Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beauty, by Robert Adam

Taylor Speer-Sims
November 25, 2011

                           Beauty, by Robert Adam


            After years of working with his father, the brilliant Robert Adam created a style that others would emulate. He learned his work from his father, his drawing from university and his designs from the ancient Romans. Adam toiled away as a highly ambitious man. He was not going to let the fact that he was an artisan, or being the son of an architect, foil his success. Robert Adam wanted to design, and so he did. He conjoined the current rococo with the designs of Rome and created his own brilliance. However he entered a project, he always left it beautiful.

Robert Adam was the second son of a nine-sibling family (Millikin, Zaring). He was one of four architects in the family, the eldest being his father who was well respected in the home country of Scotland. The senior Adam had a very successful firm that rebuilt medieval forts. He, in fact, was the leading architect of his day in Scotland (Zaring). Adam grew up in the midst of architectural drawings and fieldwork of his father. After shortly attending university as an art and architectural student, he found work with his father and eldest brother before one of his younger brothers also joined the firm (Tait).

            The eldest Adam brother, John, found that he inherited the father’s architectural firm after the death of that esteemed sire. John continued in the same vein in the sense that the Adam firm carried forward the work on the old castles and highland forts of the land. The extensive work in this type of style would turn Robert, a general worker, into a master stonemason. Robert used the art skills that he learned at university to push the firm further into mapping and recording of the region and forts (Tait). This skill also helped with Robert Adam’s study of Roman art and architecture, which would further enhance his own industrious architectural career.

            Robert Adam found his future in Roman art and architecture. This was not accidental, but nor was it intentional. Adam had been a highly ambitious social climber and so decided upon taking The Grand Tour with a friend, which just happened to be the son of an earl (Zaring, Millikin). The Grand Tour was not only for aristocrats of course. Many others including politicians, and other wealthy persons, went to Italy to be educated in the art, literature, theater, music, history, sciences, and of course, architecture (Kleiner 765).

            Adam used The Grand Tour to become acquainted with the rules of the aristocratic societies. That is where he met many of his future clients, or at least referring elite. That is also where he began to use his art and architectural skills in earnest. He began drawing and measuring many of the antiquarian locals (Zaring).  Most of the architects that were there were focusing on the ruined temples. He, however, was the first to choose to place the focus upon the homes of the ancient Romans (Moffett 403). Robert visited and drew Herculaneum, Pompeii and Split, Croatia where he literally wrote (and drew) the book on Diocletian’s Palace called Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia which was published in 1764 (Kliener 766-767; Zaring).

            After three years of this writing and drawing, Robert returned to The United Kingdom, but this time settled in London. After contacting several of his associates that he met in Italy on his Grand Tour, he began to become the famous architect that any legend would be happy to own. Adam worked in building, remodeling, landscape, interior, whatever the client wanted. He designed and built bridges, pavilions, greenhouses, orangeries, and follies (Jenkins 693, 822, 846) He was so specific in his designs that he would even design doors, fireplaces, carpets, screens, and furniture (Jenkins 456, 822). There was nothing that Adam thought beneath his notice.

            Adam built in Romantic, Gothic, and Neo-Gothic, but he was most famous for developing his own style of Neo-Classical. He blended Rococo with Roman, and it became the Adam style. Adam and his younger brother, James, would become the preeminent architects and designers for the British elite. Robert would use his studies of the Roman houses to great effect in that he would change the rooms into a rounded area, within the rectangle and box (Moffett 403; Gelernter 108). He would typically place Italian statuary within copses that were throughout the rooms to glorified Italian effect (Tweedland).

One of the areas of building houses that Adam seemed to have problems with, however, was their exterior (Jenkins 323). While he built many with simple Roman temple fronts, others were reconfigurations of other types of buildings. Some did not quite look right, so they would add simple stucco to the fronts. This was one reason why many only allowed Adam to work on their interiors (Jenkins 323, 500, 502). The other reason that the British nobles and elites chose Adam to do their interiors was the fact that they were certain to be beautiful.

Eating Parlor at Headfort House
1771 Plaster and paint, oil on plaster


http://www.projectbook.co.uk/article_29.html http://www.google.com/imgres?q=Antonio+Zucchi+ceiling+at+headfort+house&um=1&


The Earl of Bective, Sir Thomas Taylor, commissioned The Eating Parlor at Headfort House, which was completed in 1771.  Sir Thomas’s house had been designed and built by George Semple in the 1760s. Sir Thomas wanted the famous English designer to work his magic inside his estate and gave Robert Adam seven rooms within to complete. The commission of the Irish mansion would end up being the best, and only lasting, work that Adam labored on within Ireland. Not only would Adam design the architectural workings of the room, he would also see to every distinction (Kells). 

