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Eighteenth-century Europe was gripped by a frenzy for Neoclassicism, that is, a passion for the reinterpretation of existing classical styles. Because he was a scion of the eighteenth century, Henry Hoare II would most definitely have made the Grand Tour, that almost obligatory trip around France and Italy for every young gentleman of wealth and breeding. Such trips fostered friendships between fellow travellers, laying down social connections for life and engendering tastes in European foods and fashions, art and architecture, tastes that were imported 'back home'.
Every visitor to Stourhead receives a map of the layout of the garden and all of its features, along with a suggested trail to follow. This is so you can derive the maximum enjoyment from the visit. The trail takes the visitor around the lake - the result of a dammed river - up hill and through forest, over bridge and into tunnel, and past several 'fabriques' or follies; the Temple of Flora, the Grotto, the Pantheon, and others. The garden is structured so that the visitor is always in view of at least one of these features. Tradition has it that these 'Italian' views evoke the paintings of the artist Claude Gelee, better known as Claude Lorraine (1600-1682).
In his styling of Stourhead as an idealized slice of Italy, Hoare was buying into another system, that of fashion. The recognisable fabriques of Claude's paintings transformed what could have been merely a pretty piece of wooded land into an entire cultural experience. Nowadays, we are so familiar with themed parks and experiences, that we don't turn a hair when a new one is opened. In the meantime, if you are visiting Stourhead, do not go when it is raining, but wait for the sunshine - and it's well worth it, I promise.