Irish and Italian artists, architects and designers have collaborated in an exhibition, now open at Dublin’s famous neo classical villa, the 18th century Casino, at Marino, outside Fairview, in Dublin.
The serene, beautiful temple-like building, with its benign lions, stone garlands and urns, set in a plain lawn, provides the inspiration for the artists. Each of the decorated plates represents the individual response of the participating artists. Based on a Greek-cross plan with four equal arms, the Casino, a cubic block executed in Portland stone, is deceptively larger inside that its exterior suggests.
Although the decoration, including parquet floors of exotic woods worked in geometric designs, is often lavish, the overall effect is pleasingly uncluttered. Light and space are the prevailing qualities.
Designed by the Scottish architect William Chambers, the project was supervised by the sculptor/mason Simon Vierpyl as Chambers never visited Ireland. The Casino is one of Ireland’s most gracious monuments, a dramatic and elegant celebration of architectural detail and an expression of the romantic, if practical imagination of a most reasonable nationalist who personified the Enlightenment.
James Caulfield, fourth viscount and first earl of Charlemont (1728 -1799) spoke fluent Italian and loved that country. In ways he is Ireland’s Thomas Jefferson. Both were materially privileged, untrained builders with a love of classical form and expressed it in landmark masterpieces; Jefferson built Monticello in Virginia, while Caulfield created the Casino.
He stands equal to many better-known cultural and political figures of Georgian Dublin society. Caulfield, Lord Charlemont, played a central role in the establishment of the Royal Irish Academy in 1785 and was its first president.
Founded to promote the sciences, polite literature and the antiquities, the academy remains an internationally respected institution of scholarship. The earl knew Edmund Burke and Henry Grattan and debated their political philosophies as easily as he wrote about classical literature or discussed architecture with James Gandon. Central to Caulfield’s legacy is that for all his success he also knew failure. He was not a first-rank scholar yet he did have tremendous enthusiasm despite suffering ill health throughout his life.
His Catholic Relief Bill of 1770 was defeated and on becoming Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Volunteers in 1780, his very strengths that of having a conciliatory nature and a dislike of violence, cost him the support of many of his political allies. By then he had rejected the movement because of its increasing radicalism.
Born in Dublin in 1728, he was sickly and was educated at home by tutors. His family’s wealth came from its Ulster estates. Caulfield became a peer at age six on the death of his father.
Charlemont was a civilising influence, a human rather than God-like influence. His actions could be contradictory, having proposed Catholic Relief in 1770, he later opposed the Catholic Relief acts of 1792 and 1793. Yet he was committed to Ireland’s constitutional rights. By some high mercy he was spared the disappointment of the Act of Union, dying some months before it was passed. His magnificent Casino has endured and with it, his vision.