Mythological Tour of Chiswick House and Gardens.

‘The Judgement of Paris’ by Daniel Seitar. This painting has hung in the Domed Hall at Chiswick House since at least 1740 and depicts the Trojan Prince Paris choosing the most beautiful goddess from Athena (Minerva), Hera (Juno) and Aphrodite (Venus).

Above- Two stone sphinxes in Chiswick House gardens executed by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Battista Guelfi and based on a 1st century A.D Roman sphinx that was acquired by Thomas Howard for his sculpture collection at Arundel House on the Strand.

The term ‘Renaissance’ translates as ‘Rebirth’ and refers to ‘the revival of European art and literature under the influence of classical models in the 14th–16th centuries’. This included the growing interest in subjects such as music, literature, sculpture, and architecture; together with the rediscovery of often believed lost or neglected texts and sources of ancient esoteric philosophy and teachings such as Hermeticism, the practices of ancient mystery cults and Neo-Platonism. This renewed interest in classical antiquity, predominately in cultures of Ancient Rome and Greece (and to some extent in Egypt), also saw a revival of the ancient gods and goddesses of antiquity who would appear en masse in all areas of the arts.

In the eighteenth-century Gentlemen on the ‘Grand Tour’ would have experienced the rich culture of Renaissance cities such as Rome, Florence, Venice, Genoa and Turin, with many spending vast fortunes purchasing paintings and artefacts to adorn their country estates once back home in Britain (some Grand Tourists also went further afield to Turkey and beyond). Such objects abounded with images and references to the classical deities and were a constant reminder of their dalliance with classical antiquity. (Lord Burlington, for example, returned in 1715 with 878 caskets full of artefacts purchased on the Grand Tour including ancient Roman statues acquired from the Emperor Hadrian’s ‘Villa Adriana’ in Tivoli).   

Lord Burlington’s ‘Roman Villa’ at Chiswick was accompanied by many such references to the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. This special mythology tour will specifically focus on the mythological characters in the paintings, furniture, statuary and decoration within the villa and tell their fascinating stories which often possessed additional allegorical or metaphorical meanings (for example, the use of the shell motif in many of the William Kent picture frames and furniture was a reference to the Roman goddess of love, Venus, as is the green colour in the wall hangings in the Green Velvet Room).

Following the tour of the villa the group will then proceed into the gardens and examine several pieces of statuary which were ascribed numerous layers of meanings which would have been understood by Lord Burlington's friends and contemporaries but whose meaning are lost to the modern visitor. The garden section of the tour will culminate with a visit to the exedra at the rear of the villa with its selection of mythological, religious, Augustan and Masonic references harking back to classical antiquity ,and in particular to Rome’s greatest perceived Emperor, Imperator Caesar Augustus.

The Mythological Tour of Chiswick House and Gardens Tour is priced at £15.00 per ticket and includes entrance fee to the villa. Tours last approximately ninety minutes.