Subscribe to Posts via:

Ever Ssince the Herrenhauser Schloss was bombed in 1943 (and consubsequently burnt to the ground), the question what should come in its place has been on people’s mind in the north-German city of Hannover.1 Several plans for Herrenhausen had been developed since, ranging from ‘mere’ landscaping solutions (make the outlines of the lost building visible by planting), to sometimes wild new buildings plans (one of which we’ll see later on).
It took over 60 years before the combination of having a feasible building plan and necessary funding came together. It was the VolkswagenStiftung, a private foundation located in Hannover, who presented the plan that was finally accepted and executed. A video of the build (narrated in German) can be seen here.

The open space, left by the lost building, was just a lawn until the summer of 2009. Below is a comparison of the situation before and after the build, seen from the (1930s) elevated terrace in the western part of the garden (2009 situation above, 2014 below).

Since early 2013, the rebuilt Schloss again works as the focal point the restored baroque gardens of Herrenhausen deserve. The view over the central axis used to be only possible from a low viewpoint, starting with a bland lawn. Now the elevated view from the grand staircase attached to the back facade of the Schloss presents a view as it was meant to be:

However. I can’t help but wonder what could have been the result when the plan shown below would have been executed. In the 1960s, Danish architect Arne Jacobsen designed and proposed a completely new building for this empty space. Jacobsen conceived of a restaurant/panorama terrace, consisting of two curved concrete structures, ‘floating’ above one another. The preserved presentation drawing and photomontages of the now 50 year old design, have a Herrenhausen meets 2001 A Space Odyssey-feel about them; but designed (1964) before that movie was made (1968).
Although the case for this building was eloquently made by local politician Hillebrecht, the people of Hannover did not want this.2
1964 BellaVista Arne Jacobsen

That is understandable, I guess. But boy! If only the Hanoverian Verwaltung had been brave enough (and in the position) to have this design built as the centerpiece of its baroque garden; what an exceptional ensemble that would have been. They would have raised hell at the time, for sure. But by this time, 50 years onwards, they would have been heralded as unique innovators -possibly changing the way we deal with cultural heritage at locations of significant importance…

Enhanced by Zemanta

  1. The original Schloss had been a late 17th century structure, which was mostly upgraded on the outside circa 1820, after designs by Georg Friedrich Ludwig Laves (1788-1864), possibly in preparation of a royal visit. The royal visit of George IV in 1821 was the first visit by the Hanoverian kings since George II last visited in 1755; George III never visited Hannover. George IV never visited again after 1821. See: Bernd Adam, Das Herrenhauser Schloss und die historischen Gartenpavillons’, in: Marieanne von König (Hrsg.), Herrenhausen. Die Königlichen Gärten in Hannover (Göttingen 2006), p95-100. [back]
  2. See: Cord Meckseper, ‘Visionen zum Ort des Herrenhäuser Schlosses’, in: Marieanne von König (Hrsg.), Herrenhausen. Die Königlichen Gärten in Hannover (Göttingen 2006), p101-102; here the photomontage is shown, and it includes further references to literature. [back]

The 13-shire-view

Looking for the exact name and location of the estate in Cookham, that ‘prettiest and gayest retirement’ George Grenville ever saw and where he wrote a small poem for (in 1749), I stumbled upon another poem: The Description of Cooke-ham. This poem was published as early as 1611 and written by the female poet Aemilia Lanyer (1569-1645).1 It is nowadays regarded as possibly the first ‘country house poem’ in Britain.2
Although she mentions Dorset a few times (while Grenville’s Cookam was located in Berkshire) we’re probably in the same county and village with both poems. The Clifford family members who Lanyer dedicated her publication to, and to whom she refers in her poem, leased Cookham in Berkshire from the Crown up till 1605.3
But we may still be dealing with two separate estates. So still no answer for my original question.

