Pendentive tendencies

The Yellow Drawing Room at Wimpole Hall, with its pendentive dome. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

One of the things I picked up while I was an intern at the Soane Museum years ago was the concept of the pendentive dome, which is a dome set on top of a square volume.

Detail of the dome of the Yellow Drawing Room. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

This sounds relatively straightforward, but architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) turned it into a rich and strange architecural form, almost a signature motif.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

Soane loved to conjure with volumes, deliberately juxtaposing ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, ‘open’ and ‘closed’. At Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, Soane used a pendentive dome when he created the Yellow Drawing Room there in the 1790s.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The interlocking volumes of the Yellow Drawing Room were inspired by the side chapels in the basilica of St John Lateran and the loggia of the Villa Madama, both in Rome and both seen and sketched by Soane.

©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

But Soane had clearly made this vocabulary his own, and he used similar bewitching combinations of walls and apses, straight and curved surfaces in his designs for the Bank of England and for his own house in Licoln’s Inn Fields.

7 Responses to “Pendentive tendencies”

  1. columnist Says:

    It is absolutely exquisite.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes it is right up your neoclassical street, isn’t it?

  3. KDM Says:

    Just beautiful – is there a touch of John Fowler I see in the paint scheme?

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Come to think of it, there is something Fowleresque about the look of the room – how perceptive of you.

    It must be because of the yellow silk panels on the walls, which were installed in 1963 – not by Fowler, as far as we know, but certainly at a time when he and his way of recreating historic interiors were increasingly popular.

    Wimpole was then owned by Mrs Elsie Bambridge, the daughter of Rudyard Kipling, and the royalties from the latter’s books enabled her to restore and refurbish the house, which she and her husband had bought in 1938.

    Elsie Bambridge left Wimpole to the NT at her death in 1976, but sadly she also instructed her executors to destroy her diaries, so we know very little about how she went about refurbishing the house.

  5. KDM Says:

    Ah! How marvelous – viva la Fowler (and those he inspired) Thank you for the reply – I enjoy this blog very much. KDM

  6. Toby Worthington Says:

    Fascinating, as always.
    Love the architectural tour de force aspect of that room
    which nonetheless always struck me as too tall for its own
    good, if that isn’t a contradiction in terms. Do you know when
    the lunette was frescoed? It has a chocolate box sweetness
    that seems at odds with Soane’s intentions, but then again
    there was a facet of Regency decoration that wasn’t always
    strict and neoclassical.
    End of rambling comment.

  7. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes the room was intended to be quite grand, to be suitable for county balls and concerts as well as for displaying the third Earl of Hardiwcke’s picture collection. And your experience may also have been influenced by the fact that Soane often manipulates spaces to a degree that causes wonder and puzzlement.

    Soane had originally left the two lunettes blank, but they were painted by Robert William Buss in about 1845, when the room was first refurbished – so your hunch was correct. The next major refurbishment took place in 1898, followed by what Elsie Bambridge did in the 1960s, so there are several partly superimposed layers of decoration.

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