Wednesday, 27 March 2013

(2) Carlton House London - A Virtual Tour of the Entrance Rooms.

Detail of the Ionic Columns and Decoration
in the Entrance to the Great Hall

Continuing our series on Carlton House, we now commence our actual 'virtual tour' of this great house. Should you not have read the first instalment in this series, this may be accessed HERE.

Should you reference this Blog elsewhere, please cite

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

So, commencing our 'Tour', we approach Carlton House from Pall Mall, fronted by an attractive but merely ornamental Ionic colonnade "screen". This screen was considered by many as being superfluous, "a beautiful absurdity", but additionally obstructed the view of Carlton House. We must therefore drive past two sentry-boxes and through gates under one of two archways located at either side and then into the Principal Court.

An unfortunately low resolution but detailed engraving of 1813
depicting the guards outside Carlton House, including the Ionic
Portico. The road in the foreground is Pall Mall.
Published by Robert Laurie & James Whittle

While the classical dignity of the façade, together with the Corinthian portico added by Henry Holland were initially admired by most, favoured architectural styles are however apt to change. In later years public opinion became increasingly mixed.

Mr J Norris Brewer, an actual visitor from 1816, will provide us with his own scholarly observations throughout this tour :

"The façade has a centre and two wings, rusticated, without pilasters, an entablature, and balustrade which conceal the roof. The portico consists of six Composite columns, and a pediment with an enriched frieze, and a tympan, crowned with the prince's arms; but all the windows are without pediments, except two in the wings.... The front of Carlton House is too low, and consequently affords but one range of spacious apartments, [and] allows nothing more than a diminutive attic, with very small windows." [J.N.B., 1816] 

A Carriage departing Carlton House with the Ionic 'Screen' at right
[From an early 19th century engraving]

Our horse-drawn coach now pulls up under the elegant Corinthian styled Porte-Cochère. 

A close-up of the entrance to
Carlton House

Unusually for a mansion of this period, save for a flight of around six steps, we enter the 'First Hall' on the principal floor at the same level rather than ascending to an upper story. We shall now initially follow the normal route taken by the majority of visitors who entered Carlton House.

Using our 1795 plan of the Royal and State apartments of Carlton
House, we shall be led through each of the principal rooms. Here
we pass from the Front Portico through the First Hall.

We are now in the 'First Hall'. According to our plan of 1795, to our left lay an [East] Ante-Chamber then a Library at the bottom left corner of the above plan. A later plan from 1825 indicates that the library had by then become the kitchen - typically for the period being quite a long way from the Dining Rooms! There appear to be no extant images of the afore-mentioned [East] Ante-Room. As we shall see during this virtual tour, many of the rooms within Carlton House changed their purpose over the years. 

Now, walking through the small foyer or 'First Hall' shown above and past the East and West Ante-Chambers on either side (we shall pass through the West Ante-Chamber later), we walk straight ahead into the spacious 'Great Hall', which is fully 44 feet in length and 29 in breadth.  

Location of the Great Hall

We are immediately struck by the Graeco - Roman architecture of this handsome entrance hall.  The marble floor is chequered with black while the impressive light brown Ionic style columns of Siena marble support an entablature. The latter are painted to resemble the same Siena marble of the columns. The bases of the columns, capitals, and ornamentation, are all bronzed, and on the entablatures under recessed archways are a number of bronzed antique busts and vases by Nollekens.

"Upon the stylobate, are niches containing bronzed statues of the Antinöus and the Discobolus, with two corresponding female figures; above them, in bassi relievi [bass relief], on a ground of Sienna marble, are ornaments of the same material. Encompassed with festoons of oak, in the centre compartments, are cast-iron stoves, formed or Termini, supporting a canopy, over which is a beautiful bassi relievi of Roman armoury and implements of war. In the divisions of the corridor are painted sculptural ornaments and devices of the crest, and other insignia of the Royal possesssor." [C.M. Westmacott, 1824]

The 'Hall of Entrance', looking crossways. Visitors passed
 between the two sets of Ionic Columns on either side,
following the strip carpet.  

A high and impressive vaulted roof with a coffered ceiling which rises fully two stories while a delicate but effective oval fan-light in the ceiling usefully enables sun-light to filter down into this inner hall. The room is additionally decorated with "numerous sculptural ornaments". Six superb lanterns, being hung in various parts of the hall, provide lighting at night. We can just see all six lanterns in the view below.

A 'Scrolled-back' chair which decorated the
Great Hall, part of a set of ten made c.1790
and attributed to François Hervé.
Note the crown and Royal cypher.
[Source : The Royal Collection]

The engravings above and below are taken from a side perspective, ie., guests would walk transversely across the strip carpet between the two sets of Ionic columns on either side at left and right of our view. Service rooms were located on the opposite sides (straight ahead of us and behind us in the above view) and we see can see two doorways leading to such rooms straight ahead in our view.

The Hall as viewed in 1808, published in "Microcosm of London".
The Prince of Wales himself is represented with black top hat,
blue jacket, and wearing his Garter Badge.

