PhD Research

German architects

in Britain and Ireland 1700–1750

Nele Lüttmann

Irish Research Council Advanced Laureate Project Scholar, Department of the History of Art and Architecture, Trinity College Dublin, luttmann@tcd.ie

Nele Lüttmann in front of the Octagon Room at Orleans House Gallery, Twickenham. It was designed by James Gibbs c.1718 for James Johnston, a Scottish diplomat with significant Irish connections. The characteristic stucco decoration inside is attributed to Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti. (© Nele Lüttmann)

We tend to think that only the internet as “network of networks” has enabled us to connect globally and establish far-reaching relations. However, in 18th century Europe there was an extensive international network of highly-skilled artists and craftspeople – architects, joiners, carpenters, plaster-workers, etc. –, who travelled across countries in search of commissions. As a journeyman joiner for example, it was normal and even required to travel for some years to learn new techniques, and enrich and stimulate the local craft upon the return home. The project will tell the story of two German-born draughtsmen who both came to England in the first half of the 18th century and succeeded in distinguishing themselves in the building industry.

The craft is in the detail. Delicate 18th century carving on the inner frame of a marble chimney piece in No. 85 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. The house was designed by Richard Castle c.1738. (© Nele Lüttmann)

Richard Castle and Johann Gottlieb Borlach were born to families employed by the Elector of Saxony’s court in Dresden in the late 17th and early 18th century. Castle’s father was an emissary for the Saxon salt mines and Borlach’s father was an esteemed cabinet-maker who died when Gottlieb was eight years old. The boy was taken up as apprentice by his stepfather, a joiner, and was ultimately employed in England by James Gibbs. Despite their different starting points, both men travelled to England for reasons as yet unknown and Castle finally established himself in Ireland. It is possible that friends, associates or even diplomatic contacts invited them to Britain. Nevertheless, it was their skills, knowledge and craftsmanship and that eventually secured them positions with high-ranking architects.


Engraving of Kinross House near Edinburgh after a drawing by Johann Gottlieb Borlach. (William Adam, Vitruvius Scoticus [1810], p. 62)

The lives and work of those two men are representative of a multitude of highly capable artists and craftspeople, who by virtue of their skills travelled through Europe and contributed to a knowledge exchange that knew no political borders.

Any information on the European background of Castle and Borlach would be most welcome.

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