This throne-like seat, with Roman temple pediment, is a masterpiece of furniture design in the George II 'Vitruvian' manner. It was conceived in the late 1720s by Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (d. 1753) for the octagon-domed banqueting hall of the small Roman villa or casina, that provided the centrepiece of the Roman gardens adjoining his Thames-side mansion at Chiswick, Middlesex.
The villa or garden banqueting-temple was intended to evoke Mount Parnassus, home of the Muses of Artistic inspiration, and earned Burlington recognition as the 'Modern Vitruvius' and 'Apollo' of British Arts. His banqueting-seat design, with its triangular pediment and compass-drawn seat, demonstrated his devotion to the Cardinal Art of 'Architecture' of which garden planning was also a branch. His recognition of the Art of Architecture as part of the Vitruvian concept of 'Virtu', was reflected in his choice of the same imagery for the villa's ceiling paintings.
Burlington combined his study of the architecture of Andrea Palladio (d. 1580) with an appreciation of the Roman style of interior architecture introduced by the English court architect Inigo Jones (d. 1652). He included Chiswick, later extolled as the villa par excellence, in William Kent's, The Designs of Mr. Inigo Jones... with some Additional Designs' [by Burlington and Kent], 1727. And just as its temple-pedimented entrance was guarded by statues of Palladio and Jones, so the chair design quotes their architecture. Supporting its voluted or Ionic-scrolled arms, are legs formed as tapered 'herm' pilasters and serpentined in the manner of Jonesian trusses.
As Burlington intended Chiswick's embellishment to recall the writings of ancient poets such as Homer, Hesiod and Virgil, so his chair enrichments recall the words of the Roman poet Terence 'Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus' (without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus grows cold). The arms are imbricated with dolphin-scales alluding to the triumph of Venus, nature goddess and presiding deity of the villa and its grounds at Chiswick. The chair's hollowed medallion, displayed in its tablet-eared back, recalls Cupid's target, and would have been intended to display Burlington's arms wreathed by the Garter-ribbon that he received in 1730 from King George II. The legs are festooned with imbricated libation-paterae in celebration of Ceres, the kindly harvest deity; and, like the antique-fluted chair frame, they are wrapped by Roman acanthus.
The chair was no doubt executed to a design provided by Burlington's protégé the Rome-trained artist William Kent (d. 1748). Kent, known as the 'Signor' and 'proper priest' to Burlington's 'Apollo', had obtained through Burlington's assistance the post of Master Carpenter in the King's Royal Board of Works at a time when plans were afoot for a new Whitehall Palace. One such Roman seat had featured in the illustrations that he had provided for Alexander Pope's translation of Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey, 1725. His invention, with Burlington, of such banqueting hall seats after the Palladio Jones 'Roman' manner, was later advertised by a pattern that John Vardy (d. 1765), Deputy Surveyor to the Board of Works, issued in Some Designs of Mr Inigo Jones and Mr. William Kent, 1744 (pl. 42).
The 1770 inventory of the 'New House' at Chiswick lists the suite of 'Twelve mahogany elbow chairs' in Room no. 27 'The Gallery fronting the Garden'. (T. Rosoman, 'The decoration and use of the principal apartments of Chiswick House', Burlington Magazine, October 1985, p. 677). The remainder of the chairs are now at Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire and Chatsworth, Derbyshire. Two have recently returned to Chiswick House.