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Building of the Month - August 2013

The Casino at Marino, MARINO Td., Marino, County Dublin

Casino at Marino 01 - Representative View

Figure 1: A view of the miniature temple-like Casino erected by James Caulfeild (1728-99), first Earl of Charlemont, in the grounds of his Marino estate.  A painting (1773) by Thomas Roberts (1748-78) illustrates the Casino in an idealised pastoral setting overlooking Dublin Bay.  Today the nearby Marino House is long gone and the surrounding estate, bisected by Griffith Avenue, has witnessed extensive suburban redevelopment including Hicks and O'Rourke's "Garden City", the first attempt at large-scale public housing by the Irish Free State

The Casino at Marino, in the northern suburbs of Dublin, is considered to be one of the finest garden temples in Europe (fig. 1).  It was built in the 1760s in the grounds of Marino House, a hunting lodge inherited by James Caulfeild (1728-99), first Earl of Charlemont.

Caulfeild was a major patron of the arts and spent nine years on a Grand Tour of Europe, studying Greek and Roman ruins.  Unusually for the time, his travels brought him as far as Asia Minor.  On his return, he demonstrated his love for Classical architecture by commissioning the Casino as a pleasure house in his estate.  Designed as a Classical structure, the Casino was his way of bringing the Grand Tour home to Ireland.

Caulfeild met his architect, Sir William Chambers (1723-96), on his travels.  Chambers is not believed to have visited Ireland but instead sent drawings and instructions over from London.  These were executed by Simon Vierpyl (c.1725-1810), a sculptor and stonecutter.

The Casino was built in a neo-Classical style.  Caulfeild attempted to emulate the ancient buildings he had seen on tour instead of the Renaissance interpretations of them that he had seen in much of contemporary Georgian architecture.

Casino at Marino 02 - Recumbent Lion Casino at Marino 03 - "Lord Viscount Charlemont's Casino at Marino"

Figures 2-3: One of the four recumbent lions embellishing the podium of the Casino.  A host of talented artists worked on the house including Giovanni Batista Cipriani (1727-85) and Joseph Wilton (1722-1803).  All of the work on the Casino was supervised by Simon Vierpyl (c.1725-1810), who also collaborated on the sculptural ornament.  A drawing titled "Lord Viscount Charlemont's Casino at Marino" shows that it was once proposed for the lions to double as fountains

From above the Casino is shaped like a Greek Cross and, in elevation, it is designed as a Greek temple.  It sits on a podium with steps leading up to a door on the north side.  A balustrade surrounds the area below, matching another on the top of the building.  A lion sits on each corner of the podium: these were originally designed as fountains but this was never implemented (figs. 2-3).  The outer design features large ornamental urns, oxen head designs and statues of the Roman gods Apollo, Bacchus, Ceres and Venus.

The architectural historian John Harris described the Casino as 'the perfect expression of Chambers' creative ability in small-scale design'.  He hides features like chimneys and rainwater pipes to preserve the aesthetic; the ornamental urns on the roof act as chimneys while rainwater is brought down through the columns into the basement.  These techniques were subsequently adopted by James Gandon (1742-1823), a student of Chambers, in his design for the Custom House (1781-91).

Casino at Marino 04 - Vestibule

Figure 4: A view of the vestibule showing the semi-circular apse and coffered half-dome which enhance the airy quality of the room despite its limited dimensions.  Also on display is the inlaid floor of rare timbers including Fustic and Rubywood.  All of the rooms on the piano nobile, or principal floor, show inlaid floors with stylised geometric patterns

 

The Casino looks deceptively small.  It appears to be a single-room temple when in fact it contains sixteen rooms laid out over three floors.  The subtle use of scale reinforces this illusion.  For instance, the doorcase is almost the full height of the building but only part of it opens.  Another clever use of scale is seen in the windows.  The Casino appears to have few, but tall windows but most are subdivided between rooms and one does not even permit light.

The two secondary floors are also cleverly disguised.  The upper floor is concealed behind the roof parapet while the basement is beneath the podium.

Within the Casino the sixteen rooms are small but very well proportioned to avoid a sense of overcrowding.  The most interesting rooms are on the ground and upper floor, the basement containing kitchens and servants' quarters.

Entering on the north side the visitor first sees the vestibule, a room that appears large and welcoming despite its relatively small size (fig. 4).  This effect is achieved by extending the space into a semi-circular apse from which the three principal rooms lead off.  The decorative highlight of the room is its floor; the pattern here is an intricate example of symmetry made out of a variety of exotic timbers, some from trees that are now extinct.

