A look at the history of Ionic Temple, Rievaulx Terrace, with Dr Emma Wells

in Helmsley

Perched upon the surging serpentine cliff edge above the River Rye, Rievaulx Terrace encompasses twelve carefully artificially manufactured views of the ruins of the 12th-century Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx which can be glimpsed down in the valley below. This grassy designed landscape was the creation of Thomas Duncombe II, owner of the adjoining Helmsley Estate (now Duncombe Park) located a few miles away on the outskirts of Helmsley, between 1749 and 1756.

Duncombe had been inspired by all of the classicism he encountered on his Grand Tour of Europe in 1747, which encouraged him to recreate such beauty amid his own utopian slice of Ryedale. Inspired by French painter, Nicolas Poussin’s religious and mythological symbolism, Duncombe used the landscape as his own canvas, in attempts to recreate those symbolic paintings in nature.

Thus, to this contrived scene was added at one end of the half-mile-long terrace, a neoclassical structure, known as the Ionic Temple (and another at the other end called the Tuscan Temple of a similar date), modelled on the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in the Forum at Rome. Designed as a banqueting house or dining pavilion, likely by Sir Thomas Robinson, the architect who rebuilt the west wing of Castle Howard, it was devised with a very deliberate sumptuous interior featuring rich plasterwork across the dome, likely by Swiss-Italian stuccoist Giuseppe Cortese, and the portico which echoes the work of Inigo Jones while the ceiling too boasts a magnificent fresco depicting scenes from Greek myths, all thought to be by Italian artist Giuseppe Mattia Borgnis.

Distinguished guests were also treated to eat from Chamberlain Worcester porcelain as they perched upon one of twelve mid-18th-century mahogany dining chairs, or lounged upon one of two giltwood sofas, attributed to leading Yorkshire-born designer, William Kent. Finally, a small basement room directly beneath where guests banqueted was fitted out as the kitchen.

Address: Ionic Temple, Rievaulx Terrace, Rievaulx, Helmsley, York YO62 5LJ

Books by Dr Emma Wells

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