The Saloon is the most intact of the manifesto interiors designed by Kent for Lord Burlington. Created immediately after Kent's return from Rome in December 1719, its decorations draw their inspiration from the baroque interiors of the Eternal City and thus represent Kent's first exercise in the reform of English domestic interior decoration in the gusto italiano. The room is an overtly architectural statement: elaborate plaster cartouches and two pierglasses complement the gilded detail that surmounts the pedimented doors, topped by plaster putti probably by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Battista Guelfi.
The Saloon Photo © Francis Ware, 2003
The absence of fireplaces suggests that the room was to be understood as the open loggia of a Palladian villa. The whole was crowned by a painted ceiling depicting the marriage banquet of Cupid and Psyche. Recent investigations have revealed a rich, figurative cove decoration based on the same myth. The Saloon stands as a precursor to the major architectural and decorative schemes that Kent was to create at Kensington Palace and Chiswick House.
Although the elaborate gilded frames of the cartouches suggest that painted panels were planned, none have either been recorded or identified. The strong architectural character of this room makes it an ideal setting for sculpture: eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century portrait busts, standing on onyx and glass plinths designed by Eva Jiricna RA, represent a long tradition of Academicians presenting self-portraits or portraits of fellow members to the institution.
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