From chaos to par­adise

Queluz, Portugal In the care of the Par­ques de Sin­tra Cel­e­brated for its 18th-cen­tury English lead sculp­ture, this su­perb Ro­coco gar­den has been re­ju­ve­nated since 2012 by a ma­jor restora­tion project. Tim Richard­son spec­u­lates on the sym­bol­ism of this magn

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Paul High­nam

Tim Richard­son spec­u­lates on the sym­bol­ism of the su­perb Ro­coco gar­den at Queluz, Portugal

The royal es­tate at Queluz, 10 miles north-west of Lis­bon, was es­tab­lished as a seat for the younger sons of the kings of Portugal in 1654. When, in 1747, the In­fante Pe­dro—who be­came Pe­dro III 30 years later—be­gan work on a new sum­mer palace here, it was con­ceived as a per­sonal ex­pres­sion of con­tem­po­rary taste.

Dom Pe­dro’s orig­i­nal ar­chi­tect, Ma­teus Vi­cente de Oliveira, was called back to Lis­bon to work on the city’s re­con­struc­tion af­ter the great earth­quake of 1755, so his erst­while as­sis­tant Jean-bap­tiste Ro­bil­lion took on more re­spon­si­bil­ity for both palace and gar­den, adding the west wing, known as the Ro­bil­lion Pavil­ion, a great ex­ter­nal stair­case and many gar­den fea­tures be­tween 1760 and 1787.

For Bri­tish vis­i­tors, Queluz is, above all, no­table as the repos­i­tory of the best sur­viv­ing col­lec­tion of english 18th­cen­tury lead gar­den stat­u­ary. Most of it was im­ported from the work­shop or ‘stat­u­ary’ of John Cheere of hyde Park Cor­ner in the years 1756 and 1757. Twenty Cheere stat­ues and groups can still be en­joyed in the gar­dens of Queluz to­day, a num­ber of them re­stored (2003–08) by Ru­pert har­ris in Lon­don thanks to a grant from the World Mon­u­ments Fund.

Lead stat­u­ary was his­tor­i­cally re­garded as a low-sta­tus art­form (in con­trast to stone or mar­ble sculp­ture) and is no­to­ri­ously vul­ner­a­ble to theft. Rel­a­tively few pieces sur­vive in Bri­tish gar­dens, but that is not the only rea­son that this col­lec­tion is re­mark­able.

Cheere’s ac­counts show that most Bri­tish clients bought lead pieces in ones and twos; the big­gest sin­gle com­mis­sion for a Bri­tish gar­den, for ex­am­ple, was 19 lead stat­ues (in­clud­ing a ‘high­land Lassie’) for Blair Cas­tle, or­dered by the 2nd Duke of Atholl. This makes Queluz—with nine statue groups, 57 fig­ures and 72 urns— seem prodi­gious in­deed. Con­veyed from Lon­don to Lis­bon in two con­sign­ments, the or­der was au­tho­rised by the Por­tuguese am­bas­sador in Lon­don, who had ear­lier sent Cheere’s cat­a­logue back to Portugal.

A de­tailed in­ven­tory made at Queluz in 1763 re­veals that many of the lead stat­ues were painted in dif­fer­ent colours

for a life­like ap­pear­ance—for ex­am­ple, a shep­herdess is recorded as hav­ing a white hat and dress, with a redand-green bodice—but it ap­pears they were last re­painted in the 1830s.

The sheer range of themes—from the Sea­sons to an­i­mals to god­desses to Com­me­dia dell’arte fig­ures—would seem to pre­clude any no­tion of a sym­bolic ra­tio­nale. The gen­er­ally ac­cepted view of the sculp­ture at Queluz is that it was al­ways in­tended to be used en

masse as an in­te­gral el­e­ment of an over­all for­mal de­sign, lend­ing an­i­ma­tion, drama and a sense of hu­man scale to the gar­den as it un­folded episod­i­cally to the en­rapt vis­i­tor. Such us­age would have seemed old-fash­ioned to Bri­tish ob­servers, redo­lent as it was of the way sculp­ture was used in ear­lier Baroque gar­dens such as Ver­sailles. This read­ing of the sculp­ture as al­most ran­domly ar­ranged is re­in­forced by the fact that the sculp­tures were quite of­ten moved around the gar­den. But per­haps an icono­graph­i­cal read­ing ought not to be dis­counted al­to­gether.

Many of the sur­viv­ing lead stat­ues at Queluz are con­gre­gated on the parter­res south of the palace. A Dutch head gar­dener named van der Kolk, who started work at Queluz in 1755, tended these for­mal gar­dens and there is a record of 1,450 cherry lau­rel bushes be­ing im­ported from Am­s­ter­dam in 1758, as well as hun­dreds of box and yew top­i­aries in the years be­fore. As box blight has been a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem re­cently, a de­ci­sion has been made grad­u­ally to re­place all the box with myr­tle.

