This is Stowe, an enormous country house dating back to the late seventeenth century (though this, the neoclassical South Facade, was completed in 1779).
Quite often I have to scurry over grassy lawns or trip over shrubberies to get my symmetrical photograph of a building, but not so at Stowe. The landscape has been carefully scooped and moulded so that the trees draw themselves back like curtains and the lake offers up its reflection to the house in a perfectly ordered and poised tableau – as though nature itself wished to show off Stowe house.
Stowe’s landscape garden is (as you might have guessed) the work of Capability Brown – this sort of elegant yet seemingly-effortless arrangement was his speciality. And this careful attention to lines of sight continues all the way around the vast park, which is peppered with ornamental temples and monuments, posing between strategic gaps in the foliage.
Lord Cobham, who commissioned most of these stone flourishes, had them arranged so that there were three paths leading through the garden, as a sort of ambulatory moral lesson: the Path of Vice (scandalous temples to Venus &c), the Path of Virtue (solemn temples to the British Worthies and so on) and the Path of Liberty (triumphal temples to Britain’s military victories and suchlike). We took ‘Vice’ up to the house, and ‘Virtue’ on the way back, so I can only hope that we redeemed ourselves.
The Path of Vice
The Path of Virtue
And then the sun set – dusk is no friend to my old camera.
I leave you with a motto from the Path of Vice, apt for the festive season. Unfortunately I suppose this will undo the improving influence that the Path of Virtue ought to have had on you.
“Since all things are uncertain, indulge thyself”