Visit to Kedleston Hall


For this part of the course it is required to visit a neoclassical style country house and write a report paying particularly consideration to the buildings classical features, how are the orders used and is there any other evidence of architectural style plus noting if the effect is one of balance and harmony.  In the course material Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire is mentioned as an excellent example and happily this hall is just a few miles from where I live.

I have taken much of the background history of the house and the Curzon’s directly from the guide book due to its detail and this has been vital to my understanding of this great property.

The house, until the National Trust took over, was owned by the Curzons who originally came over from Normandy at the time of William the Conqueror and it is believed they have lived at Kedleston since around 1150 but definitely since 1198/99.  Over the succeeding centuries the Curzons gradually added more land to their estate and in the mid 16th Century one Curzon was an MP for the county.  Eventually in the 1700’s the estate comprised of some 10,000 acres spreading over Derbyshire and neighbouring counties and the Curzon family were elevated further by John Curzon (1598-1686) being granted a baronetcy in 1641.

In 1645 John Curzon became head of the family after Mary Curzon of Croxall (and apparently former governess to James II) died.  Despite John Curzon supporting the government during the Civil War by the 18th Century the family were firm supporters of the King.  Eventually Sir John Curzon’s son married the daughter of William Penn who founded Pennsylvania and like many aristocratic families this started strong links to America.

The house itself is a replacement for one built in 1700 although there has been a house on the estate since the medieval period.  Despite a new design being submitted to Sir John Curzon  (son of the original Sir John) it never went ahead and after his death as his brother, Sir Nathaniel, was quite happy to live in their fathers former plain brick house on the estate.  However Sir Nathaniel’s son, also called Nathaniel, had far loftier ambitions and after petitioning endlessly as an MP he was grated a peerage in 1761 by the Tory Prime Minister, Lord Bute.

Both Sir Nathaniel and his wife were it seems keen collectors of art and sculpture and although for some unknown reason he never partook the Grand Tour although he did love Italian art and architecture.  Some of the collection he and his wife built up was before they inherited the house. When his father had died he was able to realise his dream of creating a new Kedleston House and for this purpose he employed the architect Robert Adam (1728-92) – originally employed to design the Pleasure Gardens which was the family’s private gardens to the rear of the property.

Robert Adam was an architect who had studied extensively in Italy the classical antiquity and and during the course of his studies he developed his Neo-classical style. Robert Adam employed Matthew Brettingham as his architect as he had designed Holkham Hall in Norfolk (which was a house Adam had much admired). A second architect James Paine soon joined them for the building of the kitchen area and also two of the quadrants.

Kedleston Hall as we see it now as designed with the rules of the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, (the building was based on the Villa Mocenigo which Palladio had never built), and done as a centralised block with 4 pavilions joined by curved quarters but Adam changed his mind after Lord Curzon was not happy with the designs – many of the English aristocracy were moving towards the neoclassical style and away from the Palladio and Rococo styles.  Adam decided to develop the design to be more Neo-Classical and in the spring of 1760 was given sole responsibility for the design of the house.

The overall effect is one of grandeur and the exterior facade reminiscent of Greek or Roman temples – the first view you see as you approach the house is just that with the quadrants from the original design on either side of the north entrance.

IMG_5247The south side of the house was designed based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome combined with dome of the Parthenon – it is has the air of movement that Adam desired.  Unfortunately Lord Curzon could not afford the additional two pavilions that were planned for either side of this facade for the effect would have been even more striking had they been completed.  Having stood on the lawn looking up at this view of the house you can only imagine what the house would have looked like if the plans had not been curtailed by economic factors.

Note of detail that the columns echo the north side in design with Corinthian style capitals and without the fluting you would expect.  To add further classical element the columns are topped with statues that are reminiscent of Trajan’s Column in Rome – bearing in mind Adam had studied extensively in Rome and done many sketchings.

Much of the inspiration for both the exterior and interior of the house was taken from the aforementioned Holkham Hall including apparently the casts of the ancient statues acquired by Mathhew Brettingham the Younger and these add to the classical nature of the house throughout.

So enough of the background to this house – what is it actually like? what are the features?  how are the classical orders used? Is there evidence of any other architectural style?  it is easiest to answer the last one first – and in short the answer is no as the house is so much in the style of the neoclassical period it is hard to see how any other style could be incorporated and the style is carried on throughout every room.

