Art History at Biltmore: Tales Within Tapestries

At Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, some of the most notable art history in our collection appears as tales within tapestries.

Giotto Painting
“The Entombment of Mary” by Giotto from the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin comes to life as part of Grande Experience’s Italian Renaissance Alive, making its world premiere at Biltmore’s Amherst at Deerpark®.

On March 3, 2023, Grande Experiences will launch Italian Renaissance Alive at Biltmore. This all-new multi-sensory experience takes you on a spellbinding journey across Italy, illuminating the masterworks of such icons as Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, and Caravaggio.

In honor of the world premiere of Italian Renaissance Alive, let’s explore some of the tapestries that were created during the Renaissance—a time when patrons often commissioned artists to create masterpieces based on religious, mythological, and historical symbols and allegory.

Overview of Tapestry Gallery in Biltmore House
At 90 feet in length, the Tapestry Gallery is the longest room in Biltmore House. Painted limestone overmantels above each fireplace visually divide the room into thirds, with each third devoted to one of the three tapestries George Vanderbilt acquired from an original set of seven known as “The Triumph of the Seven Virtues.”

The Tapestry Gallery is the longest room in Biltmore House, and was designed to showcase part of a set of tapestries known as The Triumph of the Seven Virtues.

Woven from wool and silk in Flanders (now part of Belgium) between 1525–1535, these tapestries were intended to illustrate how the seven virtues−faith, prudence, charity, chastity, temperance, fortitude, and justice−would always prevail over vice.

“No one knows exactly who originally commissioned the tapestries or where they hung, but it’s speculated that they would have been displayed in the manor house of a wealthy and aristocratic family,” said Lauren Henry, Curator.

Centuries of survival

Overview of Virtue of Charity tapestry in Biltmore House
The “Triumph of Charity” shown here is one of the three tapestries from the “Triumph of Seven Virtues” series that George Vanderbilt purchased for Biltmore House. Other examples of the remaining tapestries are housed in just 10 collections across the world, including the Cluny Museum in Paris, the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, England, and The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

While multiple sets of these tapestries were created, very few of them survived through the centuries, and there are no examples of the Triumph of Temperance still in existence.

“There are three in Biltmore’s collection, arranged from left to right in the Tapestry Galley: The Triumph of Prudence, The Triumph of Faith, and The Triumph of Charity,” Lauren said.

Triumph of Prudence

Figures of King David and Abigail
Detail from the “Virtue of Prudence” tapestry showing King David and Abigail from 1 Samuel 25.

Each virtue is illustrated through biblical stories and symbols that would have been familiar to people in 16th-century Europe. To more modern eyes, however, the meaning of the figures in the tapestries can be a bit mysterious.

Serpent head symbol
Detail of one of three fearsome serpent heads featured in the “Triumph of Prudence” tapestry.

Triumph of Faith

Overview of Triumph of Faith tapestry
The central figure in the “Triumph of Faith” represents The Church as a body. In the upper left corner, there is a depiction of the story of Jacob’s ladder with an angel climbing into heaven. The chariot of fire next to it represents the prophet Elijah, while the blindfolded woman on the pedestal next to that symbolizes the old law.

“The tapestry in the center of the Tapestry Gallery is the Triumph of Faith, which is believed to be the only one still in existence,” said Lauren.

At the top of the tapestry, the Latin inscription is “Holy Faith believes by the Divine Word and worships God through every dutiful practice.”

Symbolism

Detail of the Triumph of Faith tapestry
Detail of the “Triumph of Faith” showing the figure of the winged man riding a lion.

The virtue of Faith is depicted as a woman holding a church, chalice and cross. Below her, the figure of a winged man represents the human aspect of Christ, riding on a lion, representing both the apostle Mark and the Resurrection.

The ox represents the sacramental nature of Christ. The Eagle represents the apostle John. All four of these symbols were said to have been seen as guardians of the throne of God by the prophet Ezekiel.

Grand Staircase Tapestry

Framed tapestry displayed on the first landing of the Grand Staircase in Biltmore House
Woven in rich reds, blues, and golds, this 15th-16th century tapestry depicts the Christ child with the Madonna and Saint Anne.

Another beautiful tapestry in Biltmore’s collection is displayed in a frame at the first landing on the Grand Staircase.

“This is a Franco-Flemish Renaissance biblical tapestry, created in the late 15th or early 16th century,” said Lauren. “It portrays the Christ child with his mother, the Madonna, and her mother Saint Anne. The three figures are seated on a throne with a chapel and a fortress in the distance.”

