chapter  36
Alice T.Friedman
Excerpts from ‘Architecture, Authority and the Female Gaze: Planning and Representation in the Early Modern Country House’
Pages 10

In the history of English architecture, the period from 1590 to 1620 is characterized by the gradual ascendance of Palladian planning over the conventions of medieval English tradition. This shift in approach, which occurred in the plan of the English

country house more than two decades before it appeared in elevation, focused on the handling of the great hall and its subsidiary spaces. In a number of prominent new houses of the period, the traditional access of this double-height space along

a narrow screens passage and through a tripartite screen at one end-an arrangement still found, for example, at Longleat in the 1560s-gave way to an entrance door on axis that opened directly into the great hall. While such historians

as Sir John Summerson and Mark Girouard have paid a great deal of attention to these changes as stylistic and even socioeconomic developments, no significant analysis has yet been proposed of the roles either of the patrons or of their

programs (broadly defined to include both conscious and unconscious goals) in the making of these pivotal buildings.1 This lack of attention is especially surprising given that Hardwick Hall (1590-97), the earliest of them, was built for a woman

whose status as the head of her own household marked both her and it as unconventional and whose very role as an architectural patron transgressed the values and gender categories of her time. In this paper, I propose to reexamine

these stylistic shifts through the lens of convention and unconventionality in planning techniques, gender relations, and household structure. Using household orders (written descriptions of the tasks of all household members including family

and servants), letters, diaries, and handbooks of advice, I will trace the ideological context in which domestic planning ordinarily took place and reconstruct the attitudes toward the family, sexuality, and the female body-with particular

attention to sight, spectatorship, and display-that structured these conventions. This approach suggests that gender played a subtle yet pronounced role in monumental domestic architecture that surpassed the interests and tastes of the

individual architect or builder. Because design typology depends on conventional social relations, it is evident from the cases presented here that the destabilizing

of conventional patterns that resulted from the presence of a female patron opened

the way for the unexpected, including experiments in design that might not have been proposed in a more typical and thus more highly predetermined cultural and visual environment.2