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An Extraordinary Order: The Little Temple at Temple Newsam

Article Index

  1. An Extraordinary Order: The Little Temple at Temple Newsam
  2. Background
  3. Description
  4. Commentary: Context
  5. Commentary: Precedents from Architectural History
  6. Commentary: Purity of Style
  7. Commentary: Non-Architectural Models
  8. Designer: Possible Designers
  9. Designer: Other Hypotheses
  10. Designer: The Model Used
  11. Condition
  12. Conclusions
  13. Appendix 1
  14. Appendix 2
  15. References
  16. Illustrations
  17. All Pages

Commentary: Precedents from Architectural History

Very few British designers in the 16th and 17th centuries would have seen at first hand the works of Italian Renaissance architects, or the surviving antique Roman ruins then visible. Before 1760 the books on architecture available in England comprised mainly those listed below. Some of the earlier texts were illustrated with simple woodcuts, but later ones had increasingly accurate and detailed engravings.

(a) translations of Vitruvius, in editions with commentaries by various architects and scholars, from 1486 in Latin, Italian, French, German, Dutch and English.

(b) Italian treatises, including

Leon Alberti “De Re Architectura” Latin 1485, in an English edition by Giacomo Leoni in 1729/1755

Giacomo Vignola “La Regola delli Cinque Ordini dell’Architettura” Italian 1562

Sebastiano Serlio “Tutte l’Opere d’Architettura et Prospettiva” Italian (1537-57 parts, collected) 1584, in an English edition (from a Dutch translation) by Robert Peake in 1611.

Andrea Palladio “I Quattro Libri dell’ Architettura” Italian 1570, in English editions by G Leoni in 1715, and by Isaac Ware in 1738

Andrea Pozzo “Perspectiva Pictorum et Architectorum” 1700

(c) French treatises, including

Philibert de l’Orme “Le Premier Tome de l’Architecture” French 1568, + 1648etc

Claude Perrault, edition of Vitruvius 1673, and “Ordonnance des Cinq Especes de Colonnes” 1683, tr English 1708

Nicolas-Francois Blondel “Cours d’Architecture” 1675 + 1683

Antoine Desgodetz  “Les edifices antiques de Rome dessinés et mesurés très exactement” 1682

Marc-Antoine Laugier “Essai sur l’Architecture” 1753

Pierre Patte “Discours sur l’Architecture” 1754

Julien David Le Roy “Les Ruines des plus beaux Monuments de la Grèce”  1758

(d) Original works in English, including

John Shute “First and Chief Groundes of Architecture” 1563

Henry Wotton “Elements of Architecture” 1624

Colen Campbell’s “Vitruvius Britannicus” of 1715/1717/1725

James Gibbs’ “A Book of Architecture” of 1728

In England, before reliable drawings from Antique models began to become available in the early 17th century, there were imaginative versions and combinations of late mediaeval and classical motifs such as in the Elizabethan prodigy houses of Robert Smythson and others and in some 16th century chantry chapels and tombs. Temple Newsam’s own entrance tower from the courtyard, three stories of white Magnesian Limestone, is a not untypical and entertaining architectural mix from the 1620s and 1670s (and some remodelling in the 1790s), with paired Ionic columns and strapwork on the bottom stage, beneath a coat of arms and a broken pediment and then a 12 part window worthy of Hardwick Hall. The earliest architecturally correct buildings were by Inigo Jones after his sojourns in Italy and Paris, such as the Banqueting House 1620 and Queen’s Chapel 1624 in Whitehall, the Queen’s House at Greenwich 1620s, and St Paul’s Covent Garden 1632, and a few works by John Webb and Roger Pratt. Jones’ design for a vast new Whitehall Palace was never realised, but would have included versions of giant caryatids in place of Composite Order shafts on the courtyard elevations of the King’s Apartments. [15]  After the long interruption of the Civil War and the Puritan Commonwealth, the Restoration of King Charles II and his court in 1660 saw the commissioning of many more scholarly classical buildings, from Christopher Wren and his rivals, and the later English Baroque triumphs by John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor.

From 1715 Colen Campbell and Richard Boyle, and then Roger Morris and Robert Taylor led the drive for stricter Palladian and Republican Roman purity in British architecture for the Whig supremacy, with James Gibbs and William Kent providing some erudite variations. But by the 1750s there developed among some leaders of Neo-Classical thought consciousness both of a historic view of Antiquity – as separate from Mediaeval (Gothic) and Renaissance (Classical) - and of Eclecticism, being the power to choose or even to combine styles to make an architecture appropriate for the present.

