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The Palladian Influence On James Paine’s Design Of Gibside Chapel

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The Gibside estate is a landscape garden built in the 18th century located in county Durham containing many different buildings and ruins spread out over 600 acres of garden, woodland and parkland. It’s commissioner George Bowes envisioned a chapel in the center of the garden. He employed the architect James Paine to design and build a chapel that would act as the central focus of the garden. Paine’s design in most aspects was influenced by the work of Andrea Palladio’s and in this essay, I will discuss how beneficial and well suited the chapel was as a Neo-Palladian structure (National trust, 1966).

To understand and discuss the relevance of Palladian architecture in the design of Gibside chapel we must first understand what makes a Palladian structure. Palladian architecture is in my opinion defined by following Palladio’s views on the purpose of architecture. This was that the purpose of architecture is to help us to become better people, with underlining themes of Calm, Harmony and Dignity which coincides with the base ideologies of Protestant Christianity (James, 1886-1949) and thus is reflected in the architectural design of the chapel .

The Chapel’s interior is somewhat contrasting to the outside appearance in terms of its simplicity especially in its decoration with its main features being the alter, three-tiered pulpit and wooden benches (National trust, 1966). The interior being described as deceivingly simplistic (Margret Wills, 1995) gives a sense of clarity among a very uncluttered environment and such is reflected in the atmosphere it creates. Furthermore, Paine’s choice of material is supportive in the desired effect, beige sandstone walls and rosewood furniture (National Trust, 1966) help create a warm, natural feeling in the chapel. This I think is what really distinguishes Gibside Chapel as a religious space which, when compared to other gothic churches lacks the awe and shock factor but in turn provides a less institutionalised, more personal and therefore in my opinion spiritual atmosphere. I see this as a true reflection Palladio’s views on calm, which although not religious myself believe allows the churchgoers to be free from their day to day thoughts, making the time spent religious and wholly about their connection to god. In summary of this belief “the preacher had become more important that the alter, and the attention was on him” (Margret Wills, 1995) meaning it was less about the aesthetics of the building and more about the people and its connection with them. Therefore it is clear to me that this reinstates the relevance of Palladio’s views on calm in creating a religious space and such supports Paine’s influence of Palladian Architecture.

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One aspect in which defines the chapel as Palladian is its proportions and specifically how it creates symmetry. According to (Nalsy D. Ewing, 1974) Palladio’s views on proportion are somewhat humanist comparing architecture and its symmetry to that of a human having any singular features central being in perfect harmony. This is evident in the immediate structure of the Chapel where the proportions and symmetry are shown with the singular centrepiece being the raised dome. This, in my narrative helps create a sense of balance and spiritual importance of the building giving it an almost holy or divine atmosphere and in turn emphasizes its statue and quality of a chapel. Furthermore, when talking about harmony one must consider the chapel in relation to the whole estate. Being made out of local sandstone the chapel not only has a symbolic connection to its surroundings but becomes an additive feature of it, allowing the garden and the chapel to be considered as one and not separate. This in my opinion is due to the outer appearance of the chapel; that the weight and grandeur of the portico as well as its association with Roman and Greek architecture gives the chapel an antient and timeless quality. Almost as if presenting the idea that the garden was present before the chapel as absurd. This in my opinion fully supports Palladio’s belief in harmony not only brings together the estate as a whole but cements the chapel as a truly special building and therefore justifies Paine’s use of his design.

In regard to dignity, I would think carefully about what is meant. In this case I think it is its greatness, or rather the greatness in which it is perceived in others. According to Palladio that the dignity of a building can be found in “weight, number and measure” (Wittkower, Rudolf 1945) and to put it simply I think he is talking mainly about proportions and discipline but also of the greatness of a building. As previously discussed, Paine heavily used proportions in order to create symmetry in the building. This discipline in build and design conveys a sense of greatness, that the immediate lateral symmetry with the grandness of the portico extruding from the front helps establish the Chapel as a famous building and in turn the social standing of the Bowes family in the eyes of the public. This is also reflected in the interior of the chapel having a box for Bowes family really establishing the class system prominent at that time (National trust, 1966) and in the eyes of the public increasing their stature. As a great source of pride of the family the social standing of the building and the family are closely linked. They were both representations of each other and so the dignity of the building was the dignity of the family. In summary this would make Paine’s Palladian influence greatly suited to the family and hence the building. Although when looking at it as a simple building this effect of raising the Bowes family above the common person establishes them as a important standing in the area I do however think it disagrees with the purpose of the building, a chapel. this is because one of the main ideologies behind Protestant Christianity was it was more about unity in the mass being withdrawn from lavish displays of wealth and power (James, 1886-1949).

Overall in conclusion it is my belief that Paine’s influence of Palladian architecture wholly fits the buildings religious nature. That it enables the characteristics and environment of the building to be spiritual and divine allowing its visitors to interact and be affected by its nature. This brings me to fully agree with Paine’s design, cementing it as a great piece of architectural history.

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