Monday, 29 April 2013

(6) Carlton House London- A Virtual Tour of the East Range of State Apartments on the Lower Floor

An alcove in the Gothic Dining Room showing
the Heraldic Shields and display of silver-gilt plate

This is a continuation of our fully guided 'virtual tour' of Carlton House, London. Should you not have read the earlier instalments in this series, please commence from HERE.

Should you reference this Blog elsewhere, please cite

Marked plans of each floor will show your location as you progress through each room.

To refresh our memory, we are now on the Basement Floor at the foot of the 'Great Staircase' .

Location of the Great Staircase as viewed on a plan of the
 Basement Floor. 

The previously viewed engraving below reminds us of the view as we reach the Basement Level of the 'Great Staircase'. We are now standing in front of the gilt ormolu clock and about to enter the 'Ante-Room' or Lower Vestibule directly ahead of us.

The 'Great Staircase', as viewed
from just above the Basement Floor

Prior to the rebuilding of Carlton House after 1783, the basement floor had been used as domestic offices and apartments for the household. What we shall view is primarily the work of the Architect John Nash, completed during the last great rebuilding of 1814-15; "An elegant suite of rooms have been formed, of the most splendid description, rivalling, in every respect, (but height) the grandeur of the state apartments." 

While the Basement Floor had some height restrictions, the south range provided a pleasant and useful enfilade of 'flow-through' rooms. The windows are in the French Style with at least some, if not all, opening inwards to give ready access to the front lawn and Carlton House Gardens. But windows on the opposite north side were below the level of the 'Principal Court' fronting Pall Mall. Daylight was only admitted by means of the Court being set back from the walls with decorative iron railings at ground level, a common design in period Georgian buildings. 

Other 'below ground' rooms on the north side remained almost exclusively as service rooms. We know that the large room at the north-east corner of the Basement Floor, and directly below the kitchen, was used as the Servant's Hall. Other service rooms on this floor included the maids kitchen, confectioner's room, coffee room, pantries, larders, sculleries, a waiting room, wine cellars, silver and plate rooms, dressing room, cold baths, warm baths, and a 'chair passage'.    

The Basement floor, as we shall observe, is also characterised by some ingenious architectural elements to lessen the impact of the slightly lower and (necessarily) flat ceilings and of the visibility of some (again necessary) structural elements. 

We now walk straight ahead into the 'Ante Chamber' or Lower Vestibule then turn right to face the columns which are shown as black dots on the floor plan below.

Location of the Ante-Chamber of Lower Vestibule

We then walk through the double row of green scagliola Corinthian style columns and pilasters [matching pillars built into the walls], characterised by a profusion of decorative gilding to the capitals, bases and architraves. Between the pilasters on both sides "are splendid looking-glasses, which, from their reflection, produce the appearance of an interminable colonnadeThe effect is delightful". The walls are covered with scarlet cloth with gilt mouldings, and the window curtains and draperies in a corresponding fabric. The chimney-piece is of statuary marble, over which is a clock that has neither a dial, face or hand and "is viewed as a great curiosity". [one assumes it merely struck the hours and possibly the quarters]. Also adorning this room are "a splendid collection of Bijouterie [trinkets and ornaments] and articles of Virtu [curios and objects of art], in vases, candelabra, pier tables , and other ornaments of most exquisite beauty and design".

Paintings which embellish this room have been selected with great taste including, an "Architectural Painting" by Van der Heyden; "A Landscape With Figures" by Teniers; "A Family Piece" by Graat; "A Castle Piece" by Berchem, "Interior of a Durch Musico" by Steen; "A Water Mill" by Hobbema; "A Stag Hunt with Lansdscape" by Hackaert; "An Old Woman Buying Fruit" by Douw; "Horses" by Vandyke, "The Oyster Feast" by Mieris; two landscapes by Teniers; and "A River Scene" by Cuyp.

"The whole of these paintings are so delightfully finished, that it almost seems a libel on the visitor's taste, from the hurried manner he is compelled to pass them over."

 The view below is as we glance back behind us.

While the columns not only look imposing they more importantly give structural support by holding up the wall between the 'Octagon' and the 'First Ante-Chamber' above. The ceilings on this floor are primarily painted with clouds on a blue sky, an allusion designed to give the impression of an open sky and emphasize height within these long, low (by the Prince Regent's standards!) rooms. The door at left, which leads through to the Bow Room, has large folding doors.

Lower Vestibule or Ante-Room

We now turn to our right and walk though to the 'Gothic Library'. Unfortunately there appear to be no extant images of the library, nor of any other previous library within Carlton House. We know that a second "Gothic library" was installed at the same time as the rebuilding of the Basement Floor rooms in 1814-15 so this will be the library referred to.

Location of the Library

The Library is describes as having five window facing the garden (again in the French style), and being "conveniently appointed" :

"[The Library] is a splendid apartment, containing many thousand volumes of the choicest books, in all languages, and in the most splendid bindings."

