Sunday, January 2, 2011

Burghley House, Stamford

The Burghley House Preservation Trust Limited was established as a charity in 1969 by the Sixth Marquess of Exeter for the advancement of historic and aesthetic education and the preservation of buildings of national importance, and in particular the preservation and showing of Burghley House, Stamford.
During the 1540's, when William Cecil was establishing himself both politically and economically, there was a change in architectural fashion in England. The Italian influence was superseded by the classical style of buildings that were popular in France and Flanders. During the 1560's, designs from the Low Countries, particularly those of Hans Vredeman de Vries were influential in England as were those of the Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio and the Frenchman, Philibert de l'Orme. The construction of Somerset House by the extremely powerful Duke of Somerset, for whom Cecil worked, was hugely influential both to Cecil and to other builders of great houses.
In the late 17th century, the 5th Earl inserted arched windows on the south front to enclose a gallery and possibly to repair damage caused during the Civil War, when Cromwell's forces subjected the house to a brief bombardment.

When Brownlow, the 9th Earl inherited in 1754, he promptly employed Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to mastermind the modernisation of the garden, the surrounding parkland and aspects of the house itself. Brown levelled the roofline elevation of the south front, constructed extensive stables, a fashionable Orangery and a Gothic garden summer house. He also demolished the single storey north-west wing to open up the north courtyard and to give views of the newly planted parkland.

 Lion Bridge 

North Range

It is thought that William Cecil's father's house occupied the north range. William Cecil's initial design favoured the west range as a principal entrance but by 1587, when this range was completed, it seems that this side of the house was a more practical entrance. Before the demolition of the north-west wing in 1765, this must have been a damp and shadowed courtyard, north facing and cold. With the admission of sunlight, the marble statue of the young Bacchus was brought out from an interior hall by the 9th Earl, to oversee the newly visible parkland with its young avenues of lime trees.

The lime trees of the north avenue, which lead away from this side of the house have passed maturity and are being felled and replaced with exactly the same variety of lime. The Burghley Estate forestry team are carrying out replanting in many areas of the park to replace aged trees and maintain the park for future generations.

South Range

The south face of Burghley originally had an open gallery at ground level. Whilst an attractive feature, it must have been difficult to use in the winter months. In the late 17th century, the gallery was enclosed by the insertion of 14 arched windows and a central doorway. The view of the house obtained from the south makes apparent the addition of the Great Hall and most of the east range at a later stage of the original building programme. The obelisk that crowns the clock tower of the Inner Court may seem strangely placed but is central to the view from the west, which it was designed to complement. Most of what seem to be second-storey windows are in fact blank frames as the internal height of the first floor staterooms, more than 18 feet, occupies the full extent of the structure.

At a similar time to the open gallery being enclosed, the South front was altered considerably. It is tempting to think that this was as a result of damage caused by Cromwell’s bombardment before he stormed the house in July 1643. Under the supervision of the 9th Earl Capability Brown made considerable architectural alterations and additions from 1756 to 1779. He raised the roofline to give an even skyline and built the Stable courtyard, the Orangery and the Lion Bridge.

East Range

The East side of the house was designed to house the domestic apartments. It was substantially altered during the later stages of the original building period as the usage of the rooms within developed. Looking at the elevation of the Great Hall from the Orangery Court, it is apparent that many of the original windows have been blocked. The mason's work to achieve this is recorded in the late 18th century. It is assumed that the huge weight of the oak roof, covered with Collyweston – a locally produced slate first used by the Romans – was causing structural problems and that a radical reduction in the glazing was needed.

The obelisk, which forms the bell-tower of the central feature of the eastern elevation of the Inner Court, can be clearly seen. Cecil's inspiration for the design of the spire came from de l'Orme's designs featured at Château d'Anet, the palace constructed by Henri II for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.

West Range

The central gatehouse is strongly reminiscent of the façade of Somerset House in London. The third floor of the gate-house forms the Prospect room, extensively glazed and offering wonderful views, both of the park and of the Inner Court and the intricate roofscape. We now think that William Cecil's original west range was completely demolished and rebuilt by him during the later part of the 16th century.
As ground level, the gilded wrought iron gates are the most marvellous centrepiece. They were made for the 5th Earl by Jean Tijou, one of the greatest Huguenot ironworkers. In the early evening, as the dying sun causes the windows on this side of the house to glow as if alight, the sparkling gates, which carry the Earl's crest, are a fitting reminder of his huge influence on the decoration and content of this great house.

Originally thought of as the main entrance to the house, the west side was designed to greet Elizabeth I when she arrived on a progress. As Elizabeth would have entered the park in the late afternoon, the house was designed so that all of the windows on the West side reflect the setting sun, giving the impression that the house has a fire lit behind every window.

Inner Courtyard

The Tudor architectural masterpiece at the heart of Burghley. Although this tranquil courtyard can only be glimpsed by day-to-day visitors to the Staterooms, it occasionally serves as a venue for concerts and dramatic productions, for which it is well-suited as its original design and purpose was to act as a stage for the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth. Here, Cecil incorporated every possible feature to impress upon the audience, and perhaps also upon his Queen, that he and his family were of a noble line, long-established and illustrious. Carved roundels suggesting links with great figures of history, even to the King of Troy, feature large. Columns, obelisks and other classical architectural forms surround the courtyard in order that the visitor would find it hard to ignore the grandeur of the place.

The clock, housed in the tower of the East range, strikes the quarters and the hour. The mechanism is by Whitehurst of Derby, dates from about 1775 and has replaced the Tudor timepiece, of which no trace remains. The clock was restored and is maintained by a local enthusiast, Mr Michael Lee. Its chime can be heard all over the estate and would have acted as a communal timekeeper in days when watches were not carried by everyone.

