The House at Chis Wick in the County of Middlesex, one of the seats of the Rt. Honble Charles Boyle, Baron Clifforde of Londerburgh and Earle of Burlington …

This is the only known view of the old Chiswick House, a Jacobean mansion purchased by the first Earl of Burlington in 1682. It was probably made in around 1698-99. The house is the gabled building in the centre, with the fine new stables as a range to the right of the house, part of the L-shaped building just right of centre. As well as the stables this building included kitchens, bakery, laundry and brewery. Just peeping in at the corner of the right-hand frame is Moreton House, which belonged to the neighbour, Sir Stephen Fox. In 1812 the Burlingtons would buy Moreton House, knock it down and keep only the walled garden intact, now the Kitchen Garden behind the Camellia Conservatory.[1]

The 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790-1858) managed to get the little road in front of his house moved back a bit, as it ran too close to the house.  This image shows how near Chiswick House lay to the river, a connection that has been lost through the building of the A316 through the fields and orchards in front of the house, and the housing developments along the river.

The Palladian Chiswick House, as we know it today, was built in 1726-29 in the middle of the little garden on this engraving shown to the left of the Jacobean House, where four paths quarter the rectangle. The Jacobean House was demolished in 1788, and two wings that had been added to the Palladian villa were removed in 1951 on the grounds that they were not original to the 1729 villa, and that they were riven with woodworm. The stable block shown in this engraving was knocked down by Chiswick and Brentford Council in 1933.

Leonard Knyff or Leendert Knijff (1650-1722) was a Dutch draughtsman and painter, brother of Jacob Knyff. Both brothers moved to London and made their careers there.  While Jacob focussed on landscapes and marine scenes, Leonard specialised in bird’s eye views, as though drawn from a balloon many years before this was technically possible. He worked in partnership with Jan (Johannes) Kip (1652/3-1722), a fellow Dutchman.

Initially their plan had been to create a crowdfunded ‘subscription publishing project’ for which landowners would sign up in advance. For £10 each nobleman would have his estate and coat of arms included, and would eventually get a full set of prints. However take up was not as speedy as they had hoped, and the commissions dribbled in. Eventually Britannia Illustrata: Or Views of Several of the Queens Palaces, as Also of the Principal seats of the Nobility and Gentry of Great Britain, Curiously Engraven on 80 Copper Plates, was published in 1708-09, but by then other print-sellers had become involved. Knyff would draw the image, Kip would transfer it to a copper plate by copying it into a mirror image. This plate could then be used to create several hundred copies.

The images were much prized as they revealed the extent and substance of the houses and lands of the patrons in an appealing way. Beyond the well-maintained grounds at Chiswick lie rolling fields and orchards, and a bustling river. Historians also prize these images as they are amongst the earliest and most accurate depictions available.

Acknowledgement: With thanks to Val Bott.

[1] John Harrison, The Palladian Revival: Lord Burlington, His Villa and Garden at Chiswick, Yale University Press, 1994, p.52; Gillian Clegg, Chiswick House and Gardens: A History, McHugh Publications 2011

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