Burlington House is a building on Piccadilly in Mayfair, London. It was originally a private Palladian mansion owned by the Earl of Burlington, and was expanded in the mid-19th century after being purchased by the British government.
Burlington House is most familiar to the general public as the venue for temporary art exhibitions from the Royal Academy, which is housed in the main building at the northern end of the courtyard. Five learned societies occupy the two wings on the east and west sides of the courtyard and the Piccadilly wing at the southern end. Collectively known as the Courtyard Societies, these societies are:
The house was one of the earliest of a number of very large private residences built on the north side of Piccadilly, previously a country lane, from the 1660s onwards. The first version was begun by Sir John Denham about 1664. It was a red-brick double-pile hip-roofed mansion with a recessed centre, typical of the style of the time, or perhaps even a little old fashioned. Denham may have acted as his own architect, or he may have employed Hugh May, who certainly became involved in the construction after the house was sold in an incomplete state in 1667 to Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington, from whom it derives its name. Burlington had the house completed, which was the largest structure on his land, the Burlington Estate.
In 1704, the house passed to the ten-year-old Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, who was to become the principal patron of the Palladian movement in England, and an architect in his own right. Around 1709, during Burlington's minority, Lady Juliana Boyle, the 2nd Countess, commissioned James Gibbs to reconfigure the staircase and make exterior alterations to the house, including a quadrant Doric colonnade which was later praised by Sir William Chambers as "one of the finest pieces of architecture". The colonnade separated the house from increasingly urbanized Piccadilly with a cour d'honneur. Inside, Baroque decorative paintings in the entrance hall, and a staircase by Sebastiano Ricci and Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, resulted in some of the richest interiors in London.
In between his two Grand Tours of Italy (1714 and 1719), young Lord Burlington's taste (the 3rd Earl) was transformed by the publication of Giacomo Leoni's Palladio which made him develop a passion for Palladian architecture. In 1717 or 1718, the 3rd Earl began making major modifications to Burlington House and the supervision of the work was undertaken by Gibbs. Later, Colen Campbell was appointed to replace Gibbs, who was working in the Baroque style of Sir Christopher Wren, to recast the work in a new manner on the old foundations. This was a key moment in the history of English architecture, as Campbell's work was in a strict Palladian style, and the aesthetic preferences of Campbell and Burlington, soon joined by the aesthetic style of their close associate William Kent, who worked on interiors at Burlington House, were to provide the leading strain in English architecture and interior decoration for two generations. Campbell's work closely followed the form of the previous building and reused much of the structure, but the conventional front (south) façade was replaced with an austere two-storey composition, taking Palladio's Palazzo Iseppo di Porti, Vicenza, for a model, but omitting sculpture and substituting a balustrade for the attic storey. The ground floor became a rusticated basement, which supported a monumental piano nobile of nine bays. This had no centrepiece, but was highlighted by venetian windows in the projecting end bays, the first to be seen in England. Other alterations included a monumental screening gateway to Piccadilly and the reconstruction of most of the principal interiors, with typical Palladian features such as rich coved ceilings. The Saloon, constructed immediately after William Kent's return from Rome in December 1719, has survived in the most intact condition; it was the first Kentian interior carried out in England. Its plaster putti above the pedimented doorcases were probably by Giovanni Battista Guelfi.