Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lights of Dublin

Ireland is renowned for the quality of its light: changeable and dramatic, the weather blows over the island from west to east rapidly. It sheds much of its Atlantic force by the time it reaches Dublin, yet even still it's a spectacle.  With brightness and cloud, the sky flickers like a zoetrope, and you can sit wrapt by a window for hours. The old adage "if you don't like the weather just wait five minutes" is nowhere truer than here. 

A rooftop view south, towards the Wicklow Mountains.

The manmade lights in Dublin can be just as dramatic.
Lower Leeson Street, late afternoon.
The introduction of public street lighting in Ireland's Georgian cities has been documented by historians of the era: enter the charming flicker of gas, the fretwork of iron holding gaslights aloft. Posts began to line the street, etching circles of warmth in the night. In affluent residences lanterns were braided into the metalwork of fences, or set in decorative metal archways above the gate.

Dublin's South Side, where I live, is also known as Georgian Dublin. The brick facades in my neighborhood create long flat streetscapes, simple blocks of a measurable width that may end in slightly varied heights all along the row, like steps against the cloudy bright sky. Paned windows punctuate the brick with rhythmic regularity. Doors are brightly painted, and fan windows above them glimpse the graceful chandeliers in the Entry Hall. There is a reverence for tradition even today, and twinkling behind those petals of glass are mostly classic chandeliers, brass and glass with sparkling electric candles. It is a bright, warm sight, this porch light from within.

The Olympia Theatre, Dublin. 

Buildings in the city center hold their own treasures. Grand lighting is characteristic of theaters and civic spaces, meant to inspire and humble. The chandeliers in the Victorian Olympia Theater foil the ornate plasterwork on the ceiling and balconies, richly decorated in red and gold, while those in the National Concert Hall hang from a classic whitewashed ceiling, but dazzle as you stand eye level with them on the mezzanine.

National Concert Hall, Dublin.
A relatively humble neoclassical building, the Central Post Office is still impressively lit: simple glass hemispheres large enough to bathe in are suspended from the coffered ceiling. The Masonic Lodge granted access to their secret chambers during a summer open house - lines snaked around the corner to get inside. The decoration throughout was thick with symbolism. A series of hardware and pendants in the main hall tickled my old fascination with the magical arts as well as my current obsession with the decorative arts.

Door knocker and pendant in Dublin's Masonic Lodge.
Some of the best lighting is to be found just outside the city, in the grand houses from the 18th and 19th centuries. Castletown House is still the favorite, both for the preservation of its layers of decorative arts history and for the blissful day we had when we visited. (Call me fickle or call me Californian, but the weather can make it or break a trip. When the sun shines at these grand country estates the bath of color in the sky and greenery almost erase the memory of gray days of rain).

The house is a classic Palladian style manse, built in 1722 for a speaker of the Irish House of Commons. The Italian influence is charmingly evident in the rich umber color behind the colonnades, an earthy hue that brings striking warmth to the stone facade.

Castletown House, Co. Kildare.

Six Sided Hall Lantern.
You enter the tour not from the grand ascent of stairs central to the facade, overlooking an incredible expanse of green lawn and parkland beyond, but by the side hall, the servants axis running the width of the house. The hall houses a pair of exquisite reclining marble statues of the owners of the home, William Connolly and his lady Katherine Conyngham. Six sided lanterns hang from plaster florets in the barrel ceiling. Openwork banding and a scalloped crown frame the lanterns. The shadows from the metalwork pattern an otherwise plain barrel and guide the eye down its length.

The dim servants hall lets you out into the foyer and you will draw a deep breath. The  ceilings are high above checkerboard marble floors and windows food the space with clean light. The main staircase winds up from an adjacent room.

The original entry chandelier is no longer in place - the furnishings were sold off when the estate fell into disrepair, and were only later reassembled from auction by a devotee of the place - but one can imagine how it offset the incredible plasterwork the decorates the staircase, pulling the relief higher with dramatic shadow (more on that in another post.)

Murano Chandelier in the Long Gallery.
Perhaps the grandest space in Castletown House is the Long Gallery, an upper floor entertaining room and repository of a collection of classical artwork. A rich blue palette creates the backdrop for a riot of gold painted plasterwork and Pompeian decoration, fashionable at the time. A collection of marble busts line the walls, larger than life and ghostly in tone. Painted scenes edge the ceiling, including a demilune above the entrance depicting a scene of love.

Up amidst the pantheon near the ceiling are three Murano glass chandeliers. They are massive, frilled things, clear glass with blue and red detailing. The diameter of each must be near four feet. I could not help think of the logistics of getting this delicate trio over to Ireland from Italy in the late 18th century. It turns out they were shipped in pieces and artisans assembled the glass parts on site. Wonderfully detailed photos of the room exist, showing it fully furnished by the later lady of the house, Louisa Connolly.

A last tidbit I'll leave you with is the Casino Marino. This tiny treasure box is considered the finest example of neoclassical architecture in Europe, and is an absolute delight to tour. The guides are consummate scholars of their places, and completely enthusiastic about the architecture and history of them. I didn't find any exceptional hanging lights here, but rather was charmed by the windows. You'll see mysterious black panes in spots around the small facade. These false windows were necessary to uphold the strict symmetry demanded for William Chambers's Georgian folly. These lights are camouflaged from the inside, as if to say you never can trust an Irish sky.

Casino Marino.

Explore Dublin:
Castletown House
Casino Marino

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful blog post Valerie, miss you dear lady. Happy New Year! xo