Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Captivated by: Light and Proportion .... Soane

Queen's House, Greenwich: the Tulip Staircase, Inigo Jones (courtesy of RIBA Library Photographs Collection)

EmpireLady has been rather taken aback by descriptions of Palladian architecture that she keeps coming across, descriptions that fail to draw any distinction between Palladian and British Palladian architecture. Not to put too fine a point on it, this morning she was threatening to post a savage review on the subject, but was dissuaded and has retired to her deckchair.
She does have a valid point as, in addition to being separated by centuries, the distinct qualities of the two styles are largely a response to latitude itself, to the qualities of natural light.

The attraction of the true Palladian villa is to found in the cool airy interiors and shady loggias that are a necessity in the glorious Italian summers. Whereas in Britain, where the sun sits far lower in the sky, a sky that is overcast for three quarters of the year, the first devotees of Palladio might have felt dismay when it was observed that this transplanted style, with its mouldings and pilasters, designed to catch the sunlight and cast sharp shadows, faded into blandness and that the small windows and blank walls created interiors that were dark and depressing.

The architectural response to climate came in the form of large vertical, sliding sash windows designed to assist in the regulation of temperature. In addition arcades and loggias were glazed and fireplaces and chimneys quickly became architectural features of the new hybrid style. Further to this the damp weather led to the walled dusty Italian courtyard being replaced by seamless rolling acres of park as at Chatsworth in Derbyshire.

Chatsworth House
basking in the last rays of the sun (courtesy of 'The Age')
is absolutely not a feature of the Devonshire countryside.

EmpireLady's apparently unabashed enthusiasm for the qualities of natural light and her obsession for classical proportion are such that it appears that she has come to believe that the Soane might be her spiritual home, could she perhaps be just quietly moved in to some sort of accommodation there? Not that anyone would consider offloading her, or even suggesting such a thing. In her defence, it must be said that Soane’s Museum really is a joy to behold; a wellspring of inspiration, in that there is always something new to discover in its labyrinth stashed full of archaic fragments. This quality is perhaps best described by the artist Cerith Wyn Evans whose words were published in a leaflet produced on the occasion of the exhibition 'Retrace your steps' at the Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 1999:

"I was always very stimulated and inspired by the relationships, the interstices in the Soane Museum, the conversations that are happening between various narratives, various objects and these extraordinary vistas that you come upon by accident and then you catch a reflection of yourself ....... It is an incredibly complex, stimulating place and no one visit is ever the same as the next ......... The Museum reveals various superimposed and merging states of light constructed by Soane. Visitors encounter direct, indirect, reflected, broken, dispersed or refracted light."

image courtesy of

The Soane is also a testament to the fact that classical proportion can be applied the smallest of spaces and objects. The lessons that are learned from the most beautiful architectural creations can be applied to the smallest vignette, it is really a state of mind. There is a link to an interesting site on classical proportion in the text of an earlier post on Miles Redd (besotted). EmpireLady would of course just love to rattle on in a review of the museum, but that's what books are for! Click through into the Museum site which contains its own labyrinth of resources that are regularly updated. One can now be delighted by the possibilities afforded to the imagination by the information and image that have been posted below: dinner at the museum

at a fee commensurate with the possibilities offered by the experience, the offer states:
The Museum's reception rooms, domestic in scale, are particularly suitable for small or medium sized dinners and receptions. Pre-dinner drinks are served in the elegant double Drawing Room on the first floor, recently restored to its original 'Patent Yellow' colour with yellow silk curtains and authentic carpet. An optional pre-dinner short guided tour of ground floor rooms can be given by a member of the curatorial staff. Dinner is served in the 19th century candlelit setting of the ground floor Library-Dining Room where diners are surrounded by mirrors reflecting the Pompeian red decoration, the Greek cases and other works of art.

Anyone for dinner?


little augury said...

I found the Soane to be so, and something new here too-who knew you could party there. Love this post. la

Empire Design said...

wouldn't dinner be wonderful, I'd be far too distracted to eat!

kind regards

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