the time of Rossini but their location is still evident there). A nodal point, point L, lay between them.

In van Wittel (Fig. 8) the foreground has probably been modified somewhat from an optical view. Mounds 1 and 2 are visible, but shifted somewhat to the left. The temple platform is visible, and the low space beside it that forms street 5. There are various fallen column drums in this hollow, and other pieces of masonry. These may be largely fictitious, as is customary in such foregrounds, based on the fallen column drums higher up on the platform at the right, and further up road 5.

[1] Christoph Lüthy, ‘Hockney’s secret knowledge, Vanvitelli’s camera obscura’, Early Science and Medicine, vol. 10, issue 2, 2005, pp. 315–339.

[2] Gaspar van Wittel , View of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, c. 1707. Oil on canvas, 48.5 x 108 cm. With Robilant + Voena in 2008. Signed on the capital at the centre: GASPARO VAN WITEL ROMA. Purchased in Italy, together with the View of Venice, by Friederik Sigmond van Bylandt (1749-1828); by inheritance to Anne Visser, née van Bylandt (1866-1929), whose coat of arms was formerly visible on the back of its companion piece; London, Christie’s, 16 December 1998, lot 69. Exhibitions: London, Robilant+Voena, Vanvitelli, 18 November – 19 December 2008, no. 4. Literature: L. Laureati, ed. by, Vanvitelli, exhibition catalogue, Turin 2008, pp. 29-31; L. Laureati, entry in the dealer publication on this painting..’

[3] Laureati, 2008, in Robilant + Voena, 2008: ‘Gaspar van Wittel presumably painted this View of the Colosseum, (which is slightly smaller than the version in Holkham Hall, that is identical in format and dated 1716), in 1707, because its pendant (Venice. The Bacino di San Marco, looking towards the Doge’s Palace and the Piazzetta, with the Bucintoro and other shipping; London, Christie‟s, 16 December 1998, no. 70. Fig. 1) is dated that year.’

[4] Briganti, 2nd ed., has examples beginning in 1703 (London, Briganti 55), 1716 (Holkham, Briganti 56) then 57, 58, 59, 60, 61. All are oil on canvas. Robilant and Voena in 2008 published Robilant and Holkham versions (Holkham, no 33 pp. 26-28; Robilant and Voena, no. 4, pp. 29 to 31). The Robilant version dated 1707 on basis of dating its pendant, a view of Venice, both sold Christie’s, London, 16 December 1998, lot 69.

[5] In discussing the Robilant + Voena version of Van Wittel’s composition Laureati identifies the viewpoint as being located in the gardens of S. Francesca Romana behind (see Robilant and Voena catalogue).


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Views of the Colosseum from the North 2: Luigi Rossini’s View from the Palatine towards the Esquiline

[For Part 1, of which this is a continuation, see]

A second print by Luigi Rossini is a view from the Palatine towards the Esquiline across the Colosseum, entitled Il Monte Esquilino (1827) (Figs 1, 2).

Rossini shows the arches of the substructures of the temple platform (K), which were exposed by French excavations in the Napoleonic period. These were necessary because the west part of the platform was built on the tufa bedrock, but at the east the ground dropped away and had to be built up with substructures.[1] The height of the temple platform (K) corresponds approximately to the level of the top of the lower arcade of the Colosseum. This is confirmed by modern photos (Fig. 3, from Google, taken from the Esquiline park). The fallen columns visible in the panorama are shown (B).

To the left of the Colosseum is building F. These have changed somewhat since the eighteenth century. If we look at Nolli (Fig. 4), be can identify three components: F1a, which is a two storey building with a door; F1b, which abuts this to the right but has no door; and F1c, which is a garden. These appear in Van Wittel, where F1b is two stories and three bays wide with a roof continuous with F1a, and F1c is a garden with a garden gateway. In Rossini’s Esquiline view things are more complicated (Fig. 2). The taller middle building with its own roof is probably F1a and F1b combined, though the F1b part has only one bay. To the right is a building seemingly with a continuous roof of 5 bays with a doorway (F1d). This is probably new since Nolli and van Wittel. There is still a garden wall and gateway (F1c) between F1a and F2, but F2 seems to have acquired additions that extend into the garden.

Judging from the cart tracks, the post important road through the area is the one from Via Labicana around the Colosseum to the Arch of Titus, and thence through the Campo Vaccino. Mound 2 is visible, and appears to have a broad flight of steps up it.



[1] John W. Stamper, The Architecture of Roman Temples. The Republic to the Middle Ages, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 209: ‘The large platform on which the temple stood was formed by natural tufa rock on the west and built-up concrete piers and vaults on the east.’

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Views of the Colosseum from the North 1: Luigi Rossini’s Panorama

This series of posts discusses the topography of eighteenth and nineteenth-century views of the Colosseum seem from the north. By looking at the sightlines of these views, plotted on Nolli’s 1748 map of Rome, the first comprehensive accurately surveyed map of the city, it is possible to work out where these views were made from when they are based on observation of the site.

This area north of the Colosseum is not often depicted in topographical views. The most useful is a set of three etchings made by Luigi Rossini in 1828 from the campanile of S. Maria Nova (Fig. 1, Fig. 3 point A3). These join to make a panorama, so that the left side of the first plate can be joined to the right side of the last (Fig. 2).

What we see here can be correlated with the Nolli map (Fig. 3). This shows a road leading north from the Colosseum (today Via del Colosseo) to a fork in the road at the church of SS. Andrea Apostolo e Bernardino dei Rigattieri, now S. Maria della Neve (Fig. 4). The area around this church is little changed, as a view from beside the church to the Colosseum shows (Fig. 5). To the north-east S. Francesca di Paola, S. Pietro in Vincoli, and the Baths of Titus. All of these are visible in Rossini’s etchings (Fig. 6).

However, moving in more closely to the area closer to the Colosseum (Fig. 7) things are much changed because of the construction of the Via dei Fori Imperiali, the line of which can be superimposed on the Nolli map by superimposing a modern cartographic image such as Google maps. Rossini looks down onto the platform of the Temple of Venus and Rome, on which S. Maria Nova is built. He shows clearly the sharp north edge of the platform at the left (Fig. 7, K1) and the corner (K2). The east edge towards the Colosseum is less clearly delineated because of the angle of view. Closer to the church ore some fallen columns from the temple (B). The north edge casts a deep shadow onto a pathway below the platform. The combined first and third plates of Rossini (Fig. 2) show that this is a roughly defined route to the back of the Basilica of Constantine that goes past fallen columns from the Temple of Venus and Rome (road 5, road E).

Looking at the Nolli map and Google maps (Fig. 3) we can see that road 5 corresponds to the modern Clivo di Venere Felice. The buttressed wall on the far side so conspicuous in Rossini (Fig. 2) is clearly marked on Nolli.

On the far side of this Nolli shows fields (Fig. 3), through which the Via dei Fori Imperiali now passes. On the far side of these fields Nolli shows a wall, running to a building on the corner (building G). On the far side of this building a street, the modern Via del Colosseo runs up to SS. Andrea e Bernardino. In Rossini (Fig. 7) this area is hard to read as there is a building that seems to be continuous with building F1, which appears in paintings by van Wittel and Panini at the start of the road leading left around the Colosseum to via Labicana. A closer inspection, however (marked with a line in Fig. 7, also Fig. 8) reveals this to be building G. It lies between a short section of buttressed wall (C) and the Via del Colosseo. Merlons line the wall running along the Via del Colosseo. Lining the street opposite is a building (H1), which I have not yet identified, and a smaller matching building (H2). At the right of building H1 is an entrance marked with a segmental pediment that gives access to a garden behind. Next to this is a gap, which is the street, road 4, that separates this from building F3, followed by building F2. A section of low wall with a garden is hidden behind building G. Then comes building F1.

Rossini’s high viewpoint shows the various routes across the empty public space to the north-west of the Colosseum. Coming from SS. Andrea e Bernardino the road splits, one branch following buildings F3 to F1 and on to the Via Labicana (road 1A), the other going to a central ‘interchange’ space (L) (road 1B). From this point one can go to Via Labicana, the Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus, or up road 5. These leave neutral spaces, a triangular one that corresponds to mound 1 in earlier paintings (there seems to be not muchof a mound at this date), and another, larger one that corresponds to mound 2.

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On Organic Geometry

In Luke Syson and Dora Thornton’s Objects of Virtue there is a nice comparative illustration of a carved ivory knife handle after Francesco Salviati (Fig. 1)[1] and a print by Cherubino Alberti of two designs of knife handles by Salviati of 1583 (Fig. 2).[2] The actual knife handle corresponds approximately to the left design, and depicts a griffin on top of two back-to-back caryatids. The authors question the usual assumption that the actual handle postdated the print—was copied from it—implying either that the print is based on the actual handle or, more probably, that both are derived from an original drawing by Salviati conceived as an exercise in disegno.[3] (The other design is interesting in that it shows the classical figure of Marsyas about to be flayed, with an older and smaller hook-nosed man between his legs grasping ‘Marsyas’ where it hurts (Fig. 3).)

But what struck me about the two images is how the figure of the griffin in the knife handle is, to my eyes, so much more powerful than the engraved one (Fig. 4). The engraved one is more fluid and naturalistic (Fig. 5), with more convincing wings, but the ivory one has the superb geometry of the inner neck, a near-perfect arc that terminates in the beak on one side and (as the engraving makes clear) a tuft of neck hair on the other. This responds to the arch of the beak and head, which flows in one continious curve to the back of the neck and its knobbly hairs. The dark background to the photo makes these arcs stand out. Following this observation around, we see that the chest and front left profile has some of this geometrical power, but the back has rather less, although, compared to the print, the wings are more closely tied to the profile of the back.

Another instance of such organic geometry that I used to show my undergraduate students is the area of the breast and belt of Judith’s maid in the Judith and Holofernes in Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling (Fig. 6). This is just like the torus, fillet, and scotia mouldings of one of Michelangelo’s architectural drawings. This would sometimes get a laugh from students, but it was not intended by me as a joke, nor yet my Michelangelo who would certainly have been aware of what he was doing. The Renaissance study of anatomy, including the famous écorché statue of Cigoli, saw the human body in engineering terms, the external contours being the result of the stresses within the tendons and muscles beneath, and ultimately geometrical.

One of the greatest things in art is this tension between geometry and naturalism, between the operations of the mind and mere likeness. Excessive naturalistic skill in the Renaissance could be at the expense of what is most important in art. The low point came with the concept of a picture as a photograph of a stage with frozen actors, as with Poussin. To be sure, naturalism can be transcendent, as with still-life painting. Earlier periods were in many ways more satisfactory, as with Romanesque animals that are similar to the ivory griffin but not the engraved one. Early modernist sculptors, quite self-consciously, returned to this problem of the balance between naturalism and geometry, and for a little while kept both balls in the air. But modernism had its own fatal flaw, which was not excessive naturalism, but the teleological fallacy. Having got to this point artists believed that their destiny was to keep moving further and further away from naturalism, failing to realise that the point of their early successes was this balance, not their contribution to artistic progress. We see this throughout the post-Impressionist-modernist trajectory. In sculpture Early Brancusi held representation and geometry in balance, but his later works are emptily geometrical, which opened the way for the even drearier Anthony Caro and his ilk. Cézanne realised that what mattered in landscape was the tension between surface and depth, and developed some extraordinary techniques to realise this. The early Cubism of Picasso and Braque ran with this but allowed modernist teleology to destroy it, making it into something crude and obvious, and worse, a ‘movement’. Braque recovered from this and went on to produce brilliant still life paintings that no-body is interested in any more, while Picasso draw the conclusion that all that matters was to be clever, which worked, because everyone is still interested in him. And for twenty years in the 1920s and 1930s Cubism provided the crucial tools for handling the geometry/representation balance in the decorative arts, which is where this period is most rich artistically. Otto Wagner reached a point of balance between historical forms and abstract ones during his Sezession phase which got him through to the Postsparkasse, after which he and every other architect lost the plot.