As a visitor, we now walk straight ahead into 'The Octagon' or Vestibule Room. Our eyes will be instinctively drawn upwards.

Location of The Octagon

"From the hall, which is exceedingly magnificent, you pass through [into] an octagonal room, richly and tastefully ornamented, conducting to the grand suite of apartments on one side, and to the great staircase on the other." [J.N.B. 1816]

The appropriately named and quite delightful 'Octagon' room, surmounted by a most attractive gallery, efficiently provided access to the 'Great Hall' on the north side, the 'Great Staircase' on the western side, and servants and pages service areas on the eastern side. Above us is the 'Gallery of the Staircase' which we shall view later as we can only access the Gallery by ascending the adjoining 'Great Staircase'. 

The Vestibule (Octagon Room)
We have just walked into this room from the doorway at centre-right

We stop to admire the detailed plasterwork of the walls and ceiling, the rich velvet draperies edged with gold tassels suspended above each doorway, and also the marble busts placed on wall plinths being of the Duke's of Devonshire and Bedford, Lord Lake, and of the Prince's good friend, the Right Honourable Charles Fox [a Whig Politician], all executed by J.Nollekens, R.A.   

The Hon. Charles Fox
(Whig Politician)
by Joseph Nollekens
[The Royal Collection]
William Cavendish,
5th Duke of Devonshire
by Joseph Nollekens
[The Royal Collection]

We now continue to walk straight ahead and into the 'First Ante-Chamber' which formed part of the south range of Apartments on the Principal Floor facing the front lawn of Carlton House Gardens.

Location of the First Ante-Chamber

The First Ante-Chamber "Operates as a sort of prelude to the ... magnificent rooms [of the State Apartments]".

"The 'Coup d'oiel' of this chamber is singularly chaste and beautiful, the emblematical decorations well designed, and in fine keeping with the splendour of the superior apartments."

First Ante-Chamber Looking North.
Through the doorway can be seen the 'Octagon' room.

Through the doorway in the view above (looking north) can be seen the 'Octagon' room which we have just passed through. 

We now turn back around to look south. This is the view we see below. We can just see some of the shrubbery of Carlton House Gardens through the lace curtains covering the two windows overlooking the front lawn. We are now on the 'piano-nobile', i.e., on an upper floor in relation to the gardens below. All windows on this floor are in the French style, opening inwards to reveal a wrought or cast iron railing but only extending to the width of the window casement itself.

The First Ante-Chamber looking south towards Carlton House Gardens

Large pier-glasses above the mantle piece and between the windows reflect the objects before them. The chimney-piece is in fact of white marble and "is very fine". Above the latter may be seen (in the image below) the oval portrait of the celebrated Madame Pompadour, "an animated picture displaying the peculiarities of the French school".

Two superb Boulle cabinets decorate opposite sides of this room. A magnificent cabinet by Etienne Levasseur c.1700, also of Boulle [oak, ebony, tortoiseshell and brass with gilt bronze mounts] and placed opposite the fire-place, supports a bronze equestrian statue of King William III portrayed in Roman armour and crowned by Victory and tramping rebellion under his feet [Attrib. to Roger Schabol, pre 1720]. Two further small antique bronzes are of the Venus de Medicis and of King Louis XIV in Roman armour [by Louis-Claude Vassé, c.1759-63].

The Boulle Secretaire by Etienne Levasseur, c.1700
which can be seen at left in the above engraving.
[Source : The Royal Collection]

Above each of the four doors are charming portraits by Sir William Beechey of King George IV's Royal sisters, being the Princesses Augusta, Elizabeth, Mary, and Sophia, "more pleasing than great works of art" but all "painted with great delicacy". A portrait of Louis XV when a youth by Van Dyke is located over the door to the Octagon Room. Two full-length portraits occupy the spaces on each side of the north door, being of "Gaston De France, frère unique du Roi Louis", by Van Dyke, 1634; and "Henry, Prince of Wales" [eldest son of King James I] reputed to be by Van Dyke but may be by Jameson, both artists having studied under Rubens. Occupying the centre of the east side of the apartment [from 1821] is "The Interior of a Convent, during the Ceremony of High Mass" by Grenet. On the right of the door is a landscape by Titian. Finally, this room contains yet another oval portrait of Madame Pompadour, after the manner of the French school.

King William III
Crowned with Victory
[The Royal Collection]
Equestrian Statue of
King Louis XV of France
[The Royal Collection]

Princess Sophia
by Sir William Beechey
[The Royal Collection]
Princess Augusta
by Sir William Beechey
[The Royal Collection]

Princess Elizabeth
 by Sir William Beechey
[The Royal Collection
Princess Mary
by Sir William Beechey
[The Royal Collection

In this room the visitor would now either turn right to enter the State Apartments or left were you invited to enter the Prince's Private Apartments. We shall however be viewing both.

Our next Blog in this series [click Here for link] takes us on a 'virtual tour' of the opulent State Rooms on this floor. These rooms are quite diverse from what we have viewed thus far.

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 in the Public Domain.
- Please refer to the first instalment in this series for the full bibliography.

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