13 Shires
But one line in her poem struck me, as it reminded me of something I recently read elsewhere. It reads:

And thirteen shires appeared all in your sight,

Thirteen shires, where had I seen that before? As it turns out, in the (Shire) publication Georgian Garden Buildings (2012), when dr. Sarah Rutherford elaborates on ‘Columns’ in Georgian gardens. On page 47 she writes:

“At Hawkstone, Shropshire, the 30-metre-high column, erected in 1795 on the highest point of the estate, was surmounted by a statue of the owner, Sir Rowland Hill; it was said that from there thirteen counties could be seen.”

Hawkstone, view from the column. Photo: Matt Weedon, 2009.

Of course the column at Hawkstone could boast a view of thirteen counties (it can now boast a view of 42 holes on its golf courses), but a count from the top of the column would probably fail the test. Cookham could never have enabled a view of thirteen shires as well.
It seems Lanyer had been ‘forgotten’ about for a long time, and I am not familiar at all with the reception of Jacobean poetry in the 18th and 19th centuries. But could it be that the claim at Hawkstone was derived from her poem? And if not directly from the poem, could it be that the thirteen-shire-view was (or had become) a ‘theme’ in British garden/landscape descriptions and -appreciation?

Reference to Wales?
Rutherford mentions elsewhere that from the tower outside Croome Park, twelve counties could reportedly be seen; and that more was better for these kinds of structures.4 So there is a lot of unhealthy competition going on, and there are variations. Which may mean I have accidentally spotted the only two thirteen-shire-views there are, in the course of a few weeks -but that seems unlikely.
There is a very remote possibility that both cases refer to the thirteen shires of Wales, as established under the reign of Henry VIII. Lanyer grew up in circles relatively close to the court, and Cooke-ham was a royal property at the time she wrote her poem. But the installation of these thirteen shires had been realized even before she was born, so this reference would only make sense if it still was a topic in the public debate, or important to the Cliffords. Both do not seem to be the case.
As for Hawkstone: it ís located not too far from the Welsh border, but to claim that the whole of Wales could be seen from this column would be grotesque. 

Below is part of the poem by Lanyer, to provide some context to her sentence quoted above. The garden feature providing the view is not a garden building, but a majestic oak -and it seems it didn’t require climbing:

(…) Now let me come unto that stately tree,
Wherein such goodly prospects you did see;
That oak that did in height his fellows pass,
As much as lofty trees, low growing grass,
Much like a comely cedar straight and tall,
Whose beauteous stature far exceeded all.
How often did you visit this fair tree,
Which seeming joyful in receiving thee,
Would like a palm tree spread his arms abroad,
Desirous that you there should make abode;
Whose fair green leaves much like a comely veil,
Defended Phoebus when he would assail;
Whose pleasing boughs did yield a cool fresh air,
Joying his happiness when you were there.
Where being seated, you might plainly see
Hills, vales, and woods, as if on bended knee
They had appeared, your honor to salute,
Or to prefer some strange unlooked-for suit;
All interlaced with brooks and crystal springs,
A prospect fit to please the eyes of kings.
And thirteen shires appeared all in your sight,
Europe could not afford much more delight. (…)
Enhanced by Zemanta

  1. Lanyer included her poem in the third and last part of her publication Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611). As it revolves around the Cliffords having to say farewell to Cookham -they left in 1605- the poem itself can probably be dated 1605-1606? [back]
  2. That title was previously held by Ben Jonson’s To Penshurst (1616), which is still considered the model for this type of poetry in Britain. In Dutch literature the first ‘Hofdichten’ that describe -or at least refer to- actual gardens are from Jan Baptiste Houwaert: Pegasides pleyn (1582-83), describing his garden near Brussels; and H.L. Spieghel: Hertspieghel (1597), describing his garden along the Amstel river. [back]
  3. Jonathan Post, ‘Seventeenth-Century poetry I: poetry in the age of Donne and Jonson‘, in: Michael O’Neill [ed], The Cambridge History of English poetry, Cambridge University Press (2010), p203. And Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, Writing Women in Jacobean England, Harvard University Press (1993), p138. [back]
  4. Sarah Rutherford, Georgian Garden Buildings, Oxford (2012), p109. [back]

I thought it was about time I drew some attention towards the group I run1 on photo sharing site flickr: Historical Gardens. It offers a great way to visit gardens without leaving the comfort of your home (maybe ‘look at gardens’ is a better phrase here, as visiting them is always so much more rewarding).