State rooms

Burghley's state rooms are breathtaking, having been transformed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by two great collecting Earls. During the late 17th century John, 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700), and his Countess, Anne Cavendish, transformed Burghley from the Tudor mansion built by William Cecil to the spectacular treasure house it is today.
From the 1750's, Brownlow, the 9th Earl (1725-1793) continued the transformation of the house, completing much of the interior which had lain forlorn since the death of the 5th Earl. Under the guidance of his architect and landscape designer Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the 9th Earl employed the leading craftsmen of the day including Mayhew & Ince and Fell & Newton.

On the south side of the house, the George Rooms, conceived by the 5th Earl as a progression of State Apartments to replace the draughty Elizabethan long galleries, were the crowning glory of his architectural scheme. These culminated in the magnificent Heaven Room and were painted by the Italian Antonio Verrio from 1686-1697.

The old Kitchen

The cavernous Old Kitchen is Burghley's most evocative Tudor interior – and one of the few to survive. The fan-vaulted roof is crowned by a lantern which was originally open to the skies and would have served to draw away unwanted smoke and fumes. 

The 260 piece copper 'batterie de cuisine' from the late 18th and early 19th centuries gives some idea of the lavish and extravagant scale of country house entertaining at that time.

The skulls on the wall are those of turtles, brought to the house for the making of turtle soup. The impressive copper turtle tureen – after a 1750's silver model by Paul de Lamerie - was the centrepiece when turtle soup was served.

Blue Silk Bedroom

The splendid state bed made by Mayhew & Ince in 1765, almost fills this small room. In the adjoining dressing room, if you can tear your gaze from the delightful small painting of 'The Virgin and Child' by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), (swapped with Pope Clement XIV by the 9th Earl for a telescope!) or from the glorious 17th Century Chinese blue and white porcelain, recorded as being at Burghley in the 1688 inventory, you can enjoy the breathtaking view of 'Capability' Brown's lake and Lion Bridge from the window.

The painted ceiling of the Old Ball Room at Burghley House depicts a scene of mythological deities gathered around a columned pediment. The work was carried out Loius Laguerre, ca. 1700.

The magnificent Louis XIV floral marquetry cabinet by Pierre Gôle, with its en suite dressing table and candlestands, standing in the bedroom is one of the most outstanding items of furniture in the house. For years it loitered unrecognised outside the gent's loo on the ground floor. It took the visit of an expert to recognise it and, suddenly imbued with previously unthought-of grandeur, it was first whisked to the conservators and then to the place of honour which it now occupies.

George Room

These stunning rooms were last used as a suite by Queen Victoria in 1844. The most magnificent of all the state apartments, the George Rooms are adorned with Italian old master paintings, furniture and works of art largely acquired on The Grand Tour in Italy, including the great fireplace bought from the architect Piranesi in Rome. 

 A 17th century painting by Verrio adorns the domed ceiling of the First George Room at Burghley House, near Stamford, in Cambridgeshire, England. Portrait paintings hang on the wood paneled walls around a white marble mantel, inlayed with sacgiola.A white and colored-marble mantle surrounds a silver and burnished steel fire-grate in the Third George Room at Burghley House, White marble sculptures of Medusa's head, Apollo and Venus stand with two cases of silvered flowers on the shelf.

The firegrates themselves are even mounted with silver. The dramatic painted ceilings were executed by Antonio Verrio between 1686-1697. Of all the paintings at Burghley, perhaps the finest and one of the 5th Earl's most expensive purchases is 'Christ Blessing the Bread and Wine' by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686) which hangs in the Jewel Closet.

The artist Verrio was an extraordinarily difficult character to manage. Fiery and unpredictable, he had a keen appreciation of the naked female form and wreaked havoc among the serving girls, quarrelling along the way with the cook, who he has immortalised on the Fourth George Room ceiling in the role of 'Plenty' with the addition of four extra breasts - no doubt to her everlasting chagrin.

Heaven Room

"Gods and Goddesses disporting themselves as Gods and Goddesses are wont to do..."
This is how Antonio Verrio's masterpiece - The Heaven Room - is described in a 19th century guide book. As you look around this extraordinary room you are immediately transported into the world of Classical Mythology. The loves and excesses of the Gods of Mount Olympus are laid bare for all to see. Although only painted in two dimensions onto the flat surfaces of the walls, the optical illusions created by foreshortening, perspective and masterly handling is entirely convincing, transforming the drama into three dimensions, filled with movement.

You then descend into Hell. Verrio's last commission at Burghley was to paint the ceiling over the lofty staircase. The mouth of Hades or Hell is depicted as an enormous gaping mouth of a cat with souls in torment writhing within. Death, the Grim Reaper, plies his sickle amongst the unfortunates and terrible punishments are meted out to all.

Working mainly alone, having lost his assistants to more financially secure projects, Verrio took 11 months to complete the Hell Staircase finishing in 1697. The walls were not finished until a century later when Thomas Stothard, a children's book illustrator, was employed by the 1st Marquess to complete the scene.

Orangery Courtyard

The rosebeds were originally planted in the 1960's by Lord Exeter in conjunction with the famous grower, Harry Wheatcroft. Several of these beds survive; others have been replaced over the years. Varieties include Iceberg, Piccadilly and the glorious Just Joey. The central pond is home to a large number of Golden orfe and several large carp. The façade of the east side of the Great Hall includes many blocked windows. This infilling was carried out by estate masons in the 1780's. We believe that the reason was to prevent subsidence of the wall which, being largely glazed, was threatened by the immense weight of the roof above.

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