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Edward Lovett Pearce

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Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (1699 - 1733) was an Irish architect, and the chief exponent of palladianism in Ireland. A cousin of Sir John Vanbrugh, under whom he is thought to have studied, his principal works include the Irish Houses of Parliament in Dublin. The architectural concepts he employed on both civic and private buildings were to change the face of architecture in Ireland. He could be described as the father or Irish Palladian Architecture and Georgian Dublin.


Early Life

Edward Lovett Pearce was born in County Meath in 1699, the son of General Edward Pearce, who was a cousin of Sir John Vanbrugh. In that same year Vanbrugh was beginning work on his first great architectural commission of Castle Howard which was the first truly baroque house in England, ironically Vanbrugh's new cousin was to be one of the leading architects whose designs were to overthrow the baroque fashion less than 28 years later.

In 1715 following the death of his father, Pearce became a pupil of his eminent architect cousin, it is therefore likely that Pearce would have had the opportunity to see first hand and study the plans and building of Blenheim Palace, where work, following the death of Queen Anne building had just re-started, and was midway through it fraught and frequently interrupted construction. It seems though, that at this age Pearce was still uncertain if he wanted an architectural career, as aged 17 he joined the army, where he served as a cornet in the dragoons under the command of a Colonel Morris.

Following his time in the army, he decided circa 1722, to return to his first career and again began to study architecture, he did this by studying the architectural masterpieces of France and Italy. However it was in the Veneto that he found the style of architecture which was to influence him most. He made detailed drawings of many of the great villas designed by Palladio which were to serve as the inspiration for his later work. He met in Italy the Florentine architect Alessandro Galilei, who was working from afar on a vast grandiose mansion near Dublin - Castletown.

Architectural Career

By 1724 Pearce had returned to Ireland to become a practising architect in Dublin, It would appear that as the only Irish architect, at the time, to have studied in Italy his classical concepts were to win him instant recognition, his architectural success seems to have been almost instantaneous; no doubt helped by his contacts and position in Irish society and even more undoubtedly by his association with William Connoly and Castletown.


Castletown is the largest and one of the most important country houses in Ireland, it also claims to be the house which introduced Palladianism to Ireland. The mansion was commissioned by William Conolly (1622-1729), a self-made man who had risen from humble origins through astute property dealings to become one of the wealthiest and influential men in Ireland. The original plans were drawn by Alessandro Galilei circa 1718, the new mansion was intended to reflect Connoly'1719" title ="1719">1719, having drawn the plans, but not waiting to see building on the Castletown site commence. In fact work was not to start until 1722. For two years the project seems to have continued unsupervised, until in 1724 it was taken over by the twenty-five-year-old Edward Lovett Pearce. Just returned to Ireland from Italy it is likely that Pearce had been working on the plans with Galilei there. Hence Pierce's connection with Castletown probably predates his return to Ireland. It is possible that it was to oversee the building of Castletown which provided Pearce with the impetus to return home to Ireland. Building at Castletown was to continue for the rest of Pearce's life.

It is not known precisely how much of Castletown is Galilei's work and how much Pearce's. If in Italy Pearce had been employed by Galilei and worked on the plans, then, as was the custom of the time, Pearce's work as an employee would have been credited to his master. Galilei was certainly responsible for devising the overall scheme of a principal centre mansion, flanked by colonnades leading to two service wings, in the true Palladian manner. Castletown was the first house in Ireland designed with this layout. The rigid symmetry of Castletown's classical facades, designed by Galilei was to be typical too of Pearce's later work.

The interiors and final room plans are believed to be the work of Pearce, however the long suite of reception rooms along the ground-floor garden front, are not in the strict palladian tradition. Such a mansion as Castletown, in Italy, would have been a town Palazzo rather than a country villa. The long suite of room with a central saloon, terminating with smaller rooms at the end of the enfilade is more typical of the suites of state rooms in English country houses at the time. The central saloon at Castletown opens into the two storey entrance hall, which is traversed by a corridor running the length of the mansion; the principal staircase is situated in an adjoining hall to the side of the great hall. In this layout of state rooms, hall and staircase Castletown is similar to Blenheim Palace, which Pearce had studied while a student of Vanbrugh. (While Pearce designed the staircase it was not actually constructed until 1760. some 28 years after his death)


Another of Pearce'County_Cavan" title ="County Cavan">County Cavan. Like Castletown, Bellamont claims to be Ireland'1725" title ="1725">1725 -1730, whatever the date (1725 is probable) it is almost certain that this was the first of Ireland'Bay" title ="Bay">bays square modestly sized mansion is clearly inspired by Palladio'Villa_Capra" title ="Villa Capra">Villa Capra. The principal facade has as its ground floor a rustcated semi-basement, above which is the piano nobile at the centre is a four columned portico with a pediment, the portico is flanked by a single high sash window on each side. The main entrance beneath the one story portico is reached by a single flight of broad steps. Above the piano nobile is a secondary floor with windows exactly half the size of those below. The entire facade is just four windows wide. The composition is a hybrid between the grandest of the Veneto'Farmhouse" title ="Farmhouse">farmhouse, which ironically was the very intention of Palladio's original designs 200 years previously. While Castletown is a symbol or wealth and power, the far smaller Bellamont is the greater symbol of palladianism and architectural perfection. Also during this period of his work Pearce redesigned the south elevation of Drumcondra House (now All Hallows College, Dublin).