A further advantage of this group is that it offers views from different seasons, different angles and different periods. As such it can be a great source for garden historians. This 1908 photo of one of the pond gardens at Hampton Court, for example, is a great photo of part of the garden that at first glance seems to have remained fairly intact:

When we compare this with a photo from 2011, and look closer, it gives us the opportunity to see the myriad of details that have changed in this small garden, while the main structure of the garden was preserved.

The most prominent difference is visible in the paths, which have retained the spirit but not the quirkiness of the late Victorian or Edwardian pavement.
The planting is different as well, which is mainly the result of a ‘restoration’ of the garden “to what it was intended to be”. A plan that started in 1919, the replanting was done in 1926.2 The flower beds near the oval pond were already gone by the late 1920s. And while the planting seems to have been formalized even more since that 1920s replanting, the 1908 planting was much wilder, with higher perennials [?] setting the stage instead of the seasonally changing planting schemes we see today.

The statuary in the 1908 photo is different than now as well. Firstly, the four downright awful putti eh… statuettes at the front were not there in 1908. My initial thought was they were quite modern additions, but a c1927 photo of this garden shows they were already there -so they must be a result of the ‘fanciful reconstruction’ of the 1920s, alas…3
Furthermore, the statue at the back seems to be different. It could be that the leaden statue of Venus was initially painted white in an attempt to imitate an actual marble statue, and that this paint has been removed. It looks like the position of the right arm is different as well, but from these images that is simply too difficult to tell.

A weird development is that of the four topiary chicken figures dotted around the garden, between 1908 and 2013. These chicks have grown fat! In 1908 they were in a standing position, lean and ready to go like free-range chickens. Now they are lying on the ground, too heavy to stand on their feet and looking like specimens from a battery cage. The c1927 photograph I previously referred to, shows that even by then these animals had already gained considerable weight (they were still standing up but were also at the brink of being over-weight).

I was going to make a comparison with developments within society throughout the past century, with the increasing lack of skilled labour, the industrialization of food production and the immense growth of obesity all being visualized by these here hens.
But then I looked closer and thought: are these still hens? They look more like stylized Grouse-like birds now, especially when we look at the tail. And if they are, is that the result of an intentional choice, or did the birds just develop into this for reasons of sloppy pruning?
Questions, questions…


For more photos of Hampton Court, also some taken from the roof, see the HGimages link at the bottom of this post.


Enhanced by Zemanta

  1. ‘Run’ is a big word, I need to start updating the lists of gardens again, which is my self-inflicted duty as the group admin. But the lack of updating on my part, luckily does not stop people from joining and adding their photographs.
    Sometimes I specifically go out looking for old photos, and that is how I found the old Hampton Court photo featured here. [back]
  2. A recent publication on the gardens at Hampton Court calls the 1920s restoration a ‘fanciful reconstruction’: Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, The Gardens and Parks at Hampton Court Palace (London 2005), page 67. [back]
  3. Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, ibid., the photo on page 67, there dated c1927. [back]

It’s about architecture, this time, albeit the ‘garden front’. I’ve decided to add another (and last) item from George Grenville’s correspondence with his sister Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham, that I picked up at the National Archives. Not because it is vitally important to my own research, but because it shows us that even shortly before his death, George Grenville was very much interested in building developments at both Stowe (his brother’s estate) and at Wotton (his own).

Stowe North Front

Stowe, the 1770 North Front and Colonnade, in recently restored version.Photo by Building Panos.

George is writing in September 1770, exactly two months before his death.1 He had been ill, but was recovering with a therapy called “Dr Huxham’s Decoction of the Bark” -although John Huxham (1692-1768) was famous for his ‘tincture of the bark’, which may have been part of the decoction Grenville took.2
His letter starts on the 11th of September 1770, at Wotton, and he finishes it on the 13th, then writing from Stowe. The main subject is his own disease, that of his wife, his sister’s and his sister-in-laws’; but from a garden perspective: building developments at Stowe as inspiration for Wotton’s ‘garden front’.
He writes:

Lord Temple is return’d in perfect [sic] & extremely pleased with the Colonnade in the North Front which is now almost finishd on one side except the stuccoing It is indeed very pleasing & very magnificent. (…) The success of the North Front has given fresh Life & Encouragement to the Plans for the Garden Front which at present ingross most of our Time & Conversation but no one ventures to decide upon any Thing without consulting Mr Pitt with whom there is a frequent Correspondence for that Purpose.

