James Caulfeild, then 4th Viscount Charlemont, was just shy of thirty years old when he began the architectural project which would become the Casino.
Architecture was a great interest of his, and he had studied plenty of examples of classical buildings while travelling through the continent. As a result of his travels, he was also able to count many influential designers as friends. While in Rome, he had become acquainted with those he would eventually hire to create his estate at Marino. This included William Chambers, Simon Vierpyl, Johann Heinrich Müntz, and Giovanni Battista Cipriani. Charlemont’s heavy involvement in the composition of the buildings at Marino, as well as his house in Rutland Square, is clear from the correspondence that has survived. In many ways, what he created at Marino was a living testament to the different cultures and styles he had experienced while travelling, and his buildings there were fitting exhibition spaces to the huge number of souvenirs and collectable items he brought home. In this portrait, he is a young man in Rome, with the Colosseum in view behind him.
Other buildings dotted the Marino estate.
Closest to the Casino was the Gothic Room (also known as Rosamund’s Bower) – a small, cathedral-style structure that was possibly used as a banqueting house. There was also the Hermitage; a rustic, romantic, primitive garden dwelling that was partially formed from twisted tree roots and branches. Plans remain for an Egyptian Room, which was never built. Whereas these complementary buildings showcased other architectural styles, the Casino itself was an homage to the classical. Today, it is widely referred to as the most important example of neoclassical architecture in Ireland.
The plan of the Casino is in the shape of a Greek cross, and it is only fifty feet square.
There are three floors containing sixteen rooms. Although small, they are entirely habitable, with service rooms in the basement, reception rooms on the main floor, and sleeping quarters on the upper floor. There is, however, no evidence of any long term occupation of the building. The exterior of the building is that of a one-room Greek temple, so the complexity of the interior was achieved by remarkable architectural design. This includes faux windows, gib doors, hollow columns, and disguised chimneys. Only half of the great front door actually swings open to admit entrance.
Very little is known about how the inside of the building originally looked. There are brief descriptions surviving in Charlemont’s own correspondence or in that of visitors, or rare mentions in sales catalogues. The exterior of the building is heavily decorated. Four statues adorn the attic storey; Bacchus, Ceres, Venus, and Apollo declare the abundance and love of good living that inspired the creation of the Casino. Around the chimney-urns curve mermaids and mermen. The ‘ceilings’ of the outside porches are densely carved to create a stucco effect. Four large Egyptian-style lions guard the corners.
William Chambers was the architect who designed the Casino.
Born in Sweden to a Scottish father in 1723, he spent the first few years of his working life travelling to and from China as an agent of the Swedish East India Company. At the age of twenty-six, he began training as an architect in Paris, later living in Rome, where he was a member of Charlemont’s circle. He moved to London to establish his practice in the same year that Charlemont returned to Dublin (1755). He achieved great success in England, with much employment from King George III and his mother, the Dowager Princess Augusta. His Treatise on Civil Architecture, published in 1759, was a huge influence on Palladian neoclassicism in Britain. The Casino appeared in this Treatise as a plate illustration (image below). Chambers would go on to count James Gandon as one of his students.
As well as the Casino at Marino, Chambers completed designs for Charlemont House and Trinity College, and for modifications to Rathfarnham Castle, Castletown House, and Leinster House, among others. He never, however, visited Ireland in person. His projects with Charlemont were discussed at great length, over two decades, in numerous letters; many of these can be read today in the Royal Irish Academy. One of his original drawings for the Casino is on display in the building.
London-born Simon Vierpyl oversaw the implementation of Chambers’ designs for the Casino at Marino.
He was an accomplished sculptor and builder, who was living in Rome at the same time as Charlemont and Chambers. Impressed with his work on a commission of terracotta copies of statues and busts (now in the Royal Irish Academy), Charlemont invited him to come to Ireland. Vierpyl arrived in 1756, and supervised work on the Casino, something he was complimented for in Chambers’ Treatise. He stayed in Ireland for the rest of his life, working as a builder or developer on many central Dublin sites. He married twice, and died in Athy, Co. Kildare in 1810 at the age of around eighty-five.
Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727-1785) was an Italian painter.
He was another member of Charlemont’s circle in the early 1750s in Rome; in 1755, he also left the city, and travelled in England in the company of Joseph Wilton. Wilton was a sculptor whose work is represented at the Casino in the four lions which guard it. Cipriani’s contribution was the design of the four attic statues, and the dragon gates that formed the entrance to the estate. The gods at the Casino (Ceres, Bacchus, Venus, and Apollo) were chosen by Charlemont and Chambers, designed by Cipriani, and then sculpted by either Wilton or Vierpyl on site.