John Tschirch, Architectural Historian
Glass conservatory, Royal Palace of Racconigi, Cuneo, Italy. Photograph by John Tschirch
Creating paradise on earth has inspired the evolution of conservatories from Napoleonic France to Jeffersonian America. It is a story of taste, travel and technology. As world exploration increased in the 16th century, rare and beautiful plants made their way to Europe from the four corners of the globe. By the mid-18th century, industrial technology produced the iron and glass necessary for the full-scale development of conservatories. The Empress Josephine received the Tsar of all the Russias in her glass palace, where she exhibited the finest specimens of roses, orchids, palms and other delicate blooms. King George IV of England, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, countless aristocrats and the newly minted millionaires of the 19th century each created conservatories to grace their grand estates.
In the United States, the vast resources of a continent made their way into the design and improvement of conservatories throughout the Victorian Age. The honored place of nature in the 19th century made a major impact on the desire to use conservatories as a link between interiors and the out of doors. Conservatories appeared in the houses of the wealthy but also in public gardens and parks, for any city with civic pride and cultural aspirations featured an opulent glass building to showcase plants, ornamental trees and shrubs. Horticultural expertise and theatrical display combined to make these structures theaters of pure architectural fantasy. One conservatory might be in the classical style, another inspired by the Gothic. Never had practical technology and whimsical design been paired so successfully.
This illustrated lecture will feature conservatories across Europe and America in both private houses and public gardens. Period paintings, illustrations and photographs will bring these structures to life.