In the second quarter of the 18th-century an enthusiasm for all things Italian arose among English intellectuals. Soon in all the arts, but particularly in music and in architecture, Italian models were slavishly copied. As a result the popularity of Palladian style, which had first been introduced a century earlier by Inigo Jones, enjoyed a new lease of life.
The ideals of the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio were reintroduced into England by a nobleman, Lord Burlington, who acted as patron to several architects, including Colen Campbell who designed his London house, Burlington House, with views similar to his own. These men felt that Wren and Vanbrugh had departed too far from the rules for good architecture laid down by Palladio and the ancient Roman, Vitruvius. They translated Palladio’s books into English, and produced a book called Vitruvius Britannicaus, which illustrated the buildings which they felt were correctly designed.
No British nobleman could now consider himself to be educated unless he had completed the Grand Tour of Italy. These same men brought back classical paintings and sculptures, and many built houses in the Palladian manner, often adding picture or sculpture galleries to display their booty.
Lord Burlington’s house, Chiswick House, was based on a famous Palladian villa called the Villa Capra. Burlington’s closest collaborator was William Kent, the architect, interior decorator, furniture designer and landscape gardener whose interior designs were bold and magnificent. However, the original Italian style of Palladian interior decoration did not suit the English taste or climate. A successful English compromise was reached with the use of restrained Baroque decoration within Palladian disciplines. Kent designed appropriate furniture, and the resulting interiors were magnificent. They set the house in a large garden based on what they believed a Roman garden would have looked like. The garden was made to look more natural - a change from the avenue of trees and cut hedges of the previous century - and similar Palladian gardens often included a classical Pantheon, a medieval cottage, and a grotto. Kent designed a “ha-ha”, a sunken barrier, so that the vista would not be interrupted by a fence. At the same time, Lancelot “Capability” Brown changed the face of much of the English countryside with his natural-looking landscaped parklands for country estates.
Externally, architraves surrounded all the openings, often partly rusticated with heavy stones. Internally, doors, windows, and fireplaces were all surrounded by richly decorated classical architraves, columns, and pediments. While many ceilings were coved and coffered, as at Woburn and Holkham, others include pictorial scenes in plaster. Walls now had plaster panels and decorative plaques, although many were covered in silk damask.
Roofs either disappeared behind horizontal balustrades, or their slope conformed to the classical pediments at either end. Stone walls were again preferred, crowned by correctly proportioned stone cornices. The external appearance of the building was now considered so important that some rooms were unlit rather than spoil a façade with unwanted windows. Larger sheets of glass were used and glazing bars became much thinner.
The main rooms, which had slightly higher ceilings, were not on the ground floor, but on the first floor, known as the piano nobile (“noble floor”). This main floor was usually approached by a grand, impressive staircase. There was usually a large apartment on this floor with a state bedroom and a chamber of state, preceded by a couple of rooms such as a drawing room and a presence chamber. The library and music room would also often be situated on this floor. The rusticated basement storey, at ground-floor level, was known as the “rustic” and contained the kitchen, cellars, service rooms and informal living rooms.
The style of interior decoration was lavish yet tasteful. Balance and symmetry were the most important factors, and architectural details - pediments, ceilings and cornices - were important features.
To contrast with textile hangings, the woodwork would be pale-coloured with gold detailing. Walls were still panelled in the early part of the century, although the less expensive pine was now used more widely than oak. The pine was painted with an eggshell-finish paint, or grained or marbled. But by 1740, panelling had fallen out of fashion, and walls were often painted in a matt finish or hung with wallpaper. Alternatively, they were hung with fixed panels of fabric.
Flocked wallpapers became all the rage when William Kent used them to replace textile hangings at Kensington Palace. A crimson flocked paper became the favoured paper for important rooms in Palladian houses.
Palladian Style in brief:
- Interiors are on the grand scale, rich with architectural details;
- Painted ceilings;
- Mahogany doors with brass or gilt bronze door furniture;
- Fabric on walls, velvets, damasks, flock, wallpaper is fashionable.
William Kent, Lord Burlington, Colen Campbell, Leoni.
Furniture was quite massive and rigid, with pediments, cornices, lion masks, paws, swags, etc., and William Kent was the most important designer. Thomas Chippendale also made some Palladian furniture, although his finest furniture was produced after 1765 in the Neoclassical Adam style.
By the middle of the century, mahogany had replaced walnut as the favoured wood for furniture. The most successful upholsterers came from France. Comfort became a priority, with drop-in seats and seats padded with deep cushions. Wing armchairs were increasingly popular, and occasional chairs were tall and elegant, sometimes with cabriole legs.
Silk was the most widely used covering in the grand homes of the time, but linen and printed cottons were also used. Chairs were often supplied with two sets of covers, something light for the summer months, and silk damask for the winter months. Pastel shades were popular, although strong colours like magenta, deep green and royal blue were often found in the more fashionable houses. Turkeywork was still in vogue for the covering of back stools, as was leather, the nailing patterns could be quite decorative.
Palladian Furniture in brief:
- Heavy carved gilt pieces for state rooms upholstered in damasks and velvets;
- Early Georgian mahogany pieces in smaller rooms;
- Architectural bookcases, bureaux, chest of drawers, and drop-leaf dining table appears.
Pine panelling was usually painted in brown, grey, olive green or off-white and mouldings were picked out in gilt. Walls were similarly painted in muted tones like white, stone, drab or olive, as well as in brighter colours like pea green, sky blue, straw, yellow and deep green. Chocolate brown was often used on woodwork.
Printed fabrics came in reds, browns, purples and black, and silk and velvets in green, blue and gold. Imported calicoes from India were in strong colours -crimson to shell-pink, deep violet to pale lavender, indigo blue, lemon yellow and sage green.
- Begin to be carpeted with Axminster and Wilton;
- Oriental rugs still in use.
- Sash with shutters;
- Brass or gilt bronze catches to match door furniture;
- Curtains and upholstery made to match walls.
Heavily architectural overmantel with broken pediment containing painting.
- Metal, gilt, wood and glass, chandeliers all in use;
- Candelabras and wall sconces also used.
- Silks, damasks, needlework;
- Checked Holland covers are often used to protect upholstery.
Chiswick House, Marble Hill House, Holkham Hall, Houghton Hall, Rokeby Park, Clandon House, Stourhead.
© Adrienne Chinn - London