But back to the knife handle. The artisan responsible, it must be said, only half-grasps the problem. Although the naturalism of the wings is tamed, their geometry is pedestrian rather than transcendent, while the thighs are shapeless blobs. How would a Romanesque or early modernist sculptor have proceeded, having discovered the arcs of the head and neck? They would, I think, have worked on the silhouette, which shows promise. One problem area is the negative space between the paws, thighs and forelegs. This needs more emphasis, while the paws need strengthening geometrically with stronger repetition between the two (sets of) paws. The other problem area is the wings. Their attachment to the shoulders is messy, while their outer profile is too much subordinated to the curve of the back. What to do with them? This depends on the sculptor’s mode of working in three dimensions. The driving aesthetic so far has been two-dimensional. Does the sculptor work in planes, relying on superimposed shapes that generate linear shadows? Or do they work in masses that require it to viewed from above and behind? In other words, do that, like the Romanesque sculptor, start with a cubical block, or, as here, what is essentially a drawing. Either way, the knuckles of the wing could be brought forward to cover the blandness of the lower neck: this is done much better in the engraving, which hints at the profile of the wings being a series of humps and reflex curves. The engraver uses shadows to separate the wings from the body, as if they are about to unfurl. The sculptor does take this path, because he is confined within a planar conception. A sculptor in solids would start to spread the wings; a sculptor in planes would enrich the profile and superimpose them (it) on the body.


[1] After Francesco Salviati, knife handle. Italy, mid-sixteenth century. Florence, Bargello. After Luke Syson and Dora Thornton, Objects of Virtue. Art in Renaissance Italy, London: British Museum Press, 2001, fig. 156

[2] Cherubino Alberti after Francesco Salviati, Two designs for knife handles composing grotesques and naked male figures, 1583. Engraving, 249 x 102 mm. London, British Museum, 1872,1012.870. Lettered above ‘Frac Salviat in’, on the base of the handle of the knife at left ‘1583’ on blade ‘Secura …convivivum’, and Alberti’s monogram ‘CA’, at left ‘Cum privilegio sumi pontificis’. Curator’s comments: ‘An impression in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris BN (Estampes, B3a res) shows that this engraving and P&D 1872,1012.869 are printed from a single plate. (Information supplied by James Grantham Turner, February, 2015). Bartsch XVII.111.171. Images of other copies are available online, including a copyright-free image from the Cooper-Hewitt.

[3] Syson and Thornton, 2001, pp. 168-169.

Posted in All Posts, Architectural paintings, Architecture, Art, Baroque architecture, Design, Rome, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Pavilions, Fabriques, and the Reverential Copy

[This paper discusses a category of building that is related to, and sometimes overlaps with, the pavilion: the fabrique. The fabrique is not to be confused with the folly, although both are found in parks and gardens and the terms are often used interchangeably. The fabrique is a building whose sole purpose is to generate cultural meaning. It is by definition not functional in the usual sense, although a fabrique may be given a function. The fabrique was a creation of eighteenth-century France and England, but the examples I want to focus on are more recent than that. Paper given at Pavilions: a symposium, University of Melbourne, 3–4 October 2016. A collaboration between MPavillion and The University of Melbourne.]

Pavilion, fabrique and folly: some definitions

The term ‘pavilion’ is defined by dictionaries in a number of ways.

The Oxfoed English Dictionary’s etymology describes the origin of the term, and what seems to be its core meaning: ‘Middle English (denoting a large decorated tent): from Old French pavillon, from Latin papilio(n-) ‘butterfly or tent’.

Architectural historians use it to describe a unit of a larger whole:  ‘a part of a building projecting from the rest’; ‘one of several detached or semidetached units into which a building is sometimes divided’ (Merriam-Webster). For example in an English Palladian country house there may be wings with subsidiary buildings attached that are called pavilions (Figs 1, 2). This is interesting because the core building is gone, leaving the pavilions isolated. In the case of the American academy in Rome semi-detached and detached artist’s studios that nevertheless form part of the architecture of a larger whole are called pavilions (Fig. 3). The definition that is of most interest to contemporary artists and this project: ‘at an exposition, a detached building erected for an individual exhibitor’; that is, a biennale pavilion (Fig. 4).

The core definition of the pavilion, and the one of most relevance to this paper, transforms the idea of tent-like openness into a more generalised lightness of structure: ‘A light, more of less ornamented building in a park, garden, athletic ground, or the like’.

The function ascribed to such buildings in dictionaries is generally that it serves as that it serves as a pleasure house for entertainment, or as a building that provides shelter. This definition has resonance in the Australian building industry, to judge from this product (Fig. 5). The authors of definitions often refer to cricket pavilions, bandstands or park buildings used for concerts. While this example of a cricket pavilion (Fig. 6) is partially open and a little tent-like, other examples of cricket pavilions retain the function of being a place for watching cricket, but lose site of tent-like openness and lightness of structure (Fig. 7). The function term—cricket—tends to push away the stylistic elements – openness and lightness.

So the particular pavilion I would like to extract from all this is a lightweight structure in a garden that is ornamented and serves as a ‘pleasure house’.

This definitional excursus has effectively led us to another term which I find more useful: the fabrique. A pavilion may be a fabrique, but not all fabriques are pavilions. A fabrique may be, but need not be, open like a tent (Fig. 8). A fabrique, though commonly a lightweight structure, need not be so. A Palladian pavilion is not a fabrique because it is not a building in its own right, although as a detached structure it might well make a good fabrique. A fabrique is indeed normally found in garden or park, but does not exist primarily for shelter (like a cricket pavilion) or to house a particular function (a place for music).

So what is a fabrique? It is a French term that comes to prominence in the eighteenth-century and is defined in today’s Larousse as ‘Petit temple, ruine ou autre construction de fantaisie servant à l’ornementation d’un jardin (particulièrement à l’anglaise), d’un parc paysager.’ This usefully takes us away from cricket pavilions, tents, music venues, and expos into the eighteenth century landscape garden in its French manifestation, known as the Jardin Anglo-Chinois. This acquired this name because the French were reluctant to attribute the landscape garden wholly to England, and because it was seen to have been inspired by, or had affinities with, the landscapes in Chinese paintings (Fig. 9). These landscapes were full of small, lightweight and frequently open structures, which might useful be termed pavilions. Hence the Jardin Anglo-Chinois is full of small buildings, that is, fabriques, and fabriques play a more central role there than in English gardens (Fig. 10).

A fabrique, then, is an ornamental building in a landscape garden (Fig. 11). But here I would like to stress that the core idea of the fabrique, which separates it from the pavilion, is that it is a non-functional building. This does not preclude it having a practical function, such as shelter, but this function is incidental to its primary purpose, which is to generate meaning. That meaning, of course, resides in the engagement of the spectator with the structure. Like any work of art, the fabrique is a means by which a creator communicates with an audience. The principal means by which it does this is by alluding to something else. It is, if you like, pictorial: a three-dimensional picture of something else-in this case, the Pantheon in Rome. But the fabrique has the potential to be more than this, and this is what I want to explore today.

Let us start with the idea that a fabrique is a building in a garden that often represents or alludes to something else. It may be a good place to sit and have a gin and tonic or to store chairs, but function follows form, not the other way about. With this definition lightness or openness of structure is not essential in the way it seems to be for the pavilion.

The English equivalent of a fabrique is usually considered to be ‘a folly’, but this is misleading, even if this terms is also French in origin. Many buildings that ought to be called fabriques are called follies in an English context. The term ‘folly’ has inescapable associations with foolishness, which is hardly surprising when the term is synonymous with a term for silly behaviour. The use of the term ‘folly’ to describe a building is never neutral. It immediately conjures up one of these associations: (1) the building of the structure was a reckless act, and probably a financially reckless one. (2) It has no practical purpose; indeed, it gives the finger to practicality. Hence the Oxford English Dictionary definition is ‘A costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, especially a tower or mock-Gothic ruin built in a large garden or park.’ The fact that the term may derive from an earlier sense of the French word ‘folie’, meaning ‘delight’ or ‘favourite abode’ is now beside the point. But a fabrique does not carry the same associations of foolishness and financial recklessness, though many fabriques may indeed be follies in this sense. As an example of a folly explicitly intended to be one is the Faringdon Folly on Folly Hill (Fig. 12). It was designed by the architect Lord Gerald Wellesley, later 7th Duke of Wellington, for Lord Berners in 1935.

This has been described as the last folly in England. Lord Berners’ whole persona was the jokey interwar wealthy aristocrat and dilettante artist (although he was more than this) who, after the chaos of the First World War and the marginalisation of the aristocrat in a middle- and working-class world, builds a folly to proclaim this situation. In the same way that his eighteenth-century predecessors would build a folly to demonstrate their superiority—that they were above bourgeois or peasant practicality—so Lord Berners built his folly in order to link himself defiantly to that lost culture while mocking the present and his creation at the same time.  It once had a sign saying ‘members of the public committing suicide from this tower do so at their own risk’. Lord Berners’s structure was, because useless, necessarily expensive, since, because it is functionally useless, its cost must be measured against the cost of not building it, even if Wellesley was careful not to spend more on constructing it than was necessary for the realisation of the design and it did not bankrupt its builder.

This account, perhaps paradoxically, reveals that the Faringdon Folly is a fabrique in the sense I have defined it. That is, it a building whose primary function is to generate meaning. In this case the meaning is Berner’s world-view.

A key element of the fabrique as I have defined is that it is to be found in a large garden or park, or something corresponding to this. A large garden or park is by definition a place of leisure, and the fabrique has no place in the humdrum, everyday world. It is like a novel; it is something involving the willing suspension of disbelief, in which you lose yourself imaginatively.

I want now to look at some instances of gardens of fabriques in order to see where all this might lead.

The Garden of Wörlitz

The finest eighteenth-century garden of fabriques is Wörlitz (1762-1773). This was built by Prince Franz von Anhalt-Dessau (1740-1817) (Fig. 13) and his architect and friend Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff following their return from the Grand Tour and a trip to England. Duke Leopold was the ideal enlightenment ruler: he encouraged uncensored publication, promoted religious tolerance that extended to Jews, and promoted innovative agriculture and forestry.

These fabriques include the usual small buildings based on the Pantheon (Figs 14, 15) and Roman round temples (Fig. 16), but also a working representation of Vesuvius (Figs 17, 18), with the villa of Sir William Hamilton on one side (Fig. 19), and a scaled down version of the Iron Bridge near Coalbrookdale in 1777 (Figs 20, 21). These fabriques, therefore, were representations of known buildings or places or representative antique building types that were freighted with cultural meaning, and provided talking points for progressive contemporary ideas as one toured the garden.

Chateau de Groussay

While Wörlitz has the largest and richest collection of fabriques, the paradigmatic garden of fabriques dates not to the 18th century, but to the 20th. This is the garden of the Chateau de Groussay at Montfort-l’Amaury, west of Paris (Fig. 22). The Chateau itself was built in 1815, but was bought in 1938-39 by Charles de Beistegui. Beistegui was the heir to a Mexican fortune and was born to Mexican parents in France, and lived mainly in France and Spain. He mixed in artistic circles, commissioning a penthouse from Le Corbusier, whom he annoyed but installing rococo chairs, with a roof terrace by Salvador Dalì. He had a Spanish diplomatic passport and so had an easy war, being even more self-consciously disconnected from the contemporary world than Lord Berners. He also owned the Palazzo Labia in Venice, and in 1951 had there the party of the century, all the heavy socialites in Europe dressed in Venetian eighteenth century costume. (I am convinced the fancy dress ball at the end of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief was inspired by this). At Groussay, with the help of the Cuban-born French architect, artist, interior decorator and landscape designer Emilio Terry (1890–1969) he filled the garden with fabriques and part of the house with a theatre based on the Baroque theatre at Bayreuth, but with floral Axminster-style 50s carpets (Fig. 23). These fabriques hoovered up the fabriques of eighteenth century European gardens, including a Turkish tent (Fig. 24), a Roman figured column (Fig. 25), a Chinese pagoda (Fig. 26), a Neoclassical pyramid (Fig. 27), a Palladian Bridge (Fig. 28) and more.