The architectural portion of the design work had only been the plaster elements, ceiling, flooring, doors, fireplace, etc.  Even though this would have curtailed the enthusiasm of other architects, Adam took it to heart. He gave the development his entirety. No detail was left unknown, or was considered too little, to him. He turned a plain room into a masterpiece, with other masterpieces within. While his furniture is no longer in the room, the Adam plasterwork detailing, paint, and paintings have been refurbished recently (Kells).

The room itself is an amazing conglomeration of a style that has recently become something resembling a wedding cake in its most fabulous case of intricate icing. The details are absolutely phenomenal to look at. Adam’s work has nothing to compare with in today’s buildings. The beauty that he conveyed in this room still compels any viewer into an awed inspired wonder. The admiration of the visitor is still to be felt even after two centuries have passed through the room.

Those two centuries (and more) continues to remind anyone looking that a master artist would have completed the plasterwork. Adam was the best, and he expected the best. Antonio Zucci had created five paintings for this room.  One of those is located on the ceiling another is a frieze of muses on the wall (Donohoe). The ceiling piece is a circle that is in the center, almost forgotten within the rest of the frosting that is the ceiling.

            Concaved into a flat surface, the background green creates a perfect place to put the white plasterwork. The arched spaces are segregated into long areas and corner spots. The long rectangles have what looks like a chandelier, or oil lamp “chained” to a cameo with a knotted ribbon on top. This chain work creates a type of swaging effect, circles the cameo, and then swags again to the next lamp taking up about three-quarters of the height.  Then, just above this is a garland that arches to each lamp with something that resembles a feather at the cornice of each arch. In the corners is a sunburst medallion encircled, then encircled again, by what looks like a daisy chain.

            Between where the rectangles and corners meet the flat ceiling is a frame of intricate zigzags that completely surround the space. The flat area of the ceiling is divided into three equal squares and two edge pieces, one on each end. The edge pieces have what look like swags and circles. The squares are identical, save the center having a painting in the center. There are quartered circles on each corner with the sunburst medallion in the center, with a circle, then encircled by a laurel wreath, and lastly to have another circle. This outer circle has four small sunbursts at the sides of each of the squares.

               Beneath the ceiling, with its numerous amounts of sunbursts, is an ornate crown molding, also of plaster. The plasterwork has numerous dots and dashes, and below it is vertical rectangles that have the famous neoclassical lamps and swirls in every other motif. Then, the other appears to be a hanging bunch of grapes. The background green is darker here then the rest of the room. This is quite large, but still takes up very little of the room space. Just below that molding, is a border trim work that includes very small sunbursts with dots of plaster that create a horizontal line throughout the room.  Adam used this same motif for the door cornices.

               The cornice above the fireplace, however, resembles that of the long triangles in the arched area of the ceiling. This is used like the roof of a Roman temple. Not only is there a “ceiling” but there also are two pillars that hold it up and are braced by the fireplace. The center of this is a painting that has a plaster square frame, which makes the painting a circle. Above this is a swag that is attached to another frame for another painting. One such large “frame” has a huge oil lamp at the very top with swirls of daisies coming off it. In fact, the entire room appears as if it had been “framed” by Adam to make sure that the paintings that would be included would be used as an ornament for his work, not the other way around! After all, Adam was the real artist of the room.


                                                                         Etruscan Room at Osterley Park

                                                      Paper and plaster, Oil on plaster, Cane chairs

                            http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-osterleypark/w-osterley -gallery.htm


Another room by the artist Robert Adam is the Etruscan Room at Osterley Park. Osterley Park was an old Elizabethan house that was inherited by Robert Child who was a descendent of the founder of Childs Bank. He then made sure to include the now famous man from Scotland (National Trust). Several of Adam’s rooms became the envy of the area (Jenkens 502). Three of the rooms in the house were meant to represent elements (National Trust). It is unclear as to which this one would have represented, but more it was more than likely to represent water, per the many vases in the wall paper.

The wall is just one of many that is papered, plastered and painted by Adam. This is the main room that people think of when they think of Robert Adam. It has the distinct Roman look of Herculaneum and in the Pompeii style. The plasterwork vases had been inspired by some Etruscan vases that he had seen in a publication by Sir William Hamilton (Richardr).  Perhaps that is where the title of the room originated.

Wherever the name originated, it is certainly obvious that it is appropriate. The many designs do include Etruscan style vases. What is interesting is that the majority of the room had been created by wallpaper. This wallpaper was not something that anyone could just purchase at a store. Adam had one of his best men create the paper from his design. Perhaps this had been done for creativity, or perhaps it had been created due to its symmetry. This could certainly have been the case because each portion is completely symmetrical. What is amazing is the color that is still viewable after so many centuries. The background color has faded, certainly, but the rest of the colors appear to be in perfect shape.

The appearance of the room is still the amazing brilliance of the style. The room looks like something an ancient Roman would recline in while drinking wine and discussing politics with a Caesar or two. The room appears to be a square, so they would have found it very easy to encircle the room with lounges. Adam, however, did not create lounges for this room. He did create cane chairs that appear to be of the same shade of green as the wallpaper. These chairs were for a more formalized Georgian lifestyle that was just learning to let their wigs down.

