The Landscape Guide

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Augustan busts at Chiswick House in West London


The reason for describing this style as the 'Augustan' is that it was closely connected with the English Augustans and their poetry. As Horace and Virgil had celebrated the first Augustan age of peace and security after a period of civil war, so the English Augustans welcomed a second golden age after the troubles of the seventeenth century.  

Writers, artists, architects, gardeners and a host of others sought to relive and make anew the glories of Rome in the time of its first emperor, who said, according to Suetonius 'I found Rome built of sun-dried bricks; I leave her clothed in marble' Edward Gibbon's version was that he, 'found the city built of brick, and left it built of marble'. Augustus' reign from 27 BC to 14 AD saw a great flowering of the arts. In eighteenth century England, Palladian architetcure, heroic couplets and the Augustan garden were products of looking backwards. 

Alexander Pope was the greatest of the new Augustan poets and had a decisive effect on garden design. He wrote in 1713 that 'the taste of the ancients in their gardens' was for 'the amiable simplicity of unadorned nature, that spreads over the mind a more noble sort of tranquility'. Eighteen years later he devoted an epistle, versified in heoric couplets, to the man who had become the foremost English patron of Palladianism, Lord Burlington:

In you, my Lord, Taste sanctifies Expense,
For Splendour borrows all her Rays from Sense,
You show us, Rome was glorious, not profuse,
And pompous buildings once were things of use.  

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Burlington's friend and protege, William Kent, became the foremost Augustan garden designer. It would be folly to attempt a better account of his achievement than Horace Walpole's:

At that moment appeared Kent, painter enough to taste the charms of landscape, bold and opinionative enough to dare and to dictate, and born with a genius to strike out a great system from the twilight of imperfect essays. He leaped the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden. He felt the delicious contrast of hill and valley changing imperceptibly into each other, tasted the beauty of the gentle swell, or concave scoop, and remarked how loose groves crowned an easy eminence with happy ornament, and while they called in the distant view between their graceful stems, removed and extended the perspective by delusive comparison.

Chiswick  Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
Chiswick Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
Stowe Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see
Stowe Illustrations on CD edition of Garden Visit and Travel Guide - see

Kent worked with Bridgeman on some estates and in succession to Bridgeman on others. The historical records are very incomplete but it is likely that when they worked together Kent provided the ideas and Bridgeman the technical expertise. The best surviving examples of their work are at Claremont, Chiswick House, Rousham and Stowe. The avenues in these gardens remind us of the Forest style, and the delightful lakes and glades are amongst the earliest examples of the Serpentine style. Kent loved to give canals, basins and water bodies a 'natural' shape. In Walpole's words, 'the gentle stream was taught to serpentise seemingly at its pleasure'. However Kent's interest was more in seeing landscape as pictures than as plans. 'The great principles on which he worked were perspective, and light and shade', but as with the other landscape painters of his time the landscape which really interested him was the landscape of antiquity. The gardens designed by Kent and Bridgeman were redolent of ancient times, replete with statuary, temples, grottos, and hermit's caves.

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Rousham: the Praeneste, named after the home of a Roman oracle.
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Rousham: the Venus Vale
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Rousham: the serpentine rill.

 At Chiswick House the statues in the exedra are said to have come from Hadrian's Villa and to represent Caesar, Pompey and Cicero. Another of Kent's exedra, at Stowe, has niches for eight British Worthies. Their derivative genius is shown allegorically by making them look upwards to the Temple of Ancient Virtue set in the Elysian Fields. The design of the temple was itself derived from the Temple of Vesta which overlooks the Tivoli gorge outside Rome. At Rousham, Kent designed the Venus's Vale and an arcade which was named the Praeneste after the Roman resort where an oracle resided. At Claremont, Bridgeman designed a Graeco-Roman amphitheatre made out of grass instead of stone and not intended as a stage for bloody spectacles. He placed a circular pond in front of the amphitheatre and Kent changed it into the natural lake which occupies the centre of the valley today.

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The Temple of Ancient Virtue at Stowe was inspired by the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli

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This was the age when garden design was a 'nobleman's recreation', and when many noblemen had a love of antiquity and landscape painting which excelled that of the professional designer. Lord Carlisle was the leading figure in the creation of the park at Castle Howard, which Hussey calls 'the masterpiece of.......the Heroic Age of English landcape architecture'. In 1733 the anonymous poet who wrote that 'Carlisle's genius ....form'd this great design' compared Wray Wood to an Italian scene:  

This Wood with Justice Belvidere we name.
Statues at proper Views enrich the Scene,
Here chaste Diana and the Paphian Queen,
Tho' Opposites in Fame, tho' Rivals made
Contented stand under one common Shade.  

The Temple of the Four Winds at Castle Howard was inspired by Palladio's Villa Capra which Colen Campbell adapted at Mereworth and Lord Burlington at Chiswick.

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Charles Hamilton and Henry Hoare were lesser noblemen who had been on the Grand Tour and acquired a passion for the landscape of antiquity. At Painshill, Charles Hamilton installed a Grecian statue of Bacchus in a temple, built a Roman Bath House, and assembled a complete set of busts of the Roman emperors.  

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Stourhead - the finest example of an ideal landscape in England

Henry Hoare II, known in the family as 'the Magnificent', returned from Italy in 1741 to take possession of the Stourhead estate. He made the lake in 1744 and surrounded it with a walk which was conceived as an allegory of Aeneas' voyage after the fall of Troy. The grotto marks a stage in his journey, and the Temple of Flora is inscribed with the caution uttered by the Cumaean Sybil, in Virgil's Aeneid, before she led Aeneas into the underworld to hear the prophecy of Rome's founding: 'Begone! you who are uninitiated, begone!'. Hoare also based his design for the bridge on Palladio's five-arched bridge at Vicenza and expressed the hope that the whole composition would resemble a painting by Gaspar Poussin.

British patrons and designers sought to re-create the 'landscapes of antiquity'. Their visions of how this landscape might have looked appeared were formed from reading Latin poetry, from places visited on the Grand Tour and from the landscape paintings of Claude, Poussin and others. William Kent met Lord Burlington in the course of a Grand Tour and they later designed Chiswick House. Charles Hamilton went to Italy after leaving Oxford and later designed Painshill. Henry Hoare was in Italy when he inherited Stourhead. All these men admired the Augustan age and, in the course of making gardens which reflected this taste, the predominant geometry of garden plans became increasingly serpentine.

Painshill - the lake
Painshill - the Chinese Bridge
Painshill - the Turkish Tent
Henry Keene's design for a Turkish Kent (c1755), as used for the re-construction at Painshill

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