What are we to make of a garden of fabriques constructed in the 1950s? The traditional view, coloured by modernist teleology and Marxist ideas of social progress, these belong to the dustbin of history. The real artists of the day were the Abstract Expressionists; they embodied the present power of the USA and the future of the modernist project. Beistegui and Terry were downright silly, the expression of a feeble nostalgia for an old Europe that was gone for ever. (This pretty much sums up the Australian view of Europe today.) But if we set aside this stale historicism, there are more productive ways of looking at the Groussay fabriques than this. We may, for example, draw on the account given by Jas Elsner of the reproduction of Greek art by the Romans during the second and third centuries CE, when many of those ‘Roman copies of Greek originals’ were made (Fig. 29). Such copies were valued from antiquity through to the early modern period but despised by modern archaeology, which sought only the true and authentic Greek originals that lay behind them.

But, as Elsner points out, the Romans copied Greek statues not because they lacked the ability to be original, but because reproduction is interpretation. He argues that the transition from ‘Imperial Rome to Christian Triumph’ (the title of one of his books) came about because of the reverential reworking of the past exemplified by such copies: ‘one might even say that the transfiguration of culture in late antiquity was the product not of rejecting the past in favour of something new, but of constantly reworking the past in a spirit of almost reverential respect until the new emerged from the process.’[1]

Hadrian’s Villa

At his villa below Tivoli, the Emperor Hadrian extended this practice to whole buildings. As Hadrian’s biographer writes:

His villa at Tivoli was marvelously constructed, and he actually gave to parts of it the names of provinces of the greatest renown, calling them, for instance, Lyceum, Academia, the Prytaneum [Town Hall], Canopus, Poecile [Stoa Poikile, painted stoa] and Tempe. And in order not to omit anything, he even made a Hades.[2]

The most securely attributed of these today is the identification of a small valley at the east of the villa with the Valley of Tempe in Thessaly in Greece, between Olympus and Ossa (Fig. 30). Although the cult site of Tempe was dedicated to Apollo, overlooking Hadrian’s Tempe there was a temple of Venus now called the Doric Temple. The most problematic of these identifications is the Canopus, which was a town in Egypt with a canal and a temple of Serapis (Fig. 31). The town was notorious in antiquity for revellers who came down from Alexandria on the canal for public festivals—day trippers in other words—who, in Strabo’s words, ‘play flutes and dance without restraint and with extreme licentiousness, both men and women, with each other and with the Canopeans, who have places close to the canal adapted to relaxation and carrying on of this kind.’[3] The pool at Hadrian’s villa that has been identified with this canal has a dining triclinium at the end which has, with apparently little justification, been identified as a representation of the Temple of Serapis, although it is unlikely even then to have borne a visual resemblance to what that might have been.

Arguably these features of Hadrian’s villa fit my definition of a fabrique, since they are buildings in a pleasure garden designed to have meaning by being representations; they also indicate why lightness of structure is not a requirement for a fabrique, even though it may be for a pavilion. They also raise the parallel theme of the extent to which a fabrique, and also its setting. can be turned into a representation by naming, even though it may bear only a tenuous visual similarity to what it represents.

Bramante’s Tempietto at S. Pietro in Montorio

Another important precedent for the early modern garden fabrique is Bramante’s Tempietto in S. Pietro in Montorio (Fig. 32). According to the definitions I am using this is not a pavilion – it lacks tent-like openness and lightness of structure – but is arguably a fabrique. Although not situated in a pleasure garden, it is certainly a structure the primary purpose of which is to generate meaning. It was commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain to mark the site of the martyrdom of Saint Peter, which old texts state, took place ‘inter duas metas’; that is, between two markers like the turning posts in a circus. In the Renaissance these metae were identified as the Pyramid of Cestius and another Pyramid destroyed in 1500, the Meta Romulae. These are shown in a painting by Giotto (Fig. 33). Arguably all three structures, if not created as such, here have become fabriques. More importantly, the Bramante tempietto is a fabrique that is a copy or re-interpretation of an existing building—the Temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli or the Temple of Hercules Victor by the Tiber—and much of its meaning resides in this fact. Indeed, Jás Elsner’s arguments are applicable here. The tempietto was immediately recognised as the first building in the true style all’antica of the Renaissance, and appears in sixteenth-century architectural treatises among the antique buildings, not the modern. Its revolutionary forward-looking nature was made possible because, as a purely symbolic building, it was possible for it to be a backward-looking reverential copy of another building.

The reverential copy

But to return to my main argument, Beistegui was in effect engaged in the same project as Hadrian and Bramante. By reproducing past buildings in a spirit of reverence, even to the point of making copies, he was both valorizing the past and creating a future as valid as any teleological one. But there is one difference, which is that Beistegui was making a representation not of an admired monumental building, but of a fabrique. In other words, he was paying homage to the idea of the fabrique and only indirectly to what those fabriques were modelled on. His Turkish tent (Fig. 24) is first a representation of the Turkish tent at Drottningholm (Fig. 34), and only through that to the Turks themselves. Indeed, he probably had no interest in the campaign tents of seventeenth-century Turkish armies as such.

Stuart Rattle’s Musk Farm

This can lead to some interesting tensions, as is demonstrated by an example closer to home, the garden of the late Stuart Rattle at Musk near Daylesford (Fig. 35). The garden itself owes much to English Arts-and-Crafts models, and, before the contents were sold after his death, there were references to eighteenth-century English country houses in the clubbish décor of the sitting room, a seventeenth-century still life by Sinibaldo Scorza and eighteenth-century portraits in the hall (I am reminded of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, where the Major-General says of the portraits in his newly acquired stately home: ‘I don’t know whose ancestors they were, but I know whose ancestors they are). These are also found in statues in the garden. These consisted of copies, many generations distant, of two statues in the Capitoline Museums in Rome: the Marble Faun and the Spinario or thornpuller (Fig. 36). The Spinario is a Roman statue which survived outside the Lateran basilica until it was moved to the Campidoglio in Rome in the sixteenth century (Fig. 37), where it is became almost as sacred a symbol of the continuity of civic Rome as the she-wolf (which had a similar history). Copies crop up in English country houses and gardens from the eighteenth-century onwards. Rattle acquired it fortuitously, but it fitted his conception of the garden, and it is now in the botanical gardens at Daylesford as a gift from Rattle’s heirs (Fig. 38).

This is a living example of Elser’s arguments: it is part of the endless process of copying and giving new meaning to ancient sculpture. Today, its significance is no longer that it is a symbol of the continuity of ancient Rome into the present, nor whatever it signified when the original was first made; in its current site its primary significance is that it once belonged to Stuart Rattle, a modern martyr, worshipped by clients, cruelly slaughtered, and now a secular saint.

A slightly different kind of response is generated by a fabrique in Rattle’s garden. This is a building—which is also a pavilion— that is Chinese in style (Fig. 39). Clearly in erecting this building in the garden—in the wilder, long-grass area––Rattle was consciously imitating eighteenth–century garden designers, since such Chinese-style buildings were a standard part of the repertory of the fabrique, as we have seen at Groussay (Fig. 25).

In the eighteenth century there was only a tiny amount of information available about China, just enough culturally to encourage fantasies about the benevolent rule of enlightened emperors, and just enough visually to provide motifs, colours and themes to become the basis of the European style of chinoiserie. If in the eighteenth-century they could have acquired actual Chinese buildings they would have done so, but it was not so easy then. But this is what Rattle did, purchasing in China a Chinese pavilion from a nineteenth-century Chinese park and re-erecting it in his garden.

The strands of meaning passing through this structure are now extremely complex. To begin with, this fabrique is, perhaps primarily, a homage to eighteenth-century gardens. From here one pathway leads to China, the eighteenth-century China as eighteenth-century Europe understood it. Yet this fabrique came directly from China to Australia, which causes us today to also think about modern China, a country which has very different associations for us than it did for the eighteenth century: benevolent enlightenment government does not immediately come to mind. But also we have to bear in mind that this fabrique came from a nineteenth century Chinese park, which means that there might well be thread leading from there to European, and worldwide, thinking about public parks in the nineteenth century, which would have been in part shaped by the eighteenth-century landscape garden.

Although these questions of response need to be developed further, what I have tried to do here is to clarify the distinction between the fabrique and the pavilion, two categories that only occasionally overlap. The ‘pavilion’ has developed a life of its own because of its resonance with contemporary architectural practice and thinking, as the Pavilions project demonstrates; perhaps the fabrique could do so as well, as a force working against the shallow presentism that threatens to stiffly us.

© David R. Marshall 2018

[1] Jaś Elsner, Imperial Rome and Christian Triumph: The Art of the Roman Empire AD 100-450, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 157.

[2] Elsner, p. 175; Historia Augusta, Life of Hadrian, 26.

[3] William L. MacDonald and John A. Pinto, Hadrian’s Villa and its Legacy, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.p. 109.

Posted in All Posts, Architecture, Art, Arts and Crafts Movement, Baroque architecture, Baroque Gardens, Daylesford, English Gardens, Fabriques, Garden History, Rome, Town and Village, Uncategorized, Villa Castagna, Villas, Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Schloss Trautsmannsdorf Meditations 2: Jean-François de Bastide’s La Petite Maison and Architectural Seduction

Following my exploration of the somewhat unsatisfactory Garden for Lovers at Schloss Trautsmannsdorf ( it may be worth turning to eighteenth-century France for a very different approach to the erotic garden. The key text is Jean-François de Bastide’s La Petite Maison, first published in 1758 and available in an English translation as The Little House. an Architectural Seduction.[1]

As Anthony Vidler writes in the preface, Bastide’s little book is the product of ‘the marriage of two literary genres: the erotic libertine novella and the architectural treatise’.[2] The subtitle, which is an addition to the 1996 translation, refers to ‘seduction’, and the book is indeed about the way the Marquis de Trémicour uses architecture and gardens to seduce Mélite. ‘Seduction’ has two distinct inflections. Today it brings to mind a woman dressed to kill in slinky nightwear. It is about how women attract men, and can be seen as being empowering for women. In the eighteenth century it was all about men getting women to yield against their better judgement.[3] Eighteenth-century erotic stories—such as Laclos’ Les Liaisons Dangereux, filmed as Dangerous Liaisons (1988)—were preoccupied with the seduction of young virgins by older roués. This makes them problematic today, when the definition of rape is expanding, and when it can be argued that seduction in this sense is little different from rape in that it is not an act that it framed in terms of the woman’s interests. But the distinction should nevertheless be maintained, as rape is non-consensual, and often violent, whereas sex that results from seduction is consensual, although the woman may regret it afterwards.

Seduction is essentially a process of persuasion. In always involves argument, but the male seducer does not only rely on words to get the woman to consent: he has other weapons in his arsenal.[4] Alcohol can be one of these, and may be considered by the moral seducer to be legitimate insofar as it lowers the seducee’s inhibitions but does not render her incapable of making decisions for herself. This is summed up in Flanders and Swan’s comic song Have some Madeira, m’dear: ‘If it were gin, you’d be wrong to say yes / the evil gin does can be hard to assess / and besides it affects me prowess / so have some madeira, m’dear’. In the last stanza: ‘until the next morning, she woke up in bed / with a smile on her face, and an ache in her head / — and a beard at her earhole that tickled and said, ‘Have some Madeira, m’dear’, the point is that she has a consensual smile on her face, but also a hangover.

The moral slur on seduction is a legacy of a world where it was socially disastrous for a woman to have sex with the wrong man. It also reflects the fact that eighteenth-century seduction stories are obsessed with the contrast between the sexual experience of the seducer and the virginal innocence of the seducee. In a modern society where sexual partners are equal we do not talk of seduction, but perhaps we should. When two people are in a situation where pairing is a possibility, but when an affectionate bond does not yet exist,[5] both people will employ strategies of seduction to encourage the other. There is no need for the degree of sexual experience to be asymmetrical. Insofar as one person is committed to the idea of having sex with the other, and the other is not yet committed, the term ‘seduction’ can be applied without any distortion of meaning. But seduction strategies are also likely to be employed by both parties as part of the process by which each makes up their mind. Both may employ the weapons of a seducer’s arsenal, such as dress, deportment, and other forms of sexual display, as well as behavioural stratagems of one kind or another, to win the other over.