Stillorgan Obelisk

Following a famine in 1727, an Obelisk at Stillorgan, attributed to Pearce, was erected as a memorial to those who had perished. This granite monument, over 100 FT high, contains in its base a large vaulted hall from which rises a staircase leading to a viewing platform. The attribution to Pearce is probable, although the monument is in an almost avante guarde neoclassical style - with Egyptian influences; however Pearce was living in the parish at this time in a house known as The Grove. This large house (now known as Tigh Lorcain Hall) is still standing.

Irish Houses of Parliament

Entrance to The House of Commons, College Green, Dublin, designed by Edward Lovett Pearce
Entrance to The House of Commons, College Green, Dublin, designed by Edward Lovett Pearce
1727 Pearce was elected Member of Parliament for Ratoath in County Meath, no doubt assisted by his patron Speaker Connoly, for whom he was continuously working at Castletown. The Irish Government had decided in that same year to replace their existing meeting place at Chichester House, College Green, Dublin with a new purpose built parliament building. Interestingly, it was Speaker Conolly who first suggested building the new Parliament House on College Green, therefore it is unsuprising, perhaps, that it was Pearce the MP and employee of Connoly who was eventually chosen to design the project.

The foundation stone of the new Parliament building was laid in 1729, the palladian design was, as intended, awe inspiring with a huge colonnade facing onto College Green. The two legislator Houses of Parliament contained an octagonal classical temple, complete with pantheon style dome, as its House of Commons, (destroyed by fire in 1792). The public gallery here could hold up to 700 spectators, symbolizing true open government; the smaller but still exquisite House of Lords survives, along with its central arcade and pediment. The building at the beginning of the 19th century was taken over by the Bank of Ireland, substantial alterations have been made since, including a large extension by Gandon and Johnson. Sadly a condition of the sale to the bank was that all signs of Parliament were to be removed, this resulted in what today can only be regarded as vandalism to one of Ireland finest architectural masterpieces. However, the concepts of Pierce are still very evident in the surviving House of Lords.

Cashel Palace

As architect of the Parliament building, in 1730 Pearce was appointed Surveyor-General of Ireland, he succeeded Thomas Burgh. This important position, a mere four years after his return from Italy was the seal on his success. While work was continuing on the parliament building in 1730 Pierce, now Ireland'Archbishop" title ="Archbishop">Archbishop Theophilus Bolton to build the a new bishop’s palace, at Cashel, in Co. Tipperary. The result was a large unostentatious red brick palladian mansion, on two principal floors, the hipped roof hidden by a brick pediment, the main facade seven bays long had at its centre a three bayed projection, the only ornament was dressed stone double strapping indicating the ground and first floor division. On the ground floor the terminating two bays were replaced by venetian windows. The result was a house of restrained refinement. Pearce also designed the landscaping of the grounds of the palace complete with their private path to Rock of Cashel.


Henrietta Street - one of Dublin's oldest Georgian streets, Edward Lovett Pearce is known to have designed at least two of the houses here
Henrietta Street - one of Dublin's oldest Georgian streets, Edward Lovett Pearce is known to have designed at least two of the houses here

Following the acclaim given to the new Parliament building, the structure was near enough completed in 1731 for Parliament to be held there, in 1732 Pearce was knighted, this honour was followed by the freedom of the city of Dublin in 1733. Sir Edward Lovett Pearce was then at the height of his success and popularity. In addition to the better known works described above Pearce worked on numerous other commissions, a vast mansion known at Summerhill in County Meath (demolished in the 1950s) was attributed to him, although his contemporary, the architect Richard Cassels is thought to have overseen this work.

Pearce also designed smaller and more modest town houses for the wealthy and aristocratic of Dublin; two examples of his work survive in Henrietta Street (illustrated right). Tragically it was to be a short period, within weeks of receiving of receiving the freedom of Dublin, he was struck down with an abscess and died of septicaemia at his home at Stillorgan aged just 34.

Edward Lovett Pearce'Civic" title ="Civic">civic architectural practice. He had introduced palladianism to a country which was to adopt it, with a gusto unlike any other European country. At the time of his death he presided over an entire community of palladian architects perpetuating his interpretations of Palladio's work throughout Ireland.

See also

The following links are among the most relevant to this article.

External Links

  • CashelPalace: [1]
  • Castletown: [2]
  • Bellamont House [3]
  • Stillorgan Obelisk. [4]
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