On Monday, I went to Tate Britain to see their current exhibition Baroque Britain: Power and Illusion and loved it!

Emerging from Europe where it had flourished since the early seventeenth century, the Baroque style was characterised by drama and grandeur and was meant to appeal to all the senses, including emotion. British Baroque began in 1660 – a year of great celebration and rejoicing in England. The Civil War had ended, Cromwell’s Commonwealth had collapsed and on 29th May, 1660, Charles II entered London; he had been crowned king at Scone Palace in 1651. Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary: ‘all the world in a happy mood because of the king’s company’. It marked the beginning of an era of change from the glamorous world of Charles II with its pageantry and power to the political age of Queen Anne.

Many of the portraits in the exhibition have glimpses of gardens in the background but it is two paintings of Chatsworth and Wollaton Hall that I will discuss in more detail.


Chatsworth lies to the east of the River Derwent on rising ground near Bakewell in Derbyshire. Sir William Cavendish bought the estate for £600 in 1549 after his marriage to Bess of Hardwick. After Sir William’s death in 1557, Bess remarried twice and with her increased wealth, continued building the house and developing the garden; there were fish pools, an orchard, water gardens and a tower on top of a mount. Few changes were made at Chatsworth until 1683 when the 4th Earl, later 1st Duke of Devonshire, inherited the estate. The Duke rebuilt the house first employing William Talman as architect (a notoriously difficult man who quarrelled with most of his clients) but soon replacing him with Thomas Archer.

Devonshire was one of the ‘Immortal Seven’ who had invited the Protestant William III to become King of England and as gardening was one of King William’s ‘greatest passions’, it became another way to display wealth and status. In 1688, the Duke paid George London of Brompton Nurseries to make ‘a new Garden at Chatsworth’. Its vast, formal layout is illustrated in an engraving by Knyff and Kip of c1699. During this period, landscape gardening was just beginning to emerge as a profession – previously architects had been asked to get involved – and at Chatsworth, Devonshire asked Archer to update London’s design. The View of Chatsworth by Jan Siberechts is from this period.

To the South of the house is the elaborate parterre broderie with a central fountain and beds filled with brightly coloured flowers and topiary. The staircase from the first floor leads down to this area and is flanked on either side by pots filled with plants.

From here, steps lead up to a series of square beds and in the south-east corner is a tower with a figure on top. It’s possible that this is the mount created by Bess of Hardwick.

To the East is the cascade which was built in 1696 by Monsieur Grillet and extended by Archer in 1703; Archer also designed the Cascade House. Decorated with sea-creatures, scallop-shells and images of Triton – all relating to the sea-god Neptune – they symbolised Devonshire’s support for the monarchy.

Don’t miss the flamboyant portrait of Charles II by Antonio Verrio where the King appears as Neptune arising from the waves.

And at the bottom of the painting is a rural scene including a carriage drawn by six horses, some sheep and two self-conscious cattle.


Wollaton Hall

Wollaton Hall near Nottingham was built between 1580 and 1588 by Robert Smythson for Francis Willoughby. The gardens were developed at the end of the seventeenth century by Sir Thomas Willoughby, later 1st Baron Middleton, and his sister, Cassandra. It appears that Sir Thomas was keen for the latest updates to the garden to be recorded as he commissioned Jan Siberechts and Griffier to paint four views of the garden within three years. This painting of Wollaton by Griffier was executed c1697 and is based on Siberechts’ works.

With advice from Mr Pratt who had previously worked at the Chelsea Physic Garden, the gardens are laid out in a less elaborate style to those at Chatsworth with grassed parterres rather than those of broderie, terraces, central fountains and a bowling green; there is also a great emphasis on fruit growing. Orange trees in pots surround the parterres while a large greenhouse can be seen at the bottom of the painting. It’s likely that Pratt was involved with the design of this building as a new method of heating greenhouses had been developed at Chelsea in 1694; Sir Hans Sloane described how: [it had] ‘a great fire-plate, with grate, ash-hole, etc. and conveys the warmth through the whole house, by tunnel’.

Descending the steps to the lower terrace are more fruit trees trained on four parallel walls and what appears to be a cottage. Simple in style (unlike the elaborate banqueting house near the bowling green), I suggest that this is Mr Pratt’s house; the first example, I have seen of a gardener having a house on site.

Also in this area are three gardeners at work. One is a woman on her knees probably weeding while all three wear red and white clothing – is this an early example of estate clothing?

As Nottingham expanded, the Willoughbys decided that the house was ‘too near the smoke and busy activity of a large manufacturing town’ and after letting it to tenants, it became vacant and was bought in 1925 by Nottingham Council. It is now home to the Nottingham Natural History Museum.

Although I have chosen these two paintings to discuss in detail, there are many other examples of gardens in this exhibition including a survey of Hampton Court Palace by Henry Wise and a rare model by Nicholas Hawksmoor for Easton Neston in Northamptonshire.

If you have a chance, go and see the exhibition – it’s on until April 19th.


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