WILLIAM KENT, Temple of British Worthies, 1734
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

William Kent, Monument to the British Worthies, in StowePark, Buckinghamshire, 1734.

William Kent (1684-1748) is the most significant architect of the first period of the English Picturesque. He began as a painter, then made his Grand Tour to Italy and met Lord Burlington in Rome. It is owing to him that William Kent started to show an interest in architecture. Kent was the main disseminator of Palladio’s work in England and the creator of what is known as the English garden.

It is easy to see the references Kent uses to start this project,

On one hand, from the exedra or the circus at the Villa Mattei in Roma (for the form, the stands and the central element), and on the other, from the exedra of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli (for the niches and the drums). The images come from two fragments of G. B. Falda’s engravings (I Giardini di Roma, 1683) and Etiénne Dupérac (1573).

There are also clear references to the Villa Brenzone, in Garda, for the busts of the figures.

Apparently, the project gathers and composes images of other Italian gardens.

The exedra is one of Kent’s characteristic themes. The following image if of ChiswickPark. The drawing also shows other typical themes, like the niches and transparencies (which we will discuss later on).

The next image is a proposal for a hillside in Chatsworth, made with pencil, brown ink and watercolour. Here he brings together many of his favourite themes: the rustic cascade (Villa Aldobrandini, Frascati), the round temple (Temple of Vesta, Tivoli), and pyramid finished temples (Temple of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili).

The following drawing is again a picture of the proposal in StowePark. It represents a space presided by the Temple of Ancient Virtue, with trees in the background and one temple on each side. As in other drawings, Kent builds amphitheatre-shaped spaces; he compounds views as if the landscape were a painting: images of idyllic places to see and enjoy. In his drawings he reproduces imaginary scenes, whose characters are playing apparently , as part of this idyllic atmosphere. A setting that allows an action and that can identify itself with a literary content, which gives the image a theatrical nature.

The Temple of Ancient Virtue was built around 1734. This is another copy of Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, based on a sketch by Palladio.

The project follows pictorial images, such as Vanvitelli’s next painting. He presents the same temple in a similar environment,

Among Kent’s drawings there are few accurate plans. Views abound. They say he worked without rule or level, directly over the landscape; possibly as a result of his training as a painter. This preparation gave him the ability to ’work without line or level’ (as Sir Thomas Robinson described it), and to make gardens that looked like works of nature, with images more similar to the paintings of Claude Lorrain, Gaspar Dughet or Nicolas Poussin, than to other gardens of the time.

The drawings for the ClaremontHouse Park are an example of the way he compounded the views. Kent placed several small buildings in order to focus points of view, the shape and style of which determine the character of the landscape in which they are set. The design of most of these buildings was inspired from models found in tombs, mausoleums or Roman temples.

The interplay of chiaroscuro between the clumps of trees is also characteristic of Kent.

Another similar drawing, with buildings, amphitheatres, deer,...

This is another drawing for Claremont House. Two busts with garlands in a semi-enclosed space, frame a scene and suggest...

Also of Claremont House. A drawing in which he indicates the parts to be elevated and those to be removed,

Another recurring theme of Kent, the trees as transparent screens, used in order to fragment the gardens into smaller spaces and evoke different contents,

Another similar one…the depth, the chiaroscuro, the complex...

Kent introduced meandering rivers, artificial or pre-existing, irregular shaped lakes, waterfalls and groves on sloping hills, caves…Gradually, his style became looser and more naturalistic, more towards the idea of park than of garden,

Each space is made up like a painting, with darker-leaved vegetation in the foreground and lighter-leaved farther in the back, in order to strengthen the sensation of depth.


Origin of the images::
All the images are from John Dixon Hunt, William Kent. Landscape Garden Designer, Londres, A. Zwemmer Limited, 1987

Recommended bibliography :
- John Dixon Hunt, William Kent, Landscape Garden Designer, Londres, A. Zwemmer Limited, 1987

© of Francisco Martínez Mindeguía’s texts.
Francisco Martínez Mindeguía is Profesor Agregado at the Superior Technical Architecture School of Vallès (Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura del Vallés), UPC

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