FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Stepping between heaven and hell

Posted in England, Peterborough by folkestonejack on May 1, 2017

Our visit to Hardwick Hall last year has set us on a mission to visit the surviving prodigy or wonder houses in England, eager to see just how daring the courtiers of the Tudor and Jacobean age could be in building their showstopping palatial residences. The next on our list, Burghley House, proved to the perfect choice for a Bank Holiday weekend and amply demonstrated why it deserves its label as one of the treasure houses of England.

Burghley House

Burghley House was the creation of William Cecil, principal Secretary and Lord Treasurer to Elizabeth I. The construction took place in stages between 1555 and 1587, though the palace has been re-shaped by many significant alterations since then. It certainly cuts a striking shape as you approach it from across the park but this is nothing compared to the astonishing decoration inside.

A walk through the state rooms leaves you in no doubt of the intention to impress, but it is the rooms commissioned by the fifth Earl of Exeter in the 17th century that deliver the knockout punch. The Earl’s choice of artist, Antonio Verrio, spent a decade at Burghley House decorating six rooms (and quarrelling with just about everyone in that time). Each has its own wow factor but the most extravagant of these, the heaven room, goes much further.

On stepping into the heaven room you are immediately transported inside a temple open to the skies, filled with figures from mythology in a re-telling of the story of Mars and Venus. Such is the power of the illusion that it feels as though you are in a busy room even when you are standing alone admiring the detail, whether your focus be Vulcan’s forge or the self-portrait that Verrio cleverly included. Once you have absorbed this, the next doorway takes you into the darkness and despair of the hell staircase. Quite extraordinary.

The walls include a fair number visual representations of the household. You clearly didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Verrio or risk being immortalised unfavourably! The cook found this out to her cost, ending up as a six-breasted woman in one room, whilst the priest is shown as a drunkard in two rooms. You can get a better impression of these astonishing sights through the superb set of 360 degree views of the staterooms which are available on the Burghley House website.

After leaving the house we enjoyed a pleasant wander through the gardens, admiring a selection of modern sculptures, before heading home in late afternoon. As you might have guessed, we thorough enjoyed our visit and would highly recommend a trip to Burghley House.

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