Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Chiswick House Part Four

As is her wont, having emerged from the villa, the Brimstone Butterfly decided to partake of a cream cake and coffee in the white stone and glass modern café nearby. As it was such a fine autumnal day I decided to eat on the terrace outside. Suitably refreshed I arose to explore the garden in earnest. I retraced my steps to the villa and walked around to the back of the house.

What I had not realised until I viewed the exterior that Lady Burlington’s single storey summer parlour pre-dated Chiswick House itself. It is to be found beyond the two-storey Link Building and was built as an extension to the Jacobean mansion in the early 18th century. Burlington had the interior remodelled for his wife when he built the classical villa.

Although I loved the classical exterior of the house, a joy to behold from any vantage point, I was less taken with the avenue of classical urns and the stone Grecian sphinx in the garden. Having seen the avenues of ram-headed Ancient Egyptian sphinxes at Karnak as a young woman I have never taken to their rather fey Grecian counterparts.

A gateway designed by Inigo Jones a century earlier for a house in Chelsea, found its way to Chiswick House in the 18th century. It was a gift from that other great admirer of classical architecture, Sir Hans Sloane. It was the latter’s bequest to the nation that, along with King George III’s royal library, led to the founding of the British Museum. I have my own reasons for remembering Sir Hans Sloane, having worked in the British Library when it was housed within the British Museum. Sir Hans also gave his name to Sloane Square, the scene of intrigues which by their very nature had to be as discreet as any freemason activity held in secret within the walls of Chiswick House. Let us just say they drew more on Ancient Rome practises than architecture for their inspiration.

The deer house reflects the time when Chiswick House had its own deer paddock.

One path leads to a copy of the 1st century BC Venus de Medici set up high atop a tall Doric column. The Venus de Medici was a copy of an even older Ancient Grecian statue cast in bronze. I now realise that King William III’s apartments at Hampton Court contain a copy of the Venus de Medici cast in bronze. The dolphin at her feet indicates she has emerged suddenly from the sea and her pose that she has been caught by surprise. Perhaps next time the foolish girl will remember to put a swimming costume on.

As I walked along the "river" bank the dome of Chiswick House appeared golden in the dying rays of the autumn sun. It made a pleasing juxtaposition with the golden hue tree nearby.

The white stone bridge which spans the man-made lake constructed from a stream is decorative but was built by Burlington's successors, the Dukes of Devonshire. Burlington himself had built a wooden bridge to span the water.

The obelisk by Burlington Gate is of interest because of a replica of the carved relief of an Ancient Grecian couple built into the base. Nowadays the original antique carving can be found on the ground floor of Chiswick House.

The garden feature I loved most of all, partly because it was so unexpected, was the splendid 19th century domed conservatory, which would not look out of place at Kew Gardens. By one of the urns on the roof I spied an owl whether of stone or metal I could not determine. As the doors of the hothouse were open I was able to sneak inside although strictly speaking it was after the normal closing time. Restoration work on the gardens continues today. The circular Italian gardens have been partially restored but have yet to reach maturity. There were a number of urns by the greenhouse, whose depictions of classical scenes made them of more interest to me than their counterparts by the house. The hothouse was accessed through the Inigo Jones gateway. I discovered later this part of the gardens were not originally part of Chiswick House. The neighbouring house and land was purchased by the Devonshires in the early 19th century. They promptly demolished the house but kept the gardens.

The imposing cascade waterfall does date from Burlington's era. There is an ironic twist to its presence. Chiswick House, along with all the other historic buildings I have visited, must pay its way. I was amused, therefore, to see it appear on television as the backdrop for a recent incontinent aids campaign. What made the irony even more delicious is that until the end of the 20th century no-one had been able to make the Cascade actually produce running water.

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