The interpretation board next to the Little Temple calls it a “hybrid of classical and gothic architecture”, and the English Heritage listing text suggests it may be an attempt at creating a British (ie National) Order.

98% of classical architecture across Western Europe in 1500-1900 used varieties and combinations of the Orders from Antiquity: Doric, Ionic, Corinthian – in Greek and Roman variants of each - and Tuscan and Composite – Roman only. These were first categorised and illustrated in print by Serlio, Vignola and de l’Orme. Antique Roman examples sometimes varied the detail of the Composite order, as illustrated by Serlio, showing a “monstrous” Winged Horse (or Pegasus) in place of the Ionic Scroll in a Composite Order capital from the “Basilica del Foro transitorio” (the Forum of Nerva) (IV/9/Fol.60), and by Palladio in the 1738 Isaac Ware edition of his 1570 treatise showing a similar Pegasus in the interior columns of the Temple of Mars the Avenger in Rome (IV/VII/plate X).  There were a few experiments inventing new orders in the 16th century and 17th century, for example the “tree column” with a proto-Corinthian capital in Bramante’s Basilica of San Ambrogio in Milan in 1492, or the “tree column” drawn in Philibert de l’Orme’s “de l’Architecture” of 1568, where his text also compares the grouped columns of a portico to a small forest. [16]

In the later 17th and 18th century there were attempts, in France and England particularly, at creating a new “national order”. The French, for example, substituted a cock and fleur-de-lys in the capital detail of a Corinthian Order, and Robert Adam and James Adam proposed a “Britannic Order” for the gateway to Carlton House with the Lion and Unicorn, Roses, Thistles and Crowns similarly inserted. [17] George Dance proposed an Ammonite order, using the spiral fossils in place of Ionic volutes, for the Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall in 1788, and the Ammonite order also crops up occasionally in Kent and Sussex and London around 1790-1820s. [18]  In 1845 at Holkham in Norfolk the monument to Thomas William Coke, Earl of Leicester, would use a massive “Agricultural Order” with bulls heads, sheafs of corn, mangelwurzels and turnip leaves, symbolizing Coke’s achievements in that field. [19]  In the 1850s Cuthbert Brodrick would insert rams heads into the colossal Composite Order capitals of the main hall in Leeds Town Hall, in recognition of the importance of wool to that city’s wealth. However, none of these variations were widely adopted or ever replaced any of the familiar eight Greek and Roman patterns.

But, while the shafts and bases of the Little Temple’s columns would not look out of place in a mediaeval Gothic British church, the acanthus is a Mediterranean plant, not a British one, and egg-and-dart is a conventional classic Roman moulding pattern.

The number of clustered shaftlets on the Little Temple columns – eight – could have been chosen for its convenient double symmetry as two overlaid squares, but it was at least possible that the clients and their architect may have developed it from an octagon and its associated symbolism, that being an intermediate form between the square (representing terrestrial order) and the circle (representing eternal order), so standing for regeneration and the balance of spiritual and natural forces in their Claudian garden. The designer might have been playing a game based on Vitruvius’ ideas of the Origin of the Dwelling House in fire and timber (II.I.1-4), and his discussion of the breezes (I.VI.9-13) - “Those who know names for very many winds will perhaps be surprised at our setting forth that there are only eight”. Might the rectangular form of this Little Temple, with its solid rear walls providing some shelter from chilly northeast winds, have been a practical adaptation for this well ventilated north British setting in place of the open but draughty Rotunda originally planned by Brown in 1762?

One plausible exemplar in 1762 from Ancient architecture for this small temple form with its unusual capitals was the Tower of the Winds in Athens.

Of authentic Antique precedents only Roman ones by the early 18th century had been excavated with carefully measured drawings, [20] as most surviving Greek temples remained within the Ottoman Turkish Empire to which access was extremely difficult. JG Soufflot had drawn the early Greek Doric temples at Paestum in southern Italy in 1750, and Robert Wood and James Dawkins had published their books on Roman remains in Syria - “Ruins of Palmyra” in 1753 [21] and “Ruins of Baalbec” in 1757. JD Le Roy had published in Paris in 1758 “Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce”, with relatively accurate drawings of some buildings on the Acropolis – which stung the Italian Giambattista Piranesi into responding in 1761 with “Della magnificenza ed architettura de’ Romani”. So now both Greece and Rome had their passionate champions as the true  origin of the finest and most authoritative architecture.