George Grenville died two months after writing this, and the garden front was never altered. I’m not sure a Stowe like garden front would have fitted at Wotton, it is probably a good thing that ‘no one ventured to decide upon any Thing’…

Wotton House, the Garden Front, untouched by ‘Stowe-like’ plans. Photo by Damien Dyer (Air Frame Photography).


Enhanced by Zemanta

  1. National Archives (UK, Kew), PRO 30/8/34/1, letter from George Grenville to his sister Hester Pitt, starting “Wotton Septr ye 11th 1770″; finishes “Stowe Septr ye 13th 1770″ [back]
  2. The method was advised to him by a certain sir William (Wm) Duncan. It was a combination of much horse back riding and exposure to fresh air, together with the use of the decoction, drawn from the bark of the south american Cinchona tree. The DNB says: “The compound tincture of cinchona bark in the British Pharmacopoeia, which also contains bitter orange peel, serpentary root, saffron, and cochineal mixed in spirit, was devised by him, and was for some time called ‘Huxham’s tincture.’” [back]

Wotton HouseGeorge Grenville (1712-1770) is not necessarily a household name in garden history. Better known for his political life, George Grenville is more famous for his period as Prime Minister (16 April 1763 – 13 July 1765) and for his earlier involvement with the navy. Yet he lived at Wotton (as he called it himself, or Wotton House) in Buckinghamshire when Lancelot Brown worked there in the years 1742-46.1
His uncle, Viscount Cobham, and later his elder brother Richard Grenville are household names in some respect, although in garden historical circles their garden at Stowe has acclaimed a much higher level of fame than the men who owned it.

All in all, enough reason for me to dive into some of the family correspondence, looking for (of course) completely different stuff than I ended up finding. In the National Archives at Kew I flipped through some of George’s letters, in this case written to his sister Hester Grenville, also known as Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham.2 It is no surprise that their family’s gardens do come up in conversation sometimes. In 1760, for example, the Stowe part of the family made fun of George’s up till then futile attempts to get his lakes at Wotton filled with water -while their ‘new rivers‘ had filled up just fine, of course.3

But George Grenville also had an eye for smaller properties, and seems to have had strong ideas about the smallest issues. In July 1749 he writes about visiting a small property in Cookam, while on their way to nearby Cliveden (yet another big garden, a few miles east of Cookam). The house belonged to a certain Mrs Edwards, who at the time of Grenville’s visit had not yet returned from Bristol.4 The party nonetheless took possession of the kitchen, and enjoyed a meal. Grenville describes the house as ‘the prettiest gayest retirement I ever saw‘, but mentions that ‘the house is small and not extremely convenient‘ and that it would be impossible to live there during winter.
He goes on and writes to his sister that they were told of plans to cut down three trees -the only three on the property, George tells us. The party strongly opposed these plans, but what to do? In the absence of Mrs Edwards and thus incapable of convincing her to leave the trees be, they left her (in his words) ‘the following pathetick lines for her perusal‘:

Here the rude Axe with heaved stroke
Be never heard – my *nuts to crack
And lay my Tree upon its Back.


Poem in a letter from George Grenville to his sister Hester, July 9, 1749.

Grenville must have realized that the second half of this poem might spur some…, well… confusion. For his sister’s benefit, he added an asterisk in front of the word ‘nuts’, and the following explanation: *N.B. They are walnut Trees.

