Past Events

Grand Designs and Great Houses

Lecture, Research Seminar – Adriano Aymonino, Manolo Guerci, Kate Retford

  • 23 March 2022
  • 6:30 – 8:00 pm
  • The fifth in a series of talks in Spring 2022 by authors of books recently published by the Paul Mellon Centre.
  • Paul Mellon Centre and Online
Join us for a series of talks in Spring 2022 by authors of books recently published by the Paul Mellon Centre. Each author will give a glimpse into their project, sharing insights about the process of researching, writing, and publishing their book. There will be two talks of around 20 minutes each, followed by a discussion and Q&A session.

In the fifth and final of these events, Adriano Aymonino & Manolo Guerci will come together to discuss discoveries made in writing their books about ambitious architectural commissions. They will consider the possibilities and the losses of the archive, issues around writing about designs of great scale (both extant and destroyed), and how to research campaigns of design, patronage and collecting stretching over a number of decades. The conversation will be chaired by Kate Retford.

This event will take place at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art at 16 Bedford Square. Tickets are available to guests who wish to join us onsite for the live event. This event will also be live-streamed. Those with a digital ticket will receive instructions on how to join the event online at least one week prior to the event.

Book cover Enlightened Eclecticism. The Grand Design of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland

The central decades of the eighteenth century in Britain were crucial to the history of European taste and design. One of the period’s most important campaigns of patronage and collecting was that of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland: Sir Hugh Smithson (1712–86) and Lady Elizabeth Seymour Percy (1716–76). This lecture, based on the book Enlightened Eclecticism. The Grand Design of the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland (Yale UP, 2021), examines four houses they refurbished in eclectic architectural styles – Stanwick Hall, Northumberland House, Syon House, and Alnwick Castle – alongside the innumerable objects they collected, their funerary monuments, and their persistent engagement in Georgian London’s public sphere. Over the years, the couple's commissions embraced, or pioneered styles as varied as Palladianism, rococo, neoclassicism, and Gothic revival. Patrons of many artists and architects, they are revealed, particularly, as the greatest supporters of Robert Adam. In every instance, minute details contributed to large-scale projects expressing the Northumberlands’ various aesthetic and cultural allegiances. Their development sheds light on the eclectic taste of Georgian Britain, the emergence of neoclassicism and historicism, and the cultures of the Grand Tour and the Enlightenment.

Book cover London’s ‘Golden Mile’: The Great Houses of the Strand, 1550–1650

This book reconstructs the so-called ‘Strand palaces’ – eleven great houses that once stood along the Strand in London. Between 1550 and 1650, this was the capital’s ‘Golden Mile’: home to a unique concentration of patrons and artists, and where England’s early modern and post-Reformation elites jostled to establish themselves by building and furnishing new, secular cathedrals. Their inventive, eclectic, and yet carefully crafted mix of vernacular and continental features not only shaped some of the greatest country houses of the day, but also the image of English power on the world stage. It also gave rise to a distinctly English style, which was to become the symbol of a unique architectural period. The product of almost two decades of research, and benefitting from close archival investigation, this book brings together an incredible array of unpublished sources that sheds new light on one of the most important chapters in London’s architectural history, and on English architecture more broadly.

About the speakers

  • Adriano Aymonino_crop

    Adriano Aymonino is Director of Undergraduate Programmes in the Department of History of Art at the University of Buckingham and Programme Director for the MA in the Art Market and the History of Collecting. He has curated several exhibitions, such as Drawn from the Antique: Artists and the Classical Ideal, held at the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London in 2015. His book Enlightened Eclecticism was published by Yale University Press in June 2021. He is currently working on a revised edition of Francis Haskell and Nicholas Penny’s Taste and the Antique (2022); and on a critical edition of Robert Adam's Grand Tour correspondence, which will be hosted on the Sir John Soane’s Museum website (2023). He is also co-editor of the series Paper Worlds published by MIT Press and associate editor of the Journal of the History of Collections.

  • Manolo Guerci is a Senior Lecturer and Director of the BA RIBA Architecture Programme at the Kent School of Architecture and Planning, University of Kent. He has published extensively on the Early Modern Period, particularly on palaces in great European capitals such as Rome and London, at a comparative level. He has also worked in practice on the restoration of historic buildings, while his journalistic and other writings have covered different topics, from architecture and rivers to post-war social housing estates. His books include Palazzo Mancini (Rome, IPS 2011), Riverine. Architecture and Rivers (with G. Adler, Routledge, 2019), and London’s ‘Golden’s Mile’. Great Houses of the Strand, 1550–1650 (PMC/YUP, 2021), described as amongst the five best history books of the year (History Today). Amongst several other projects, Guerci is currently working on a University of Kent/British Academy project for a new critical edition cum catalogue of The Book of Architecture of John Thorpe in Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, a unique collection of some 295 drawings ranging primarily from the 1590s to the 1620s and covering 168 buildings, mainly, but not only, English, and amongst the greatest of the period. First catalogued by John Summerson in the 1960s, his new edition will be published online on the Soane Museum’s website in 2023.

  • Kate Retford headshot in front of foliage

    Kate Retford is Professor of History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published widely on eighteenth-century British art, particularly on gender, portraiture, and the country house. Her recent publications include The Conversation Piece: Making Modern Art in Eighteenth-Century Britain (2017) and The Georgian London Town House: Building, Collecting and Display, co-edited with Susanna Avery-Quash (2019). She is currently working on a book about print rooms in eighteenth-century country houses, funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2021–2022.