This tapestry is one of the older pieces in the Biltmore collection, and while Museum Services doesn’t know as much about it as they do some of the others, they continue to look for details in both the provenance of the piece and its symbolism.

“One thing we can tell, just from the design, is that it was commissioned by an extremely wealthy patron,” Lauren said. “Notice how much blue is used throughout the tapestry, both in the background, and in the robes of the Madonna and Saint Anne. Before the advent of mass-produced dyes, this ‘ultramarine’ blue—which would have been shockingly vibrant when it was first woven—was incredibly difficult to make and, therefore, very expensive.”

Discover Italian Renaissance Alive at Biltmore

Biltmore hosts the world premiere of Italian Renaissance Alive on March 3, 2023. Credit: Grande Experiences

In a fitting tribute to George Vanderbilt’s lifelong passion for fine art, Italian Renaissance Alive invites you to enjoy some of the world’s best-known masterpieces in an entirely new way: immersed in the beauty and brilliance of one of the greatest artistic periods in history as it comes to life all around you.

Accompanied by a powerful operatic score and a compelling narrative, the experience is captivating, educational, and absolutely unforgettable.

Featured image: Detail from the Triumph of Prudence tapestry in the Tapestry Gallery of Biltmore House.

Asheville Artist Reproduces Biltmore Sculpture

Asheville artist Alex Irvine has reproduced a Biltmore sculpture, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the wonderful results!

Biltmore sculpture removed for preservation

Known as Woman Reading with Dog, this charming depiction of a young woman reading a book with her canine companion at her knees was originally installed on the Library Terrace at Biltmore House.

Asheville artist reproduces Biltmore sculpture
Artist Alex Irvine worked from the original Biltmore sculpture in his Asheville-area studio to create two new versions for display at the estate.

Like many of the other sculptures found throughout Biltmore’s historic gardens, Woman Reading with Dog was French in origin. It was produced by Gossin Frères of Paris, a firm well known for their ornamental terra cotta fabrications.

After many years of exposure to the elements, Biltmore’s original sculpture had become unstable due to heavy deterioration, and was removed from the Library Terrace for preservation purposes.

Asheville artist commissioned to create new Biltmore sculpture

“We commissioned a replica from Asheville artist Alex Irvine after he worked with Biltmore’s conservation team on a project that involved recreating a missing arm and floral garland for a terra cotta sculpture located on the South Terrace of Biltmore House,” said Kara Warren, Preventive Conservation Specialist. “We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such an exceptionally skilled ceramic artist who is located just miles from Biltmore Estate.”

To reproduce Woman Reading with Dog, Alex employed a multi-step process similar to the one used to create the original sculpture. He began his work by hand building the figure out of clay, scaling it 9% larger than the original to account for shrinkage during the drying and firing of the clay. The entire commission took more than two years to complete.

Original terra cotta sculpture (left); new copy (right) being hand-built around a metal armature that will help support the weight of the clay.
(L-R) The original sculpture and the new clay sculpture that will be used in the plaster mold of the final version. The arms are cast and fired separately.
The original sculpture was created by Gossin Frères of Paris. The re-creation is a perfect copy that includes the firm’s mark.
The mold for the new sculpture included 50 different sections, like this piece for one of the hands.
The sculpture’s arms were cast and fired separately from the rest of the figure and attached with steel pins the day after the sculpture was installed on the Library Terrace.
The newly re-created “Woman Reading with Dog” sculpture out of the kiln after being fired.
A close up of the sculpture reveals her serene expression and the beautiful detailing of her face and features.
Kara Warren, Preventive Conservation Specialist, discusses the sculpture with artist Alex Irvine in his studio. Credit: The Biltmore Company

The next step was the creation of a 50-part plaster mold of the replicated statue. The mold was assembled on the floor of the kiln in stages to allow access for handfuls of clay to be pressed into the mold to produce a hollow cast.

The legs inside the garment and internal structure were hand-built with slabs of clay. Once cast, the surface details were refined again in preparation for firing.

The clay statue was slowly dried over six months and then fired very slowly to 2100ºF in a one-of-a-kind electric kiln built for this commission.

Installation of the new sculpture

The reproduction of Woman Reading with Dog was installed on the Library Terrace, in the same location as the original.