Ah! Thank you, George. A necessary explanation indeed. But I wonder whether he left the same explanation for poor Mrs Edwards…

Enhanced by Zemanta

  1. At the time of publishing this post I found out there is a complete issue of New Arcadian Journal devoted to the gardens at Wotton House and the involvement of the Grenville family therein. New Arcadian Journal 65/66 (2009). See the link in this footnote. I have not been able to get my hands on that, yet. [back]
  2. The National Archives, PRO 30/8/34/1, letters from George Grenville, her second brother [to Hester Pitt, born Grenville -HvdE], 1746-1770. [back]
  3. The National Archives, PRO 30/8/34/1, letter from George Grenville to Hester Pitt, June 27, 1760: ‘His [Lord Temple / Richard Grenville] letter is in very high spirits, not without some degree of insolence upon the dry bottoms of our lakes at Wotton compar’d with the new rivers which are making & filling at Stowe, (…).’ [back]
  4. The name of the place is never mentioned, and although this Cookam Parish description from 1923 mentions several bigger houses and manors, I haven’t been able to tie one of them to the property mentioned in George’s letter. [back]

If we have anything to learn from the recent discovery of the remains of a 19th century garden grotto in Hamburg, it is this: if the Ivy looks too big to be true, it probably ís too big to be true. Because that is where it had been hiding for decades, this grotto like structure that according to ‘Gartenbauexperte‘ Jens Beck belonged to a bigger Winter Garden: under a big ivy. Even the caretaker of the building the garden now belongs to, had only suspected there was something under the Ivy. (The photo is part of a series by Michael Rauhe, and comes from -and links back to- Die Welt newspaper.)


The article linked to in the first sentence quotes Beck in saying that this Winter Garden was probably built between 1860 and 1890. The structure must have been attached to a lakeview property that once stood in the lakeside street called ‘An der Alster‘ nr. 34, bordering the southeastern shoreline of the ‘Aussenalster‘ just north of the Hamburg city centre.  The article elaborates a little bit on the main occurrences of this type of garden (France, according to them), and mentions that the kings of Bavaria also had these kinds of gardens made. Ludwig II had a Wintergarten built on the roof of his Munich residence in 1869. It appears the Residenz Museum in Munich has an exhibition on the Wintergarten there. The garden was demolished in 1897, three years after Ludwig II died.
To find a Winter Garden this far north, and in a big city, is thought to be remarkable.

Dutch Winter Gardens
In the Netherlands, some examples are known, some of which are still rudimentally visible, like the one in the Krasnapolsky Hotel in Amsterdam. A big and very much older example than the German Wintergärten mentioned thus far, was that of Dutch King Willem II, created in greenhouses next to his Kneuterdijk Palace in The Hague. An exhibition was held at Paleis Het Loo in 2010, to remind us of that garden that was broken down and auctioned in 1850, a year after Willem II died (these Winter Gardens must have been an acquired taste: they don’t seem to have outlived their creators for too long…).
More examples and information (in Dutch) on Winter Gardens in the Netherlands, can be found in a post from January 2013 on the TuinTerTijd weblog, here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Well, I díd ask…

I asked a question in my last post. This one: “Or could the circular area -with or without building- surrounded by a thick planting of evergreens have been the norm at the time?“.

Circular space surrounded by evergreens in the Bidloo garden‘At the time’, being the 1720s, as that was when two drawings of such a circular open space -can’t really call them a square, can you?- were produced. But one of these gardens was near Moscow, Russia -owned by a Dutchman (Nicolaas Bidloo, who also drew the picture on the left)1 ; the other near Plymouth, in the south-eastern corner of Cornwall, England (drawn by Edmund Prideaux). I couldn’t see how these people, drawing in gardens  thousands of kilometers apart, could have influenced each other, or have known about this particular layout in each others garden.
Hence the question. Was it normal? And by extension: is there a source they both could have known?

And as it happens, getting a question answered often only takes this: start flipping through a random book you just bought a few weeks ago. That book was ‘Gentlemen Gardeners’, by Timothy Mowl.2 The answer -or rather: part of it- was at page 46, in the form of a birds-eye view of the Earl of Essex’s estate Cassiobury, now a public park in the north-western part of Watford.
In the foreground, a large round open space is drawn, surrounded by evergreens in what appears to be a somewhat loose order (click the images to enlarge).

Cassiobury, by Knyff (1707)

Cassiobury, by Knyff (1707)

Cassiobury, after Knyff (?)