"The books are handsomely bound and arranged in classes, under the Librarian, Dr Stanier Clarke. The appearance of the Library not only displays considerable taste, but convenience has also been consulted. A fine collection of maps, concealed by the cornices of the book-cases, on spring rollers, can be referred to without the least trouble. The doors are also concealed by imitation books."

In the three window recesses and upon Boulle [Buhl] pedestals, are placed "three highly finished models of the triumphal arches of Constantine, Septimus Severus, and Titus Vespasian, executed in statuary marble with chased ornaments in ormolu, basso relievos [bass relief], and alto relievo [high relief], representing groups of figures, busts, and horses, executed by the finest Italian artists." All are modelled to scale and admirably executed.

A carved Gothic style Throne supplied
in 1808 for the Gothic Library.
[Source : The Royal Collection]

Additionally embellishing this handsome room were "...several figures, busts, and horses,.... Ebony chairs of the time of Henry VIII., with scarlet cushions, and the furniture, &c. to correspond. The chimney-piece is supported by four columns of the Corinthian order, and on which is placed a curious clock, constructed by Sir W. Congreve." [Pierce Egan, 1821]

The 'Congreve'  clock is recorded as having been in the Carlton House Library since 1808.

The brass skeleton clock referred to above, being designed
by Sir William Congreve and made by John Moxon
[Source : The Royal Collection]   

The Prince Regent was in fact recorded as being an avid reader and it would appear that he encouraged his household to do the same. "...The King is in the habit of reading every newspaper that is published." [Earl Gray, 1829]. And no less than 546 copies of eight different newspapers were delivered to Carlton House every day for the King and his household to read.

We now continue through the folding doors to the elegant "Corinthian Room" or Drawing Room.

Location of the Corinthian or Drawing Room

This imposing and "regal" room did not exist prior to 1814, being created out of three rooms which contained a cold bath, a warm bath, and dressing room, plus a slight extension to the east wall. Our first impression upon entering is of the profusion of elegant gilded Corinthian columns with burnished and matted gold. Large panels on the doors contain whole pieces of looking-glass, while additionally, large framed looking glasses are hung facing each other on the walls of the two small corner rooms, all reflecting light, each other, and overall giving the illusion of infinite spaciousness, or as a period commentator described, "representing no end". The two small corners rooms lead on one side to a small private staircase up to what had been (pre 1814) the Prince's personal quarters, and on the other nothing more than a 'cabinet' for storage and to 'balance' the look of the room. With couches placed under the looking glasses and with bookcases and a fireplace along the north wall it does create a somewhat more convivial area within this rather large space. 

With the profusion of elegant draperies, the China jars on display, the candlesticks, the tables and the sofas, led one period commentator to describe this room thus : 

"All that invention could suggest, all that the powers of art could master, and all that talents could supply, have been united with such a felicity of effect in this Golden Drawing-Room, as proudly to bid anything like competition defiance."

Additionally adorning this magnificent room were paintings "Two pictures of Village Festivals [The Village Fête], both by Teniers and hung in recesses either side of the fireplace; "A Horse-Market" by Wouvermans; and "A Laboratory" also by Teniers. This room also included a beautiful white marble time-piece. 

"A Horse Fair in front of a Town" by Wouvermans
[Source : The Royal Collection]

The view below is looking towards the Gothic Dining Room which we shall enter next.  

Golden Drawing Room / Corinthian Room

The Prince Regent delighted in holding "splendid levees [receptions] and admirable dinners" and these flow-through rooms, with large doorways or openings affording large inter-connected gathering spaces, would have been made good use of. One can almost imagine this room full of chattering guests in full Court evening dress enjoying the Prince Regent's generous hospitality prior to walking through to the adjoining Dining Room to partake of a large banquet. 

Court dress for men at this time consisted of dress coats, almost always including embroidered detail in gold thread or similar, being commonly in black, brown, dark green, purple or blue, with silk breeches to match. Waistcoats were generally in white satin, again sometimes embroidered. The outfit would be worn with white silk stockings, black shoes with shoe buckles, and a sword. A woven wig would generally be worn including a 'wig-bag' on the back of the neck. But after political opponents put a tax on wig powder the Prince Regent dispensed with his wig, thus starting a new fashion trend. Hats (not worn indoors) were crescent-shaped 'chapeau-bras', known as an opera-hat, being developed in the 1760's-1770's from the three-cornered hat. In the second decade of the nineteenth century, this hat became commonly known as 'the cocked hat'. Those entitled to wear formal military attire would of course have done so. 

