The History of Freemasonry by Albert Gallatin Mackey Chapter 44 The Leland Manuscript


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The State Rooms


The seven state rooms contained behind the quite simple mannerist south front of Wilton House are equal to those in any of the great houses of Britain. State rooms in English country houses were seldom used; being reserved for the use of only the most important house-guests, often a monarch and his consort, or another high ranking member of state, hence the name. They are nearly always of an odd number for the following reason. At the centre of the facade, the largest and most lavish room, at Wilton the famed Double Cube Room, this was a gathering place for the court of the honoured guest. Leading symmetrically from the centre room on either side were often two suites of smaller, but still very grand rooms, for the sole use of the occupant of the final room at each end of the facade — the state bedroom. The smaller (but still huge) rooms in between would be used for private audiences, a withdrawing room and a dressing room. They were solely part of the bedroom suite and not for public use.

In most English houses today these rooms have usually become a meaningless succession of drawing rooms and the original intention lost, this is certainly true at both Wilton House and Blenheim Palace The reason for this is the Edwardian Period, when large house-parties needed a huge collection of salons for playing bridge, dancing, talking and generally amusing themselves, also the occupants of the state bedroom preferred the comfort of a warmer more private room on a quiet floor with an en-suite bathroom!

The magnificent state rooms at Wilton designed by Inigo Jones, and one or other of his partners are:

  • The Single Cube Room: This room a complete cube 30ft long, wide and high; has pine panelling gilded and white, it is carved from dado to cornice, The white marble chimney piece was designed by Inigo Jones himself. It has a painted ceiling, on canvas, by the Mannerist Italian painter Cavalier D'Arpino, representing Daedalus and Icarus. This room, hung with paintings by Lely and Van Dyck, is the only room thought to have survived the fire of 1647, and be the only interior surviving of Jones and De Caus.

  • The Double Cube Room: The great room of the house. It is 60ft long, 30ft wide and 30ft high. It was created by Inigo Jones and Webb circa 1653. The pine wall painted white is decorated with great swags of foliage and fruit in gold leaf. The gilt and red velvet furniture compliments the collection of paintings by Van Dyck of the family of Charles I and the family of his contemporary Earl of Pembroke. Between the windows are mirrors by Chippendale, and console tables by William Kent. The coffered ceiling painted by Thomas de Critz depicts the story of Perseus. Here again is another anomaly which makes one question the true involvement of Jones, the great Venetian window, centre piece of the south front and centre piece of the double cube room is not the dead centre of the room, the other windows in the room are not symmetrically placed, and the central fireplace and Venetian window are not opposite each other as the proportions of a room designed as an architectural feature in itself would demand.

  • The Great Ante Room: Before the modifications to the house in 1801 a great staircase of state led from this room to the courtyard below, this was the entrance to the state apartments. Here hangs one of Wilton's greatest treasures: the portrait of his mother by Rembrandt.

  • The Colonnade Room: This was formerly the state bedroom. The series of four gilded columns at one end of the room would have given a theatrical touch of importance to the now missing state bed. Furnished today with 18th century furniture by William Kent. The room is hung with paintings by Reynolds and has a ceiling painted in an 18th century theme of flowers, monkeys, urns and cobwebs.

Other rooms are:

  • The Corner Room: The ceiling in this room, representing the conversion of Saint Paul was painted by Luca Giordano. The walls of the room are covered in red damask and adorned with small paintings by among others Rubens and Andrea del Sarto.

  • The Little Ante Room: The white marble fireplace in this room with inserts of black marble is almost certainly by Inigo Jones. The panels in the ceiling were painted by Lorenzo Sabbatini (1530 -1577) and therefore far older than this part of the house; again there are paintings by Van Dyck and Teniers.

  • The Hunting Room: This is one of the most delightful rooms in the house, and not shown to the public, as it is used as a private drawing room by the Herbert family. It is a square room with white panelling with gilded mouldings. The greatest feature of the room is the panels depicting hunting scenes by Edward Pierce painted circa 1653. These panels are set into the panelling rather than framed in the conventional sense.

Concluding the 17th century history of Wilton House — what was probably the true involvement of Inigo Jones? He was certainly a great friend of the Herbert family, it has been said that Jones' original studying in Italy of Palladio and the other Italian masters was paid for by the 3rd Earl, father of the builder of the South front; it seems likely that Jones originally sketched some ideas for de Caus, and following the fire conveyed through Webb some further ideas for tidying the house and its decorations. Fireplaces and decorative themes can be executed at long distance. The exact truth of the work by Jones will probably never be known, there are in existence designs for gilded doors and panels at Wilton annotated by Jones. He was an old man by the time work was completed, but would he have repaid his debt for the Italian study trip to the son of his benefactor so haphazardly? Or perhaps Jones had a fit of pique, outraged that the 4th Earl was supporting the Parliamentarians in the civil war. We shall probably never know.

In 1705 following a fire the 8th Earl rebuilt some of the oldest parts the house, making rooms to display his newly acquired Arundel marbles, which form the basis for the sculpture collection at Wilton today. Following this Wilton remained undisturbed for nearly a century.
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