The replica of “Woman Reading with Dog” was carefully crated in Alex Irvine’s studio for its trip to the Library Terrace at Biltmore House. Her arms were attached with steel pins after installation was complete.
Alex Irvine, Kara Warren, and Trip Hudgins, Engineering Operations Manager, assist with the sculpture’s installation on the Library Terrace.
Asheville artist Alex Irvine oversees the prepping of the original limestone plinth on which the sculpture will be installed.
Delicate details like the dog’s tail could easily break during installation, so the artist and members of our Museum Services team handle the project with great care.
The final step of the process was to attach the sculpture’s arms with steel pins once the main installation was complete.
From this angle, you can see some of the wonderful details of the sculpture’s hand and arm, draped fabric, and even the dog’s teeth!

See preservation in action at Biltmore

Biltmore sculpture on the Library Terrace
“Woman Reading with Dog” installed on the Library Terrace of Biltmore House

In addition to viewing Woman Reading with Dog on the Library Terrace of Biltmore House, you can also view a second reproduction of this sculpture that was made as part of the process. The sculpture will be displayed in a niche in the back courtyard of Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate®.



The Line House Cottages: A Brief History

Like all of the Cottages on Biltmore Estate™, our new Line House Cottages offer guests a step back in time to the Vanderbilts’ era—but unlike our other cottages, these cozy historic homes also provide a special glimpse into the estate’s agricultural heritage.

Archival image of the estate, c. 1906. The Line is in the foreground with the Barn to the left and the Main Dairy (what is now the Winery) in the center. Biltmore House is visible in the distance.
Archival image of the estate, c. 1906. The Line is in the foreground with the Barn to the left and the Main Dairy (what is now the Winery) in the center. Biltmore House is visible in the distance.

Located just steps away from the Barn and Farmyard in Antler Hill Village, the Line House Cottages are original estate structures, part of what was once referred to as The Line.

George Vanderbilt, his friend Stephen H. Olin, and two dogs walking towards the Farm Village (what is now Antler Hill Village), c. 1906. The Line is on the far left and the Barn is center-right. The four larger houses on either side of the Barn were reserved for management.
George Vanderbilt, his friend Stephen H. Olin, and two dogs walking towards the Farm Village (what is now Antler Hill Village), c. 1906. The Line is on the far left and the Barn is center-right. The four larger houses on either side of the Barn were reserved for management.

According to archival records, The Line consisted of eight nearly identical cottages. Dozens of estate employees and their families called these cottages home over the years, many of whom worked as milkers at the Dairy.

The beautifully updated living room in each of the Line House Cottages is the perfect place to unwind after a day spent exploring all the estate has to offer.
The beautifully updated living room in each of the Line House Cottages is the perfect place to unwind after a day spent exploring all the estate has to offer.

Today, these turn-of-the-century farmhouses have been reimagined as exclusive lodging options for our overnight guests, offering premium comfort and convenience along with privacy and four-star amenities.

The upstairs bedroom boasts double-window seating with ample natural light to illuminate the vintage Biltmore photographs displayed above the upholstered headboard.
The upstairs bedroom boasts double-window seating with ample natural light to illuminate the vintage Biltmore photographs displayed above the upholstered headboard.

Each of our 970-square-foot Line House Cottages can comfortably sleep four and offers:

  • Two bedrooms, each with a queen-size bed
  • Two bathrooms, each with a walk-in shower
  • Formal living room
  • Full eat-in kitchen
  • Covered front porch with pastoral views
  • Back patio for outdoor dining and entertaining
Imagine yourself part of this relaxing scene, sipping your morning coffee from your rocking chair on the front porch, having just woken up on George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate.
Imagine yourself part of this relaxing scene, sipping your morning coffee from your rocking chair on the front porch, having just woken up on George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate.

With soothing, pastoral views of our working Farmyard, these homes are a short stroll from Antler Hill Village & Winery, estate trails, and the four-star luxuries offered at The Inn on Biltmore Estate. We invited you to discover our newest lodging offering and book your stay at one of our Line House Cottages in gorgeous Asheville, NC today.

Due to the historic architecture of our Vanderbilt-era Cottages, they are not accessible for guests with limited mobility.

Moving into America’s Largest Home®

Moving into America’s Largest Home would be a work in progress for George Vanderbilt as Biltmore House was not quite finished for his October 1895 move-in date.

Have you ever moved into a custom-designed new home? If you have, you know that the punch list never seems quite buttoned-up on moving day. Little details seem to linger even after the last box is unpacked—and it was no different for George Vanderbilt’s magnificent new house in Asheville, North Carolina.