Casino at Marino 05 - Saloon Casino at Marino 06 - Saloon Plasterwork

Figures 5-6: A view of the saloon, the centrepiece of the Casino, showing the wealth of neo-Classical ornament on display including a Star of David-detailed inlaid floor; a Greek Key-detailed dado rail; and a coffered coved ceiling resting on a rich cornice.  The centrepiece of the ceiling, a stylised sunburst, contains a somewhat feminine portrait of Apollo

The centre door from the vestibule leads to the saloon which is hung with a shimmering blue silk to carry the light from the large window at the opposite end of the room (figs. 5-6).  Samples of the original fabric were found during conservation works in the 1970s and 1980s.  Two gib doors, one on either side of the room, are disguised as sections of the wall to keep the room looking open and spacious.  On the left is a small study called The Zodiac Room due to its hemispherical dome decorated with the symbols of the zodiac (fig. 7); on the right is a rectangular room, commonly known as The China Closet, featuring a geometric inlaid floor and decorative plasterwork on the walls and coved ceiling (figs. 8-9).

Casino at Marino 07 - Zodiac Room Plasterwork (Gemini)

Figure 7: A detail of the decorative plasterwork in the Zodiac Room, so called after the symbols embellishing the dome.  Here two putti-like figures represent Gemini

Casino at Marino 08 - China Closet Casino at Marino 09 - China Closet Plasterwork

Figures 8-9: A view of the so-called China Closet allegedly remodelled for Anne Bermingham (c.1780-1876), the wife of the second Earl of Charlemont, after a fire of 1849 or 1850 caused damage to the room.  Delicate plasterwork cartouches embellish the walls and probably framed paintings and portraits at one time.  The coved ceiling overhead shows foliate swags centred on stucco trophies with agricultural implement motifs

Upstairs, the main room is the State Bedroom where Caulfeild would have received his guests (figs. 10-12).  The room is extremely ornate with Ionic columns of gold and white, and bright turquoise walls featuring the Greek Key pattern.

Casino at Marino 10 - State Bedroom Casino at Marino 11 - State Bedroom Chimneypiece

Figures 10-11: A view of the State Bedroom featuring, as its centrepiece, the original canopied bed restored for the Office of Public Works.  Decades of neglect and pilferage had left the Casino in a parlous condition when it was adopted by the Irish State and most of the chimneypieces, furniture, paintings and sculpture had been lost, sold or stolen.  Gathering information from archival sources, examining fragments of the surviving paint and wall coverings; and referring to surviving interior decoration of the 1770s throughout Ireland, the Casino was returned, as authentically as possible, to its original appearance.  An ante-chamber shows the recurring Greek Key motif in front of the fireplace; in the chimneypiece; and on the underside of the Ionic columnar screen

Casino at Marino 12 - State Bedroom Plasterwork

Figure 12: A detail of the Ionic columnar screen which, beyond its contribution to the decorative scheme of the State Bedroom, helped to support a decaying roof on the point of collapse.  The ten-year restoration of the Casino was acknowledged by the first RIAI medal for restoration

The Casino was a lavish and expensive garden ornament with such care taken in its creation that it took twenty years to complete.  It served little purpose in reality and soon after Caulfeild died it fell into disuse and neglect.  In the 1930s the National Monuments Act specifically allowed the Office of Public Works to take the Casino into State care.  At that point theft and dry rot had affected the building so badly that if it had not been for the columns in the State Bedroom the roof would have collapsed.  Since then it has been successfully restored and almost all of the rooms are open to the public.  This allows everyone to appreciate this whimsical garden ornament for the fascinating example of scale and architectural trickery that it is.

Nicola Reilly is a second year student in University College Dublin studying Geography, Planning and Environmental Policy with a special interest in building conservation and how to integrate conservation into town plans

Click here for visitor information for the Casino at Marino

FURTHER READING

Johnson, David Newman, "The Casino at Marino" in de Breffny, Brian (ed.), Irish Arts Review Volume 1 No. 3 (Dublin: Irish Arts Review, 1984), pp.18-23 [http://irishartsreview.com/irisartsrevi1984/pdf/1984/20491641.pdf.bannered.pdf]

Office of Public Works, Building for Government (Dublin: Town House and Country House, 1999), pp.68-71

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