Cassiobury, after Knyff (?)

The garden of Cassiobury was designed by Moses Cook, around 1669.3 This view was published both in England and in The Netherlands. In 1708-09 it was published as plate 28 in the Britannia Illustrata (this publication was essentially a Dutch affair, when one looks at the people involved).4 Later it was (re)printed by Dutch publisher Pieter van der Aa, as page 569 in a publication currently unknown to me.5

Prideaux may have known the garden of Cassiobury from first hand experience, but he certainly must have been familiar with the Britannia Illustrata, when he made his Mount Edgcumbe drawing. Bidloo could also have known about that publication, or may have been familiar with the publication Pieter van der Aa used it in.

Whether or not this was common usage is something I’ll need to look into.6 There is, however, a beautiful twist to the Cassiobury story. Looking for more and/or better examples of the print, I found an image posted by the Special Collections Department of the Iowa State University (ISU) library. This lantern slide from the collection of american landscape architect Warren Henry Manning (1860-1938) has the same elevated point of view as the original Cassiobury print by Knyff.

Cashiobury, Lord Essex, Hertfordshire, England (Manning Lantern Slide: 967)

But the planting is presented in a more simple style here. And every indication of evergreens has been eliminated. Perhaps that is a matter of technical limitations of the medium. Perhaps the producers of the slide weren’t too concerned about the literal correctness of the slide with its original, or otherwise indifferent. Perhaps it is telling of a difference in taste.

Who knows. But these are other questions…

  1. I know it doesn’t look circular here, but please check the pictures in this post to see that it actually was round. [back]
  2. Timothy Mowl, Gentlemen Gardeners. The men who created the English landscape garden, Stroud 2010 (originally published in 2000). There is, by the way, nothing ‘random’ about this book. [back]
  3. Mowl, op.cit., p45. [back]
  4. Jan Kip and Johannes Knyff, Britannia Illustrata: Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates, London (1707, published in the winter of 1708 – 09). [back]
  5. The print/page is for sale at the moment, but without indication of the publication it was taken out of -maybe the seller is unaware as well. [back]
  6. Maybe Moses Cook himself wrote about it, in his 1676 publication The Manner of Raising, Ordering, and Improving Forest and Fruit-Trees: Also, How to Plant, Make and Keep Woods, Walks, Avenues, Lawns, Hedges, etc., London (1676). [back]

Gardens of association

Today a month ago the 2013 Painshill Conference, titled ‘Gardens of Association: the Roles and Meanings of Garden Buildings in Eighteenth Century Landscapes’, kicked off for a remarkable two days of lectures and discussion. I do not intend (or pretend) to write a review of this great and interesting conference, but there are some points I’d like to highlight.

The conference itself began with a broad look at types of garden buildings, went on to gradually focus on more specific types, uses and the (possible but often contested) meanings and iconographies of these structures. The harking back to Anglo-Saxon legacy by both Whigs and Tories; the neo gothic and its different connotations for Catholics and reformed garden owners/garden visitors; and the changing iconography of Stowe after the British victory in the Seven Years war -they all made an appearance. Towards the end of the conference the focus went more and more towards one of the main features at Painshill itself, the recently restored crystal grotto:

Crystal Grotto at Painshill

Painshill, the restored crystal grotto. Photo: Painshill Park Trust, 2013.

The following are just a few personal observations during these two days.

Mount Edgcumbe garden building vs. the Bidloo garden in Moscow.
Bidloo garden viewRichard Hewlings showed a picture of an 18th century drawing of a garden building at Mount Edgcumbe (near Plymouth). I don’t have it here, but the most important feature of that picture for me was not the building, but the planting of evergreens surrounding it. That immediately brought to mind the drawing on the left, by and of the garden of the Dutch physician Nicolaas Bidloo, near Moscow (see this previous post).
I think the author of the Mount Edgcumbe drawing was called Prudeau Edmund Prideaux (1693-1745), drawing this around 1727 -according to my notes. I hope this drawing is published somewhere, but I didn’t get that impression at the time. So you’ll just have to take my word for it, but if we do away with the fence in the Bidloo drawing and replace the gardener with the Mount Edgcumbe garden building, the resemblances are remarkable. Bidloo‘s drawing dates from the same period (late 1720s), but was never published till the 1970s. Could he have known the Mount Edgcumbe drawing? Or could the circular area -with or without building- surrounded by a thick planting of evergreens have been the norm at the time?

