A Tour-de-Force

Robert Rochfort, first Earl of Belvedere is rightly notorious for having imprisoned his wife for over thirty years on the grounds of adultery with one of his brothers: she was only released after his death in 1774. At some date before then, the earl had embarked on building a new residence for himself in Dublin. Located on Great Denmark Street and looking down North Great Georges Street, the incomplete Belvedere House was inherited by the second earl who initially sought to dispose of the property, offering it for sale in 1777. However, either he was unable to find a buyer, or he decided to retain the house, work on which was finished in 1786. Since 1841 it has been owned by the Jesuit Order which runs a secondary school on the site. In plan and composition Belvedere House closely resembles 86 St Stephen’s Green, begun in 1765, the design of which is now attributed to Robert West who, in addition to being a fine stuccodore was also a part-time architect and property developer. When Belvedere House was offered for sale in 1777, interested parties were directed to West, thereby indicating that similarities between this building and 86 St Stephen’s Green were not accidental.

The attribution of Belvedere House’s design to Robert West is of significance because of the building’s remarkable interior decoration. The staircase hall and first-floor reception rooms contain some of Dublin’s most elaborate plasterwork, and divining who was responsible for this tour-de-force has been the subject of much analysis. In 1967 C.P. Curran’s Dublin Decorative Plasterwork of the 17th and 18th centuries noted in the collection of drawings left by stuccodore Michael Stapleton several items directly relating to the design of ceilings in Belvedere House. Accordingly, this work was assigned to Stapleton. However, the fact that West was responsible for designing the house complicates matters, and the consensus now appears to be that both he and Stapleton had a hand in the plasterwork. Conor Lucey (in The Stapleton Collection, 2007) suggests that Stapleton may have been apprenticed to, or trained with, West and the fact that he was named the sole executor of the latter’s will in 1790 indicates the two men were close. The source material for the stucco work is diverse, that in the stair hall deriving in part from a plate in Robert Adam’s Works in Architecture, but the first-floor rooms feature a wider range of inspiration, much of it from France and Italy. The main reception room at the front of the building has an oval in the centre of its ceiling, which seemingly held a scene of Venus wounded by Love taken from Francois Boucher’s painting of the same name. However, when the Jesuits assumed responsibility for the house, the saucy nature of the work led to its removal. The adjacent room’s ceiling contains a roundel showing Diana in a chariot drawn by two stags: this was allowed to remain. In recent years a full restoration of these rooms has been undertaken by RKD Architects, allowing us better to appreciate how they must have looked when first completed, a tribute to the remarkable craftsmanship that existed in 18th century Ireland.

9 comments on “A Tour-de-Force

  1. Hi.
    Thank you for this.
    Is it possible to visit Belvedere house?
    Or may be during heritage week?
    Thanks a lot

    • Thank you for getting in touch; yes, it is possible to visit the building, I’m sure if you contacted the Jesuits they would facilitate you.

      • Marti Sullivan says:

        I am reminded of the Newman House, particularly as you mentioned that it now serves as a school. Any connection?
        Stunning work and ample photography – all great!

      • Well, Newman House is actually two houses as you know, that to the right being attributed to West. Other than that, the only link is that both premises ended up in religious hands in the 19th century…

  2. teresastokes says:

    Curiosity led me to look for anything about this saucy picture “Venus Wounded by Love” by Boucher but I can find no reference to such on the internet. He did, however, paint one called “Venus Consoling Love” showing her with her toddler son Cupid, trying to take away his arrows so he is about to have a tantrum. Certainly the characters in the picture don’t have much on in the way of clothing.

    • Yes, I did likewise and found the same. However, perhaps I should have clarified, the design was taken from an engraving after Boucher, and it may be the original painting has been lost…

      • teresastokes says:

        Thanks for that, Let’s hope the painting is simply in private hands and may reappear someday e.g. if someone puts it up for auction.

  3. Finola says:

    How magnificent – thank you for these photographs.

  4. Tim Guilbride says:

    Really wonderful pictures – congratulations!

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