In 1751 James Stuart and Nicholas Revett had secured a firman (permission) from the Ottoman Sultan to survey in Athens, returning to England in 1755. Preparation of their book was slow but the first volume of “The Antiquities of Athens” appeared in 1762, and included exact details of a curious little building, the Tower of the Winds. This is mentioned in Vitruvius (I.VI.4) and had been illustrated in fanciful “reconstruction” in 16th century editions of Vitruvius by Cesare de Cesariano and Giovanni Rusconi. The Tower by the 1750s had become a “Turkish Chapel” where “Dervishes performed their circular Mahommedan religious dances”. Stuart and Revett had to excavate 18 centuries – or 15 feet - of accumulated debris and earth from inside and around it, reassemble decorated carved stone fragments found buried, and then take exact measurements of the whole.

It is a late Hellenistic period work (circa 100-50 BC), thought to have been erected by Andronikos Cyrrhestes as a device for measuring time by means of a clepsydra (water clock) internally and sundials externally, and was capped by a weather vane in the form of a bronze triton. It is octagonal, built in Pentellic marble, and orientated to the points of the compass with boldly sculpted figures representing the eight principal wind deities. The northeast and northwest faces have distyle porticos (two columns and a pediment), with fluted shafts but no bases. [22] The capitals also vary from a normal Corinthian design, having plain square abacuses, and no volutes but a single row of water (palm) leaves over a single row of acanthus leaves. [23]

Although they had published in England the first accurate surveys of Greek Antique remains, Stuart and Revett lacked their rival Robert Adam’s ruthless flair for self-promotion, and were subsequently employed mostly only as designers of garden buildings rather than of major houses or public buildings. From the hand of James “Athenian” Stuart these naturally had archaeologically correct details with no hint of Gothic combination, as in the severe Greek Doric temples at the Grove, Herts in 1756, at Hagley in 1759/61, and at Shugborough Hall, Staffs in 1764/65. Stuart’s Temple of the Winds, also at Shugborough, is similar to the original in form and scale and with two porticos, but built economically in rendered and painted brickwork. Their 1762 book was a sensation, within the educated world of architects and the Society of Dilettanti at least, and both Brown and Charles and Frances Ingram would have seen it, if they did not purchase copies. So the Little Temple might well have been a variation on a currently fashionable exemplar – small temple with an unusual order, on a theme of eight winds – but the capitals are not exact copies of those on the Athenian Tower, the entablature and pediment are much reduced, and those Gothic shafts still need some explaining!

Alternatively, could the Little Temple be a deliberate attempt at a Garden Order, referencing Claudian dreams of Antiquity or the Garden of Eden, or Alexander Pope’s “amiable Simplicity of Unadorned Nature”?  Might it even be a light-hearted visual pun, using long-leaved “Roman Lettuce” (lattuga romana, Cos or Romaine today), to link Antiquity with the Garden? This is not so far fetched, as Capability Brown’s expansive schemes for country estates frequently included detailed provision for orchards and vegetable plots to supply the tables of the great houses (as here at Temple Newsam), and in 1772 William Chambers would make disparaging (and pointedly competitive) reference to Brown, complaining that “this Island is abandoned to kitchen gardeners well skilled in the culture of salads”.

Might it have been intended as a reflection on the Origin of Architecture itself, inspired perhaps by such as the frontispiece illustration of the Primitive Hut in the 1757 edition of Marc-Antoine Laugier’s “Essai sur l’Architecture”? [24]   Widely discussed at the time, this work on architectural theory by a French priest (not a designer) considered the possible fusion of Gothic and Classical ideals. Laugier reiterated that the parts of an architectural Order are the parts of the building itself, that they not only adorn but actually constitute the building. He argued that columns (not pilasters) were natural and correct according to Greek precedent, as well as rational (being slimmer), and Gothic churches were clearly models of rational stone structures (in form, if not in decoration). Laugier also did not consider the Vitruvian (and Serlian) set of Orders as final – they were open to improvements and even invention of composed orders.

Laugier’s theories made quite an impact on the Continent and JF Dauthe (for example) may have been applying Laugier’s ideas in his later (1784) extensive redecorations, classicizing the 12th century Romanesque and 16th century Gothic Nikolaikirche in Leipzig. [25] This combines tall single leaf palmette/acanthus leaf capitals (not unlike those on the Little Temple) above conventionally fluted classical shafts, but supporting extravagantly foliated embellishments to the old Gothic rib vault springings above.