For women, Court dress also meant wearing the most opulent style of clothing. Fashion and wealth had usually dictated what was worn but by the early 19th century a particular style of Court Dress had emerged. Women in attendance at the Royal Court were still to be seen in garments fitted with side-hoops, being redolent of forms of dress which had been fashionable back in the mid-18th century. After his coronation in 1820, King George IV made known his opinion that obsolete 'side-hooped' dresses should no longer be worn at Court; and thereafter current fashion again began to have more of an impact on the style of dress worn at court. Dresses were still full length touching the ground or flowing, including added detail such as an exuberance of lace around the chest, visible layering to the silk fabric, and decorated with ruffles or other decorative stitching. For reasons of propriety, dresses were still reasonably bulked up with bloomers and under-skirts. Such attire would normally include a full length cape or train which would generally (but not always as in the case of a train) be removed once indoors. Headdress originally included a wig but this attire appears to have later been dispensed with, being replaced with curled natural hair and a 'head-dress' of plumed feathers placed in an upright manner so as not to become an annoyance as they were also worn indoors. Silk gloves would be worn, covering the entire arm to the elbow. A delicate hand-held fan would be a necessary fashion accessory. Finally, make-up and expensive necklaces or 'choker' necklaces would be worn to impress [Edited source on Court Dress : Wikipedia]

In the view below we have a side view within the above-mentioned space between the two corner rooms. You are not looking at a painting on the wall but a large gilt-framed 'looking glass'. The profusion of red upholstery and bright gilding under a plain, light coloured ceiling accentuate the bright colours. A heavily painted or moulded plaster ceiling would have created the illusion of a heavy, low ceiling in such a large room rather than of height which the architect has admirably achieved. The profusion of upright pillars accentuate the illusion of height and do not detract from the overall aesthetics of the room. The ornate round table appears to be the twin of the one we noted in the Blue Velvet Closet.

The Alcove in the Golden Drawing Room

We now pass through folding doors to the Gothic Dining Room at the extreme east end of the Basement Floor. 

Location of the Gothic Dining Room

This room also did not exist prior to 1814, being added by the Architect John Nash by means of a single-storied extension out into the 'Second Court'. Here we can fully appreciate - and no doubt proffer an opinion - on the distinct Gothic Revival style employed in this room. 

The Dining Room " divided into five compartments, each being circumscribed by a Gothic arch, supported by clusters of pillars with capitals composed of the Prince's plume. Enriched brackets spring across the ceiling with spandrels of elegant tracery work; the panel, screen and frame-work of the room are of wainscot, highly varnished;  on the panels are twenty-six shields, emblazoned with the quarterings and heraldic bearings of the royal arms of England from the reign of Edward the Confessor to that of Queen Anne.

Suspended from the ceiling 'brackets' are chandeliers while a cloudy sky again gives the illusion of height on an otherwise flat ceiling. The east end of the room is characterised by a 'screen' of four gold arches, each containing looking-glasses flanked by pedestals to hold candelabra. Here too is placed a magnificent side-board or 'buffet'. The west end of the room is nearly similar in style. The window surrounds, which correspond in style to the decoration and gold mouldings evident on the opposite side of the room, are additionally adorned with rich crimson silk draperies. The overall effect at night during a banquet would be most impressive. 

A number of "brackets, shelves and tables" are used to display a large and valuable collection of precious silver gilt plate belonging to the Prince. These, together with the "embellishments" found in this room together with the "...elaborate scheme of heraldry", being the afore-mentioned panels emblazoned with shields of the Royal Arms of England from the reign of Edward the Confessor to the time of Queen Anne, all create a room of noble appearance.

Some period commentators considered that the use of the Gothic style 'brackets', together with the flat ceiling, produced "a very bad effect", being quite incongruous to the style adopted. Gothic architecture lent itself to a lofty vaulted ceiling but this was simply not possible due to the rooms situated directly above.

The Gothic Dining Room

As the caricature below infers, The Prince was well known for his love of good food and wine and naturally his banquets were extravagant and lengthy affairs. At formal gatherings and dinners more than one commentator also noted the Prince's "loquacity" [talkativeness], "He talked at inordinate length on all manner of subjects, political and otherwise" [Hibbert], and "When we meet His Royal Highness there is in general an end of everything but speeches from him." [Charles Grey]. Large parties invariable lasted until well into the night, or more commonly, into the following morning.

"A Voluptuary Under the Horrors of Digestion"-
A cartoon of the Prince which alludes to his love of
good food and wine, as drawn by James Gillray, 1792.
[Source : The British Museum]

We shall now retrace our steps through the Corinthian Room and the Library back to the Ante-Chamber.

Retracing our steps to the Lower Ante-Chamber

The next Blog in this series, which takes us on a 'Virtual Tour' of the western State Apartments on the Ground Floor and a look at the old Carlton House Gardens, may be viewed HERE.

Comments or corrections of any unintentional errors are appreciated however please cite your source.

Bibliography :

- Unless otherwise stated all images are from Wikipedia Commons and are in the Public Domain.
- Please refer to the first instalment in this series for the full bibliography.

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