I don’t think of myself as a television person, except maybe a little Modern Family; I tend to prefer the world of words: books, magazines, and news websites. I’m generally lost when movies are discussed; I might see only one a year in the theater, usually something odd (please don’t ask me if I will be seeing The Hunger Games). But, recently, I’ve adopted some television programming that I just can’t get enough of—Downton Abbey.
Caroline, my co-authoress, mentioned at some point last fall that she thought I might like it. I received a DVD copy of the first season as a gift, and well, can we say addicted? The period drama, centered on the Crawley Family and set in a wonderful English estate with upstairs/downstairs class conflict, has me glued to the television screen.
What does that have to do with Rienzi? Recently, Ivan Day, British food historian and the co-curator of Rienzi’s exhibition English Taste, provided commentary to NPR on the food in Victorian England, in relation to the fact that much of Downton Abbey’s drama takes place around the kitchen, the dining room, and the act of dining. More important, although Rienzi is a 1950s construction, it is home to English decorative arts that would have been commonplace in a Victorian country estate like Downton Abbey.
On Downton Abbey, the Crawley Estate is actually Highclere Castle, the home of the Earls of Carnarvon from 1679 to the present. The program itself centers not only on familial strife, but also class conflict. Downton Abbey has an "upstairs” and “downstairs,” separating the staff from the family by physical location within Highclere Castle. Rooms were designed for particular purposes for particular people, with the architecture correlating to Victorian culture. Rienzi’s design also defines purpose through architecture—the Ballroom is a large, formal room, with architectural elements fit for a party: elaborate, bronze-toned molding, an inlaid parquet floor, and opulent columns. On the other side of the house is the petite-in-comparison Living Room, where the walls are paneled, family photographs are on display, and wide widows offer a view of the former swimming pool, all seemingly made for casual, intimate conversation.
On Thursday, April 12, Professor Thad Logan from Rice University presents “Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle, and Victorian Domestic Architecture” as part of Rienzi’s Twilight Talk series. Join us to hear about how the shapes and spaces of a home determined their use, and how architecture was influenced by the social and cultural nature of the Victorian Era.
For tickets or more information, please call 713.639.7800.