The Garden Room at Chiswick House and its association with Meissen Porcelain?
The Garden Room (Summer Parlour) ceiling at Chiswick House was decorated by William Kent (1685-
In the octagonal ceiling panel which was located nearest to the original chimneypiece (that was carved with a mask of the goddess Diana with her crescent moon), Kent painted two cherubs who admire a bust of an unidentified lady (possibly the Polish Queen Maria Clementina Sobieska). One of the boys raises his fingers to his lips in imitation of the Egyptian child-
In the centre of the ceiling Kent painted a large sunflower surrounded by four vignettes containing scenes depicting buildings, bridges and water. Each vignette is headed by a mask of the goddess Venus and fish-
The manner in which the four aquatic views in their panels are arranged around the sunflower (symbol of the sun and courtiers in the service of the monarch) shares strong stylistic similarities with the various seascape scenes arranged around the circumferences of the early to mid 18th century Meissen plates. This creates the illusion that the circular panel in the centre of the Garden Room ceiling was intended to symbolise a piece of Meissen porcelain, complete with classical embellishments.
It is also likely that William Kent had first hand experience of viewing Italian ports and harbours as he spend up to ten years living in Italy before returning to England with Lord Burlington in 1719.
The possibility that the four small Kent paintings were based on either real Meissen paintings or derivative of such scenes is strengthened by the location of a China Closet which was positioned next door to Lady Burlington’s Garden Room (the China Closet is now sadly only a shell). Like many stately houses of its day, this room was likely to have contained a mixture of porcelain and earthenwares including Chinese export porcelain from the Xangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong periods (blue and white, famille, monochromes, ‘clobbered’ and Imari colours), Delft, together with high quality Meissen sets for display, ceremonial and daily use.
(1) The architectural elements within these scenes, combined with waterscapes, were also certainly derived from French and Italian Arcadian painters such as Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rosa, artists whose work William Kent knew and whose paintings he also copied and collected. The staple ingredients of their idealised landscapes included rivers, seascapes, bridges, figures and animals, ruined temples, mountains in the distance and contracts of light and darkness. Such scenes painted by Meissen artists were undoubtedly influenced by the informality and naturalistic scenes in Arcadian painting and were probably copied from engravings.
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