Latrobe's South Front

The approach to the house in the 18th century came from the south, rather than from the west as it does today, and the house was clearly designed to impress from the valley, dominating the opposing hilltop. The Picturesque aesthetic which prevailed in the 18th century encouraged, as David Watkin has described 'a curious make-believe quality in which gardens look like paintings and buildings look like scenery...'. At Hammerwood, Latrobe purposefully set about creating a dramatically bold, rustic hunting lodge which would dominate visually, but blend in spirit with its surrounding landscape. Undoubtedly, the south front, with its rather tall, stark, symmetrical facade and stubby flanking porticos was designed to draw gasps from approaching guests. In this respect the house is an optical illusion, because its architecture gives it the appearance of the scale of much larger buildings of the previous generation - such as Kedleston - but Hammerwood has been shrunk down to almost domestic proportions. The whole, monumental, effect is one of rustic masculinity - perfectly appropriate to a hunting lodge.

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of the south front are the two flanking tetrastyle (four-columned) porticos themselves. The columns are of the very primitive mid- 6th century B.C. Greek Doric order, rather than of the more standard examples of the 5th century, and their prototype is to be found in the so-called Basilica at Paestum in southern Italy. Latrobe was ahead of his time in appreciating the austerity of this rather stark, early Greek Doric order. Having first used it successfully at Hammerwood, it became a favourite of his for the designs of the porches of his early American houses, as for example at the Harvie-Gamble house in Richmond, Virginia, of 1798.

Another peculiar feature of the Hammerwood portico columns is that their shafts are unfluted, as if to epitomize the rustic, masculine spirit of the house, so appropriate to a hunting lodge. The lack of detail, however, assists in preserving the optical illusion of the huge scale of the house by the removal of the usual visual clues which provide the eye an indication of scale and proportion.

Talbot Hamlin's footnote on Latrobe's use of this unfluted Doric order reveals the possible source for Latrobe's inspiration: 'This favourite Doric order of Latrobe's seems to have been based originally on the 'Temple of Apollo' at Delos shown in Volume III of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett's Antiquities of Athens, originally published in 1794. It was also a favourite order of Revett in his few English works. Apparently it never occurred to either of these architects that the omission of the fluting on the greater part of the shaft was merely an indication that the work had never been completed.' Although Latrobe's work at Hammerwood pre-dates the publication of this third volume of the Antiquities of Athens by two years, Stuart and Revett had actually travelled to Delos and made their drawings there in 1754, and it is possible that Latrobe may have seen either the original folio or the proofs at some stage before they were finally published in 1794. Trinder's thesis connects the use of these columns dedicated to Apollo with the plaque above the Library door depicting Apollo and the use of the building originally as a hunting lodge dedicated to the arts.

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