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What Does the Architecture of Lord Burlington Owe to Political Concerns

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What does the architecture of Lord Burlington owe to political concerns?
It is said that from 1721 onwards Lord Burlington began erecting one important building after another. In order to determine what the architecture of Lord Burlington owes to political concerns it is necessary to briefly examine both the political situation in the early 1700s and Burlington’s political stance. Lastly, in order to draw a conclusion as to how much of Lord Burlington’s architecture owes to political concerns, an analysis of Chiswick House and its political representation is particularly essential. Thus this essay will be roughly divided into two parts: the first being a brief narrative of the political life and situation of Lord Burlington, followed by a system of analysis and conclusion. The latter will focus specifically on the Chiswick House and what symbols there exist that may help us to examine the impact of politics on Lord Burlington’s architecture.
Lord Burlington, though being a man of arts and beauty, was hardly politically inactive. Up until 1932 he was said to have been a supporter of the Whig administration. He became a supporter of the new Hanoverian king, George I in 1715 and that same year he was appointed Lord Treasurer of Ireland, lieutenant of the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire and Vice-Admiral of the County of York. By 1721 Burlington became a supporter of Sir Robert Walpole and was a close friend of the Prince of Wales. When in 1727 the Prince succeeded as George II, for six years Lord Burlington benefitted from a position close to the centre of power.
During the late 1710s, building developments almost always took up a political character and much of what was built during that time was built by the Whigs. Hanover Square, a Whig development and very Baroque in style is a good example of how and where Whig prominence lay. Lord Burlington, clearly a Whig supporter, began developing land very close to Hanover Square, just south of his house in Piccadilly. These areas, it is said, are “one of the most impressive quarters of 18th Century London”. The most famous of which is the Burlington House, which still stands only it is now Royal Academy of the Arts and the learned societies.
Tony Barnard argues that Lord Burlington was “to all appearances a confirmed Whig, and up to the age of thirty nine his career was that of a great Whig noble-man. He could hardly have infiltrated the Office of Works in the way he did unless he had been on good terms with Walpole” . It is argued that Lord Burlington managed to achieve his architectural influence “with rank and political conformity”. In 1722 Burlington was “not only able to obtain for his protégé William Kent the job of decorating the state apartment in Kensington Palace in the face of Sir James Thornhill, the established court painter, but to get a special post of Surveyor or Inspector of Paintings in the Royal Palaces created for his benefit, 1728.” Thus with his political background, Burlington managed to secure his place in the higher ranks of society and was able to bring forth his architectural views and knowledge. It could be argued that it is for this reason Palladianism became the principle building style of Georgian England.
Additionally, it was not only the great patrons and offices that Palladianism conquered, it was also very influential in the sphere of books and prints, “the whole of the vernacular, find its way ultimately into the workshop of the humblest carpenter and brick layer”. By having such a prominent status, Lord Burlington was able to travel abroad and bring back aspects of Italian art which would then flourish and take their own direction in England. Most famously, Lord Burlington brought back two collections of Palladio’s architectural drawings, including the studies of Roman baths and also the painter William Kent. Thus, the popularity of Lord Burlington as a result of his political career not only brought about the spread of Palladianism but also to the development of significant aspects of the architectural world at the time; from the theory of the building to its builders. Christopher Husey proposed that the architecture of Lord Burlington is the direct architectural expression of what a ‘Whig Ideal’ constituted. He argued that Palladianism was founded both on Platonism and Protestantism and created in Lord Burlington’s private academy. However, Jane Clark argues that “throughout his life, Burlington was a Jacobite”, and not just a Jacobite-sympethiser but an”active conspirator whose foreign tours were dictated as much by the need to make to make contact with Jacobite exiles as by the wish to study Palladian architecture, and whose notorious debts were caused by his lavish contributions to the Jacobite cause rather by any architectural extravagance”. It is true that by May 1933, Lord Burlington had opposed Walpole and Lords Chesterfield and Cobham of the Excise Bill and had resigned nevertheless the political stance from which Lord Burlington accomplished his architectural revolution to this day still quite elusive. Thus it is important to analyze the connection between political meaning and what he created specifically in Lord Burlington’s Chiswick House, as after his withdrawal from the Whig party, along with all of his best possessions, Lord Burlington moved from his London town house to Chiswick.
