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The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam
By Robert Adam, James Adam
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1980 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
DESIGNS OF SION HOUSE
a magnificent Seat of His Grace The Duke of Northumberland, In the County of Middlesex PLATES 1–8
Some apology may, perhaps, be requisite for giving to the world a book of architecture, after so many works of this kind have been published in Italy, France and England during the two last centuries.
The novelty and variety of the following designs, will, we flatter ourselves, not only excuse, but justify our conduct, in communicating them to the world. — We have not trod in the path of others, nor derived aid from their labours. In the works which we have had the honour to execute, we have not only met with the approbation of our employers, but even with the imitation of other artists, to such a degree, as in some measure to have brought about, in this country, a kind of revolution in the whole system of this useful and elegant art. These circumstances induced us to hope, that to collect and engrave our works would afford both entertainment and instruction.
To enter upon an enquiry into the state of this art in Great Britain, till the late changes it has undergone, is no part of our present design. We leave that subject to the observation of the skilful; who we doubt not, will easily perceive, within these few years, a remarkable improvement in the form, convenience, arrangement, and relief of apartments; a greater movement and variety, in the outside composition, and in the decoration of the inside, an almost total change.
The massive entablature, the ponderous compartment ceiling, the tabernacle frame, almost the only species of ornament formerly known, in this country, are now universally exploded, and in their place, we have adopted a beautiful variety of light mouldings, gracefully formed, delicately enriched and arranged with propriety and skill. We have introduced a great diversity of ceilings, freezes, and decorated pilasters, and have added grace and beauty to the whole, by a mixture of grotesque stucco, and painted ornaments, together with the flowing rainçeau, with its fanciful figures and winding foliage.
Whether our works have not contributed to diffuse these improvements in architecture, through this country, we shall leave to the impartial public.
— We, by no means, presume to find fault, with the compositions, or to decry the labours of other authors; many of whom have much merit and deserve great praise. Our ambition is to share with others, not to appropriate to ourselves the applause of the public; and, if we have any claim to approbation, we found it on this alone: That we flatter ourselves, we have been able to seize, with some degree of success, the beautiful spirit of antiquity, and to transfuse it, with novelty and variety, through all our numerous works.
We intended to have prefixed to our designs a dissertation concerning the rise and progress of architecture in Great Britain; and to have pointed out the various stages of its improvements from the time, that our ancestors, relinquishing the gothick style, began to aim at an imitation of the Grecian manner, until it attained that degree of perfection at which it has now arrived. — We have made many observations, and collected various materials to enable us to illustrate this curious and entertaining subject; but to digest and arrange these would require more time than we can command amidst the multiplied occupations of an active profession. We, therefore, reserve the subject for some period of greater leisure.
The rules and orders of architecture, are so generally known, and may be found in so many books, that it would be tedious, and even absurd, to treat of them in this work. We beg leave, however, to observe that among architects destitute of genius and incapable of venturing into the great line of their art, the attention paid to those rules and proportions is frequently minute and frivolous. The great masters of antiquity were not so rigidly scrupulous, they varied the proportions as the general spirit of their composition required, clearly perceiving, that however necessary these rules may be to form the taste and to correct the licentiousness of the scholar, they often cramp the genius and circumscribe the ideas of the master.
We have given a short explanation of the plates, accompanied with such observations as we imagined might be both useful and entertaining.
We have thought it proper to colour with the tints, used in the execution, a few copies of each number, not only that posterity might be enabled to judge with more accuracy concerning the taste of the present age, and that foreign connoisseurs might have it in their power to indulge their curiosity with respect to our national style of ornament; but that the public in general might have an opportunity of cultivating the beautiful art of decoration, hitherto so little understood in most of the countries of Europe.
We hope it will be thought no more than justice to ourselves, thus to ascertain the originality of our designs, and enable the world to discover, where they have been imitated with judgment, and where they have been servilely copied or misapplied. — An artist who feels in himself an inability of presenting to the public any thing from his own store of invention, has no title to be offended if an author is solicitous to vindicate himself to posterity from any imputation of plagiarism.
As this work will not only exhibit designs in architecture, but also in every kind of ornamental furniture, we imagine it may be particularly useful to those whose professions require taste and elegance in that way.