A ground-breaking project

Archival image of America's Largest Home under construction
Archival image of Biltmore House under construction, May 8, 1894

Ground was broken in 1889, and during the course of the six years that followed, George Vanderbilt remained in close touch with Biltmore House lead architect Richard Morris Hunt, supervising architect Richard Sharp Smith, and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Hunt passed away in August 1895, just months before Vanderbilt moved in, but Sharp Smith was able to complete the plan.

Archival image of the Brick Farm House, circa 1889
Archival image of the Brick Farm House, circa 1889

When he came to stay for periods of time at the construction site, George Vanderbilt stayed in what was called the Brick Farm House, a property he purchased from Asheville entrepreneur B. J. Alexander in 1889. Sharp Smith renovated the property, which included a mill and farm buildings, so that it was comfortable enough to accommodate Vanderbilt and his project team when they visited to check on the estate’s progress.

In the months leading up to the official opening, carpentry and cabinetry were among the final touches. With George Vanderbilt’s move-in scheduled for October, archival information shows that Richard Sharp Smith hired 16 additional cabinetmakers to speed up progress.

Archival photo of some of the contractors who built America's Largest Home
Biltmore House contractors, including Richard Sharp Smith (second from right), circa 1892

Finishing the last details of America’s Largest Home

On his first night at Biltmore, George Vanderbilt slept in the Bachelors’ Wing because his bedroom wasn’t finished. There was another issue, too, described in the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted:

When the water was turned on in the stable… to get ready for the servants to occupy, it was found that it would not go up to the second floor where the servants [sic] rooms are.

The problem was soon fixed and water flowed a few days later, but there were still a few outstanding details to hammer out. With family and friends expected for Christmas 1895, Sharp Smith hired an additional 10 cabinetmakers in December. While almost all the carpentry was finally completed in 1896, additional cabinetry projects extended into 1897.

Front façade of America's Largest Home
View of front façade of Biltmore House

Plan your visit today

Today, when you visit Biltmore Estate, you can see first-hand the incredible attention to detail that went into every aspect of America’s Largest Home. But as you might imagine, even this architectural masterpiece was subject to the challenges faced in any home-building project. By seeing the vision of the project through until the end, George Vanderbilt and his design and construction team created a landmark with enduring quality that we still enjoy today, more than 125 years later.

The 1940 Azalea Garden Ceremony: Revisited

In the past, we’ve shared the story of the 1940 Azalea Garden ceremony honoring Chauncey Beadle, an estate horticulturalist who later became superintendent, for his lifetime of service to the estate. Thanks to this new research from our Museum Services team, we now know that nine other employees were also honored for their many years of service in that ceremony, including four Black men affiliated with the Landscape Department.

There is limited information on each of these men, with some scattered archival references to their work throughout their years of service. By its very nature, our archival collection is fragmented—consisting of various payroll records, correspondences, and other documents that have fortunately been preserved over the estate’s more than 125-year history. Our effort to process these materials and learn more about these individuals is ongoing—yet we are eager to begin shedding light on them as well as many other notable employees.

Photograph of the Azalea Garden ceremony on April 1, 1940. These men are presumed to be the four Black men recognized for their service on this day: Charlie Lytle, James
Photograph of the Azalea Garden ceremony on April 1, 1940. These men are presumed to be the four Black men recognized for their service on this day: Charlie Lytle, Jimmie Rutherford, Benjamin Perry Hemphill, and John Robinson. Donated to Biltmore by Ione Rudolph Shine, Chauncey Beadle’s niece.

Charlie Lytle

Though he was employed by Biltmore the longest of the group, there is the least amount of information about Charlie Lytle in our archives. He is only mentioned in construction-era payroll records, some incident reports, and a few employee Christmas gift lists, but he is generally listed as a laborer for planted areas in these documents. Lytle was honored for 51 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. According to his death certificate, he was still a laborer for the estate when he died in 1943 at age 72.

James “Jimmie” Rutherford

Like Lytle, most archival mentions of James “Jimmie” Rutherford are incident reports and employee Christmas gift lists, though several letters confirm that he was working as a lineman for waterworks, sewers, and drains from at least 1914 to 1937. In 1931, an incident report reveals that he also laid bricks in a furnace for the estate, which tells us he wore many hats. Per census information, he was a superintendent for a private estate water worker in 1940, indicating a more managerial role later in his career. Rutherford was honored for 49 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. He was 70 years old.

Archival document compiled in preparation for the Azalea Garden ceremony. As the longest-serving employees, Charlie Lytle, James
Archival document compiled in preparation for the Azalea Garden ceremony. As the longest-serving employees, Charlie Lytle, James “Jimmie” Rutherford, Benjamin Perry Hemphill, and John Robinson were listed first of the nine total employees recognized in addition to Beadle.