What makes Bastide’s novella interesting is that the weapons in the seducer’s arsenal come together in the space of a building and the gardens that surround it; indeed, it is architecture and gardens that seduce. Moreover, the seducee, Mélite, is seduced willingly. This may seem to be a contradiction in terms, but, having resisted the Marquis’s advances, she agrees to the wager that she would visit the Marquis’ petite maison without succumbing to his advances. In the end she does yield to him (although in an alternative ending she resists) because she underestimates the seductive power of the petite maison.

But who, or what, is Mélite? Whitehead calls her a courtesan; Scott an ingénue.[6] The fact that she agrees to a wager, one outcome of which is her own seduction, implies a worldliness that a true ingénue like Cécile de Volanges in Dangerous Liaisons clearly did not have.[7] Yet perhaps she is not quite a woman of the same class as her seducer like Cidalise in Crébillon fils’s The Opportunities of the Night. Mélite is certainly not a married woman. Parents and family are suspiciously absent. Bastide tells us that ‘she took to the company of men with great ease’ and, in a tortuous display of double negatives, calls her a flirt (p. 57). Proof of this was ‘her uninhibited manner, her airy talk, and a certain abandon’. At the same time ‘she had never played the coquette, and had yet to take a lover’ (p. 70) but ‘had been courted before, hundreds of times’ (p. 102). She is also young, and has educated herself in the arts. All this does rather sound like a courtesan at the beginning of her career, yet the point of her ‘wager’ with the Marquis was not financial. Or was it? Was it simply a way of assessing whether the Marquis would be a suitable ‘protector’? If he, in the form of his petite maison, can succeed in seducing her against her will, then he is a man who will be able give her what she wants. On this reading our understanding of the novella as a tract about how architecture can affect our sensations runs the risk of collapsing: it becomes a story about how a sexual transaction is effected through the medium of luxury goods. That Mélite recognises that the woodwork is by Pineau demonstrates neither the power of art to affect our sensations nor Mélite’s education, but merely the ability of a woman on the make to recognise a luxury brand name, and the willingness of her sugar daddy to offer them.

Yet we should not go so far. Bastide’s story is at pains to demonstrate Mélite’s fear of succumbing to the Marquis (and, implicitly, losing her virginity to him), while the Marquis clearly sees her seduction as a challenge to his prowess as a seducer. But Mélite is also an abstraction, a character who embodies the essence of a situation, without needed to be situated precisely in a social context. So perhaps we should take the story at face value: Mélite is a simply a woman with a flirtatious streak who likes to play with fire and who, as it turns out, over-estimates her capacity to resist.

Interestingly, according to the introduction by Rodolphe el-Khoury, the etymology of the term petite maison is not as obvious as it seems. While one tends to assume it is indeed a small house, like a garden pavilion, in the eighteenth century the term applied not only to these to what was often a substantial house and garden in the suburbs, used, at least in theory, for clandestine encounters. The etymology apparently is that such retreats were called “folies”, ‘in reference to the shield of foliage erected against the voyeurism of passers-by.’ But owing to ‘a chain of semantic slippages in popular Parisian humour: ”folie” literally means madness, and the Hôpital des Petites Maisons was the residence of choice for lunatics.’ [8] This explanation does seem rather complicated. The etymology usual given for the English ‘folly’ is rather different, for which see elsewhere.

Character and Sensation

The plot of La Petite Maison, driven as it by the ability of architecture to seduce, only became possible as the result of new developments in architectural theory (and the book is also an architectural treatise). These new ideas are most clearly set out a little later by Le Camus de Mézières in his The Genius of Architecture; or, the Analogy of that Art with our Sensations, first published in 1780.[9] Camus sets the Orders, the basis of architectural theory since Vitruvius, in a larger context. They are but elements of a whole, a whole which has a certain character, and which produces certain sensations. One responds emotionally to the effect of the whole. Hence at the theatre:

we see the enchanted Palace of Armida: all in splendor and delight; we guess that it was built at Love’s command. The scene changes: the abode of Pluto strikes horror and dread into our souls. We see the Temple of the Sun, and we respond with admiration. A view of a Prison inspires sadness; Apartments ready for a festival, surrounded by gardens, fountains, and flowers, excite gaiety and prepare us for pleasure.[10]

In this passage the emphasis is on the building type, but for Camus particular forms, especially lines, produce particular sensations. Taking his cue from Charles Le Brun, he argues that

every object possesses a character, proper to it alone, and that often a single line, a plain contour, will suffice to express it. The faces of the lion, the tiger, and the leopard are composed of lines that make them terrible and strike fear into the boldest hearts. In the face of the cat, we discern the character of treachery; meekness and goodness are written on the features of a lamb; the fox has a mask of cunning and guile: a single feature conveys their character.[11]

The aim of the architect is to arouse emotion, and he does so by combining forms selected for their character:

The arrangements of forms, their character, and their combination, are thus an inexhaustible source of illusion. We must start from this principle whenever we intend to arouse emotion through Architecture, when we set out to address the mind and to stimulate the soul, rather than to build by piling one stone on another …. .[12]

The task of the architect of a petite maison, then, is to produce in the seducee emotions that prompt her to yield to her seducer.

Designing for Seduction

In Bastide’s novella, the building is the prime site of seduction. This is understandable. Edenic sex is not popular when more private spaces are available; besides, it can be argued that it was the eighteenth-century that created the notion of sexual privacy. It has been pointed out Bastide’s building is in large part inspired by the Pavillon de Boissière of 1751, designed by Mathieu le Carpentier.[13] Plans of the pavilion (Fig. 1) and garden (Fig. 4), and elevations of the pavilion (Figs 2, 3), are available and are reproduced in the 1996 edition of Bastide. Yet this connection is not always pushed as far as it could be, and in what follows I will map the itinerary of Mélite and the Marquis onto these plans whenever possible.

The visit of Marquis and Mélite is framed by the experience of the garden. The spatial experience is quite complicated: after proceeding down a patte d’oie and avenue (which appear on the garden plan) they arrive at the forecourt where they find the service buildings—carriage houses, stables, dog kennel, but also a menagerie and a dairy (which do not). These are screened by a ‘simply decorated façade of a rustic and pastoral character that owed more to nature than to art’. ‘Ingeniously arranged openings in this wall allowed glimpses of endlessly varied orchards and vegetable gardens.’ These beckon, but the Marquis wants to lure Mélite inside, while she, to fend him off and irritate him, insists on exploring ‘the beauties closer to hand’, presumably the menagerie, dairy and so forth within the courtyard. She teases the Marquis by almost going indoors, then going back to examine something she had already seen.

Eventually they arrive at the main courtyard, which is surrounded by ‘fragrant trellises’. This might be identified with the garden to the right of the pavilion. Architecture and garden begin to work their magic: Mélite gasps at the sight of it. Evidently on the far side is the petite maison. The Marquis dismisses the servants and leads her up flights of steps to a salon ‘unequalled in all the universe’ opening onto the garden, readily identifiable with the Salon d’Eté at the Pavillon de Boissière, which is indeed an impressive round space with eight openings, five opening to the staircase and garden, the other three giving onto the first three rooms. This, too, begins to work its magic on Mélite: ‘so voluptuous was this salon that it inspired the tenderest feelings, feelings that one believes one could have only for its owner’ (p. 67). This is evasively and passively phrased, but is a remarkable statement that a building can evoke love (or lust).

Fortunately the light is failing, as the full effect of the salon required darkness. A valet appears to light the candles in the chandeliers and sconces (evidently not all servants had been dismissed). Their light is reflected in the mirrors, and ‘this added brilliance’ made the salon seem larger ‘and restated the object of Trémicourt’s impatient desires.’ What does Bastide mean by this curious statement? Is the object in question his goal of seducing Mélite?

At this point Mélite puts away coquettishness and reveals her education, taste and knowledge by demonstrating her connoisseurship. ‘She [had] learned to recognize the works of the best artists at a glance. She looked on their masterpieces with respect and awe, while their true value was lost to most other women’ (p. 72). She can name the artists and craftsmen whose works she finds in the Marquis’s petite maison, and can recognise the nature of their skill. As Ganofsky explains, ‘aesthesis (etymologically, ‘sensation’, had to be perfected by aesthetics (intellectual, artistic judgement) in order to lead to a pleasure beyond animal enjoyment’.[14] This is the philosophical underpinning of connoisseurship generally, and the idea that it is important to be able to discriminate on matters of quality in art. It is a sign of the degeneracy of our times that this has been reduced to brand recognition. In the eighteenth century the ‘brand’, the name of a famous artist, is only an indicator of quality; the point is to be able to discern quality.

Mélite’s recognition of the quality of the artistry and workmanship of the petite maison causes her to lavish praise on the Marquis, the man whose taste and discrimination had brought them into being. Mélite’s admiration of works of art is transferred from them to the Marquis. The Marquis may not prompt admiration in himself; but admiration for his beautifully crafted house rubs off on him. In this way the first step in Mélite’s seduction has been taken. But a less cultured woman would be less easy to seduce, because she would be incapable of understanding the artistry, and consequently could not truly admire it, and by extension the Marquis.[15]

The Marquis is well pleased that he has made such progress with the first room, and he ‘had better yet to show her. He trusted that she would be touched even more by more touching objects and thus hastened her to her destiny’ (p. 73).

They enter the bedroom at the right, a direction that corresponds precisely with the chambre à coucher in the Pavillon de la Boissière, as does its chamfered corners and the placing of the bed in a niche facing a window that overlooks the garden, here across the Grand Perron. To enter this they would need to pass through the Sallon à l’Italienne, which is the next room on the central axis, and which is effectively a vestibule that connects the four main spaces. In terms of the narrative it may seem strange that the Marquis should take Mélite straight to the bedroom, which ought to come at the end of his amorous itinerary. But, as we shall see, the bedroom is not the primary site of sedution. Presumably at the Pavillon de Boissière the bedroom is a bedroom for sleeping in, not a representational one, given that it is a suburban retreat, although a very grand one, but nonetheless it clearly here retains much of the function that bedrooms had had since Louis XIV as representational, rather than private, spaces. And indeed the Marquis has run the danger of frightening her off, because although this is also exquisitely decorated and furnished, Mélite is now aware of what is happening to her, and becomes nervous and silent.

But perhaps the Marquis’s strategy is to introduce her to the female quarters, since the next room is the boudoir. This corresponds to the petite chamber à coucher in the Pavillon de Boissière plan, which has a daybed corresponding to one Bastide describes. This can be reached though a vestibule at the top left corner of the bedroom, as well as from the Salon de Stuc. In Bastide this room has an extraordinary decoration which is described in detail in a passage that would be plagiarised by Le Camus almost thirty years later. Bastide writes that:

The walls of the boudoir were covered with mirrors whose joinery was concealed by carefully sculpted, leafy tree trunks. The trees, arranged to give the illusion of a quincunx, were heavy with flowers and laden with chandeliers. The light from their many candles receded into the opposite mirrors, which had been purposely veiled with hanging gauze. So magical was this optical effect that the boudoir could have been mistaken for natural woods, lit with the help of art.’[16]

Le Camus, also describing the boudoir in his room by room account of how to design a hotel, writes:

The boudoir would be still more delightful if the recess in which the bed is placed were to be lined with looking glasses, their joints concealed by carved tree trunks artfully arranged and leafed and painted to resemble nature. This would repeat to form a quincunx, which would be multiplied by the glasses. Candles, their light softened by gauzes in various degrees of tautness, would improve the effect. One might believe oneself to be in a grove; statues painted and suitably placed would enhance the pleasure and the illusion.[17]

This description may have been supplied by Blondel,[18] and apparently reappears frequently in the eighteenth century.[19]

I find it difficult to fully understand what Bastide is describing. The translation is not quite right: when it states that ‘mirrors whose joinery was concealed by carefully sculpted, leafy tree trunks’. The term ‘joinery’ implies woodwork, but the original French makes it clear that he is talking of the joins (joints) between the mirrors (et les joints de celles-ci masqués par des troncs d’arbres artificiels).[20] This is interesting because one associates mirrors with paintings covering the joins with the seventeenth century, as with the painted mirrors of the Palazzo Colonna. There the pieces of mirror glass are irregular in shape. For some reason Bastide’s words suggest to me regular panes of mirror glass arranged in a grid, although I could be wrong. But what does he mean by ‘the trees, arranged to give the illusion of a quincunx’ (Ces arbres sont disposés de manière qu’ils semblent former un quinconce)? A quincunx (the four points of a square with one in the middle) was the usual way of laying out an orchard, but that is in plan, and what the room showed was evidently in elevation. Or did he mean that there were five mirrors, each composed of smaller mirror panes, which were arranged in a quincunx pattern on the wall? Or is it description of something like the interior of the salon or winter garden in Ledoux’s Pavillon Guimard of 1770, as the 1996 edition of Bastide indicates (p. 77) (Fig. 5). This shows bays between columns alternating between curtains and trees apparently painted on mirrors. These consist of tree trunks in the lower half with foliage filling most of the upper part. There are some indications of perspective and in one there are, significantly, five tree trunks (the other seem to have six or more). So perhaps this is what he meant: an orchard-like group of trees that could form a quincunx in plan and seen in elevation with a little perspective. And perhaps the term ‘quincunx; was used as shorthand for a grove of trees.

