A Bird’s-eye View of Charlecote Park

A Bird’s-eye View of Charlecote Park, Warwickshire from the West British (English) school, c. 1696 -1700

When this bird’s-eye view was painted at the end of the 18th-century, Charlecote Park was the ancestral seat of Colonel George Lucy and his family.

A view from above

The ‘bird’s-eye view’ refers to prints, drawings and paintings that are situated from a very high angle – an imagined aerial position.

Also known as an ‘aeronautical’ view or a ‘balloon’ view, this type of work allowed the artist to capture greater detail and a wider expanse than would have been possible from ground level, where the foreground would have obscured the background.  

In this rendering of Charlecote Park, the bird’s-eye view allows the spectator to take in a vast array of information in one perspectivally impossible scene. This includes:

  • in the background, the picturesque backdrop of tree-lined avenues that bisect fertile, cultivated fields;
  • in the middle ground, the Elizabethan west front of Charlecote house situated amidst canals, parterres and pastures;
  • and in the immediate foreground, a gathering that includes the house’s owner, Colonel George Lucy, on his white stallion, and his first wife, Mary Bohun, picnicking with family and friends.  

An agrarian arcadia

What is accomplished by depicting all of this information in one scene? Traditionally, the country house served as the principal focal point in views of large, landed estates.

In this instance, the Lucy family are given pictorial prominence, on par with the house. This picture therefore not only describes Charlecote’s topography at a particular moment, but it records the familial pride of aristocratic possession.

This view also presents an idealised and idyllicised vision of aristocratic land management.

In addition to the depiction of the Lucy family taking leisure on the grounds of their estate, the picture is replete with scenes of pastoral frolicking.  A pleasure boat takes a group of well-dressed gentleman and ladies down the river. Docile flocks of sheep and cattle graze in bucolic pastures.  In the lower right foreground, industrious peasants harmoniously work the land.  

Depicted as such, the Lucy’s proprietorial interests morph organically into an agrarian Arcadia, where the privileges – and inequalities – of ownership are presented as wholly natural and unproblematic.