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Brighton Pavilion
Brighton Pavilion

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5 ‘Indian’ on the outside

In 1801 and 1805, first Holland and then his assistant William Porden (1775–1822) had been commissioned to make sketches for altering the exterior to a Chinese style so as to match the extravagantly Chinese interiors, but these projects remained unfulfilled ( Plate 14 ). Drawing on the pictorial records brought back by William Alexander from Lord Macartney's embassy in 1792, Holland and Porden had attempted to invent a Chinese taste in English domestic exteriors, but instead the prince was seized with a new enthusiasm for the Indian – or, to be more precise, the Mogul (rather than the Hindu).

Click on 'View document' to see plate 14, Design for a proposed Chinese exterior.

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His first foray in this style concerned the stables, built between 1803 and 1808, which housed some 60 horses and dwarfed the Pavilion itself. Although Soane's master, George Dance, had designed the London Guildhall in 1788 in a subtle blend of Islamic and Gothick forms, with the Islamic deriving from illustrations of the Taj Mahal, the immediate inspiration for the prince's stables seems to have come, via Porden's acquaintance with a man called Samuel Pepys Cockerell, from the brothers William and Thomas Daniell, who in 1795 began publishing a series of volumes of sketches entitled Oriental Scenery (for an example, see Plate 15 ).

Click on 'View document' to see plate 15, Design for a proposed Chinese exterior.

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This best-selling work included many aquatints of Delhi, and inspired Cockerell's designs for the new house that his brother, Sir Charles Cockerell, newly back from India and flush with what was slangily referred to as ‘nabob’ wealth, commissioned him to design at Sezincote in Gloucestershire.

Sezincote is near Moreton-in-Marsh. Although entirely neoclassical in its interior decor, its exterior and its garden are the products of a scholarly eyewitness interest in the civilization of India (see Dinkel, 1983, p.40). Contemporary European interest in India was quite different in kind from the eighteenth-century interest in things Chinese, for it was consciously scholarly and intellectual. In Germany, for example, Goethe read Sir Charles Wilkins's translation of the Bhagavad-gita (1795).

In Britain intellectuals as politically diverse as the Poet Laureate Robert Southey and the radical atheist Percy Bysshe Shelley were taking their cue from the scholar Sir William Jones's important and arcane translations of Hindu religious poetry, and the translations of Sanskrit literature and philosophy encouraged by the imperialist Warren Hastings. Southey's poem The Curse of Kehama (1810) and Shelley's The Revolt of Islam (1818), each complete with a vast apparatus of scholarly footnotes on Hindu and Muslim religious observances, respectively, were jostling each other on the shelves of the booksellers.

The ‘Indian’ style was therefore a recherche, even an austere, though noble and sublime, style to adopt. The style had other connotations too. It was inevitably and increasingly associated with Britain's rapidly growing military and trading empire. New British interest in Indian culture came back with the nabob wealth of the East India Company and the many scholars and travellers associated with it.

The events of 1803, when the British finally occupied Delhi, prompted an explosion of interest in the imperial romance that the subcontinent promised.

Sezincote House drew very precisely from the styles of ‘Mogul’, as you can see if you compare the engravings of the Jami'Masjid and Sezincote House (Plate 15, above, and Figure 10, below).

As you can see in more detail from Plates 16 and Plate 17 (photographs of the house), Sezincote is still fundamentally a neoclassical building in its symmetrical facade of balancing windows and bays, and although you can't see this from these photographs, it is set in a conventionally eighteenth-century fashion so as to dominate its wide sweeping grounds.

Click on 'View document' to see plate 16, the facade of Sezincote.

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Click on 'View document' to see plate 17, another view of the acade of Sezincote.

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If the ground-plan is still neoclassical, however, the rotunda has metamorphosed into a Mogul dome; the parapet has sprouted mini- minarets; the arches of the windows, hooded and recessed, have broken out into scallops and flirt upwards into little bunches of plumes or palms; and the squared-off columns flanking the front door are rather definitely neither Roman nor Greek. The gardens, on the other hand, are conspicuously Hindu in inspiration.

Down the side of the house runs a small brook which has been converted into a picturesque garden originally designed by the leading landscape improver Humphrey Repton (Figure 11 and Plate 18 ). This landscape aesthetic privileges the irregular, the interrupted, the varied and the rough in texture; here, it is heightened by an admixture of the exotic.

Click on 'View document' to see plate 18, the fountain at Sezincote.

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At the head of the valley there is a carefully reconstructed Hindu temple occupied by a statue of the Hindu sun goddess Souriya, looking down over a lotus-shaped temple pool. The stream winds down, under a bridge complete with Brahmin sacred bulls, into the serpent pool which boasts a three-headed serpent spitting a fountain of water (along with the lotus, the serpent was a symbol of regeneration), strongly reminiscent of the serpents winding round the columns in the Music Room Gallery. The ‘Hindoo’ temple is characteristically stepped and squared off, its silhouette very different from that of the Mogul dome and minarets. The garden has a definite flavour of a wish to be Coleridge's

deep romantic chasm which slanted

Down the green hill a cedarn cover!

A savage place! as holy and inchanted

As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted

By woman wailing for her demon-lover!

Figure 10
Figure 10 John Martin, Sezincote, 1817, aquatint drawn and etched. Photo: courtesy of the Royal Pavilion, Libraries and Museums, Brighton and Hove.
Figure 11
Figure 11 John Martin, Sezincote, Gloucestershire: The Temple Pool, 1817, print, British Museum, London. Photo: by courtesy of The Trustees of the British Museum.