Benjamin Perry Hemphill

The picture of Benjamin Perry Hemphill’s contributions to Biltmore is a bit more complete. The first mention of him in the archival records is an 1896 letter in which Beadle writes that he hired Hemphill to assist him “in caring for the greenhouses and formal gardens.” By 1903, Hemphill was head gardener in the Walled Garden and Conservatory, reporting to Chauncey Beadle.

It was uncommon for most employees to be in direct communications with the Vanderbilts about estate operations; these conversations were typically relayed through a chain of command. However, a 1906 correspondence shows Edith Vanderbilt conveying directly to Hemphill her wishes for specific varieties of azaleas to be sourced and brought to Biltmore, demonstrating how trusted he was as a Biltmore employee.

Hemphill was honored for 47 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. According to his obituary in January 1948, he retired from working at Biltmore in March 1947, at around the age of 82.

John Robinson

John Robinson began working for the estate in 1893 as a water boy in the brick yard during construction. Correspondence from 1902 indicates that around that time, he was a road sweeper, primarily over the Approach Road and the Service Road. He became an office messenger, similar to a mail carrier, by the 1910s, assisting Chauncey Beadle with a variety of requests from the family.

Like Hemphill, Robinson’s direct communication with the Vanderbilts demonstrates what a trusted and valued employee he was. In 1924, he was one of two people that Edith Vanderbilt personally requested to hand-deliver invitations for her daughter Cornelia’s wedding to John F.A. Cecil.

Robinson was honored for 47 years of service in the Azalea Garden ceremony. According to his 1957 death certificate, he was employed by Biltmore for “some 60 years.”

Workers stand with a locomotive on the Esplanade during the construction of Biltmore House, 1892. The stories of various members of the diverse workforce that created America’s Largest Home About BiltmoreLocated in Asheville, N.C., Biltmore was the vision of George W. Vanderbilt. Designed by Richard Morris Hunt, America’s Largest Home® is a 250-room French Renaissance chateau, exhibiting the Vanderbilt family’s original collection of furnishings, art and antiques. Biltmore estate encompasses more than 8,000 acres including renowned gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture. Today, Biltmore includes Antler Hill Village, which features the award-winning Winery and Antler Hill Farm; The Inn on Biltmore Estate, a four-star property; Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate; Equestrian Center; numerous restaurants; event and meeting venues; and Biltmore For Your Home, the company’s licensed products division. To learn more about Biltmore, go to www.biltmore.com or call 877-BILTMORE. are highlighted in our new exhibit: Building Biltmore House.
Workers stand with a locomotive on the Esplanade during the construction of Biltmore House, 1892. The stories of various members of the diverse workforce that created America’s Largest Home® are highlighted in our new exhibit: Building Biltmore House.

An Ongoing Effort

Charlie Lytle, James “Jimmie” Rutherford, Benjamin Perry Hemphill, and John Robinson all started their employment with the estate during the construction-era of Biltmore House. Additional employee stories from this research are shared in our new permanent exhibit: Building Biltmore House, on display in the Halloween Room beginning February 4.

We are committed to learning more about the contributions of these and other employees at Biltmore. If you have any family connections to the estate’s history, you can reach us at museumservices@biltmore.com.

Feature image: Crowd gathering for the Azalea Garden ceremony. Photograph donated to Biltmore by Ione Rudolph Shine, Chauncey Beadle’s niece.

New Exhibition Explores Construction of Biltmore House

Our new Building Biltmore House exhibition explores the construction of George Vanderbilt’s magnificent home—a massive project that took hundreds of workers seven years to complete.

A new take on our construction story

“For nearly two decades, we displayed photographs and stories about the construction of Biltmore House in the Basement area known as the Halloween Room. It was a favorite of our guests, but we removed the panels in 2019 to make room for components of a different exhibition,” said Meghan Forest, Archives and Curatorial Assistant.

According to Meghan, the new Building Biltmore House exhibition, also located in the Halloween Room, will uncover additional in-depth information about the people, circumstances, and innovations surrounding the building of America’s Largest Home®.

“One important goal of the new exhibition is to focus more on the craftsmanship and labor of the employees who worked on the project rather than just the construction techniques,” noted Meghan. “Through continuing research in our own archives and outreach to descendants of some of the original workers, we’re able to share new stories that add depth and context to Building Biltmore House.”