IMG_5256When you first approach the house you are immediately struck by the classical styling of the architecture with the frontage reminiscent of Greek temples with the Corinthian capitals atop slender columns albeit without the fluting.  The central section is also topped with statues and with statues set within alcoves either side of the glass doors which provide a grand entrance to the Marble Hall. The round carved medallions that seem to be of agricultural scenes but these are hard to see clearly and I will be going back to have a closer look in the foreseeable future – these roundels were seen on the Arch of Constantine carved with decorations of Hellenized art.

IMG_5520As you enter the house you do so through Caesars’ Hall which takes its name from the bronzed plaster busts in the alcoves.

IMG_5264The first clear evidence of the classical style is seen in the Doric style columns which support the upper floor – the 16 thicker ones in the background of the first photograph are the original supporting columns with the 12 thinner columns added in the 19th Century (these have cast iron cores).

I noted immediately the Doric columns with the simplicity being relevant as this hall was often used for estate staff parties and local people as well as being the normal entrance for the family to get to the family wing of the property.

The tour of the house is done in the same way the Duchess of Northumberland did in 1766 and consequentially it gives a firm and clear impression of the house – there are areas still private for the family who continue to live in a wing despite the property being run and owned by the National Trust.

IMG_5311From Caesars Hall the visitor ascends the stair case and enters a room which is quite literally breathtaking – Robert Adam designed this to reflect the atrium of a Roman villa and this room is the full height of the building.  The Marble Hall is not in fact marble but alabaster quarried from nearby Ratcliffe-on-Sour on the estate owned by Sir Nathanial’s brother.

In this grand room the Corinthian order is used for the columns – the most decorative of the orders and one that creates the feeling of grandeur so required and a direct contrast to Caesar’s Hall below as this was the room in which visitors would have been created.  The room is designed for maximum aesthetic impact and every thing in it is based on antiquity.

IMG_5504Light floods into this room from 3 perfectly symmetrical windows in the ceiling and also the doors at either end.

IMG_5299The seating in the room was made by John Linnell in 1788 and based on the s0-called tomb of Agrippa – Adam had studied in Rome. These benches are not immediately noticeable as you try to take in your surroundings but by being somewhat unobtrusive they show how well they are designed.

IMG_5292Throughout the room the attention to detail is phenomenal from the paintings above the fireplaces based on mythological scenes of antiquity to the plaster casts of statues which Lord Curzon had acquired from Florence before he even inherited the house.

The fireplaces were designed more for aesthetic purposes than practical ones for the heating was through the use of floor vents and grills.  I particularly liked the fine detail of the stucco that has been moulded into scenes of antiquity which hold the painting above up as if holding a great vase or trophy. The fireplaces were carved by a local Derby mason by the name of George Moneypenny and designed by Adams previous draughtsman George Richardson – there is no question that Adam would have approved every last detail.

IMG_5298The fact that the statues are plaster casts was of no relevance to Lord Curzon because it was the fact they represented antiquity was all that mattered to him – to have each in a niche created the illusion he so required.  The fluting that can be scene on the columns in thiIMG_5312s photo  was done after their installation which in itself was a masterpiece in craftsman ship.

What is striking is the ceiling and the friezes around the edge – each frieze telling stories of antiquity and each detail considered and designed to fit perfectly with the next. The plaster work on the ceiling is in the designs of military trophies and arabesques and sadly photos do not show the true beauty of the work.   Some of the detail of the ceiling does remind me a little of Rococo style in its ornateness but this is not surprising when I take into account the fact that the original design of the house was Neo-Palladium and Rococo and there is evidence of this style in other rooms.

IMG_5313The classical orders in the room are as I said those of the Corinthian order and this can be seen very clearly in my photograph – a slim column topped with an ornate capital decorated with 2 rows of acanthus leaves and scrolls.  In classical Corinthian order columns the shaft would have 24 flutes and I did not have the time to count them but realising Robert Adam’s attention to detail I strongly suspect these do have the correct number. Apparently Adam based the design of these columns directly on The Temple of Jupiter Stator near the Roman Forum and they are truly works of art on their own as the alabaster, for me, is richer than marble in colour.

IMG_5327From this hall you move into the Music Room which is a much more restful room and albeit much more in the style you would expect to see in a country house.

The classical style can be seen in this room in the detail of the fireplace and the style of the door frame and this is something that is repeated throughout the property – unfortunately my photographs of these details in this room are not clear enough for reproduction.

