Red Velvet Room
The Red Velvet room was one of Lord Burlington’s most sumptuous reception rooms. It leads to his study, known as the Blue Velvet room.
The walls were hung with crimson velvet, providing a richly coloured background for his extensive collection of paintings. In Burlington’s time, this room was used to display twenty eight pictures by artists such as Rembrandt, Van Dyck and Velázquez.
Highlights of the room today include the two overmantel paintings by the Venetian decorative painter Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734) depicting mythological subjects – Diana and Endymion, Venus and Cupid. These paintings were probably commissioned for Lord Burlington’s central London home, Burlington House in Piccadilly, and relocated to Chiswick House soon after the villa was completed. The frames are inscribed with the date 1729.
The ceiling of the Red Velvet Room is decorated with painted panels attributed to William Kent. The central panel, showing Mercury and the Arts, is a visual declaration of Burlington’s role as patron of the arts. The messenger god, Mercury, directs a cornucopia or horn of plenty towards female figures representing the visual arts – Architecture, Sculpture and Painting. The figure representing painting holds a self-portrait of Kent.
Green Velvet Room
The Green Velvet Room was described as ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’ in 1770 and it is thought to have been used by Lady Burlington as it is next to her Bedchamber.
The walls were hung with green velvet on which there were arranged twenty five paintings, mainly with mythological subjects, such as Francesco Albani’s Mars and Venus which remains in place today. The two marble fireplaces incorporate carvings of the Green Man, the pagan god of the Oak, and the ceiling has a gilded ‘guilloche’ pattern of interwoven bands.
This room is also used to display six views of Chiswick House and gardens by the Flemish painter Pieter Andreas Rysbrack (1690–1748). They are part of two large sets of paintings commissioned by Lord Burlington in about 1729 and provide a tantalising glimpse of the evolving garden design.
The set of five gilt armchairs, with green velvet upholstery, in this room were designed for Chiswick House by William Kent and were originally used by Lady Burlington in her Garden Room (now known as the Summer Parlour) on the ground floor of the house.
Blue Velvet Room
The Blue Velvet room is the most richly decorated room in the house. The walls are hung with hand-woven blue silk velvet and the ceiling, with massive pairs of brackets, was painted by William Kent in imitation of mosaic. The central panel is painted with a female figure representing architecture and wearing a Corinthian capital as a crown.
Beneath this ceiling, Burlington would have studied his collection of architectural drawings by his two favourite architects, Andrea Palladio (1508–80) and Inigo Jones (1573–1652). A portrait of Inigo Jones by William Dobson is inset above one of the doors in a gilt frame supported by two fish-tailed cherubs.
This room contains three original small chairs, designed by William Kent specifically to suit the proportions of the villa.
The Link Building was added in 1732 or 1733 to connect the villa with old Chiswick House.
From a design point of view, the upper room is one of the most interesting in the house and more than any other it evokes the spirit of classical antiquity, with a ceiling closely copied from a 16th century Italian drawing of a now-vanished Roman ceiling at Pozzuoli near Naples. The screens of Corinthian columns with open space above derive from Palladio’s drawings of the baths of Caracalla in Rome. It has been suggested that this room could have doubled as a summer dining room.
The Gallery refers to three connecting rooms linked by small arched openings.
The end rooms, one octagonal and the other circular in plan, are decorated with bands of gilded female heads supporting baskets through which acanthus leaves grow. They represent the story of the origin of Corinthian capital as told by the Roman architect Vitruvius.
The central room has two apses decorated with a gilded diamond pattern inspired by the Temple of the Sun and Moon in Rome. The ceiling is inset with a copy of Paolo Veronese’s painting The Defence of Scutari (the original is in the Doge’s Palace in Venice) surrounded by painted decoration by William Kent.
This room contains a number of pieces from Lord Burlington’s original collection including two large porphyry urns and the inlaid marble table tops which were acquired during his travels in Italy in 1715 and 1719. William Kent is thought to have designed the gilded wooden bases for the tables, which feature sea nymphs and scallop shells, as well as the sets of mahogany hall chairs.
The Upper Tribunal, also known as the Domed Saloon, is the heart of Chiswick House and its most spectacular space. It was the first room that visitors entered via the portico on formal occasions and was the focal point for parties and receptions held in the House.
The domed roof soars high above the visitor’s head, inspiring a sense of awe and grandeur that is true to the architecture of ancient Rome. Indeed, the coffering effect within the dome is derived from the ancient Basilica of Maxentius, on the outskirts of Rome.
In the 18th century, the room was furnished with four grand marble-topped gilded tables, each flanked by mahogany hall chairs (examples of which can be seen in the Gallery today). Above brackets supporting copies of Roman busts, are eight large paintings which were part of Lord Burlington’s collection. Three of the paintings have classical mythological subjects while the other three are portraits of people associated with the Stuart royal court, including an early copy of Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s portrait of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, with Prince Charles and Princess Mary.
Bedchamber and Closet
The bedchamber was used by Lady Burlington and it was here that she died in 1758. The room was furnished with a four-poster bed with needlework hangings and the walls were hung with Brussels tapestries depicting rustic scenes. Although the bed and tapestries are no longer in place, the original roundel paintings above the doorways, including portraits of Lady Burlington and her sister Mary by the Scottish painter William Aikman, are still in situ.
The furniture in this room belonged to the 5th Duke of Devonshire and his wife, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and reflects their Anglo-French, neoclassical tastes. The cream painted chairs, with cane backs and seats, and painted and gilt French armchairs create an impression of lightness and elegance.
The display in the adjacent closet includes portraits of Lord and Lady Burlington’s younger daughter, Charlotte, who married the future fourth Duke of Devonshire in 1748.
The Summer Parlour is the oldest surviving part of Chiswick House. It is thought to have been designed as early as 1716 or 1717 as a single storey addition to the Jacobean house. The design has been attributed to Lord Burlington or to the architect James Gibbs.
In 1735 the interior was redecorated for Lady Burlington at her own expense. William Kent’s ceiling painting, which still survives, incorporates scenes depicting putti sleeping and painting as well as miniature landscapes. Lady Burlington was a member of the Savile family and her heraldic emblem, the owl, can be spotted in the corner panels of the ceiling.