EXPLANATION OF THE PLATES
In the year 1762, the Duke of Northumberland came to the resolution of fitting up the apartments of Sion House, in a magnificent manner. He communicated his intentions to me, and having expressed his desire, that the whole might be executed intirely in the antique style, he was pleased, in terms very flattering, to signify his confidence in my abilities to follow out his idea.
Upon this plan, the alterations and inside decorations of Sion House were begun, and as the idea was to me a favourite one, the subject great, the expence unlimited, and the Duke himself a person of extensive knowledge and correct taste in architecture, I endeavoured to render it a noble and elegant habitation, not unworthy of a proprietor, who possessed not only wealth to execute a great design, but skill to judge of its merit.
Some inequality in the levels of the old floors, some limitations from the situation of the old walls, and some want of additional heights to the enlarged apartments, were the chief difficulties with which I had to struggle. These difficulties I flatter myself are in a great measure surmounted, so as not only to procure much convenience in the arrangement of the apartments, but likewise an elegant form and graceful proportion in the principal rooms.
The inequality of levels has been managed in such a manner as to increase the scenery and add to the movement, so that an apparent defect has been converted into a real beauty.
PLATE 1: Plan and elevation of the GATEWAY and PORTERS-LODGES, fronting the great west road.
The collonade and iron rail underneath, not only give an air of magnificence to this building, but were also intended by His Grace to gratify the curiosity of the public, by giving to travellers an opportunity of viewing from the road, the park, lawn, bridge, river, and the house itself at a little distance, closing the beautiful scene.
An inscription was proposed on the pannel over the gateway. The lyon on the pedestal at top is the ancient crest of the Percys.
PLATE 2: Detail, or parts at large of the GATEWAY fronting the great west road.
This detail will be found to have novelty, and I hope some degree of beauty to recommend it. The capital is altogether new, and has been deemed not unpleasing. The lyon's head introduced on the abbacus, and also in the center of the patera, and the claws, which whimsically form the bases of the pilasters, allude to the Percy crest.
The crescent introduced in the entablature and body of the vase, is the present crest of the family. The vase itself is of a graceful form, and the iron rail that runs between the columns is strong, yet light and uncommon.
PLATE 3: Plan and elevation of the BRIDGE over a branch of the river Thames.
This bridge makes part of the way leading from the great gate to the house; and I have endeavoured to make the decoration, light, gay, and graceful, the ideas which naturally arise in beholding the adjacent scenes. The whole is new, and is reckoned fanciful and pictoresque.
To suit a building to a scene, requires not only taste, but judgment in an artist. If any one shall copy this bridge, it must be placed neither in a deep valley, nor over a navigable river.
PLATE 4: Perspective view of the same BRIDGE.
PLATE 5: Plan of the principal FLOOR of Sion House.
What is shaded dark is already executed, what is of a lighter tint shows the alterations and additions still intended. The floor of the hall is considerably lower than that of the other apartments; this seeming defect was entirely removed, by introducing a few steps in the different places marked in the plan, which, as I have before observed, has a happy effect, and gives an additional pictoresque to the scene.
This plan, as it is here disposed, affords an opportunity of making some observations upon the form, arrangement, and relief of apartments, circumstances, which, however material, with respect to elegance as well as use, have hitherto been extremely little understood, or attended to, even in the greatest houses of this country.
Variety and gracefulness of form, so particularly courted by the ancients, have not been objects of much attention to modern artists. Bramante, Raphael, and Michael Angelo, those great restorers of the arts, almost entirely neglected this pleasing source of beauty. Pyrro Ligorio in his Papa Giulio and lodge in the Vatican garden, and some few masters of the Roman school, excited by the example of the ancients, and by an admiration of those remains of their works, which were always before their eyes, made some feeble efforts to revive this elegant mode, which since their time has been but little cultivated by Paladio, Jones, or any of the celebrated masters of this art; and it is only of late, that it has been again introduced into Great Britain with some rays of its ancient splendor.
A proper arrangement and relief of apartments are branches of architecture in which the French have excelled all other nations: these have united magnificence with utility in the hotels of their nobility, and have rendered them objects of universal imitation.