The palace’s south façade, built in the 1760s, but re­duced by a fire in 1934

(Fig 1), over­looks a parterre known as the Nep­tune Gar­den or as the Hang­ing Gar­den, as it forms the roof of a great hid­den cis­tern cre­ated by Ro­bil­lion. Its epony­mous Nep­tune Pool, one of four in the over­all lay­out, is sur­rounded by Cheere stat­ues of the sea­sons (Fig 4) and two groups:

Ver­tum­nus with Pomona (Fig 5) and Me­lea­ger with Ata­lanta (Fig 6). A pair of small foun­tains cen­tred on mon­key stat­ues flanks the parterre and the Foun­tain of the Nereid (prob­a­bly in­stalled af­ter Ro­bil­lion’s pe­riod of in­flu­ence) con­tains one of Cheere’s most am­bi­tious en­sem­bles.

Be­side this is a smaller parterre based on a cru­ci­form pat­tern, known as the Malta Gar­den. It is laid out in pro­por­tion with the east wing of the palace (which in­cor­po­rates the Throne Room) and is en­closed by an el­e­gantly formed plat­form of five steps. Among its sculp­tural or­na­ments are six de­light­ful putti en­sem­bles of stone ac­quired in Genoa be­tween 1757 and 1765 and a cen­tral foun­tain with an ex­quis­ite scal­lop-shell base. This de­tail may be drawn from con­tem­po­rary sil­ver­ware de­sign; there is ev­i­dence that Ro­bil­lion, a Huguenot, be­gan his ca­reer as a sil­ver­smith. The foun­tain is adorned by a pair of putti en­sem­bles and sur­rounded by stat­ues rep­re­sent­ing the Arts.

The cen­tral axis of the Nep­tune Gar­den leads out into the lower park through the Gate of Fame, an open gate­way with twin stat­ues on pedestals of a trum­pet-blow­ing Fame mounted on Pe­ga­sus, made in 1771 by Manuel Alves and Filipe da Costa. Be­yond is a typ­i­cal Baroque ar­range­ment of car­riage rides and in­ter­sec­tions, with the re­mains of wood­land bosquets (mainly limes and elms orig­i­nally) set within pal­isades in the ar­eas be­tween

(Fig 3). These fea­tures are among the cur­rent restora­tion pri­or­i­ties at Queluz: the pal­isades are be­ing re­planted to a con­sis­tent 5m (about 16ft) height, the new gravel is grey-yel­low gran­ite sand and the gut­ters are of basalt.

The main axis ter­mi­nates at a great free-stand­ing cas­cade of 1770, which was re­stored to work­ing or­der in 2007, al­though an un­for­tu­nate side ef­fect was that the wa­ter turned the stonework black. The cas­cade is to­day a dif­fi­cult fea­ture to read, lack­ing its balustrade with stat­u­ary and also its in­tended grove-like set­ting, which in­cor­po­rated 18 busts on plinths form­ing an

exe­dra to com­plete the cir­cle. The dis­cov­ery of flank­ing foun­da­tions sug­gests the orig­i­nal in­ten­tion may have been for a more sub­stan­tial fea­ture, which would have been more in the spirit of Ital­ian orig­i­nals.

Tucked away in the north-west cor­ner of the es­tate is the Botanic Gar­den, which was cre­ated be­tween 1769 and 1776

‘This realm can be un­der­stood as a cel­e­bra­tion of the raw power of God’s cre­ation

and has re­cently been the sub­ject of a restora­tion project. Four rec­tan­gu­lar hot­houses for pineap­ples (Ananas

co­mo­sus Cayenne) book­end a geo­met­ric ar­range­ment of botan­i­cal ‘or­der beds’ and a cen­tral pool with dog stat­ues at the cor­ners. Each hot­house con­tains fruits at a dif­fer­ent stage of mat­u­ra­tion. A ‘Chi­nese house’ is men­tioned in sev­eral ac­counts, but no ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ev­i­dence has been forth­com­ing, so a de­ci­sion has been taken not to re­build it ac­cord­ing to a con­jec­tural de­sign.

The area to the north-west of the palace was a fes­tive zone that was used chiefly for fêtes cham­pêtres. Dom Pe­dro had a pas­sion for fire­works while lantern shows were an­other amuse­ment, some­times de­signed in con­junc­tion with foun­tains and cas­cades. There were many di­ver­sions in this part of the gar­den, in­clud­ing a menagerie— its lions and tigers caged be­side the (newly re­stored) Shell Cas­cade are recorded as late as 1833—a minia­ture wooden palace known as the Bar­raca Rica, a bil­liards pavil­ion, gilded aviaries and even a small bull­ring.

