The 'Building of Castle Howard' is a sometimes amusing and consistently fluid account of the conception and construction of the Third Earl of Carlisle's estate in Yorkshire. The patron, from a 'high-handed' and cocky young Whig to a dour but sincere father of miscreant and ungrateful offspring [...] is addressed in the opening chapter, and the rationale behind the demolition of a provincial village to build an architectural showpiece is traced. The architects - Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor - are examined in similar contexts.
However, a descrition of Sir Thomas Robinson's incongrous alterations to the splendid mausoleum (1729 - 1745, though Summerson suggested 1742 as the date of completion) is not a sufficient account of his activities at the estate: the northern range of the house features several rooms completed under Robinson's supervision, but these are simply not mentioned.
The author combs out an icongraphical programme in Pelligrini's ceiling paintings in the domed hall (ie, the 'Fall of the Phaeton'), but a similar analysis with respect to the garden monuments draws different conclusions. Carlisle's changing position as a patron and politician accounts for this: the estate shifts, in Saumarez Smith's opinion, from being a an opulent panorama to an introverted retirement home for the earl, whom, in his dotage and increasingly unhappy free time, commenced autonomous study in matters of contemporary religious thought. This, therefore, effected his decision to build a grand mausoleum rather than allow his remains to fall into the hands of what his lengthy (and only) poem preserved at Castle Howard, described as corpulent and corrupt Anglican clergmen. As an explanation for the development of the garden buildings, this is not as simplistic as my description might phrase it: the book's account is entirely convincing. I do not imagine that 'The Building of Castle Howard' - an inexpensive but well-illustrated gem - will be in print much into the future. However, its interest is broader than simply an account of architectural patronage. Unlike other studies of 18th Century British art which read as prosaic 'case-studies' (especially in the case of portrait painting, all of which make the same point), Saumarez Smith's book is an autonomous and compelling analysis of specific buildings and their conception, not a dour treatise from which established generalities are laboriously combed out.