Is this room an invention, a word-picture by Blondel-Bastide like the architectural descriptions in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili? Or does it describe an actual room, or possibly an unexecuted design for a room? The lack of clarity of the description suggests the latter: you would not write about quincunxes unless you were searching for words to describe something that existed.

Mirrors and Music

Mélite is impressed, but also suspicious of a person who could orchestrate ‘so many talents’. His sighs and gaze seem sincere, but she knows how well he can feign sincerity, and a boudoir is a dangerous place to be when her resolve is weakening. So she moves away to look in a mirror to adjust a pin in her coiffeur to gain a breathing space. But the Marquis is looking at her from the mirror opposite: ’in seeking a moment’s respite from Trémicour’s charms, Mélite had fallen into an even deeper trap’ (p. 79). It is interesting that the function of the mirror here is not to generate a sense of wonder , but the disorientation and vulnerability that a multiplicity of mirror images can produce. Mélite thinks that she is dealing with a simple, functional mirror; but the fact that mirrors face each other means that the Marquis can spy on her.[21]

This rattles her further, and the Marquis declares himself and grips her hand. He deems the moment right to have hidden musicians play. Trying to flee a space (the boudoir) that had become too threating, she enters a bathroom. There is no such room on the plan of the Pavillon de la Boissière, and the only spaces where it could possibly be fitted is the aforementioned vestibule, which clearly has a door in it, and another spatially wasteful vestibule towards the Salon de Stuc. The bathroom opens to a dressing-room, again not identifiable with a space on the plan. This suggests that in 1751, the date of the Pavillon de la Boissière, the need for a full-blown boudoir/bathroom/dressing-room complex was not yet felt, but that by 1758, the date of the first publication of La Petite Maison, these were felt to be a necessary adjunct at least to an ideal boudoir. Again, the exquisite workmanship and named artisans work their spell on Mélite:

… she felt weak, stifled even, and was forced to sit down. ‘I cannot take this any longer’, she said. ‘This house is too beautiful. There is nothing comparable on earth …’. (p. 83)

The Marquis then makes a long and curious speech. The issue between them has been the inherent insincerity of a known roué like the Marquis. He argues that because his imagination can create beautiful spaces that inspire love, he should receive some credit: ‘you will at least concede that so many things here capable of inspiring it [love] should honour my imagination’ (p. 84).

Which is, of course, not quite enough. He then goes on to assert that he is not really inconstant; to appear so is socially necessary:

‘there are objects made to arrest us and bring us back to the true, and when we happen to encounter them, we are more in love and more constant than others ’. (p. 85)

What are the objects he refers to? Mélite herself? Beautiful architecture? Or is this purely an abstraction? This seems to be the crux of the Marquis’s argument: because these ‘objects’ have brought him back to the ‘true’, he is in fact loving and constant. Nice try.

The Garden

The Marquis is interrupted by Mélite pointing out that she can still hear the music in the distance: ‘”I thought I had escaped it, yet from afar it is but more touching”. (What a confession!)’ (p. 85). The house having become so overpowering, Mélite now insists on going into the garden. On the way, in an action that to a modern reader (and seducer) may seem to be unerotic, he shows her a water-closet. In part this may be Bastide/Blondel taking the opportunity to show off the latest technology, but this space is a beautifully decorated (and pleasantly scented) space, and is clearly intended to be understood as something appropriate to an erotic journey. There may be two aspects to this. One is that, in an era when good hygiene was not easily attained, the prospect that even the most squalid side of being human could be framed by beauty can work on Mélite’s emotions like the rest. The other is that women bathing their private parts is an important theme in eighteenth-century French erotic imagery. But it may also be simply a test, such as the one that is useful with restaurants: if the toilets are good and clean, the restaurant will be a good one. This is more or less what Le Camus is saying when he writes of the ‘closet of ease’ (a room with a close-stool) that ‘when a closet is pretty, one does not suppose the other rooms neglected.’[22] Le Camus gives a separate entry for the water-closet, which ends: ‘but, once again, this room must not offer an elegance that would be out of keeping with the rest; without a just relation between the parts and the whole, there is no architecture’:[23] that is, it is necessary for all parts of a building, including the toilet, to be equally beautiful.

They ‘exit’ and go through a ‘wardrobe’ (garderobe) which might be a ‘closet for clothing’,[24] although this did not normally constitute a passageway. This might correspond to the aforementioned vestibule between boudoir and Salon de Stuc. But it has a stair leading down to a ‘mysterious mezzanine’, and there is a narrow passageway leading to a service stair at the top left of the boudoir plan. It is not very clear how many stories the Pavillon de la Boissière has. The service staircase could be interpreted as leading either down or up, with the return flight shown dotted, and on the other side of the Sallon de Stuc is a noble staircase that can only be read as leading up. An inscription at the top left of the plan refers to a mezzanine above the Petite chamber à coucher and the Cabinet.[25] The entrance elevation (Fig. 2) shows three discrete roof sections corresponding to the Salon d’Eté, the Chambre à coucher and the Sallon d’Hiver, the last two shifted slightly towards the central axis. The garden elevation (Fig. 3) shows two wider roofs of the same height each corresponding to the second bay of the peristyle and the one next to it, and a lantern that must light the Sallon de Stuc as the plan shows a corresponding dotted circle here. None of these roofs, however, would seem to permit much of a mezzanine. The main floor is labelled the ‘bel-étage’ and is raised on a high plinth that would permit a semi-underground basement for kitchens and so forth, which might receive natural light from windows along the side elevations which were not engraved by Le Carpentier.

Quite what is happening at the Pavillon de la Boissière is far from clear, but more to the point, why does Bastide bother to mention this to a ‘mysterious mezzanine’? It hardly seems to contribute to the story. The garderobe opens onto ‘the vestibule’ which they cross ‘again’ on the way back to the salon (p 88).[26] This vestibule may correspond to the Salon à l’Italienne which is in the centre of the building and opens onto both the salon and the Chambre à coucher, though not to the space tentatively identified with the garderobe. This vestibule was not in fact mentioned earlier, but when Bastide writes earlier that ‘they entered into a bedroom at the right’ he must have been thinking of the route via the vestibule/Salon à l’Italienne, even though there seems to be a narrow passageway directly linking the salon and the Chambre à coucher.

But if we look at the plan of the Pavillon de la Boissière there does not seem to be much point in returning to the Salon d’Eté, which is on the entrance side. It makes more sense to enter the Salon de Stuc, which opens to the garden side. Besides, Bastide writes that the Marquis ‘opened the door to the garden’ (p. 88). The Salon de Stuc has one such door, whereas the Salon d’Eté had five.

On the door being opened, Mélite is confronted with ‘the breathtaking vista of an ampitheatrically arranged garden, lit by two thousand lanterns’ (p. 88). On the garden plan of the Pavillon de la Boissière there is what appears to be a grass parterre with an oval pond. The back of the parterre is slightly cut into a rise, and there is a flight of a few steps. Beyond is what appears to be another banks with steps and vases, and a semi-circular grass parterre with a central feature, perhaps a statue or fountain, set against treillage that screens a block of trees. This undoubtedly fits the category of a garden terrace with an ampitheatrical layout, as engraved in Blondel’s Cours and reproduced in the 1996 edition of Bastide (Fig. 6). The absence of trees on the parterres between this and the house would be to give an unobstructed view of the ampitheatre.

To the right of all this on the plan is a solid block of trees containing a bosquet, while on the left is another grass parterre with avenues lined with trees. We might suppose that it is the foliage of these trees, but especially those lining the avenues, that ‘was still beautiful, resplendent in the studied lighting’, although less evident on the plan are the ‘artfully disposed water jets and reflecting pools’. The lighting master (Tremblin) has placed terrines near the house, and ‘lanterns of different sizes in the distance’, the differing sizes perhaps creating effects of forced perspective. There are illuminations at the end of the main allés, fanfares, and a lone voice in the distance singing an aria from Issé. And more (pp. 88-89).

This all works for Mélite, who is enchanted, until the Marquis leads her into a dark path, which leads her to a darker one. One might want to identify this with the bosquet at the bottom of the plan, which has avenues through dense trees. She feels ill at ease, the threat clearly being the Marquis. But he turns this around by arranging for a burst of artillery fire, which frightens Mélite into grasping the Marquis for reassurance. She realises her mistake, but then fireworks reveal in his face ‘a deep and submissive love’. So she fails to pull away from him: she catches ‘a glimpse of her fate in his amorous gaze, and in his expectant sighs, she heard the mighty voice of an oracle decreeing her defeat’ (pp. 92-93).

Return to the Pavillon

But she manages to resist, insisting on leaving the garden. The Marquis knows better than to stop her, but insists that they look at the ‘apartment to he left of the Salon’. The rooms she has been shown, mapped onto the plan of those at the Pavillon de la Boissière, are those on the right (Chambre à coucher and the Petite chambre à coucher/boudoir); the corresponding rooms on the left are the Salon d’Hiver and the Cabinet (Fig. 7). Mélite insists that she has seen enough, but the Marquis points out that will not have fulfilled her part of the wager unless she sees it all. They go back to the Salon —that is, the Salon d’Eté—which on the Pavillon de la Boissière plans involves either going up the garden stairs and through the centre of the house, or—and this better fits my reading of where they are in the garden—up the Grand Perron (staircase) for the second time directly into the Salon. He leads her into a games room decorated in chinoiserie style, which we can identify with the Salon d’Hiver (p. 94).

From the already opened window ‘she recognised in the view the place she had just fled’, that is, the bosquet noted earlier, which is in the right position on the plan. It seems that the Marquis has a deliberate strategy: by leading her into this room where she can see the place where she grasped the Marquis in terror of the cannon fire, when her virtue was most in danger, he can keep alive in her the memory of that dangerous but exciting moment. When Mélite comes back at him he distracts her by getting her to admire the chinoiserie decoration (p. 95).

Next door is a cabinet used solely for taking coffee, which corresponds to the Cabinet in the plan. This, according to Bastide, opens onto the boudoir, which it does not in the plan. The chinoiserie room also opens onto ‘a dining room preceded by a pantry that was also accessible from the vestibule’ (p. 96). The vestibule appeared earlier, as was noted above, when it made sense to suppose it was the Salon à l’Italienne. Although it is hard to fit the pantry in, and we need to ignore the curved staircase, it is nevertheless possible to identify the dining room with the Salon de Stuc, specially as it is later described in detail as being decorated with stuccoes and reliefs. Once again Mélite is impressed, but less through her sensations than by price and brand: ‘asking the prices of things and the names of artists and artisans’ (p. 96). She is so impressed that ‘she truly forgot where she was, that she was in a petite maison, in the company of a man who had wagered to seduce her with the beauties she now contemplated with so little inhibition and praised with so much candor’ (p. 97).

