What Meanings Did Contemporaries Attach To Styles

Fashionable In The Eighteenth Century Essay, Research Paper

The eighteenth century was a period of change as

much for the architectural world as for the world of the architect.???? The Glorious Revolution marked the

beginning of great stability, vast economic growth and population growth;

factors that would lead to a massive growth in the amount of building going on

in Britain.??? At the same time, London,

the hub of England, was transformed from a medieval city into a bustling stone

metropolis following the destruction of the old city during the Great

Fire.? The resulting boom in building

led to a popularisation of interest in architecture and the publication of

books detailing new fads and moulding patterns for use by builders in order

that they would be able to make their creations more fashionable without any

great effort.? The concept of taste as

something that was ?right? or ?wrong? (Shaftesbury saw taste as ?founded on

truth, or veri similitudae at the least?) meant that reactions against styles

of architecture were usually tacit or tepid, as disagreeing with the panels of virtuosos

in such establishments as the Dilettanti or Antiquarians dictated the

fashionable and the unfashionable A powerful new national bank (introduced by William

III who had seen such a system operate with great success in his native

Netherlands), combined with the gradual industrialisation of Britain, the

growth of Empire and the development of the modern capitalist system led to a

growth of British affluence.? By the end

of the eighteenth century, Britain had swept from being at the edge of European

affairs to being the arbiter of them, mostly due to her economic maturity.? The physical result of this for the average

Briton would have been the massive growth in public works.? Financed by Queen Anne?s Coal Tax, the

British government was capable of raising huge funds for the building of

tremendous buildings.? The economic power of the government at the

beginning of the eighteenth century was manifest from the new St. Paul?s

Cathedral.? One of the largest churches

in Christendom, the famous domed cathedral of the new metropolis was just one

of the hundreds of churches built by Wren in the late seventeenth century in

London alone.? This prolific master was

seen in the early eighteenth century as a great ?modern? to rival the

?ancients? and his work was everywhere to be seen. The result was a

proliferation of the baroque style.? The

baroque style was developed as a variation on the classical style during the

seventeenth century.? Abandoning the

classical rules of architecture as developed by Brunelleschi and Alberti (a

movement encouraged by the humanist movement who amongst other things advocated

study for its own sake, a point of philosophy that lead amongst other things to

a proliferation of interest in the classical works, including classical art and

architecture) whilst retaining the classical motifs, the baroque style was

replete with pilasters, columns, friezes and other obviously ?classical? motifs

and yet these were deliberately ?mismatched?.?

For example, St. Paul?s columns are paired together so that although the

pairs maintain equidistance, there is not equidistance between each column.? Equally the wanton placement of Doric,

Corinthian and Ionic columns would have been upsetting to the classical

architect. The abandonment of the strict rules governing the use of columns

allowed stylisation in a way impossible in the strictly classical mode. The rebuilding of London in the modern mode made the

old gothic buildings stand out to such an extent that many were retraced or

remoulded according to the new fashion.?

The Palladian school, based on Palladio?s famous treatise, was the

emergent fashion from the Wren era and as the government renewed the fabric of

London, a city that held more than twenty times as many citizens as the next

largest of England?s cities, the baroque and Palladian fad was transmitted

across the country. These affluent people would also contribute in great

measure to the boom in building.? The

growth of capitalism, catalysed by such events as William III?s wars, which led

to the growth of the powerful London banking network developed a tremendous

?moneyed interest?.? Wealth poured in

from colonies and trading posts, and the British foreign policy became one of

ensuring the safety of British global trade. This growth in commerce led to a

greater pool of disposable income available to a greater number of people, and

as such it led to a growth in the number of people building their homes

according to their tastes.? As the

gentry and lesser nobility grew in financial power, the agrarian revolution led

to an increase in the profits of the older landed class.? The corruption, contacts and bribery of

politics let such people as Walpole, born a lowly country squire, become one of

the richest men in Europe. The fad for building resulting from the

proliferation of disposable income and the new architectural trends that led to

such celebrated creations as Blenheim Palace, Houghton, Castle Howard, Chatsworth

and Woburn.? Old houses were retraced

and refitted, and landscaped gardens were built across the country.? The result of all of this building was a

massive increase in the demand for architects; a demand that would lead to an

increase in their status and to a new type of architect emerging.? Whereas John Vanburgh, Burlington and Boyle

were aristocrats who turned to architecture after a series of other jobs, the

profession of architect was becoming a profession in itself. Although

Burlington?s Palladian creations would bring him a reputation amongst

contemporaries to compete with Wren, the next generation of architects would be

known as architects alone.? Sir William

Chambers spent nine years travelling in the Orient, a year studying in Paris

and five years in Italy.? Robert Adam

had been a student at Edinburgh before France, Italy and Dalmatia all imposed

their styles on his consciousness.? The fad for travelling led to the import of many

ideas, examples and styles.? The

improvement in the technology of copper etching led to a new ability to convey

new styles, ancient styles and non European architecture in such publications

as ?The Gentleman?s Magazine.? ?Styles such as the Palladian, as pioneered by Burlington were

disseminated by such books as Kent?s ?Designs of Inigo Jones,? Castell?s

?Villas of the Ancients,? and Ware?s translation of Palladio?s treatise.

