Bonomi – Architect to the Regency

” ‘I am excessively fond of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much elegance about them.’ ”

Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen (1811)

So says Mr. Robert Ferrers, a secondary character in Austen’s novel. His oft-quoted ode, following a discourse on Gray’s toothpick cases, forms a particularly odious lecture given to Elinor, the heroine. Odious because he clearly imagines his patronizing speech will inspire her to feel fortunate in her much-reduced circumstances after his sister forces her and her family to move out of their home, Norland Park.

“..a cottage… calculated for the convenience of persons of moderate income.” Designs for Elegant Cottages and Small Villas, E. Gyffard (1806)

He positively presses Elinor on the advantages of building a cottage, going so far as to relate to her, in his self-important way, that he advised no less a personage than Lord Courtland on the matter.

” ‘Lord Courtland came to me the other day on purpose to ask my advice, and laid before me three different plans of Bonomi’s. I was to decide on the best of them.’ “

 

Rear view of cottage showing servants’ entrance to the kitchen and extension of a veranda

Joseph (born Giuseppe) Bonomi came to England in 1767 at age twenty-eight, to work as a draftsman at the invitation of the Adam brothers, innovators of Neo-classicism in Georgian design and architecture. Bonomi also worked with Thomas Leverton, the famed English architect who had the distinction of executing a triumphal arch commemorating American independence for a British nobleman.

From these connections, Bonomi took his native foundation in Roman antiquity to design country residences for the ton. He was known for adapting classicism to suit practical needs. As an example, classicism demands an even number of columns, but Bonomi would made their number odd, if that suited the proportion and function of a building. He took the classical portico and extended it, to protect arriving and departing carriages from inclement weather.

The Royal Institute of British Architects calls Bonomi the creator of the porte-cochère.

Roseneath House, designed by Bonomi for the Duke of Argyll. Note the fifth column, put there so folks wouldn’t confuse the carriage way with a grand entrance. — from Papers Read at the Royal Institute of British Architects (1869)

A Bonomi-designed country house was the sign of marked distinction during the Regency. Even his drawings were on display at the Royal Academy. Yet Robert Ferrers destroyed Lord Courtland’s set, boasting:

” ‘My dear Courtland,’ said I, immediately throwing them all into the fire, ‘do not adopt either of them, but by all means build a cottage.’ And that, I fancy, will be the end of it.”

One must surely choose a cottage over a mansion, after such a masterful demonstration of preference (and destruction!) We do not learn of Lord Courtland’s eventual course of action, but Robert Ferrers lives on as perhaps the most-quoted person on the desirability of cottage-living.

I daresay his brilliance has quite cast poor Elinor in the shade. Her reaction to his conceit, ever sublime, can scarcely be remembered:

“Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

 

 

Advertisements

Regency painters – Part One

Oath of the Horatii - Jaques-Louis David, 1784

At the time of my story Notorious Match, painting, along with the other fine arts, was transitioning toward Romanticism.  Think Turner and Constable.  In the next few posts, the blog will concentrate on painters of the Regency period and how their visual interpretation of subjects greatly affected their audience in England.

Neo-Classicism was in full force by the time of the Regency in England.  Paintings were eschewing the rococo manner so beloved by the ancienne regime to become more commonly executed in a formal, restrained manner, using classical subjects ranging from mythological figures to Corinthian columns.

Like previous styles of painting, and future ones to come, neo-Classicism was eventually taken over by the political movement of the times.  At the height of his power, Napoleon discovered an affinity for the symmetric, incisive nature of the classical heroic movement and used it to demonstrate his own personal power and that of the Republic.

He chose for his portrait painter Jacques-Louis David, a major contributor to the stylistic painting of this period both in France and England.  David had rejected the earlier passion for indolent aristocrats riding beribboned swings, pursuing love and other nonsense among flowers.  He hated rococo, you see. So much better to paint great gods of Olympus and sturdy mortals of Rome imposing order by sword and mighty oaths.

By Jove, it makes one want to get to one’s bootmaker and demand a pair of dashed sandals.

David was an ardent supporter of the French Revolution and had been favored by Citizen Robespierre, before the fellow got himself guillotined.

Napoleon at the St. Bernard Pass - 1801

It was David who executed the famous, but dreary pencil sketch of a grim Marie Antoinette awaiting Madame La Guillotine.  He voted as a member of the General Assembly to have Louis XVI executed.  It was alleged he participated in the death of the young dauphin after the boy was forced to testify against his mother on several crimes, including incest, to secure her execution.

It was not as easy to execute women in those days, you see.

One of David’s great friends was the revolutionary Paul Murat, an architect of the Terror.  The artist was so distraught when Murat was found murdered in his bath, he painted one of art’s great masterpieces, immortalizing him and the revolutionary for all time.

“(It was) a moving testimony to what can be achieved when an artist’s political convictions are directly manifested in his work.”  Boime, Albert (1987), Social History of Modern Art: Art in the Age of Revolution, 1750-1800 volume 1, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, ISBN

Napoleon commissioned David to create the giant Coronation mural as well as the famous Marengo painting (above).  The painter died an exile from France after Napoleon’s defeat, run over by a carriage.

From Notorious Match:

Diana asked Griffin about his family.

“My father left Wales for France after some scandal,” he told her.  “A scandal I’m sure your grandmother, Lady Nellie, can better explain than I.  In any case, I never knew him.  He married my mother, the daughter of a minor noble, but left her for Paris after I was born.”

“Who raised you?” Diana probed.

“Mostly my grandfather.   My mother was killed when I was ten.  During the Revolution.”

Diana’s eyes widened.  “Oh, Griffin.  Was she—”

“No, she was not a victim of Madame la Guillotine,” he explained, matter-of-factly.   “Instead, my mother was hung.  For conspiring to murder the revolutionary Jean-Paul Murat.”

“Good God.  Wasn’t it Charlotte Corday who stabbed him in his bath?  The one they call the Angel of Assassination?”

Griffin nodded.  “My mother and Charlotte were schoolmates in Caen.  When Charlotte was arrested for killing Murat, my mother went to Paris to beg for her freedom.  She was warned to stay away on penalty of death.  But she could not.  It seemed incomprehensible to her, you see, that her beloved friend should be executed for killing one man to save one hundred thousand.”

The Death of Murat, 1793