In the dining room, a servantless meal is laid out, the next stage in the Marquis’s carefully planned seduction strategy. That this is the climactic scene is suggested by the fact that this is what was chosen for the only illustration in the 1879 edition, which shows a table with a tureen or something similar on it (Fig. 8). The illustrator, Adolphe Lalauze,[27] shows a room that seems to be round or oval, with stuccoes or frescoes above the cornice line, and wall panels ornamented with presumably gilded wood-carvings surrounding painted single figures. There is an overdoor in an rococo frame, candle sconces, a console and parquet flooring.

Melite starts brooding, but is startled back into her appreciative, seduction-ready frame of mind by the table disappearing into the floor to be replaced by one coming down from above. The table coming up from the floor is conceivable in the Sallon de stuc; the one coming down from above is not, as there is a lantern here. This is another instance of Bastide making his petite maison as feature-rich as possible. The Marquis declares his love, and is making headway, because ‘nothing alarmed her defences, for she was not being attacked. She was being adored, and adored silently’ (pp. 102-3).


The space of the final seduction seems to emerge from the narrative rather than the plan of the Pavillon de la Boissière. Implicitly Mélite and the Marquis are still in the dining room/Salon de Stuc. In her confusion, Mélite attempts to flee, but opens the wrong door into ‘a second boudoir’. From the plan this room could as well have been the first boudoir, but evidently Bastide wanted to create a room yet more perfectly suited to the final moments of a seduction. As if anticipating (or originating?) the cliché of ‘come up and see my etchings’, this is furnished with framed etchings, dimly lit. Although described as a ‘boudoir’, this room is in a sense a masculine one. Traditional masculine rooms, however, like smoking-rooms, were designed for men exclusively to engage in male pastimes and employed male furnishing iconography. Conversely the boudoir was exclusively female territory. This makes the boudoir a problematic space for a seducer: the woman is too much in control. (The main bedroom, as we have seen, still had too many ceremonial associations to be suitable.) This room Bastide describes is something else: it is male territory, but needs to be attractive to a woman and a place where she can be comfortable. It is a room that Mélite would not have entered willingly, since it would on sight have signalled to her its function as a seducer’s den, so the Marquis employs the stratagem of standing on her dress, so that ‘in turning her head to disengage her dress, she would not see the place she was entering’ (p. 106). This is what Lalauze’s illustration carefully describes: the Marquis gestures towards Mélite and places one foot delicately on her dress. She arches her back as if moving in retreat from him and parts a door-curtain in order to enter the next room, which will not be visible to her until she has passed through the curtain.

Hence the need for Bastide to invent a room that is not in the the Pavillon de la Boissière. [27a]. Its furnishing iconography is mixed: framed etchings, such as one would find in a man’s cabinet or study, and dimly lit in a way suitable for seduction. The wall hangings are extremely luxurious (which, as we have seen, works for Mélite) and soft: it is hung with ‘thick green gourgouran’, a striped silk fabric where the stripes are alternately shiny and matte (Fig. 9). This is the only room in Bastide’s description that is hung with fabrics. It has ‘ottomanes’, ‘duchesses’ and ‘sultanes’; in other words, a lot of upholstered furniture for lying on, such as was to be found in boudoirs. ‘Shaking with fear, Mélite felt faint, she collapsed almost into a bergère’ (p. 108). A bergère’ is an upholstered chair, signifying that even at the bitter end Mélite chooses a respectably upright place to collapse into. After much dialogue ending in ellipses, ‘Mélite shuddered, faltered, sighed, and lost the wager’ (p.110). Presumably at this point the ‘ottomanes’, ‘duchesses’ and ‘sultanes’ were brought into play.


What emerges from all this? First, as an account of how architecture can be experienced, it is surprisingly limited. Mélite is seduced, essentially, by her appreciation of beautiful crafted and expensive interiors by important artisans. These interiors evoke the same kind of wonder that makes Mélite forget her situation, go weak at the knees, and forget her resolve. The Marquis’s strategy is to dazzle her with his building or garden so that her resistance wavers, then back off when she becomes twitchy, before revealing another wonder. But is not as if each room evokes a different emotion according to its decoration. This line of thinking owes much to the pathognomics of Le Brun, who distinguished between emotions recorded in facial expressions with great specificity; Le Camus and Bastide /Blondel do not go so far.

Rather, the architecture of sensation as described by Le Camus de Méziéres is most strongly aligned to discrete building types, so that, while the emotion induced by the petite maison differs from, say, those induced by a prison or tomb, this emotion is not discriminated further. To be sure, Le Camus does address the question of the relationship of one room to another, but is more concerned with not boring the visitor with too much repetitive opulence (‘too much opulence is burdensome; it flatters the vanity, but we easily tire of it).[28] He writes that:

A progression in the richness of the ornament is prescribed; but this is a delicate matter, and it requires great taste and prudence. Always pass from simplicity to opulence: thus, the vestibule is less ornate than the antechambers; the antechambers less so than the salons and cabinets, etc. . . .[29]

In Bastide’s book there is no awareness of such distinctions: the first room described, the salon, is as opulent as any of the others. Indeed, I would argue that the absence of such sequencing limits the possibility of his narrative. The narrative is propelled by events, especially sounds, while each episode of architectural description has essentially the same function of generating a sense of wonder in Mélite that can be transferred to the Marquis.

Le Camus does refer to the particular character of rooms, but tells us nothing about the particular sensations individual rooms might generate, only that each gives us an appetite for the next:

Each room must have its own particular character. The analogy, the relation of proportions, decides our sensations; each room makes us want the next; and this engages our minds and holds them in suspense. It is a satisfaction in itself.[30]

Would it have be possible to do today what Bastide and Le Camus failed to do? Could we argue that something corresponding to the stuccoed Sallon de stuc can generate a different response from something corresponding to the chinoiserie Salon d’Hiver? To ask this question we run the risk of moving from an architecture of sensation to an architecture of association: a Sallon de stuc, if modelled on the stuccoes of the Golden House of Nero, might generate associations with ancient Rome, while a Salon d’Hiver might generate associations with China. But this would be to move beyond the world of Bastide, Blondel and Le Camus, for whom decorative genres were but variations on the theme of exquisite artifice.

What is crucial to the seduction process is the Marquis’s carefully planned itinerary through building and garden, so that each new wonder, revealed at a crucial moment, serves to weaken Mélite’s resolve. It involves a series of carefully staged events, many of which involve music or sound of some kind. Matters approach a climax when he leads her down a dark alley in the garden and startles her into clinging to him for reassurance when cannon go off. He keeps matters on the boil by showing him the second part of the house, reminding her of the excitement of their garden embrace by having its site in view from the window, and putting pressure on her by offering her a meal. All the while he pleads his case. On multiple occasions Mélite tries to get away, but is not very determined about it. At the end, in confusion, she goes by error into the Marquis’s softly upholstered inner sanctum, where she succumbs.

As far as the garden is concerned, it is primarily a site of wonder. Ampitheatrical terraces and garden lighting make it so. But it is also a place with dark corners that offer opportunities for physical contact. These dark corners appear to Mélite to be a greater danger than the pavilion, though in this she is mistaken. The final seduction takes place as far from the garden as possible, in a darkened room (no windows are mentioned) in the heart of the house.

[1] Jean-François de Bastide, La Petite Maison, in Le Nouveau Spectateur, no. 2, 1758, pp. 361-412, republished in Jean-François de Bastide, Contes, vol. II, Paris, 1763, pp. 47–88. The translation of Bastide is based on the 1879 edition. There do not seem to be any variations between the editions. Jean-François de Bastide, The Little House: an architectural seduction, translation and introduction by Rodolphe el_Khoury, preface by Anthony Vidler, Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. Useful are: Paul Young, ‘Looking inside: The Ambiguous Interiors of “La Petite Maison”’, South Atlantic Review, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Winter, 2006), pp. 20–41; Mark Taylor, Planting for Pleasure: The Eighteenth-Century Erotic Garden, Interiors, 2:3, pp. 357–371.

[2] Bastide, 1996, p. 9.

[3] It is interesting how the two senses of ‘seduction’ tend to be mutually exclusive. The slinky nightwear version is the exclusive theme of Caroline Cox, Seduction, a celebration of sensual style, London: Mitchell Beazely, 2006, whereas the other variety is the exclusive concern of Robert Meister (ed.), A Literary Guide to Seduction, London: Elek Books, 1963.

[4] Literature can be one of these. Leslie A. Fielder, in the introduction to Meister, 1963, discusses how literature ‘has been used to soften literarily-inclined ladies for the erotic kill’. Leslie A. Fielder, ‘Introduction’, in Meister, 1963, pp. 9–14, on p. 9.

[5] Robert Meister, writing in 1963, asserts that ‘the existence of an affectionate bond between the seducer and the object precludes seduction; if such a bond exists the relationship belongs in the category of courtship’. Robert Meister, ‘Foreword’, in Meister, 1963, pp. 15–20, on p. 16.

[6] Katie Scott, The Rococo Interior, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 159. John Whitehead, French Interiors of the 18th Century, London: Laurence King, 2009 (first ed. 1992), p. 73.

[7] The seduction of Cécile de Volanges by the Vicomte de Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons is morally dubious, given her extreme innocence and the greater knowledge and power that Valmont has by virtue of his experience and his indifference to the consequences for her of their relationship. In Crébillon fils’s The Opportunities of the Night the relationship between Cidalise (the woman) and Clitandre (the man) is far more equal and more like that between Melite and Trémicour: both are fully conversant of the rules of the game they are playing to the extent that it is more foreplay than seduction, except that if Clitandre plays his cards wrong he may be sent packing.

[8] El Khoury, in Bastide, 1996, p. 21.

[9] Le Camus de Mézières, Nicolas, The Genius of Architecture; or, the Analogy of that Art with our Sensations, Santa Monica: The Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities, 1992 Introduction by Robin Middleton. Originally published as La Génie de l’Architecture, ou l’analogie de cet art avec nos sensations. Paris, 1780.

[10] Le Camus, p. 71.

[11] Le Camus, p. 70.

[12] Le Camus, p. 71.

[13] El-Khoury, in Bastide, p. 24. There seems to be surprisingly little literature on this. The source of the four engraving (plan and two elevations of the pavillon and a plan of garden are given in Bastide 1996 as the Bibliothéque Nationale, but the images are not on Gallica. There is a copy of the image of the pavillon plan on the White House website, which informs us that it was later purchased by the American president James Monroe: ‘This plan was published by Georges-Louis Le Rouge around 1773-1777. The plan shows the main floor at the Folie de la Bouëxière, the estate future president James Monroe purchased on March 28, 1795 while serving as the United States Minister to France under President George Washington. The floor plan, with oval, round, and octagonal shaped rooms, is designed for entertaining and receptions, not the day to day family life of that time. / Monroe purchased the estate for 350,000 francs and lived there with wife Elizabeth, daughter Elizabeth “Eliza” Kortright Monroe, seven servants, a chef, a coachman, and a gardener for two years. The Monroes entertained at the estate, inviting a social circle that included other Americans and French officials.’

[14] Ganofsky, p. 220.

[15] Bastide and Blondel make this point in another book, not yet consulted, but cited in Ganofsky, p. 219: Jean-François de Bastide and Jean-François Blondel, L’Homme du monde éclairé par les arts, Paris: Monory, 1774. Ganofsky: ‘the hero is baffled as he discovers that the lady who inhabits one of Paris’ most elegant and artful houses is in fact absolutely insensitive to, and unaware of, its beauty. … her perception … never becomes an aesthetic appreciation which would comprise a superior form of judgement at once voluptuous and intellectual.’

[16] Bastide, pp. 75–76. Bastide, 1879: ‘Toutes les murailles en sont revêtues de glaces, et les joints de celles-ci masqués par des troncs d’arbres artificiels, mais sculptés, massés et feuilles avec un art admirable. Ces arbres sont disposés de manière qu’ils semblent former un quinconce; ils sont jonchés de fleurs et chargés de girandoles dont les bougies procurent une lumière graduée dans les glaces, par le soin qu’on a pris, dans le fond de la pièce, d’étendre des gazes plus ou moins serrées sur ces corps transparens, magie qui s’accorde si bien avec l’effet de l’optique que l’on croit être dans un bosquet naturel éclairé par le secours de l’art.

