The temple of Apollo at Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Clive Nichols
Stourhead is one the most influential and admired English landscape gardens. Even Horace Walpole, notorious for his bitchy comments on other people’s houses and gardens, was impressed.
Self portrait with Apollo leading the Marchese Pallavicini towards the temple of Virtue, by Carlo Maratta (1625-1713), at Stourhead, inv. no. 732098. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond
Although the entire ensemble of the lake and the buildings ranged around it is artificial, it manages to convey an atmosphere of dreamlike harmony.
Curved bench made for the temple of Apollo at Stourhead, with a depiction of Apollo in his chariot with Aurora and the Hours, attributed to William Hoare of Bath, RA (1707–92), inv. no. 562873.2. ©National Trust, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation
The intricate compositions and ever-changing views were clearly inspired by seventeenth-century landscape paintings.
View of the garden at Stourhead with the temple of Apollo at left, by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde (1719-91), 1775, inv. no. 730729. ©National Trust Images
There are also strong antiquarian and literary tropes, and originally there were even some exotic touches, including a Chinese-style bridge and pavilion.
View through the grotto at Stourhead, past the lakeside ‘window’ towards the statue of the river god. ©National Trust Images/James Dobson
The grotto, on the north side of the lake, takes the visitor down into the darkness where a river god a nymph reside. The temple of Apollo, by contrast, rises on an eminence on the opposite side of the lake, reaching towards the sun, Apollo’s symbol.
Statue of a river god by John Cheere (1709–87), inv. no. 562877, in the grotto at Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Ian Shaw
But the two buildings do reach out to each other: from an opening in the grotto the visitor can glimpse the temple of Apollo, which in turn reaches down through its reflection in the lake.
Statue of a sleeping nymph, probably by John Cheere (1709-87), inv. no. 562876, with an inscription taken from a fifteenth-century Latin poem translated by Alexander Pope, in the grotto at Stourhead. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers
Parts of the garden are now in need of major conservation work. Our American partner organisation, the Royal Oak Foundation, has dedicated its 2014 appeal to raise funds for the temple of Apollo, the grotto and the pinetum at Stourhead.