Soane Museum Study Group- Rebecca Tropp

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The Soane Museum Study Group is an open forum for scholars – both established and emerging – to present new research into an aspect of architectural history and/or Soane’s collection.

Rebecca Tropp – Level Changes and Conservatories in the Country Houses of Sir John Soane, James Wyatt and John Nash, 1793-1815

Whilst much has been written about the theories of Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale Price and Humphry Repton regarding the Picturesque and its prescriptions for siting a house within its landscape, these discussions have generally been limited to two-dimensional snapshots, such as those represented in Repton’s Red Books or in myriad other contemporaneous paintings and prints. A more fundamental question, however, is this: given the desire to create or enhance Picturesque scenes—not only the exterior appearance of a house within a particular landscape but also the interior experience and the views looking outward—what were the physical repercussions on the building itself? In other words, how did the design and construction of houses change in order to result in the desired Picturesque ‘pictures’?

In this talk, I seek to push beyond the visual to investigate those physical implications and repercussions of the Picturesque ideal — the intersection between the visual two-dimensional picture-plane and the practical three-dimensional architectural response — looking at examples by Sir John Soane alongside those of contemporaries James Wyatt and John Nash. A central feature of repositioning the house within the landscape was bringing the main rooms of the house from the piano nobile down to ground level; in that connection, I propose to look at two specific implications. First is the use of level changes within the ground floor — the inclusion of a few steps up or down in entrance halls or between rooms, as distinct from staircases between floors — considering some possible reasons for incorporating them and the purposes they served. Second, and sometimes connected to these level changes, is the use and placement of conservatories — social/botanical spaces first incorporated into the design of the house during this period — along with other transitional spaces between interior and exterior, all of which contributed to the relation of house to landscape and one’s experience moving through and between those spaces.

Rebecca Tropp is a PhD candidate in History of Art at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, working under the supervision of Dr Frank Salmon. Her doctoral research, funded by the Cambridge Trust and St John’s College, focuses on the British country houses of Sir John Soane, James Wyatt and John Nash, designed between 1793 and 1815 — a period in which Britain was essentially cut off from the Continent in the aftermath of the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and in which the Picturesque was both a theoretical and a much sought after practical ideal. Rebecca is especially interested in how these and other architects attempted to integrate the house more intimately into its landscape setting, leading to new spatial configurations and encouraging particular patterns of physical movement both within the house and between house and garden. This research has grown out of her MPhil in History of Art and Architecture, completed at Cambridge in 2015, with a dissertation entitled ‘Movement and the Central Core: Design Principles in the Country Houses of John Nash’. Her bachelor’s degree (magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) is from Columbia University in New York, where she majored in the History and Theory of Architecture.

Tuesday 21 August 2018, 6.00-7.30pm

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On arrival please come to no. 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The door will be staffed from 6.00pm

There will be refreshments prior to the talk.


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