Burlington added the Obelisk to the garden in 1732. Built into its base is a classical sculpture of a man and a woman, probably carved to record a marriage. It had been given to the young Burlington in 1712 and he had it inserted into the base of the obelisk in 1728. The sculpture was replaced with a copy in 2006, and the original is now on display in Chiswick House.
Lord Burlington was just 10 years old when he inherited his title from his father. His inheritance included a house here at Chiswick, vast estates in Yorkshire and Ireland, and a fine town mansion in Piccadilly — today the home of the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1719, on a tour of Italy, he met William Kent, where Kent was training as a painter. By 18th century standards, they were an unlikely match: a formal and reserved aristocrat and a warm, witty and irreverent Yorkshireman. But they formed a close lifelong friendship. In fact, when Kent died in 1748, he was buried in Lord Burlington’s family vault.
Kent became one of the most influential designers of the 1730s and 1740s with the support of Lord Burlington. The art historian and writer Horace Walpole said that ‘Lord Burlington became England’s ‘Apollo of the arts’ and Kent ‘his proper priest.’ However, the two men never laid out an overall plan for Chiswick. Instead, the garden changed in stages that spanned more than 20 years.
One celebrated feature of the garden was the Ionic temple, which you should see ahead. It was modelled on similar circular temples in ancient Rome and Lord Burlington designed it himself. While it wasn’t unusual for 18th century aristocratic men to be involved with architecture, Burlington was extremely unusual, going on to design substantial buildings, like the dormitory at Westminster School and the Assembly Rooms at York. His wife, Lady Burlington, was also a talented artist. William Kent taught her to paint and draw — and she might have contributed ideas for both the house and garden.