Ro­bil­lion also built an ex­pan­sive ex­ter­nal stair here that of­fered an ap­pro­pri­ately re­gal de­scent from the palace to a grand canal, the fo­cus of en­ter­tain­ments in the gar­den (Fig 8).

To­day, the 375ft-long canal—which is, in fact, a spur of the River Jamor— is con­fined to a small rill (Fig 7). In the 18th cen­tury, how­ever, this spec­tac­u­lar tiled trench was filled on spe­cial oc­ca­sions to form a ‘lake’ for plea­sure boats. Mu­si­cians were placed in a ‘Chi­nese build­ing’, which formed a bridge over the canal. Mu­sic was, for a long pe­riod, an im­por­tant part of life at Queluz, with op­eras and con­certs per­formed in the palace’s own opera house (later re­placed by the Doña Maria Pavil­ion (1789) at the south­ern end of the palace com­plex).

Fi­nally, an av­enue of sycamore trees di­rectly north of the palace shades the most dra­matic and dy­namic of the sur­viv­ing Cheere statue groups, in­clud­ing Cain and Abel (Fig 2) and

The Rape of Proser­pine. An axis lead­ing north from here, up a gen­tle hill, leads first to the Pool of the Medal­lions, a de­li­ciously low, scal­lop-edged pool that is per­haps the most at­trac­tive of all Ro­bil­lion’s pools at Queluz. A pair of Cheere stat­ues—diana and Apollo—lends the scene even more ele­gance. This area was des­ig­nated a flower gar­den, the Jardim Novo, in the 1760s, but no trace of this sur­vives.

Fur­ther along this axis is an­other foun­tain ded­i­cated to Nep­tune (1677), which is not orig­i­nal to Queluz, and, be­yond that, the sta­bles of the Por­tuguese School of Eques­trian Art.

It is pos­si­ble to tease out un­der­ly­ing sym­bolic themes in the gar­den. The em­pha­sis in the Malta Gar­den on the Arts and on in­no­cent chil­dren safely play­ing among wild an­i­mals could be un­der­stood as a kind of par­adise around the mo­tif of the cross. The Nep­tune Gar­den might sym­bol­ise the har­ness­ing of Earth and the El­e­ments for the ben­e­fit of hu­mankind—the mar­itime theme be­ing the most ap­po­site for Portugal in this re­gard—as well as fallen hu­man­ity, rep­re­sented by the mis­chievous mon­keys dressed in hu­man clothes.

Cer­tain fig­ures on the balustrade di­vid­ing this en­closed gar­den from the park dra­mat­i­cally presage the ‘chaos’ of the wilder­ness be­yond, most no­tably Pan.

An­other layer of sym­bol­ism might be ex­pressed in the park and far­ther reaches of the es­tate, whose glades and al­lées are re­plete with an­i­mal stat­u­ary as well as—his­tor­i­cally— many real an­i­mals in aviaries and menageries; dark or vi­o­lent fig­ures such as satyrs; capri­cious and cruel pa­gan deities or those as­so­ci­ated with wood­land, such as Pan and Diana; and phys­i­cal in­ti­ma­tions of wilder­ness in­clud­ing the cas­cade and the canal.

This realm can be un­der­stood as a cel­e­bra­tion of the raw power of God’s cre­ation and its in­cip­i­ent dan­ger, but also the un­lim­ited po­ten­tial of its bounty. Be­yond this, there was for­merly a large work­ing es­tate that ex­tended many miles in each di­rec­tion.

The gar­den might be seen to move from the chaos of un­tamed na­ture, through its di­vinely sanc­tioned ex­ploita­tion by hu­mans, to a higher state, which might be equated with Par­adise or Heaven, over­looked by the Throne Room (Fig 9). Such a cos­mic hi­er­ar­chy would have been fa­mil­iar from the Ital­ian Re­nais­sance gar­den tra­di­tion—a very sim­i­lar nar­ra­tive can be dis­cerned at Villa Lante, for ex­am­ple. It is a jour­ney that, thanks to the re­cent restora­tion work, the modern vis­i­tor can once more be­gin to imag­ine.

Fig 1: The main façade and the Nep­tune Gar­den. The façade’s up­per storey, its balustrade en­livened by stat­ues, was lost in a fire of 1934. The blue is re­con­structed from frag­ments of glass cobalt found in the mor­tar

Fig 2 above: In the gar­dens near the canal, Cain slays his brother Abel with the jaw­bone of an ass. This statue group was orig­i­nally on the balustrade of the palace. Fig 3 below left: The shal­low, scal­lop-edged Pool of the Medal­lions, presided over by Cheere stat­ues of Diana and Apollo

Fig 8: Ro­bil­lion’s ex­pan­sive stair sweeps down from the palace to the grand canal, of­fer­ing an ap­pro­pri­ately re­gal de­scent

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