The Villas



Elevation of the east front, Stourhead, Wiltshire

Elevation of the east front, Stourhead, Wiltshire Enlarge image

Elevation of the east front, Stourhead, Wiltshire
Colen Campbell, 1724
RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Villa Emo RIBA 39829_c

Villa Emo, Fanzolo Enlarge image

Villa Emo, Fanzolo
Andrea Palladio, late 1550s
RIBA Library Photographs Collection 

Stourhead, in terms of size and function, should not be considered a villa. However if the central block is considered alone, its role in the history of the Palladian villa is clear to see. The architectural historian John Harris even describes it as Colen Campbell’s prime representation of the villa.

The house was designed as a country retreat for the banker Henry Hoare, a relative of William Benson. Campbell, possibly with the advice of Benson, looked to Palladio’s Villa Emo at Fanzolo for both the plan and elevation. He modified the plan slightly, and changed the entrance portico from being flat to projecting. Campbell must have been very satisfied with his façade design for he reused it in several different guises, including Houghton Hall in 1722 and Plumptre House, Nottingham, in 1724.

Campbell also looked to his previous project, Newby Park, for inspiration. Both plans follow the Villa Emo, with rooms arranged symmetrically and observing Palladio’s prescribed proportions of either 1:1 or 2:3. Campbell also adhered to his suggestion of keeping all the main function rooms on the piano nobile. At Stourhead these include the dining and drawing rooms, music room, cabinet room and chapel.

The influence of the Italian master is therefore evident throughout the building, although the rusticated basement, double-ramped stairway and elaborate window frames are more indebted to Inigo Jones and later seventeenth-century architects than to Palladio.

Palladio believed firmly in the idea of decorum, or characterisation of a building through ornament. He would have considered too much decoration inappropriate for a rural, agricultural building such as a villa.