Supplied under the direction of William Kent to William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire (1698-1755), for the Entrance Hall (later the Saloon), Devonshire, House, Piccadilly, London
Christopher Simon Sykes, Private Palaces, 1985, p. 102 and pl. 15, illustrated in situ in a drawing circa 1828 depicting the Entrance Hall and in a watercolour by William Hunt circa 1822, illustrated in situ in the Saloon (formerly the Entrance Hall);
David Pierce, London Mansions, The Palatial Houses of the Nobility, 1986, p. 109, illustrated in situ in the Saloon (formerly the Entrance Hall);
John Cornforth, London Interiors from the Archives of Country Life, 2000, p. 67, illustrated in situ in the saloon
Designed with impressive grandeur and flair, this chimneypiece came from the Saloon which was originally the Grand Entrance Hall at Devonshire House and as such would have welcomed the visitor upon arrival. The bold design is at the very forefront of the neo-Palladian movement and an updated version of Kent's slightly earlier commissions at Kensington Palace and for Sir Robert Walpole at Houghton. William Kent had been fortunate enough to be nurtured by Lord Burlington, sponsored on his travels, commissioned, accommodated in his home and given the time and opportunity to study the relatively unknown and privately owned drawings of Inigo Jones, in part published by Kent in 1727. At this point in time Inigo Jones' work was not a commonly recognised style as we may consider it today, and was juxtaposed to the widely accepted Marot-inspired Anglo-Dutch tastes of the previous decades, Jones' own Palladian movement having been largely overlooked by history at this point.
The repertoire of ornament on the present chimneypiece featuring, Greek-key, Vitruvian scrolls and scrolling corbels supporting bell-flower garlands now synonymous with William Kent was avant-garde for the 1730s with Devonshire House and his work at Holkham, running simultaneously, being his first complete commissions as all encompassing architect/decorator.
Nearly ten years later in 1744, John Vardy published his Some Designs of Mr Inigo Jones and Mr Wm Kent, demonstrating the continued interest in such design. Indeed numerous other 'Kentian' designs exist but on the whole dating to the very last year of the 1730s and early 1740s by William Jones, Batty Langley and others.
An engraving of a chimneypiece with a very similar configuration incorporating a frieze tablet with an animal mask flanked by twinned adjacent corbels is illustrated by Vardy, op. cit., p. 34. Whilst there is not an individual design for the current chimneypiece, the elements of decoration appear in Kent's designs. A design for the Duke of Grafton's Dining Room shows a similarly conceived chimneypiece which was probably prepared for Isaac Ware's Designs of Inigo Jones, 1731, is reproduced in John Cornforth, Early Georgian Interiors, Yale 2004, p. 146, fig.180. The treatment of the bell-flower swags for example draws near direct comparison to those found on the design for 'A window in the Prince of Wales's Barge' (Vardy, op.cit. p.53), flanking the aperture of the window in shallow recessed panels. Furthermore the same drawing depicts similarly conceived rosettes to those found in the entwined Greek-key of the frieze on this chimneypiece. Whilst the level of sophisticated design on this chimney supersedes many of Kent's designs the richness of the decorative vocabulary is comparable to elements of the Royal barge and as such displays the importance in which Kent held the Devonshire House commission.
The heifer depicted on the tablet may be a mythological reference to Jupiter's affair with Io which was thwarted by her transformation into a white heifer by his wife Juno. Argus, the hundred-eyed giant was sent to guard Io in the guise of a heifer. Jupiter retaliated by sending Mercury to slay the giant. Mercury was the patron of travellers and as such may be relevant to the original positioning of the chimneypiece in the Entrance Hall at Devonshire House prior to it's transformation into the Saloon.
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