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Building of the Month - July 2009

Belvedere House, BELVIDERE Td., County Westmeath

Belvedere House 01 - Representative View 
Figure 1: A view of Belvedere House.  Erected to a design by Richard Castle (d. 1751) the façade shows a characteristic tripartite arrangement with projecting end bays defined by Venetian and Diocletian windows

Belvedere House and gardens are magnificently sited on the shores of Lough Ennell, a few miles to the south of Mullingar, County Westmeath (fig. 1).  The house was built as a sporting lodge for Robert Rochfort MP (d. 1774), later first Earl of Belvedere, and is the work of the eminent architect Richard Castle (d. 1751) who is often credited with popularising the Palladian style throughout rural Ireland.  Castle designed a number of houses in Westmeath including the neighbouring Tudenham Park (1742/3): Belvedere, however, represents his most accomplished and sophisticated design in the county.

Belvedere House 02 - Terraces 
Figure 2: A view from Belvedere House showing the balustraded terraces and rolling parkland descending down to the shoreline of Lough Ennell

The front elevation of the house is articulated by a tripartite arrangement with projecting bays to each end.  These projecting bays have openings in the form of Venetian and Diocletian windows that further emphasise the tripartite division of the front façade.  The house is set on a series of balustraded terraces added (c.1884) for Charles Brinsley Marlay (1831-1912), the owner of Belvedere at the time (fig. 2): the terraces were probably built to a design by Walter Glynn Doolin (1850-1902).

Belvedere House 03 - Rococo Plasterwork Belvedere House 04 - Staircase Hall
Figures 3-4: A detail of the Rococo plasterwork attributable to Barthelemy Cramillion (fl. 1755-72) and the elegant staircase hall

The interior of Belvedere is distinguished by superb Rococo plasterwork stylistically attributable to the French stuccadore Barthelemy Cramillion (fl. 1755-72), which is amongst the most exquisite of its type in the country (fig. 3).

Belvedere House 05 - "Jealous Wall" Belvedere House 06 - "Jealous Wall" Detail
Figures 5-6: The grounds of the Belvedere estate are distinguished by a fine collection of eye-catchers and follies, the most renowned of which is the so-called "Jealous Wall" built by Robert Rochfort to block the view of his brother's neighbouring house, Tudenham Park

The demesne at Belvedere is punctuated by a number of eye-catchers and follies and represents one of the finest eighteenth-century planned landscapes in Ireland.  Of particular note is the "Jealous Wall" (figs. 5-6).  This curious structure is one of the largest follies in Ireland and resembles the ruins of an irregular Gothic palace.  It was built by Robert Rochfort to block the view of his brother George's much larger house, Tudenham Park, the result of a long-standing family feud.  The "Jealous Wall" was probably built to a design by Thomas Wright (1711-86) of Durham who is also attributed with the designs of the "Gothic Arch" or "Sham Ruin Gateway" (fig. 7) and the "Gothic Octagon" (fig. 8).  The follies at Belvedere are among the earliest examples of the Gothic Revival style in Ireland, a style that was to achieve greater prominence during the nineteenth century.

Belvedere House 07 - "Gothic Arch" Belvedere House 08 - "Gothic Octagon" 
Figures 7-8: A view of the "Gothic Arch", a picturesque eye-catcher recalling the centrepiece of a folly illustrated in Thomas Wright's (1711-86) Universal Architecture Book II: Six Original Designs Of Grottos (1758).  The "Gothic Octagon", also attributable to Wright, is another early example of the Gothic Revival style in County Westmeath

Belvedere House and gardens were recently purchased by Westmeath County Council and are now open to the public (http://www.belvedere-house.ie/).

Belvedere House 09 - Tudenham Park Belvedere House 10 - Tudenham Park Gate Lodge
Figures 9-10: A view of the Castle-designed Tudenham Park erected (1742/3) for George Rochfort and originally called Rochfort House.  Although dismantled in 1957-8, and reduced to ruins thereafter, its scale, Classical proportions and fine cut-stone detailing still impress.  A well maintained Italianate gate lodge (1865) stands at the principal entrance on to the estate

All photography by Shannon Images from the NIAH publication An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Westmeath

Belvedere House 11 - Introduction 

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