It’s better than real, it’s fake
Kenwood House in North London is impressive. The exterior, the interior, and the gardens. As you approach you notice the perfect symmetry of the house.
Both wings match exactly, windows delicately balancing each other either side of the entrance. Once inside, you’re impressed by the library. Both the extensive collection of books and the large marble pillars.
Looking out over the grounds you’re impressed by the almost perfect view. A Constable-style landscape gently rolling down to a meandering stream, disappearing under a wooden bridge. It all seems too perfect to be real. And it is. It’s all fake.
A huge, beautiful, elegant, impressive fake. Robert Adams did the house, in the late 18th century. Capability Brown did the gardens.
Take the beautiful marble pillars in the library. They’re actually made from wood, and painted to look exactly like carved white marble. There are no books in the impressive library either. Just the spines stuck to the wall.
The beautifully symmetrical windows are complete fakes on one side. Stuck to the outside wall of the music room, which requires solid brick walls for its acoustic qualities.
The beautiful view of the gardens is worth investigating. When you walk down to the stream it’s actually two ponds and, on the left, the cut-out shape of a bridge stuck next to them.
A clump of trees between the ponds connects them in your eye, and the ‘bridge’ confirms the direction the ‘stream’ goes in.
The whole of Kenwood house is an exercise in trickery and manipulation. The late 18th century was the height of The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was born out of The Reformation. The idea that man wasn’t just a slave to fear and superstition anymore.
For the first time, with reason and logic, man was able to work out and control his own destiny. And Trompe L’Oeil was a visual manifestation of that. Trompe L’Oeil just means “trick the eye”, what we’d call an illusion.
It became very fashionable in the late 18th century. A way to demonstrate that the eye, and consequently the mind, could easily be fooled and manipulated. Our senses couldn’t be trusted. We needed to stop ‘believing’ in things and make the effort to think for ourselves.
This is what separated the cultured individual from the merely wealthy. Previously, a person’s worth was based on wealth.
If you wanted a beautiful house, you just built it. And the cost demonstrated how rich you were.
The Enlightenment signalled a change from money as the main indication of someone’s worth. Now intelligence was a much higher value. Intelligence was demonstrated by an understanding, for the first time, of the mind’s importance.
That the mind actually in fact determined reality. Trompe L’Oeil was a visual manifestation of this. If you trick the eye you trick the mind. This was far cleverer than merely spending money on something that just looked like what it was.
How dull. How wasteful. It was better to use your brains rather than just throw money at it. Far more clever to out think someone rather than just out spend them.
Take a look around at the advertising we’re doing today. Where million pound commercials are no longer anything unusual.
Where people brag in print that their commercial is the most expensive commercial ever filmed.
Do we think advertising could learn anything from Robert Adams and Capability Brown? From Trompe L’Oeil and The Age Of Enlightenment? Anything?