Monday, July 1, 2013
Quite Athenian, rather British
The landscape garden at Shugborough, the ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield, has an impressive collection of buildings designed by James 'Athenian' Stuart, the man who measured and drew Greek architecture and, with Nicholas Revett, published accurate drawings of The Antiquities of Athens in the 18th century. Stuart's work inspired British architects to design classical buildings more closely similar to Athenian ones than before, leading to country houses that looked like Greek temples – and to garden buildings that in some cases resembled these temples very closely.
One of the most prominent of the garden buildings at Shugborough is the Tower of the Winds, an octagonal structure of 1765. The main room, on the upper floor, was designed as a banqueting room. In the 19th century, the downstairs was used as a dairy while the upstairs room apparently became a gambling den presided over by the 1st earl.
The tower at Shugborough is similar in general form to the Greek original, a structure on the agora in Athens bearing a weather vane and various sundials and originally containing a water clock. The Shugborough version is octagonal, and has two entrances and a stair tower. But it is missing the frieze (the original has relief carvings of the deities of the winds) and the sundials that adorn the Athenian tower. The sash windows are of course a very English addition. And inside, there is a ceiling based not an Athenian model but on one from Nero's Golden House in Rome. The little entrance porticoes, however, were designed with a close eye on the original. The capitals are a version of Corinthian, with acanthus leaves but no spiral volutes, that are often now known as Tower of the Winds Corinthian.
So this little building is by no means a reproduction of the Greek structure that inspired it and that Stuart and Revett had reproduced so carefully in The Antiquities of Athens. Stuart adapted it to his client's needs, to make a useful building (whether for diners, gamblers, or dairymaids) that was also an ornament in the park. A very British compromise.