Arts & Tradition

Chatsworth, an Artful Estate in Central England

Larger than life: Art that inspires us through the ages
BY James H Smith TIMEMarch 8, 2022 PRINT

Chatsworth, located in central England, comprises gardens and woodlands, pavilions and bold water features, and holds a stately Baroque mansion. The mansion was built in 1552 by Sir William Cavendish with the driving force of his wife, Bess of Hardwick, who at the time was the second most powerful woman in Elizabethan England, after the queen.

The main house is a rectangularly planned 25-room mansion with a central courtyard; the moorland ridge forms a backdrop to the building, which looks out over a garden terrace in the back and the River Derwent in front. The house was originally designed in the Tudor style; however, it was renovated around the turn of the 17th century with a new Baroque exterior, notably the northern and western façades designed by architect Thomas Archer. The mansion’s façades are decorated with carved stonework, a roofline balustrade topped with torch and banner sculptures, and window frames highlighted with gold leaf that reflect the setting sun.

The Painted Hall greets guests in a dramatic scene depicting the life of Julius Caesar. Guests can climb the stairs to the staterooms above—a sequence of highly decorated chambers. The house was extended in the early 19th century, adding a north wing consisting of a great dining room, a sculpture gallery, and a number of service rooms culminating in the North Tower. It holds a ballroom that later became a theater.

The grand Baroque estate, inspired by Greek and Roman styles, has nurtured and entertained 16 generations of Cavendish and continues to do so. From the outset, the Cavendish saw the estate as part of the community and have welcomed the general public as guests to enjoy and revel at this fine example of classically inspired culture.

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The North Tower Belvedere, a type of building that looks out over the landscape, is where house guests would enjoy a view of the surrounding countryside. (Chatsworth House Trust)
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Water features prominently on the estate. The Canal Pond dug in 1702 is a 942-foot-long (287-meter) rectangular pond to the south of the house. The Derwent River meanders along on the left. (Chatsworth House Trust)
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The Cascade House was added in 1703 at the top of the cascade as a focal point and a destination in the garden, and the wellspring of the cascade. It was also designed by Thomas Archer. (Kev747/CC BY-SA 3.0)
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The Emperor Fountain was built to impress Tsar Nicholas I of Russia for a visit that was to occur in 1843. An eight-acre lake was made at the top of the hill above the mansion. Gravity-fed, the fountain is on record of shooting 295 feet (90 meters) into the air. The Tsar never came to enjoy it, but many others have. (Chatsworth House Trust)
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The Emperor Fountain was built to impress Tsar Nicholas I of Russia for a visit that was to occur in 1843. An eight-acre lake was made at the top of the hill above the mansion. Gravity-fed, the fountain is on record of shooting 295 feet (90 meters) into the air. The Tsar never came to enjoy it, but many others have. (Chatsworth House Trust)
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Elaborately carved stonework appears above the windows on the left of the south façade. A roofline balustrade, or railing, is topped with sculpted torches and urns that extend the façade and draw the eye upward. (Chatsworth House Trust)
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The Painted Hall, regarded as the heart of Chatsworth, presents a ceiling painting by Louis Laguerre telling the story of Julius Caesar. Since 1890, the hall has been the setting for an annual Christmas party for the children of the estate. (Chatsworth House Trust)
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The State Drawing Room is where important guests can be received and entertained. The wall tapestries, woven in Mortlake in 1635 by some of the most skilled weavers in Europe, are from a set known as “The Acts of Apostles,” designed by Raphael. (Chatsworth House Trust)
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The north wing was the setting for many country-house parties. With the hexagonal coffered ceiling above, and candelabras, sculptures, and portraits presented on the walls, the Grand Dining Room would host elaborate formal dinners. (Chatsworth House Trust)
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Pending their tastes, after dinner, party guests could enjoy games of charades and billiards, be entertained by music performances, or simply mingle and admire the collection of Canova sculptures in the the sculpture gallery. (David Vintiner/Chatsworth House Trust)
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The Scots bedroom shows flowered draperies around the bed and over the windows. Queen Mary I of Scotland stayed here during her 18 years of imprisonment by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, in the late 16th century. (Chatsworth House Trust)
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The walls of an exquisitely decorated 2nd State Bedchamber are decked in hand-painted Chinese wallpaper of a landscape scene. The fabrics on and around the bed were typical of Regency taste around the turn of the 18th century. (David Vintiner/Chatsworth House Trust)
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