To understand thoroughly the art of living, it is necessary, perhaps, to have passed some time amongst the French, and to have studied the customs of that social and conversible people. In one particular, however, our manners prevent us from imitating them. Their eating rooms seldom or never constitute a piece in their great apartments, but lie out of the suite, and in fitting them up, little attention is paid to beauty or decoration. The reason of this is obvious; the French meet there only at meals, when they trust to the display of the table for show and magnificence, not to the decoration of the apartment: and as soon as the entertainment is over, they immediately retire to the rooms of company. It is not so with us. Accustomed by habit, or induced by the nature of our climate, we indulge more largely in the enjoyment of the bottle. Every person of rank here is either a member of the legislation, or entitled by his condition to take part in the political arrangements of his country, and to enter with ardour into those discussions to which they give rise; these circumstances lead men to live more with one another, and more detached from the society of the ladies. The eating rooms are considered as the apartments of conversation, in which we are to pass a great part of our time. This renders it desireable to have them fitted up with elegance and splendor, but in a style different from that of other apartments. Instead of being hung with damask, tapestry, &c. they are always finished with stucco, and adorned with statues and paintings, that they may not retain the smell of the victuals.
But leaving a digression, which perhaps may appear not uninstructive, as it points out the necessity of varying the style of architecture so as to accommodate it to the manners and habits of different nations, we shall now return to a more regular inspection and explanation of the plan before us.
The hall, both in our houses and in those of France, is a spacious apartment, intended as the room of access where servants in livery attend. It is here a room of great dimension, is finished with stucco, as halls always are, and is formed with a recess at each end, one square and the other circular, which have a noble effect and increase the variety.
The anti-rooms on each side. are for the attendance of the servants out of livery, and also for that of tradesmen, &c. these are relieved by the back stairs in the towers. That on the side of the great apartment is square, and is decorated with columns of verd antique marble, as represented in the plan and sections, which standing insulated, serve to form the room and heighten the scenery. The anti-room, on the side of the private apartment, is formed into an oval, a figure seldom or never used by the ancients, but has been sometimes introduced by the moderns with success, and was here in some respect necessary from the oblong shape of the room.
Next to the anti-rooms, are the public and private eating-rooms, the publick one is a room of great extent, finished with stucco, and adorned with niches and statues of marble; it is formed into a great circular recess at each end, decorated with screens of columns. The private one has also its recesses and stucco finishing, and is relieved by a back-stair for the use of the servants.
Next to the great eating-room, lies a splendid with-drawing room, for the ladies, or salle de compagnie, as it is called by the French; this is varied from the other rooms, by the form of its ceiling, which is coved and painted in compartments. It gives access into a gallery of great length, tho' rather too narrow and too low to be in the just proportion we could have wished. It is, however, finished in a style to afford great variety and amusement; and is, for this reason, an admirable room for the reception of company before dinner, or for the ladies to retire to after it: For the with-drawing room lying between this and the eating-room, prevents the noise of the men from being troublesome; and for this reason, we would always recommend the intervention of a room, in great apartments, to prevent such inconvenience.
The little closets or cabinets, the one circular for china, and the other square for miniatures, at each end of the gallery, serve only for an additional amusement. The gallery itself, as well as the private apartments, is relieved by the circular back stairs, and gives access to the ranges of apartments on both sides.
The great circular saloon, is a noble room, entering from the hall, and leading into the gallery and great stairs, relieves all the other apartments: this serves also for a room of general rendezvous, and for public entertainments, with illuminations, dancing, and music. The form is new and singular; it is a circle within a circle, the smaller opening into a larger, by eight peircings, adorned with columns, and terminated with niches and statues, so that the scenery, like the decorations of a theatre, apparently increases the extent, and leaves room for the imagination to play.
The private apartments are now the only part of the plan remaining undescribed; on one hand is the Dutchess's bed-chamber, an anti-room for the attendance of her maids, her toilet or dressing-room, her powdering-room, water-closet, and outer anti-room, with a back stair leading to intersols for the maids bed-room and wardrobes, &c. On the other hand is a dressing-room for the Duke, a powdering-room, writing-room, water-closet and stairs to intersols for His Grace's valet-de-chambre, and wardrobe, &c. In these, little form is necessary, and none is here attempted, except what may serve in some measure to diversify the scene.
We should not have dared to enter so minutely into the description of this plan, if we did not imagine that this is one of those branches of our art, which has not hitherto been treated of with any accuracy, or studied with any care; though of all others the most essential, both to the splendor and convenience of life.
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