It is notable that in Marriage a la Mode, Lord Squander?s desired palace

is a Palladian mansion.? Hogarth wrote that it is in nature that one ought to

find forms, such as the Corinthian column having its origins in a basket of

dock leaves and that Palladio?s book was of such importance that no architect

should ?stir a step? without it.? He

also notes that extravagance inside a church is not really a good thing,

(despite his admiration of the building of St. Peter?s) as it is offensive to

his Anglican sentiments, and this aversion to extravagance and luxuria seems to

have spread.? The Dillettanti sponsored

the study of Palladian ?The Antiquities of Athens measured and delineated?. The

Palladian Hogarth complimented St. Paul?s Cathedral for its ?variety without

confusion, simplicity without nakedness, richness without tawdriness,

distinctness without hardness, and quantity without excess?.? The importance of excess as a vice (a

?luxuria? to be avoided) within the Palladian school?s ranks is clear from

Vanburgh?s letters, where he defends one of his creations claiming that it

could be lit by a small number of candles, and that the hall, despite contrary

reports, did not cause drafts to blow through the building, blowing out candles

as they went. Palladio was not universally popular. Adams? time in

Dalmatia was recorded in his ?Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at

Spalato.?? Palladio was much

undermined by this book as by Adam?s later work, ?The Works in Architecture

of R. and J. Adam.? Isaac Ware?s ?A Complete Body of Architecture? criticised

the concurrent trend for ?transfer[ing] the buildings of Italy right or wrong,

suited or unsuited to the purpose into England.?? Ware urged the architect instead to ?think, as well as to

practise? and to consider the ?purpose? of the building, despite the urgings of

Palladio to think in terms of lengths and breadths.? There were more weighty reasons for disliking the new

architectural mode of Palladian frontages and the Romanesque mode.? ?Stucco?d walls, Mosaic floors, Palladian windows and Venetian doors? were erected in England

?careless? of climate soil and place? and were often viewed as inappropriate

for the English world.? Despite the

support of the Dillettanti for the school, and the obvious confirmation of the

good taste of the style, James Cawthorn wrote that it was not only ridiculous

to build Mediterranean buildings in Britain, but in certain cases sacrilegious.? The copying of Greek or Roman temples,

circuses or ?Cyprian shrines? for use as churches he sees as blasphemous and

dangerous. Cawthorn goes on to attack the trend for Chinese

architecture, noting how the ?farms and seats? of England were trying to match

the ?villas of Pekin?. Chamber?s ?Design of Chinese Buildings? along

with prints produced by Jesuit missionaries and wandering artists proliferated

the cult of Chinese architecture as the pavilion of Hyde Park will

testify.? The fad for the east was most

evident in gardening where landscape artists such as Brown or Repton would, in

Hogarth?s words, install ?a serpentine river and a wood? as desired, based upon

the popularly circulated images of Chinese gardens.? Mrs. Delany speaks at length of how a traditional English estate

was transformed by landscaping so that they had ?opened a view to the river?

and turning the deer out.? Although Mrs.

Delany sees the deer as ?beautiful enliveners? of a view, she seems to approve

in general of the changes to the house which although ?not entirely finished

according to the plan, is very handsome and convenient.?? It is notable that in ?Humphry Clinker,? Mrs

Baynard?s crippling attempts at landscaping included the (disastrous)

installation of a stream.? The mode for

Chinese architecture was popular enough for Lord Kames to bitterly declare it

the preferred mode of building before ?the Gothic? or the ?Greek? schools.

Attacking the Chinese style, Shebbeare?s ?Letters on the English Nation?

criticises the proliferation of the school that encouraged ?little bits of wood

standing in all directions.?? Morris? ?The

Architectural Remembrancer? claims that the Chinese school ??consists in

mere whim and chimera, without rules or order?? and regards the whole school as

a ?novelty,? much like the eighteenth century Gothic school. The eighteenth century Gothic resurgence, led by

Horace Walpole?s Strawberry Hill villa near Twickenham.? Taking the opportunity to ?exhibit specimens

of Gothic architecture,? the resurgence of the Gothic style quickly overtook

the Palladian school.? Shebbeare?s ?Letters

on the English Nation? demonstrate some hostility to the Gothic school

although this likely to be more of an aesthetic hostility as opposed to

anything deeper, as he reflects on the ?minute unmeaning carvings which are

found in the Gothic chapels of a thousand years standing? and the hundreds of

houses with ?porches in that taste.? The ?novelty? styles (Gothic/Chinese) physically

contrast well with the Palladian buildings of the eighteenth century, yet all

were ?tasteful? and approved of.?

Although the novelty fads belong more to Regency England and people of

the echelon of the Macaroni, the age of the great town house brought out these

absurdly different styles.? The

Palladian school, although the height of traditional good taste, was criticised

for its ignorance of life in Britain.?

Open atria and mosaic flooring in halls are never advisable in wet

climates, and it was for such inadequacies of the school that it was condemned.


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