A second visit to the house has revealed that the works of art displayed in many of the rooms were not chosen for their artist but for their size – Robert Adam sent out scouts in search of works for each room and with specific sizes for specific places within the room.  Each detail of each room was meticulously worked out. There are hints of the Rococo styling of the original design in the colours of the furniture which seem to clash slightly with the classical styling – both my fiance and myself feel in some ways the house is confused to how it seems to want to present itself as a consequence.

IMG_5328Having now just read of the influence of Japonism for the Impressionists it is interesting to note the collection throughout the house of Eastern ceramic vases and decoration but this is no surprise as between 1899 and 1905 the Lord Curzon of the time was Viceroy of India and there is an impressive collection of Eastern artifacts in the museum.

There are paintings of mythological scenes which have clearly been chosen to fit the overall neoclassical theme and I am planning a further trip back in order to do a separate blog post referencing some of these.

IMG_5355The music room has a beautiful harpsichord and organ within it and the chairs are in the Rococo style seen in the State Rooms.  Interesting to note that the organ case was also designed by Adam and there are Ionic pilasters to match the fireplace.  This room was in replacement of the originally planned music wing which Lord Curzon could not afford and along with the Dining Room was the only room in regular use by the family in the main part of the house.

This room leads into what is deemed the family corridor and consists mainly of portraits but with ornate Greek style urns depicting scenes that seems to be of sea battles.  The furniture within the corridor though  was interesting to see – the mahogany side tables were apparently amongst Adam’s earlier neoclassical furniture designs with the tops being of artificial marble and set with the coat of arms of Sir Nathaniel.

IMG_5335The fireplace again reflects Classical antiquity albeit more restrained than in other rooms but is complete with obelisks made from Blue John stone from the nearby caves at Castleton in Derbyshire.

IMG_5365Going forward into the Drawing Room this is the only room in the house still to the original design of James Paine albeit with some variations by Robert Adam.  The blue and pink colour scheme was chosen due to Adam’s watercolour and the room has a sea based them down to Sir Nathaniel’s love of collecting ships and so he had requested a maritime theme.  The ceiling is decorated with sea monsters and merfolk – like every room in the house the ceiling is of the style you take note of due to the ornate plaster work.

Again the styling of the room with the choice of colours and the elaborate style of the gold framework of the furniture is reminiscent of Rococo and this is the room that both my fiance and myself reminded us of the styling of the Palace of Versailles in France – it has almost a French royalty styling bout the room.

IMG_5367The classical orders and style can be seen both on the chimney piece and the window surround and columns display the Corinthian order in all its elegance as it frames the view that can be seen from the windows.  In the photo above can be seen one of the two false door ways that were added purely for symmetry but do display the Corinthian style door cases that feature in all the main rooms – some door cases are simpler such as the ones in the Family corridor but in the ornate rooms such as this the elegance of the order was required.

Both the wall coverings and the sofas are covered with a mixed wool and silk damask that was woven to the original pattern in 2001 – the room is very similar in colour to the State Rooms but and clearly a room for entertaining of guests.  Interestingly the guide book speaks of this being the room for the grandest of family paintings including one by Aelbert Cuyp but I would dispute this having seen the portrait of Lady Curzon (later Vicereen of India) aged 18 by Alexandre Cabanel in the kitchen corridor.

A note of interest which appeared later in the State Rooms was the addition of an eagle above the mirrors (sadly the photograph did not come out) and this is known to be a Roman symbol of Imperialism and also in Greek and Roman mythology the eagle would carry the soul into the presence of the gods. However a further note is that in folklore that the soul projects out of the body and into the mirrors in the form of the reflection so wonder if Adam was either not aware of the folklore and included the eagle purely as the aforesaid imperialistic symbol.

IMG_5401The Library was the next room and was designed very much as a masculine room.  The ceiling created by Joseph Rose in plaster work and was based on the antique mosaic pavements seen by Adam in Rome and is in keeping with the Doric order used on the door cases and chimney piece – the room is simpler and intended as a place for study.  The Curzon’s had an extensive book collection and as they were being brought over from the previous house Adam designed each book case to fit each wall absolutely specifically.  I used to work in an antiquarian bookshop and so was fascinated by the books – of note were books on the Rococo style and historical themes that were clearly reference points for Adam and in addition a large red bound copy of Dante’s Inferno which I fully admit would have loved to have a closer look at!  Apparently the books cover a range of arts and sciences which were Lord Scarsdale’s passion and the collection is varied and informative to the knowledge of the occupants of the time.

