From Cupola to Castle

Castle Howard is well known as one of England’s finest historic houses. It is surrounded by rolling Hills, monumental follies and obelisks, and acres of landscaped gardens complete with wandering peacocks (and my own dachshund who wasn’t phased by the peacock’s display in the least).

Designed by Sir John Vanbrugh for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, the stunning interiors are the perfect backdrop to world-famous collections – from frescos and furniture to paintings and porcelain. Whilst it’s easy to get excited about the magnificent architecture and exhibits this is still (unbelievably) a family home to the Hon. Simon and Mrs Howard, who live here with their children.

I think this is one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, and instantly recognisable for its starring role in several TV and Film productions – most notably in Brideshead Revisited. We were lucky to visit on a weekday after the Easter weekend rush, so it was easier to find the space to appreciate this palatial and extravagant marriage of art, architecture, landscaping and natural beauty.

We wandered the grounds, taking in the views that open up over the hills and admired Vanbrugh’s Temple of the Four Winds and Hawksmoor’s stately mausoleum. However it’s the great baroque house with its magnificent central cupola that constantly pulls you back to admire its splendour.

Inside the house friendly guides bring alive the history of Castle Howard.  

Beneath the skylight hang portraits of the first six Earls of Carlisle and a charming portrait of the three daughters of the 3rd Earl by Antonio Pellegrini.

The busts, statues, marble table-tops and urns on display were collected chiefly by the 4th Earl during his second visit to Italy in 1739-40

I had a discussion with a very knowledgeable guide in the Crimson Dining Room about whether the pictures on the wall were Canaletto’s or not. He was able to tell tales of the Earl’s Grand Tour and how a “job lot” of paintings had been purchased. At one point nearly 50 pictures were attributed to Canaletto but now some of these are recognized to Canaletto’s contempories Michele Marieschi and Bernardo Bellotto. Some of these were sold others were destroyed in the fire of 1940 and the remainder auctioned afterwards. Today only four paintings from this once impressive Venetian collection remain in the House.

Among the pictures in the room today are views of Venice by Bellotto and Canaletto and equestrian pictures by George Stubbs and John Wootton. I loved the strength of tone of the wall covering in this room and the red dressing room. Further down the post you’ll see the amazing Turquoise room – its knock your socks off drama. As if the Great Hall wasn’t drama enough for my heart.

The Great Hall is the crowning masterpiece of Vanbrugh’s design. Viewed from outside the 70 foot high dome gives Castle Howard a unique silhouette. The painted decoration executed by Antonio Pellegrini depicts the Four Elements, the Figures of the Zodiac and the tale of Phaeton falling from his father’s chariot.  It was rebuilt in 1960-62 after a fire destroyed much of Castle Howard including the dome. I caused a bit of a stir with the other visitors by lying down on my back to view the dome and take pictures (I did ask first!). The colour and detail is beyond belief and I’m sure every home needs one. It was hard to believe I was 15 miles from York and not in Italy.


The Rooms above in order are the Turquoise Drawing Room, the Museum Room, the Long Gallery (54 metres in length!!) and the Octagon. You can’t tell in these pictures but the Long Gallery & Octagon were painted the palest flesh tone pink not far from F&B’s Middleton Pink but less sugared almond in tone.

In 1870-75 the Chapel was redecorated by the famous English firm of Morris & Co. including an embroidered screen by William Morris depicting three heroines from legend. Another breath taking ceiling as you can see. What an amazing property, felt like an extra in a historical drama for the day.



  1. July 1, 2011 / 12:23 pm

    So lucky that you have guided us through this beautiful building with these photos. Love the turquoise room. Ann

  2. July 21, 2011 / 10:02 am

    Ann it's such a beautiful place. It really is too easy to get caught up in the romance of the castle. The colours were much stronger than I thought particularly the turquoise room

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