But Coleridge's poem was known at this time only to a few intimates. After visiting Sezincote, the prince, as alive as his niece Queen Victoria would be half a century later to the romance of empire, with himself at the centre of the dramatic spectacular, summoned Repton to design something in the same style. Repton's enthusiasm had only been whetted by his designs for the Sezincote gardens; he had become persuaded that architecture and gardening were ‘on the eve of some great future change … in consequence of our having lately become acquainted with the scenery and buildings of India’ (quoted in Summerson, 1980, p.103). Again in the Mogul style, Repton's designs were ready in 1806 and published in 1808, but were never executed because the prince's finances were at breaking point. The actual building of the exterior of the Pavilion as we see it today was left in the event to John Nash, who would work in part from Repton's designs. Nash began work on the designs in 1815, and the Pavilion was completed in 1823.

Before we look in some detail at Nash's designs, we need to pause to consider the question of what Mogul architecture might have meant to the prince and his contemporaries, as opposed to Hindu styles. The happy congruence of Mogul and Hindu at Sezincote, which found itself reflected in the indiscriminate way that contemporaries would occasionally refer to the architecture of the Pavilion as ‘Hindoo’, was not uncontested.

This was for a variety of reasons – aesthetic, religious and political. Aesthetically, Mogul architecture was more congenial to Regency fantastic architecture because it had definite affinities with the other main fantasy mode we've already touched upon, the Gothick. You can see this from Plate 19, a photograph of the Regency wing added in Gothick style to Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.

Click on 'View document' to see plate 19, Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.

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The lacy effect here could just as well be given another twist to become Indian, while the medieval pinnacles could easily metamorphose into minarets, given a little more latitude. As for the religious perspective, Islam, unlike Hinduism, was monotheistic rather than polytheistic, and this seems to have sat better with western cultural expectations at the time. Besides, Hinduism was increasingly being associated in Britain with the practice of suttee, the self-immolation of a widow on her dead husband's funeral pyre, dramatized for example in the opening of Southey's poem The Curse of Kehama.

So much outrage did this provoke in Britain that it would eventually become a moral impetus for the outright take-over of political power in India. Politically, the Moguls (unlike the Hindus) were also associated with fabulously successful empire-building of the sort that the British now aspired to, and with a model of government that contemporaries typically referred to (generally critically) as ‘Oriental despotism’.

Now Regent as a result of his father's incapacitating illness, the prince seems to have wished to dramatize his increased importance – indeed, it seems to be true that he felt it was part of his role to dramatize national and imperial glory and status both in his person and in his palaces. Certainly, when he became king he was to commission Nash to build him a series of buildings in London that were conspicuously national and imperial in flavour, including Marble Arch.

In these years as Regent, his native extravagance was now licensed by his status as monarch in all but name, and he promptly began to play out his own vision of himself as an absolutist ancien regime prince in architectural terms. The Pavilion, newly conceived by Nash, was in effect to give him the character of an Oriental potentate; in this context ‘Eastern magnificence … stood for the assertion of monarchical privileges … in a time of revolution, political, intellectual, and economic’ (Dinkel, 1983, p.48).

Turning to Nash's designs, let's compare the Pavilion's facades with those of Sezincote.

Exercise 8

Look again at the illustrations of Sezincote (Figures 10–11 and Plates 16–17, above) and then at those of Nash's designs for the exterior of the Royal Pavilion (Plates 1–2, below). You may also want to revisit the video for the detail of the Pavilion's exteriors. Make a list of similarities and differences.

Click below to view images referred to in exercise.

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Click below to view clip 1 of the video, featuring detail of the Pavilion's exteriors.

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Similarities. Clearly, Sezincote and the Pavilion both make use of the form of the onion dome topped with a spike. They also share an interest in the style of a minaret, with its mini-dome and smaller spike as accenting features. The same battlemented effect along the edge of the roof (a variant on the standard Georgian parapet) is apparent too. Moreover, a significant number of the windows of both the Pavilion and Sezincote are arched and decorated with scalloping. The lacy effect of the railings at Sezincote also finds an echo in the stone lace-work shading the veranda of the Pavilion's east front. Finally, the squared-off columns of Sezincote are reworked in the many squared-off columns of the Pavilion.

Differences. The overall effect, however, is very different, isn't it? Of course, the Pavilion is larger, which makes some difference, but the real aesthetic contrast is that the design of the Pavilion values profusion. In place of one dome we have ten of varying but much larger sizes; in place of four modest minarets we have ten, much taller and more prominent. Where Sezincote lies quite squat and four-square, evidently a neoclassical design with the Mogul superimposed, the Pavilion, thrusting upwards with strong verticals, is conceived as upwardly mobile (you may also wish to refer to Plate 20 (below) a cross-section through the Pavilion). The Pavilion has also broken out into two tent-like structures, which don't seem to have anything to do with Mogul architecture, although they hint at desert romance. Thus, if one building advertises solid wealth (and admits where it came from), the other breathes fantasy; if one displays a fastidiously scholarly taste indulged among conventional landed proprieties, the other is a wild set of variations upon a theme. One is arguably ‘Indian’, but the other is visibly invested in a fantasy of ‘the Orient’. Indeed, Nash's unpublished preface to his Views of the Royal Pavilion remarks that the primary aim of prince and architect was to achieve an effect ‘not pedantic but picturesque’ (quoted in Batey, 1995, p.68).

Click on 'View document' to see plate 20 a cross section through Brighton pavilion.

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