A painting of note above the fireplace is that of Daniel before Nebuchadnezzar thought to be by Salomon Koninck who was a skilled imitator of Rembrandt.   Directly above that painting is one of the Greek philosopher Diogenes – the theme of Classical antiquity carried throughout the house.

IMG_5392Following the Library you go through to the Saloon which was directly based on the Pantheon in Rome  with further inspiration from the Basilica of Maxentius and the Temple of Venus plus the Roman Forum.

IMG_5398The room was apparently originally covered in carpet which matched the design of the ceiling and the National Trust has plans to restore this feature – the property is, as can be expected, an on going series of restorations. The original statues that were in the alcoves were moved to the Marble Hall and replaced by the urns on plinths that can be seen now.  There is no doubt of the beauty of the ceiling and alcoves in this room and the sheer size is hard to appreciate by photographs alone.

IMG_5394The door cases are of the Ionic Order and the simpler less ornate style than the Corinthian order creates a balance and harmony within this room which had originally been used on occasions for balls but was mainly for impressing of guests – it certainly has the wow factor.

IMG_6249The paintings that can just been seen in my photograph were done by William Hamilton of Roman ruins and in addition there are smaller scenes from English medieval history by Biagio Rebecca – these smaller scenes are fascinating in themselves and of personal interest to me is on featuring Eleanor of Acquitaine.  This room has doors that open on to the Marble Hall and each has doors that open on to grand staircases that go down to either the driveway on the north front of the house or on to the Pleasure Gardens at the south entrance – you can only imagine how incredible this must have seemed to guests.

IMG_6264Appropriately the State Apartments are next to this grand room – these were never actually used but like many houses had rooms designed for royalty or other important visitors.  The Ante-Room was effectively the waiting room whereby visitor would wait to be seen underneath the ‘arch’ and if the King would not accept the visitor he or she would exit through this door rather than having the embarrassment of going back the way they had come – the door itself is curved perfectly to match the curve of the room. Above the door is a painting of John the Baptist and the Lamb to the Slaughter which is thought to be a small joke reflecting the rejection of the visitor.  The wall covering is newly woven silk damask and hung by using pins at the top and bottom of the wall.

IMG_6274 The door cases seem to be simple in comparison with the arch and overall ornate feel of this important set of rooms and the columns seem to be in the Ionic order – there is grandness without ornateness which is provided in the Rococo styling of the room both in the colours and the mirrors.  This room is the room that above anywhere else displays the Rococo period style which was immediately recognisable  and the frames of the largest mirror was carved by the team of James Gravenor in the 1760’s – this mirror reflects the room and those of the rooms before it and make it appear much longer than it actually is.

IMG_5423 The mirrors in this room have fleur de lis decoration originating from the former arms of France – the colours are blue on gold which ties in with our feeling of this Rococo styling being possibly inspired by the Palace of Versailles and consequentially it may have been felt that this was the most appropriate form of styling for the State Rooms. The family do have links to France through their origin when they came over from Normandy in the 1100’s.  In this room there are also eagles carved into some of the mirror frames in a similar manner to the Drawing Room.

At the time of our visits the State Bedchamber is in the process of restoration but is again in the Rococo style mixed with the classical on the door cases and chimney piece but unfortunately I could not see well enough to ascertain the order used although I suspect the Ionic order due to its use in the previous room.  Adjoining the Bedchamber was a small wardrobe which in its original meaning did not mean a cupboard but rather a room to store clothes and was the original walk-in closet – the room still had chimney pieces in the classical style along with again the door cases which I noted were in the Ionic style that I could ascertain.

IMG_6329The final grand room was that of the dining room and this was a room that was designed around the theme of eating and drinking including that of the mantelpiece which features of the figures of Ceres and Bacchus (goddess of the harvest and god of wine). This for both of us was our least favourite room of the house – the ceiling and alcoves were elaborately decorated but the room as a whole seemed dull and lacking something in comparison with the other rooms.  There is clear detail on the doorcases – one that can be seen with a temple styling above and the other much simpler but still carrying through with the classical styling.