Discovering personal connections

In the course of the archival research for this exhibition, Biltmore worked closely with Dr. Darin Waters who serves as North Carolina Deputy Secretary for Archives and History in the Office of Archives and History for the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

His personal connection with Biltmore dates back more than two decades, and his ancestors’ history with the estate dates back more than a century, presenting a thematic through-line for his own life story. Guests will learn more about Dr. Waters’ research and family discoveries as they take in the details of Building Biltmore House.

Design dream team

(L-R) purchasing agent and agricultural consultant Edward Burnett, architect Richard Morris Hunt, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, George Washington Vanderbilt, and architect Richard Howland Hunt, son of Richard Morris Hunt. 1892

In 1889, 26-year-old George Vanderbilt recruited two of the nation’s most sought-after design professionals, architect Richard Morris Hunt, and landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted, to assist him in building a grand estate that would serve as a scenic retreat for the young man’s family and friends.

Both Hunt and Olmsted had been instrumental in shaping the look of late-19th-century New York, with Hunt having designed the Statue of Liberty pedestal and the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Olmsted creating the tranquil greenspace of Central Park and advocating for the preservation of Niagara Falls State Park.

Planning and inspiration

Sketch of Biltmore House
Archival sketch of Biltmore House façade, drafted prior to construction, does not include the glass-roofed Winter Garden that was added as plans were finalized

Having purchased a total of 125,000 acres since his first visit to Asheville in 1888, Vanderbilt charged Olmsted with choosing the site of his future country home along with designing the manicured gardens and grounds that would rehabilitate the acreage’s former farms and cutover woodlands.

Vanderbilt, Hunt, and Hunt’s wife Catharine then embarked on a two-month trip across England and France to gather ideas. The journey proved a success, as Hunt eventually designed a 175,000-square-foot French Renaissance Revival-style château influenced by the exteriors of France’s Blois, Chambord, and Chenonceau estates, and the interiors of Knole Palace, Hatfield House, and Haddon Hall in England.

Vanderbilt named his estate “Biltmore” for Bildt, the Dutch town of his ancestry, and the old English word “more” meaning open, rolling land.

Building Biltmore House

Building Biltmore House
George Vanderbilt escorts a group of guests on the South Terrace during contruction. 1893

When construction began hundreds of workers and tradesmen arrived daily to perform general labor as well as blacksmithing, painting, carpentry, and stone carving. While many materials such as bricks and stone were sourced locally, others were imported from across the country and overseas.

Men, materials, and supplies arrived at the construction area on standard gauge rail lines supported by trestles designed by Olmsted to span the mountainous terrain without damaging the forests below. The construction site became a bustling city of its own, with workers occupying temporarily built offices, workshops, and sheds.

Biltmore House comes to life

Watch archival footage of George Vanderbilt’s magnificent estate “rising” from its foundations!

Month by month, George Vanderbilt’s vision took shape as Biltmore House rose from its foundation. The home consisted of 250 rooms, including 101 guest and servant bedrooms, 65 fireplaces, and 43 bathrooms.

Luxurious, state-of-the-art conveniences like indoor plumbing and electricity were included in the house, along with a fire alarm system, two elevators, and a telephone system. A bowling alley, gymnasium, and 70,000-gallon indoor swimming pool were built to provide entertainment and exercise during inclement weather.

The end of a long journey

Archival photo of a marble lion statue at Biltmore
One of two iconic lion sculptures, crafted from Rosso di’Verona marble, await installation at Biltmore House. March 1894

As with any significant undertaking, one must aim for a deadline, and George Vanderbilt declared December 24, 1895, as the date that his labor of love would be unveiled.

Final touches on the landscaping took place, the makeshift workshops on the property were disassembled, and cabinetmakers and carpenters hastened to finish the endless custom details within the home. Although several areas including the Library and his own bedroom were still incomplete, George Vanderbilt welcomed his mother and 26 other relatives to celebrate Christmas Eve in his new home.

Experience Building Biltmore House and more

“Beginning February 4, 2022, we invite all of our guests to visit our new Building Biltmore House exhibition located in the Halloween Room to learn about the inspiring individuals who came together during the construction of Biltmore House and its surrounding gardens and grounds,” said Meghan.

8 great reasons to visit Biltmore this fall
In addition to enjoying our Building Biltmore House exhibition, enhance your visit with a Rooftop Tour that includes spectacular views and stories.

This new exhibition is included with regular estate admission and is part of the normal self-guided visit route.

To experience more fascinating behind-the-scenes stories of this Gilded Age estate, consider reserving a Rooftop Tour or Expert-Guided Small Group Tour.

