A magnificent set of rooms fit for a queen.
Burghley’s state rooms are breathtaking, having been transformed in the 17th and 18th centuries by two great collecting Earls. During the late 17th century John, 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700), and his Countess, Anne Cavendish, transformed Burghley from the Tudor mansion built by William Cecil to the spectacular treasure house it is today.
From the 1750′s, Brownlow, the 9th Earl (1725-1793) continued the transformation of the House, completing much of the interior which had lain forlorn since the death of the 5th Earl. Under the guidance of his architect and landscape designer Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the 9th Earl employed the leading craftsmen of the day including Mayhew & Ince and Fell & Newton.
On the south side of the house, the George Rooms, conceived by the 5th Earl as a progression of State Apartments to replace the draughty Elizabethan long galleries, were the crowning glory of his architectural scheme. These culminated in the magnificent Heaven Room and were painted by the Italian artist Antonio Verrio from 1686-1697.
The Old Kitchen
The Old Kitchen is Burghley’s most evocative Tudor interior – and one of the few to survive. The fan-vaulted roof is crowned by a lantern which was originally open to the skies and would have served to draw away unwanted smoke and fumes. The 260 piece copper ‘batterie de cuisine’ from the late 18th and early 19th centuries gives some idea of the lavish and extravagant scale of country house entertaining at that time.
The skulls on the wall are those of turtles, brought to the house for the making of turtle soup. The impressive copper turtle tureen – after a 1750′s silver model by Paul de Lamerie – was the centrepiece when turtle soup was served.
Blue Silk Bedroom
The splendid state bed, made by Mayhew & Ince in 1765, almost fills this small room.
In the adjoining dressing room, if you can tear your gaze from the delightful small painting of ‘The Virgin and Child’ by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), (swapped with Pope Clement XIV by the 9th Earl for a telescope!) or from the glorious 17th Century Chinese blue and white porcelain, (recorded as being at Burghley in the 1688 inventory) you can enjoy the breathtaking view of ‘Capability’ Brown’s lake and Lion Bridge from the window.
These stunning rooms were last used as a suite by Queen Victoria in 1844. The most magnificent of all the state apartments, the George Rooms are adorned with Italian old master paintings, furniture and works of art largely acquired on The Grand Tour in Italy, including the great fireplace bought from the architect Piranesi in Rome. The firegrates themselves are even mounted with silver. The dramatic painted ceilings were executed by Antonio Verrio between 1686-1697. Of all the paintings at Burghley, perhaps the finest and one of the 5th Earl’s most expensive purchases is ‘Christ Blessing the Bread and Wine’ by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686) which hangs in the Jewel Closet.
“Gods and Goddesses disporting themselves as Gods and Goddesses are wont to do…”
This is how Antonio Verrio’s masterpiece – The Heaven Room – is described in a 19th century guide book. As you look around this extraordinary room you are immediately transported into the world of Classical Mythology. The loves and excesses of the Gods of Mount Olympus are laid bare for all to see. Although only painted in two dimensions onto the flat surfaces of the walls, the optical illusions created by foreshortening, perspective and masterly handling is entirely convincing, transforming the drama into three dimensions, filled with movement.
You then descend into Hell. Verrio’s last commission at Burghley was to paint the ceiling over the lofty staircase. The mouth of Hades or Hell is depicted as an enormous gaping mouth of a cat with souls in torment writhing within. Death, the Grim Reaper, plies his sickle amongst the unfortunates and terrible punishments are meted out to all.Working mainly alone, having lost his assistants to more financially secure projects, Verrio took 11 months to complete the Hell Staircase finishing in 1697. The walls were not finished until a century later when Thomas Stothard, a children’s book illustrator, was employed by the 1st Marquess to complete the scene.