Stourhead vs Rievaulx Terrace .
Oliver Cox was invited to talk about his view on the attempts to explain Stourhead‘s iconography over the last decades. Like he did earlier in his article in the GHS journal, Cox ‘condemned’ (nicely) academic disregard for contemporary garden visitors’ descriptions.1 These visitors never gave any indication of being aware of even the existence of an iconographic program in the garden of Stourhead, let alone that they made attempts to explain it.
Michael Symes, in another context, used the term ‘iconographic phallacy’ to describe how an intended iconography, deliberatly used by the garden owner and/or garden designer, could sometimes not land with the garden’s visitors and therefore remain largely unnoticed. It doesn’t mean the iconography wasn’t there, it just wasn’t picked up.
But that is of course the usual slippery slope iconographical explanations -without solid backing from contemporary sources- have always had to deal with, a situation that will always have to be taken into account. In that sense Cox’s sceptic approach can only be applauded.

But one argument Cox uses to underline his point strikes me as odd. He mentions that in c1818 a guide to the garden of Stourhead was published, in which the entrance was on a totally different place than where modern ‘academics’ thought it had been. The routing of the garden was different, therefore the garden buildings were not approached in the careful order suggested by the advocates of different iconographical explanations -who relied on this particular routing.2
Cox combines this with the lack of iconographic references in visitors’ accounts, to question modern ‘academia’ in their attempts to impose an iconography on Stourhead gardens.
My objection would be that this c1818 guide was published over half a century after most garden buildings at Stourhead had been built, or at least conceived. It is not impossible that two generations later, the garden was conceived in a different light and that certain changes in taste were followed by adaptations in the layout. I don’t see how this entrance being on another location then could say anything worthwhile about the situation 50 to 60 years earlier, without evidence supporting the fact that the entrance had been on that location all along. As that evidence is not supplied, I can’t help but conclude that Cox is replacing one ‘slippery slope’ by another.

Speaking of slopes: it is here where Rievaulx Terrace comes into play, as far as I am concerned. Just half an hour earlier, dr Patrick Eyres was speaking at  the conference. He mentioned, that where the approach to Rievaulx Terrace in the 1770s focussed on the views at the low lying ruined abby from the terrace, that situation seems to have changed by 1820. Then, at least one account heralds the view at Rievaulx from the valley the abbey was built in. Turner’s 1836 watercolor also uses that lower view point. Could this same movement have happened at Stourhead? And thus caused the entrance to be relocated to a position more suitable to the early 19th century taste?

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the overall approach to British gardens -and the elements in them- changed to such an extend between 1760 and 1820, that in some cases (quite literally) the approach or entrance itself needed to be changed. There are practical reasons to think of in the case of Rievaulx Terrace: maybe the views from above were overgrown and not discernable anymore. But this is a subject that is worthwhile investigating.

Tea house activities
I’d like to end this on a much lighter note. As we’re on ‘slippery slopes’ anyway, I’ll descend a little bit further to embrace another garden building ‘association’. While summarizing one of the lectures, conference chairman Tim Richardson said in a by-line: “There’s not much else one can do in an open structure like a Chinese tea house, than, well… have tea.” From a Western viewpoint, he is probably right. But I’d recommend a visit to the British Museum’s current Shunga exposition exhibition, to see how these buildings could also be used -in their original context, both in Japan and China (and maybe provided one’s teahouse has a second floor).
See the video for a ‘curators introduction’ to this exhibition, the caption image is a tea house scene already.


Enhanced by Zemanta

  1. Oliver Cox, ‘A mistaken iconography? Eighteenth-century visitor accounts of Stourhead’, in Garden History 40:1 (2012), p.98-116. [back]
  2. Oliver Cox, op.cit., p.104. [back]

Older posts »