Featured image: Visible through a third floor window faced with decorative limestone veneer above the Porte Cochere are the brick walls and iron joists that provide structure for Biltmore House, ca. 1893

Reflections of The Gilded Age at Biltmore

Reflections of the Gilded Age at Biltmore takes on new meaning with the recent focus on the era in pop culture with the release of Sir Julian Fellowes’ latest production, The Gilded Age, and the 2022 theme for “fashion’s biggest night out,” the Met Gala.

Best known for Downton Abbey, the lavish PBS Masterpiece series detailing the lives of the fictional Crawley family and their ancestral home that kept viewers spellbound for six seasons and one feature film, Fellowes now turns his focus to the other side of the Atlantic for a look at a similar time in America.

“Gilded Glamour” hits the red carpet at the 2022 Met Gala, where attendees “embody the grandeur—and perhaps the dichotomy—of Gilded Age New York,” according to Vogue.com.

What is the Gilded Age?

“The Gilded Age is an era in American history from the 1870s to the turn of the century. It was marked by rapid economic expansion, particularly in industries such as railroads and manufacturing,” said Leslie Klingner, Biltmore’s Curator of Interpretation.

“Families such as the Vanderbilts rose to new social prominence during this time, marking their ascendance with some of the grandest homes and most glittering parties the country had ever seen,” Leslie said.

Photograph of George Vanderbilt, a scholar, collector, and patron of the arts who came of age during America’s Gilded Age
Envisioned as a private oasis for family and friends, George Vanderbilt’s magnificent Biltmore House would become known as America’s Largest Home®. In addition to the house, this circa 1910 photo shows a view (L-R) of the Italian Garden, Esplanade, Front Lawn, and Stable Complex designed and landscaped by Richard Morris Hunt and Frederick Law Olmsted.
George Vanderbilt and Cedric the St. Bernard with newlyweds Adele and Jay Burden at Biltmore. Adele was George’s niece, the daughter of his sister Emily Vanderbilt Sloane. The couple married on June 6, 1895, in what was reported to be one of the costliest American weddings held at the time, and began their honeymoon at a cottage on the estate grounds, several months before Biltmore House was officially ready for guests.

Gilded Age Fashions

Fashionable ladies of the Gilded Age, such as Edith Vanderbilt, followed magazines like Les Modes for the latest stylings from couture design houses in Paris and London. Thanks to our archives at Biltmore, we know that the Vanderbilts favored designers like Jeanne Paquin, Jacques Doucet, and the House of Worth.

From strolling in the gardens at Biltmore to attending “fancy dress” balls, every ensemble worn by the ladies and gentlemen of the era would have been perfectly tailored and adorned with elegant accessories.

Below you’ll find archival photos of the stunning Gilded Age fashions actually worn by the Vanderbilts and their friends which were recreated from archival photos and notes for A Vanderbilt House Party exhibition displayed at Biltmore in 2019.

Gilded Age fashions of Edith Vanderbilt, recreated by CosProp, London, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.
Gilded Age fashions of Edith Vanderbilt, recreated by CosProp, London, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.
Recreation of a House of Worth gown worn by George Vanderbilt’s sister, Florence Vanderbilt Twombly, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.
Gilded Age fashions of Jay and Adele Burden, recreated by CosProp, London, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.
Glamorous fashions on the cover of the April 1912 and inside of the February 1913 issue of Les Modes magazines in Biltmore’s collection.
Gilded Age fashions of Edith Vanderbilt, recreated by CosProp, London, for Biltmore’s 2019 exhibition, A Vanderbilt House Party – The Gilded Age.

The Gilded Age series

The Gilded Age showcases the highs and lows of a wide cast of characters ranging from old New York and Newport families to the newly wealthy members of their society–and everyone in between.

“It is interesting to see the differences and the similarities between the British world of Downton Abbey, its American counterpart in The Gilded Age, and our own story here at Biltmore,” said Leslie.

This silver Tiffany & Company tea set was gifted to George Vanderbilt by his mother to serve guests on his private train car.
The grand Banquet Hall table set as ut would have been for a grand Gilded Age gathering at Biltmore House during the Vanderbilt era
The soaring Pellegrini Ceiling in the Library at Biltmore House. Depicted is “The Chariot of Aurora.”

Plan a Visit Biltmore!