[17] Le Camus, p. 116.

[18] Young, p. 25 and note 18. On Blondel and Bastide, see Vidler in Bastide, 1996.

[19] Young, p. 24 and note 12, p. 25 and note 17, cites Vivant Denon and Jean-François de Bastide, Point de Lendemain suivi de La Petite Maison, Paris, 1777 edited by Michel Delon, Paris: Gallimard, 1995, p. 94 and p. 199, note 2, where the narrator finds himself in a room resembling: ‘un bosquet aérien, qui, sans issue, semblait ne tenir et ne porter sur rien; enfin je me trouvai comme dans une vaste cage entièrement de glaces.’

[20] This is not the only problem with the translation. On p. 70 ‘Le jour finissoit : un nègre vint allumer trente bougies que portoient un lustre …’ is translated as “The day was drawing to a close and the light waned; a valet came to light the thirty candles held by a chandelier …’. ‘Nègre’ has been sanitised to ‘valet’ and the economical ‘Le jour finissoit’ has been filled out to ‘the day was drawing to a close and the light waned’.

[21] Katie Scott (The Rococo Interior, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 159), referring to this passage, observes that ‘architects manipulated and exaggerated the effects of parallax by combining mirrors, painted perspectives and fenestration in such a way as to surprise and disorientate—at Bastide’s Petite Maison, the scene of an ingenue’s seduction, to quite devastating immoral effect.’ This makes the passage sound like something other than what it is.

[22] Le Camus, p. 121.

[23] Le Camus, p. 122.

[24] Le Camus, p. 32.

[25]Les Pieces A B portent Entre-solles’.

[26] Bastide, 1879: ‘Cette garderobe degage dans le vestibule. Mélite et le marquis repassèrent par le salon.’

[27] Adolphe Lalauze (1838–1906) was an etcher and book-illustrator.

[27a] Ed Lilley, ‘The Name of the Boudoir’, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 53, 1994, pp. 193–98 discuses this ‘second boudoir’ but does not distinguish it functionally from the first (pp. 197–98). He notes that ‘the association of boudoir with seduction is commonplace’ and that ‘these boudoirs must surely imply some pre-existing female occupation which, had she stopped to think, might have given her pause’ (p. 198). The accompanying illustration is Nicolas Lavreince, L’heureux moment, engraved Nocolas de Launay, c. 17778) which shows a women receiving the addresses of her lover in her boudoir. But what takes place in Lavreince’s image is very different from what is happening in Bastide. It shows a woman in her boudoir, which is her private space, into which she has invited her lover. She is in control of the space, and although it might technically be a seduction, by inviting her lover into her boudoir she is half-way to accepting him: as with Cidalise and Clitandre in Crebillon fils. In Bastide’s story the whole pavillon in male territory, the territory of the Marquis, including this second boudoir, even though Bastide gives it the name of a normally female space. The first boudoir is a female space, and, as Lilley rightly points out, implies ‘some pre-existing female occupation’. These, of course, are the Marquis’s other lovers; the point of showing her the first boudoir is that it would become Mélite’s private territory should she submit to the Marquis.

[28] Le Camus, p. 89.

[29] Le Camus, p. 88.

[30] Le Camus, p. 88.

©David R. Marshall 2018

Posted in All Posts, Architecture, Art, Baroque architecture, Baroque Gardens, Fabriques, Garden History, Uncategorized, Villas | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Painting near Willem van Nieulandt II of the Colosseum and S. Croce in Gerusalemme

In the Museum at Montepulciano is a painting on panel with ruins, a church, and the Colosseum. It is catalogued as ‘Romanised Northern painter, Landscape with Roman ruins and figures. Mid-16th century. Oil on panel’ (Fig. 1).[1] It bears the inscription ‘DP’ on the column at bottom right. I think this is the vertical column between two sheep, which on my photo has something on it that I cannot read properly (Fig. 2). This need not mean anything. There is also apparently an inscription on the back reading ‘Di Carlo Panichi 1797’, referring to a later owner.

At first glance this looked to me to be close to the two Willem van Nieulandts, Willem van Nieulandt I (1560-Rome, 1626), in Rome from 1596-1626, and his nephew and pupil Willem van Nieulandt II, who was working in Rome from about 1601/02-1604, especially the latter. It seems much weaker (the cows are comical (Fig. 3) and the condition is poor, but the painting should be associated with the name of Willem van Nieulandt II.

Willem van Nieulandt II assembled his compositions from several motifs. This practice went back to the first ‘independent’ landscapes painted by Joachim Patinir at the beginning of the sixteenth century in Antwerp. Patinir was able to create an ‘independent’, or free-standing landscape by employing a spatial framework—normally a high vertical wing on one side, with a flat open plane or sea on the other, without a middle distance. Within that framework he could add in components made from drawings that at some stage may have been observed. But Patinir was not capable of painting a ‘prospect’: that is, a painting that wholly constituted a view of a place seen from a particular point. A good example is his Martyrdom of St Catherine, where you see the high wedge at the right and the open plane at the left (Fig. 4). On this plane are disposed objects seen from a variety of viewpoints: the two houses are seen from above, probably based on a drawing taken from a hillside, while the castle is seen in ‘elevation’ (Fig. 5). Only with the generation of Claude Lorrain in about the second decade of the seventeenth century do artists succeed in painting true prospects, a fact that they celebrated by frequently including in their drawings and paintings the figure of an artist sketching.

Van Nieulandt predated that development, and followed Patinir’s practice, but with some variations of his own, in particular the use of a long receding diagonal on the ‘distant’ side where Patinir used a flat plane with features like promontories stacked one above the other. This enabled van Nieulandt to create a better transition to the background, so that we do see a middle ground, but there is still a sudden jump over a wedge or wing from here to the foreground. A good example is one found on the internet without proper data (Fig. 6). The first wedge, of ‘hyperbolic’ type, is in shadow and has a statue of a satyr. The next has a version of the Septizonium (or Septizodium) which demonstrates his dependence on prints, since the Septizonium, which was on the corner of the Palatine facing the Circus Maximus, was long gone by the time van Nieulandt was working. The best known representation is a print by Lafréry, and the treatment of the motif here is worth exploring further. Beyond that is a Roman tomb based on the so-called Tomb of the Horatii and Curatii at Albano, which in fact is only small. This he seems to have derived from Paul Bril, who used this in an etching that was etched by Willem van Nieulandt II made in 1602-05 but only published in 1635 (Fig. 7).[2] On the other side is the Temple of Saturn in the Forum, the round temple by the Tiber, and a long wall with a wooded hill behind which is probably inspired by the wall along the Campo Vaccino and Sacra Via at the foot of the Palatine. Saint Peter’s is in the background.

In the painting in Montepulciano we can recognise easily the Colosseum and the Tor di Conti (Fig. 8). The church is less obvious. Topographically speaking, given its relationship to the Colosseum, one would like it to be S. Gregorio Magno, but it is nothing like that and, as I said, Nieulandt assembled his compositions from discrete motifs. The church has the high viewpoint and the look of print by Maggi prints made for the Holy Years of 1600 and 1625, and sure enough it turns out to be S. Croce in Gerusalemme (Fig. 9). The correspondence is not exact, but the key details are the relationship of the campanile to the church (it is on the right) and the little portico like the one at S. Cosimato. Its position and the forecourts are simplified somewhat but it is recognisably the same. Maggi shows the ruins of the apse of the civic basilica of the imperial palace, which was enlarged by the Emperor Constantine and his mother, Helena, and there are ruins in the corresponding position in the painting (Fig. 1), but these are quite different and from another source altogether. What is highly suggestive is the relationship between the is long wall in Maggi that curves around the Roman ruins in a series of straight steps and the curved wall in the painting (Fig. 10), even if is topographically in a different place.

The unit of Colosseum, Tor di Conti and S. Croce in Gerusalemme appears in a painting on copper (50 x 66 cm) by Willem van Nieulandt II in a private collection that has been entitled A Capriccio View of Rome on copper that is in the Web Gallery of Art where it is dated to the 1620s (Figs. 11, 12). A palm tree has been inserted behind the church and camels in front of it which signals that it is set in the Holy Land and has a subject to match. What that subject might be is not immediately clear. There is a statue of Jupiter with thunderbolt and eagle forming a fountain. A mask in the base spills water into a round basin where women in antique dress are gathering water in colourful vases (Fig. 13). One gives water to a man in humble clothing, kneeling with a staff (Fig. 14). On the other side are two men and two women who seem to be doing a deal over a piece of fancy fabric (Fig. 15). One of the women wears a colourful carpet-like cloth like a zingara and intended to show they are in the East, and the other has a broad brimmed round travelling hat with fabric side flaps. The women are presumably customers, and the men, who have their backs to us, merchants. In the foreground are goats, dogs, sheep, and various agricultural implements including a scythe.

The subject that fits this best is the story of Eliezer and Rebecca at the well. Eliezer is a servant of Abraham who is sent to Abraham’s home town to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac. She reveals herself to Eliezer as a suitable wife by offering him, and then his camels, water. This subject was quite popular with early seventeenth-century Dutch Italianate painters.

If this is by Willem van Nieulandt II in the 1620s it was painted in the Netherlands. Apparently Willem II mined his Roman material for the rest of his life, but one wonders what was the role of Willem I, who was there for a long time. Worth investigating is a drawing of the Colosseum given to Willem I (Fig. 16), but this is from a different angle and doesn’t seem to have much in common with the treatments in question.[3] Also of interest is a signed painting recently at Dorotheum as ‘Willem van Nieulandt’ , evidently II from the dates (Fig. 17).[4] This has an intriguing subject which needs to be investigated further.

With regards to the attribution of the Montepulciano painting, a comparison of the Colosseum and S. Croce in Gerusalemme areas with the Eliezer and Rebecca (Fig. 18) reveals how weak the Montepulciano picture use. The Tor di Conti is barely intelligible, and all the other details are much more crudely done, often without a full understanding of what is being represented. This cannot all be attributed to condition, so one must suppose that it is by a follower, or a more or less contemporary attempt at a copy.


[2] Willem Adriaensz. van Nieulandt II, after Paul Bril, published by Bonenfant, Landscape with Tobias and the Angel, from Italian Landscapes, 1602-1605 (but published after 1635). Etching, 234 x 314 mm. London, British Museum, 1874,0808.2089. Lettered in lower margin: “P. Bril Inue. / nieulant fecit” and “A. Bonenfant excu. / Auec priuile. du Roy.”. Full BM description: ‘Landscape with Tobias and the angel on a road in right foreground, shepherds near ruins in left foreground, a ruined tower in right background, other shepherds and their flocks in middle distance; second state with address of Bonenfant but before number. BM description: This is one from a series of thirty-six plates showing Italian landscapes after Paul Bril by Willem van Nieulandt (Hollstein 76-111). The BM only holds this plate. Hollstein 76-111.II Purchased from: Charles Francis Arnold Howard, 5th Earl of Wicklow. Previous owner/ex-collection: Hugh Howard.

[3] Willem van Nieulandt the Elder (Flemish, died 1626), View of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine. Pen and Ink. 26.7 x 41.1 cm. Unknown sale, 17 November 1993.

[4] Willem van Nieulandt [II] (Antwerp 1584–1635 Amsterdam), View of a town with Roman ruins and figures, signed lower right: G. V. NIEVLANT, oil on panel, 26.3 x 36.1 cm, framed. Provenance: Private collection, Belgium. This was sold at Dorotheum on 25 April 2017, lot 226, reaching EUR 19,117.