The house was said to have been “too little to live in, and too large to hand one’s watch”, it had a wine cellar but no kitchen. “It was not the baroque, the style of the Catholic Church and of despotic powers, that could be used as an expressive symbol for his political and moral ideology, but an esoteric, yet simple, uniform, and rational classicism. His work labeled as Neo-Palladianism is said to be a “learned, doctrinaire and sophisticated Neoclassicism” whereby he focused on the simplicity and uniformity of nature. Roger White states that “the traditional interpretation of Chiswick House is that Burlington conceived it a an exquisite temple of the Arts, where he kept his most precious paintings, drawings and books and entertained selected friends. Recently however, a number of scholars have suggested that there is much more to the villa – and indeed to Burlington himself – than meets the eye.” Scholars have suggested that Chiswick House is a clear representation of a house so full of Masonic symbolism and decoration, “that the house could have been intended as a Masonic temple” and secondly, Chiswick House reflects “strong but previously unsuspected Jacobite sympathies on Burlington’s part”. This is essay will focus on the interior of the house and make an attempt to recognize any political symbols in its architecture and design, specifically referring to the Red and Blue Velvet room.
Both Burlington and Kent have been listed in the Freemason’s Pocket Companion of 1736, it is not a case of whether or not they were freemasons, it is a fact. The ceiling of the Red Velvet Room is particularly representative of Masonic symbolism. It is argued that the entire garden of Chiswick House with all of its structures could have served as a setting for Masonic rituals. The very color red is can be attributed to Masonic symbols as red is the Royal Arch color of the Masonic lodge. There is also a red drape which reveal Kent’s portrait in the ceiling. Additionally, the very combination of ‘architect’ and ‘sculptor’, as is done on the ceiling, is very representative of Masons. (See appendix I) As stated in Roger White’s Chiswick House and Gardens “The combination of an arch below a rainbow which occurs in the ceiling painting was apparently common subject off earl Royal Arch lodge banners. The suggestion, therefore, is designed by Burlington and Kent – both of whom were certainly freemasons – to function as a Masonic meeting place.”
At the time freemasonry was not uncommon and Lord Burlington was likely to have been one, yet to have been a Jacobite whilst pretending to be a Whig supporter is a much more serious accusation. In order to determine whether or not this is true, it is necessary to look at the symbols at the Red Velvet Room found on the first floor of Chiswick House. This room could have entirely have functioned as a meeting room for masons, however the tiny roses and thistles “carved on the two chimneypieces,” which were “Jacobite badges”, could potentially have served to symbolize for Burlington’s “secret political allegiance”. (See appendix II for Red Velvet Room). Thus Lord Burlington’s architecture can to some extent have had a political significance, however, to a much greater extent, his architecture specifically in Chiswick House was a clear representation of a freemason.
The Blue Velvet Room, located on the south part of the House, functioned as a cabinet intended to entertain connoisseurs. The ceiling here is particularly important (see Appendix III), as it is a clear representation of what Lord Burlington stood for: that is to say architecture. The “central figure represents Architecture. She has a Corinthian capital as a crown. She is surrounded by boys carrying drawing instruments. Plumb lines are painted on the vertical members. Four more Corinthian capitals are painted on the soffits of the beams.” Thus, it is evident here, more than anywhere in the house, the extent to which Lord Burlington was influenced and inspired by the arts and architecture, rather than something of a political significance.
Thus in conclusion it is safe to say that whilst Lord Burlington’s influence on the development of architecture in Britain is largely due to his political career and status, his political concerns hardly influenced his later buildings, as in the case of Chiswick House. By choosing to be a Whig supporter he was able to benefit from Whig prominence in the sphere of building and was thus able to incorporate the aspects of Italian architecture which he found worthwhile and was also able to bring painter Kent back to help him with the development of Palladian influence. However, upon his departure from Whig politics, it seems to me Burlington’s architecture began to exemplify a character best described as that of freemasonry; one not so concerned with politics but rather with the celebration of art and architecture. It is for this reason that we find on the front of Chiswick House statues of both Palladio and Indigo Jones rather than statues of figures which resemble political significance. (See Appendix IV)

Appendix I

Appendix II

Red Velvet Room

Appendix III

Appendix IV

T Barnard and J Clark (1995), Lord Burlington: Architecture art and life, Hambledon Press, London
R Wittkower (1974), Palladio and English Palladianism, Thames and Hudson, London
J Harris (1981), The Palladian Revival : Lord Burlington, his villa and garden at Chiswick , Yale University Press, New Haven
R Hewlings (1989), Chiswick House and Gardens, English Heritage, London
R White (1997), Chiswick House, English Heritage, London

R Hewlings (1989), Chiswick House, English Heritage, London, accessed on 12/12/08, 14:00, accessed on 12/12/08, 14:20
Word Count: 1,868

[ 2 ]. Summerson John, Georgian London, Shenval Press, 1945, London and Hertford
[ 3 ]. Lord Burlington: Art, Architecture and Life, Tony Barnard and Jane Clark
[ 4 ]. Ibid.
[ 5 ]. Chiswick House and Gardens, Richard Hewling, English Heritage,1989, Hampshire
[ 6 ]. White Roger, Chiswick House and Gardens, London
[ 7 ]. Ibid p.14
[ 8 ]. Ibid p. 12…...

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