A garden has the ability to provide a divine, inspiring or animating influence as well as many opportunities for visual artistic expression.
At the turn of the 17th century in England the fashion for Italian parterres was in vogue, reflected in An Exact Prospect of Hampton Court, an etching by Sutton Nicholls c1700. It reveals a large cascade, which was a rare feature in an English landscape, the one at Chatsworth in Derbyshire the other immediately coming to mind.
Another of the great features of 16th and 17th century gardens was a sundial and the Royal Collection Trust safeguards an original pair of sundials by the so-called “Father of English Clockmaking Thomas Tompion”
The sundial was the principle means of telling the time, until the invention of the pendulum in 1656, which led to the adoption of the Pendulum clock.
It would irrevocably change the way society operated throughout the western world and marks the beginning of what we know as the modern era.
A pair of Thomas Tompion’s splendid sundials will be on show in Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace at London from 20th March to 11th October 2015.
Original sundials today are far scarcer than clocks, especially if they are by renowned makers such as Tompion and this is a pair, so it makes them even all the rarer still.
A sundial was divided around its surface with markings for hours, half hours, and quarter hours.
Thomas Tompion with his twelve-inch sundial of about 1705 also split the hours into one-minute units, which was far easier to read on a large dial than on a smaller one.
Many of the clocks the fashioned are still operational today, including two of his one-year clocks in Buckingham Palace.
A superb painted flower book from 17th-century England by English gardener and botanical artist Alexander Marshal, which will also be on display.
It was produced over a period of 30 years and is not a literary masterpiece but a joyful celebration, the only English flower book from the 17th century to survive.
Mr. Marshal’s Flower Book, Being a Compendium of the Flower Portraits of Alexander Marshal Esq as created for his magnificent Florilegium arranged by Season and supplemented with an Introduction and Commentary with a selection of plates from the Original, was re-produced by the Royal Collection Publications in 2008.
Alexander Marshall lived his life of note as a seedsman, horticulturalist and entomologist among friends and contemporaries.
In his day Marshal became famous for his exquisite botanical illustrations, immortalizing their beauty and form throughout the four seasons. Among his friends and acquaintances were the scientist and intellectual Samuel Hartlib, who mentioned him in passing in his diary and the royal gardener John Tradescant the Younger.
The Tradescant family at Lambeth, especially father and son, played an important role introducing and growing many new plants into England at that time. They carried out works for the Royal family in the gardens at Oatlands and for Queen Henrietta Maria at St. James’s Palace.
The Grand Tour of English gentlemen during the 17th and 18th centuries, stimulated the habit of foreign travel and with it came the desire to collect.
Once it became necessary to travel, providing tangible proof of the positive results of your journey became increasingly important. A collection of precious possessions added character and interest to an interior and reflected personal growth, particularly in the appreciation of aesthetics, the study of the concepts of beauty and taste.
While the French were busy reacting to the Baroque traditions of art and gardens at Versailles, the English were craving the classic simplicity of sixteenth century Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.
During the eighteenth century in England, the design of gardens changed dramatically.
Designer of both houses and gardens William Kent (1685-1748) became the crucial intermediary between the older traditions of, largely Italianate forms of gardens and the emergence of one that would be regarded as entirely English.
Like many other young Englishmen of his day Kent travelled to the continent in search of the classical truth. In Rome he met a group of English nobles, among them was the Earl of Burlington, who remained his patron for the rest of his life. In Alan Gore’s words, Kent ‘leaped the fence and saw that all nature was a garden.
William Kent introduced the ideas of tracks and paths winding through spaces between straight formal paths, which extended from the house, through the wooded section to the other side of the river in an English landscape design.
The circuit walks meandered through different areas and types of plantings, now and then coming upon surprising vistas or scenes, that embraced this concept as well as having a debt to ancient Rome. It’s the sort of landscape Englishmen now clamoured to enjoy.
A glorious painting in the collection of The Gardens at Kew painted by Johan Jacob Schalch, c.1760, reveals the impact of 17th century French artist Claude Lorrain on his depiction of trees in rendering great artworks and in the evolution of gardens.
It is part of a series of views of the gardens designed for Frederick, Prince of Wales by William Kent and architect/designer William Chambers.
At Rome Kent, just like his friends, had also encountered the seventeenth century paintings of Claude Lorrain, whose idealized landscape he would be able to re-create in England in his role as a designer to the aristocracy.
In an ‘Arcadian setting’, shepherds and shepherdesses fantastically frolicked about without a care in the world, wrapped as they were in the soft gentle haze of the early morning sunlight or the misty magical mood of moonlight, seeking a moment of perfection.
Claude blended architecture and nature together in a pictorial effect that was very seductive; a true vision of Arcadia (or Arcady as the English called it) that pleasant land (which existed in the Peloponnese mountains) that was idealized by the ancient Greeks.
They were conceived as a series of painterly picturesque incidents in the landscape rather than as an architectural entity. The facades of houses acted as ‘stage sets’ just as the follies themselves were ‘eye catchers’ to thrill and stimulate the senses
Each scene in the garden was not complete unless it contained a pavilion for pleasure, which took the form of small classical temple of love or music where wealthy owners would pause and enjoy the bountiful gifts of nature when walking or riding, taking in the country air.
They were also just perfect for whiling away a pleasant hour with friends or, perhaps a lover or two.
References in gardens to the classical past became all encompassing and the giardino inglese or Englische Garten the most popular style in Europe.
During the second half of the eighteenth century Lancelot Capability Brown (1715-1783), a pupil of William Kent’s would design the perfect ‘picturesque’ landscape and take the style forward.
He had worked with landscape style innovator William Kent in the garden he created at Stowe and Brown was able to offer his clients an intimate, personal view of nature by softening her ‘harshness and copying her graceful touch’.
Brown’s style of natural countryside was the sort of place where you could believe that nymphs and shepherds came together with their elegant eighteenth century counterparts, and felt comfortably at home.
Eighteenth century commentator and prolific letter writer Horace Walpole, a man whose opinion mattered said of Capability Brown ‘…so closely did he copy nature that his works will be mistaken for it’ and indeed, great art.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014