©David R. Marshall 2018

Posted in All Posts, Architecture, Art, Baroque architecture, Rome, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Schloss Trautmannsdorf Meditations I: the Problematic of Gardens for Lovers

The garden at Schloss Trautmannsdorf is a kind of Eden Project, a new garden created from 1995 and opened in 2001 (Fig. 1). The castle, which has had a sorry history, contains the provincial tourism museum, or Touriseum, which is part of the visit. The whole is owned by the semi-autonomous provincial administration of South Tyrol/Alto Adige. This region of Italy is predominantly German-speaking and until the end of WW1 was a part of Austria. It has an active secessionist movement and recently the new right-wing Austrian government said that it would offer Austrian citizenship to German speakers of the province.

As a tourism venture the garden at Schloss Trautsmandorff is clearly a great success, and even on a Tuesday in June it had a capacity problem. After a long grind to get clear of the city on the number 4 bus from the station, the whole busload debouched at the garden. The ticket queue was very slow so I bailed out to the toilets expecting it to clear. But when I emerged the queue was four times as long. I asserted my right to my original position in the queue and eventually got my ticket. Only two of four ticket booths were in operation. Nor were there any free tables at the restaurant for lunch. Presumably it is worse on summer weekends. Almost all visitors were German speaking, and probably German. I heard British English once or twice, but Italian hardly ever. This was, apparently, partly because the school holidays in Germany and Austria had already begun, but not yet in Italy.

The garden climbs up the side of the mountains with the alps on the Austrian border forming impressive ramparts on the far side of the valley (Fig. 2). There are various areas themed by plant geography, but not very rigorously. A complicated and messy framework half way up the hill proved to be a succulents garden; the framework would be used to cover it in winter (Fig. 3). There is a great deal of bedding out (Fig. 3a). The trope of Australian primitivism is insisted upon with a Wollemi pine in a steel cage (also covered in winter), accompanied by a Tyrannosaurus (Fig. 4).

Here I will focus here on the architectural elements, which on the whole did not please me. Features like a descending cascade are brutally functional (Fig. 5), and there is rather too much stainless steel for me. Equally brutal was a pavilion beside the lake which in a Chinese garden would be much more interesting (Fig. 6). There were a number of what can be describes as fabriques, designed by artists. Adjacent labels outline the artists’ intentions, but the artists are never named. I suspect that these kind of garden features are already period pieces, and that the moment when artists discovered gardens, exemplified by the Chaumont garden festival, has already passed. What strikes me about such works is that there is usually a disconnect between an often conceptually ponderous conception and its realisation.

A kind of bus shelter beside the main lake is supposed to give you the impression of looking up from the bottom of the lake to see the hulls of boats above, or else leaves (Fig. 7–8). But because the undersides are flat and the tops rounded it looks instead like upside-down boats. I read it as being a take on something Pacific islanders might have done, creating a shelter out of upturned boats. Try as I might I could not get myself to read them as boats on the surface of water above me. The roof looked like copper from a distance, but close up may have been treated steel of some kind. It consisted on bands of this metal folded and overlapped, with a channel drip moulding underneath (Fig. 9). It has a surface something like a bread roll. The underside was narrow tongue and groove boards.

Another fabrique looked like a beehive (Fig. 10). There was another beehive shaped building clad with shingles that contained an actual beehive, which could be pulled apart to show the hive (Fig. 11). This worked well enough, in part because it had a clear function and was not ‘Art’. The fabrique in question was supposed to be ‘copper coloured’, but in fact seemed to be of flat annuluses of mild steel stacked one above the other to form a dome that you could enter (Fig. 12). You could descend a few circular steps in the middle, but why would you (Fig. 13)? There were little coloured rectangles of coloured plastic hanging from the steel rings (Fig. 14). The concept—which I only mastered from studying the label—was ‘a massive pile of leaves’. ‘The copper-coloured plates lie on top of one another like shingles, letting diffused sunlight pass through.’ The coloured plastic pendants generate autumnal colours. It was called Pavilion: Plants in Fall.

Further up, marking the oak woodlands, was a structure like a square arch made of reo with steel shelves on which were stacked oak logs, like a wood stack (Fig. 15). Underneath was a stone bench (Fig. 16). The bench here made all the difference: it declared that it was a covered resting place (as always, with a great view). Because the structure had a function, the concetto had a purpose. Because Pavilion: Plants in Fall had no function, it demanded that you stare at it saying ‘this is Art; how do I react to it’. The log feature is read first as a sheltered seat, followed by an assessment of whether the concetto it embodies (which refers to the oak woods in which it is situated) works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter: it is still a seat. That said, it was a very uncomfortable seat, and no-one sat on it, unlike the stainless steel park benches that were scattered around other parts of the garden.

More promising seemed to be the Garden for Lovers. This was at the highest point, and was conceived as a theme park feature. The first thing you see is a pointed arch clad in roses (Fig. 17), and beyond an avenue done similarly (Fig. 18), with star jasmine everywhere, for its scent (Fig. 18a). So far so good. It immediately made me ask myself whether pointed/gothic arches were somehow romantic. Why not? There was a label referring to it being a ‘protected area of peace and quiet, a retreat into silence’, but it was in fact a busy nodal point. Was this compatible with it being a space for lovers? Across the path ran steel bands with ‘I love you’ cut into them in several languages, starting with German under the entrance arch (Fig. 19). I was immediately struck by the heavy-handedness of this. Then you see a blindfolded pubescent girl in bronze holding a flower, which I took to have something to do with innocence and/or the senses (Fig. 20).

Next are bronze figures half hidden by jasmine in a little stream running over black stones. These represent, again, barely pubescent teenagers. One is a boy upside down (Fig. 21), and there are a girl and a boy with their feet in the stream, all half buried in jasmine (not blackberries, fortunately) (Fig. 22). This was all a bit strange, if not kinky. Is love to be exemplified by the half developed sexuality of adolescents? Is this mean to be innocent love? Does it represent groping behind the shelter shed idealised as frolicking among the jasmine? Is this a Bill Hensonesque fantasy? Only on the return along a higher path did I realise that wrapped around the pole on which the upside down boy was swinging was a snake (Fig. 23). Worse. Are the poisonous Christian attitudes embodied in the Adam and Eve myth are what love is all about? Is pubescent sexual love what caused us to be expelled us from the Garden of Eden? None of this is very encouraging in a Garden for Lovers.

The Adam and Eve theme coyly returns at a another feature nearby. A naked bronze man and woman, mature this time, are separated by a waterfall in a kind of grotto, where they are almost completely hidden by vine leaves (Fig. 24). You either had to duck under the vines to see them properly, or go all the way under and come up in their space (Fig. 25). These could, I suppose, be read as pre-lapsarian Adam and Eve (Fig. 26), had we not learned from the previous group that the serpent comes at adolescence. This group at least provided a certain frisson, but it could also be read as a neo-Victorian coyness, the vines being like the draperies that clothed the immodest legs of Victorian dining tables. The ancient world’s confident nakedness is nowhere to be found here.

The trouble with these statues, as with most statues, is that they are implicitly sexual, but because sexuality in a public place causes discomfort, they have been desexualised and covered with jasmine or vine fig-leafs. One cannot but think it might gave been better to go the whole hog with something truly Romantic, such as a Paolo and Francesca theme (think Ingres (Fig. 27), or Hayez’s The Kiss (Fig. 28)) or Tristan and Isolde (like the wonderful frescoes at Schloss Runkelstein at Bolzano (Fig. 29)). But no contemporary artist could bring themselves to do this, and this awkward non-sexuality is the result.

At the far end were other inscriptions about love in various languages, with coloured plastic discs (Fig. 30). There were also several seats for two facing the view with high steel hoods framed by jasmine, though these were hardly private or romantic (Fig. 31).

The main feature of this ‘garden’ is a large pool with three islands reached by stepping stones through shallow water. Each is ‘planted’ with large metal trees, the foliage of consists of large yellow, red and orange plastic discs. This use of coloured plastic was popular in the nineties (think Martha Schwartz). It was an awful idea then and remains so. The Geelong Botanical Gardens is introduced with large metal trees, but thankfully no plastic. But it is a botanical garden: why do we need fictive trees? To be sure, they appear at Versailles and the Villa d’Este, but there the point is more subtly made.

The first island, which has a tree with yellow plastic leaves referring to sunflowers (Fig. 32), has a marble fountain with bronze leaves inscribed with words like ‘infidelity’ and ‘jealousy’ (Figs 33, 34). This ‘helps garden visitors clear away negative emotions and compulsions’. The second, which has red plastic leaves alluding to tulips, features a large piece of white marble, part of which has been shaped into polished biomorphic forms and part roughly textured (Fig. 35). It is like a cross between Rodin’s marble Kiss and a diseased phallus fused with mutant breasts. Physical associations like these are inevitable; the intended one is to a heart, evidently a diseased one. The description only refers to a ‘power stone made from Laas marble and the heart as a symbol of love: together they seal the promise of love or a personal promise’. Again there is a disconnect between the physical object—which is highly tactile, and most people touched it (Fig. 36)—and the new age programme. It never ceases to amaze me how new-age people swallow this kind of thing, but I still find it hard to believe that any visitor would have thought of the idea of ‘promise’ or ‘promises’. The stone promised an off-key tactile eroticism, and for this reason most people seemed to avoid touching the smooth parts. Again, the creators have been too coy to encourage couples to touch an object, however abstract in form, as a shared erotic experience. It is bowdlerised as being about ‘promises’.

The third island (white flowers, ‘emblematic of the dahlia’) (Fig. 37) had sheets of ‘South Tyrolean apple paper’ (apple orchards are everywhere here) on which one writes wishes that ‘lend immortality to the love promises previously made. Those who leave them here are simultaneously invited to return’. But why does returning matter except to the garden as a business? Later on there is a kind of Tibetan prayer wheel in bronze where somehow these letters reappear, which wasn’t intelligible. Writing a secret wish and putting it in a metal box (the wishing well trope) seemed to work as an activity though: I saw several couples doing it, and sometime it prompted a kiss (always from the woman).

As you can gather, I did not find this to have worked very well. It veered from the corny to the off-key. The public nature of the place played against romance. It is interesting to reflect on what kind of spaces can work romantically as being both private and public. For this to work in a garden one needs nooks and crannies, but it us almost impossible to arrange a busy place so that people being private do not have their privacy interrupted by others. What seems to work best, as with the wish-writing here, or putting a padlock on a bridge, are symbolic acts that create a private bond in a public place. Such acts differ from a wedding ceremony in that at a wedding the couple is the focus of attention. With symbolic acts the couple occupy a private world that cannot be interrupted by the indifferent crowd around them.

So what kind of ‘lover’s garden’ might actually work? Forget the hortatory inscriptions. And forget mass tourism. The greatest model is surely Watteau. The point of a Watteau painting is that you have several pairs of lovers, or a small group in the process of pairing off. The space they occupy is sufficiently large for couples to wander off out of site of the others (Fig. 38). There is plenty of statuary, which is set naturalistically among the vegetation (Fig. 39). The subjects of these statues are erotic, and set the mood by sight, and potentially through touch, although the jury is out on whether touching statues was an activity for couples. The intricacy of a formal garden can work just as well, using geometry to maximise the number of spaces that cannot be looked into from a distance. The maze is the most developed form of this idea. The point is to become lost and separated.

The Watteau example makes one realise how important statuary is. Contemporary garden statuary, however well it might work in an art gallery, is inevitably an interruption, and worse than nothing at all, because, in pursuing the goal of art as ideas, we have lost sight of its function. The point of garden statuary is that the statues are alive—be they people, satyrs, or monsters. Abstract sculpture can never be alive. Coming across a statue of a satyr at Rousham (Fig. 40) makes you shiver at the realisation that this space is occupied by ancient spirits, and coming across a statue of Cupid and Psyche is an act of voyeurism. One could, however, make a variation on this. Sacri Monti like Varallo or Varese have shrines that take you through the stations of the cross. A romantic garden on this model might have shrines with pictures, not of the passion, but of great love imagery, like the aforementioned Ingres’ Paolo and Francesca and Hayez’ The Kiss. And yet this runs the danger of the obviousness of ‘I love you’ inscriptions. Half of the point of romance is what is unspoken, and these shout a little to much, whereas a statue, however suggestive, does not demand verbalisation. Paintings ask us to discuss their subject, and lover’s gardens should not be didactic.

©David R. Marshall 2018

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