The formal room was created in the newly discovered colors of Pompeii, which were completely alien to the British society at this time in history (Kleiner 766; Gelernter 108). The bright greens and blues, with dark reds and golds were, and still are, an amazing feature to this room. There is a similarity between this room and the room prior in which that Adam again uses the oil lamp with ornamental swags and feathers in the ceiling. This time, however, they are in the corners of the room. They are multi-toned gold with cameos and angel detailing. They are sitting on a quartered sun the shines from the corner of the room.

The swaging of these lamps leads to a cameo on each side of the square in the ceiling. These are full oil paintings encircled by golden plaster swaging, bows and flowers with a scale hanging beneath. The knotted bows are the very tops are just below the end of the centerpiece. What is interesting about this is that the shape looks like a fat plus sign, but the corners are arched. Inside is a soft green with golden floral sprays. The exact circle holds a beautiful painting of a Roman scene.

The scene brings to mind the Roman emperors visiting again. While they are looking about, they see that the paper of the walls is just slightly off color than the ceiling. Could this have been due to time? These still hold their beauty, no matter their age. At the bottom of the paper is a type of border just above the blue painted walls. Borders of the paper have red on the bottom interspersed with a dark blue, which could have at one point been black, and the light green, which also could have faded from a blue. There are two Roman maidens in the center of each frame, but they are doing something different in each view. Sometimes they look at each other across from a water fountain, sometimes the other way. Above the fireplace, they are sitting under a large vase.

In all cases, Etruscan vases with detail work of designs and scrolled dots frame these maidens. They go to a “shelf” where two opposing chimera sits guarding a centralized circular painting. There are more scrolls adorning the top and bottom of this cameo. Sitting above the cameos are horizontal elongated rectangle pictures below more scrolls. An arch to separate it from the others, as well as enclose it within a viewing frame, encloses each of these frames.

What is interesting about both of these rooms is that they are both identifiable rooms by Robert Adam. There are differences in colors, designs and materials. But there are signature similarities as well. While the colors are different, they are similar. There were scrolls, cameos, flowers and lamps in both rooms.  There was even the sun bursting from the corner in one, and full sunbursts in the other. The best similarity between the two is that they are both still so amazing that two hundred years has not dimmed their beauty.

Originally written for class at American Military University.

End Notes:

Adam, Robert. Eating Parlor at Headfort House. 1771. Plaster and Paint, Oil on plaster.

The National Trust. Ireland.


---- Etruscan Room at Osterley Park. 1772. Paper and plaster, Oil on plaster, Cane chairs.

The National Trust. England.

Donohoe, John. “Major Conservation Project at Headfort House.” The Meath Chronicle.

18 March 2009. Web. http://www.meathchronicle.ie/news/kells/articles/2009/03/

18/37261-major-conservation-project-at-headfort-house. 25 November 2011.

Gelernter, Mark. A History of American Architecture: Buildings in their Cultural and

Technological Context. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001. Print.

Jenkins, Simon. England’s Thousand Best Houses. New York: Penguin Group, 2004.


Kellsonline. Headfort House. 20 October 2010. Web. http://www.kellsonline.ie/?p=101.

            25 November 2011.

Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, A Global History. 13th ed. Volume 2.

            Boston: Thomson Wadsorth, 2009. Print.

Millikin, Sandra. “Adam, Robert.” Britannica Biographies. 1 October 2010. Web.

http://ezproxy.aurorapubliclibrary.org:2058/login.aspx?direct=true&db=b6h&AN=32401506&site=brc-live. 25 November 2011.

Moffett, Marian, Michael Fazio and Lawrence Wodehouse. Buildings Across Time: An

            Introduction to World Architecture. London: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Print.

National Trust. “Osterley Park.” 2011. Web. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-

vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-osterleypark/w-osterley-history.htm. 25 November 2011.

Richardr. “Etruscan Room, Osterley Park.” April 2010. Web. http://www.flickr.com

/photos/castrovalva/5624108508/. 25 November 2011.

Tait, A.A. “Adam, Robert 1728-1792.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Web. http://ezproxy.aurorapublic

library.org:2128/10.1093/ref:odnb/105. 25 November 2011.

Tweedland, The Gentlemen’s Club. “The Grand Tour.” 27 January 2011. Web.

http://tweedlandthegentlemansclub.blogspot.com/2011/01/grand-tour-aristocratic-initiation.html. 25 November 2011.

Zaring, Philip B. “Robert and James Adam.” Great Lives from History:The Eighteenth

Century. September 2006. Web. http://ezproxy.aurorapubliclibrary.org:2058/

login.aspx?direct=true&db=b6h&AN=103331GL183641000211&site=brc-live. 25 November 2011.


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