Fittingly with the meticulous detail shown throughout the house Adam fixed the plaster picture frames to the walls so that the way he choose to hang the works was as he desired.  The landscape paintings in this room apparently echo the views from the windows but I feel this is not just the case in this room but in all the rooms except for the Saloon and Marble Hall.

IMG_6308The last room on the tour of the house is that of the Kitchen Corridor and this displays further portraits and also two model ships (one of the Victory and the other made by prisoners of war.  For me this is the area with the greatest painting in the house – that of Lady Curzon aged 18 by Alexandre Cabanel and it is exquisite in its rendering of her dress and detail and my photograph cannot do justice to the work.

So overall how are the orders used throughout the house?  each order is used appropriately for each room and depending on the grandness of the room so for the Marble Hall the Corinthian Order is used but for the library the simplicity of the Doric order.  The Ionic order is used in the State Rooms where the ornateness of the Rococo style was allowed to shine and impress the guests that entered as well as being a room that was not used as frequently as the Marble Hall and Saloon so therefore the Corinthian order was no doubt not considered to be needed.  I really like the way that initially as you come up through the house the orders move from the Doric to the Corinthian which was reminiscent of the Coliseum in Rome – as you progress to the most important rooms seen by the most important guests or to show off the progression goes from austere to elegant and grand and bear in mind that often important guests would have entered directly in to the Marble Hall.

Does the effect of the orders create balance and harmony? yes because rather than use the orders in just some of the rooms they are used throughout in various ways – there is evidence of Classical antiquity in every single room whether that is the kitchen corridor or the Library and even a balcony in the kitchen (now tea room).  The use of the Classical orders creates a balance that unites the house throughout in every room that can be seen and this was the clear intention of Robert Adam.

We both felt that the house overall was slightly confused as I have stated earlier due to the use of the Rococo styling of some rooms – the classical orders do unite and create the harmony but personally we felt that the Rococo clashed a little with it.  Some of the rooms that were less important seemed dull and secondary to the greater rooms that were designed for the illusion that Lord Curzon desired.

IMG_5410A note on the architect is that the rooms also have an obsessive attention to detail in every single small area of design – from the book cases that were designed specifically to fit on each wall and in their exact locations with exacting sizes, to the paintings chosen to go in their exact locations and again to exact sizes and to the symmetry that Robert Adam did not deviate from in one single area even to the point of doing false key holes to match the real ones on the opposite side of the door handle.

The design of the house is an illusion – it is one of falseness in that the sculptures are not real and the paintings are on the whole purchased for their location not for their artist.  The house is designed for show and was meant to rival Chatsworth although the Curzons did not have the same wealth.  In places the Classical styling is almost too over the top for modern tastes and consequently the State Rooms with the Rococo styling seemed less ornate in comparison (and I am not a fan of the style at all but the suite of rooms had a refreshing elegance compared to the Saloon and Marble Hall).

IMG_5240Before I finish Robert Adam was originally employed to design the Pleasure Gardens so it comes as no surprise to know that the Classical style is also apparent in the grounds.  Adam designed the informal grounds in the Capability Brown manner and included a ha-ha so the views from the house were uninterrupted.  The small hexagonal summer-house was designed by George Richardson, Adam’s assistant and to me has echoes of a small Roman style building.

IMG_5564What is more striking is the Fishing Pavillion by the river that has clear Classical influence – this was designed so that the family could fish from the upper levels protected from the rain and sun as well as bathe in an interior bath below.  The decoration has a fish themed decoration which is perfectly in keeping with the style.


There is even a small Roman style villa covering the well within the grounds  – literally every detail has been thought of to keep the theme of Classical antiquity harmonizing and balancing the property. The details on this villa have been worn away lightly by the elements but it is a delightful and has developed what seems to be its own small eco system around it.

My fiance and myself have joined the National Trust in order that we can visit again and other properties within our locality and there is no doubt we will be visiting Kedleston Hall again – I plan on doing a separate blog on the paintings and would like to take note of the textiles within too.

My overall impression of this house is one that has been done by an architect who was an artist with a meticulous eye for detail and apparently his original drawn plans the Trust are hoping to be able to put on display which will give further information on the Classical style that he used so brilliantly throughout.


Cressbrook Multimedia. 1997-2015. Kedleston Hall and Park [online]. Available from:

The National Trust. 1999. Kedleston Hall. Reprinted 2016.  Swindon: Acorn Press Ltd.





This entry was posted in Coursework, Part 4, Research & Reflection, Visits. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s