Experience George Vanderbilt’s magnificent Gilded Age estate for yourself with a visit to Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

Featured image: Cornelia and Edith Vanderbilt in riding clothes, with horses and a St. Bernard, at Biltmore, ca. 1917

The National Gallery of Art calls on Biltmore during World War II

Did you know the Music Room in Biltmore House stored priceless works from the National Gallery of Art during World War II? It was during the winter of 1942 when an unusual array of guests arrived at Biltmore House. Accompanied by guards on their journey from Washington, D.C., 62 paintings and 17 sculptures from the National Gallery of Art were carried into the house and placed in the Music Room.

It was a critical time in the nation’s capitol, and in 1941 during World War II, American leaders based there began to fear the possibility of an attack.  An air raid on a major U.S. city seemed likely. German submarines had been sited along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to North Carolina, bringing the war uncomfortably close to the American shore.

Perhaps one of the best known works that Biltmore House stored for the National Gallery of Art was Sandro Botticelli’s The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478/1482).
Perhaps one of the best known works that Biltmore House stored for the National Gallery of Art was Sandro Botticelli’s The Adoration of the Magi (c. 1478/1482).

With that thought in mind, and with information from European sources about Hitler’s relentless efforts to seize and stockpile art—much of which was damaged or destroyed in the process—David Finley, the new director of the National Gallery of Art, contacted Biltmore to discuss the possibility of sending some of the nation’s most important art treasures there for safekeeping.

Finley had visited Biltmore previously as a guest, and felt that Biltmore House was the perfect choice with its fireproof features and remote location. Edith Vanderbilt graciously agreed.

Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait (1659) was among the works stored at Biltmore House during World War II. Rembrandt was coincidentally one of George Vanderbilt’s favorite artists.
Rembrandt van Rijn’s Self-Portrait (1659) was among the dozens of works stored at Biltmore House during World War II. Rembrandt was coincidentally one of George Vanderbilt’s favorite artists.

The unfinished Music Room on the first floor of Biltmore House was refitted with steel doors and other protective measures were taken, as outlined by the National Gallery of Art. On January 8, 1942, the paintings and sculptures arrived in Asheville.

Biltmore had opened to the public in 1930 as a means of promoting tourism in Asheville. Guests walked by the Music Room, unaware that some of the world’s greatest artwork was secretly hidden on the other side of the wall. The priceless artwork remained under 24-hour armed guard at Biltmore until the fall of 1944, well after the danger of bombings or invasion had ended.

Feature image: Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (1795)—an iconic portrait of the nation’s first president—was safely stored in America’s Largest Home® from 1942 to 1944.

Buckspring Lodge: A Summer Retreat for Sheep

In addition to Biltmore House in Asheville, NC, the Vanderbilts had another home on the estate’s original 125,000 acres: Buckspring Lodge.

A rustic, Adirondack-style retreat on the slopes of Mt. Pisgah, located about 20 miles from Biltmore House, Buckspring Lodge was a world away from the elegantly landscaped terrain surrounding America’s Largest Home®.

George and Edith Vanderbilt at buckspring Lodge
George and Edith Vanderbilt sitting on the front steps of Buckspring Lodge, their rustic retreat on Mt. Pisgah

An Elevated View

It was fashionable at that time for wealthy families to create summer retreats in the mountains or by the seashore, often spending the entire season away from their main residence.

George Vanderbilt had already acquired a cottage in Bar Harbor, Maine, which he enlarged and renamed Pointe d’Acadie, but he spent less time there after making Biltmore his permanent home, choosing instead to enjoy the cool heights and splendid views of the Blue Ridge Mountains

A flock of sheep being tended near Buckspring Lodge with Mount Pisgah in the background.
A flock of sheep being tended near Buckspring Lodge with Mount Pisgah in the background.

Family, Friends & Biltmore Sheep

In addition to the main Buckspring Lodge building, which was designed by Biltmore architect Richard Morris Hunt and completed under the direction of his son Richard Howland Hunt, there was separate kitchen structure, a smaller guest cottage, and a stable that would eventually become a garage. Edith Vanderbilt added a garden and a tennis court to the site, and guests could hike and hunt to their hearts’ content. 

Family and friends weren’t the only visitors, however—a flock of Biltmore sheep spent time there, as well, providing effective “grounds maintenance” in return for their room and board. The sheep kept the grass short and added a pleasant pastoral note to the ambience of the Vanderbilt’s private mountain retreat. 

Outdoor Adventure Center in Antler Hill Village
Today, our Outdoor Adventure Center in Antler Hill Village is your headquarters for estate exploration.

New Life for an Old Cabin

After George Vanderbilt‘s death in 1914, Edith Vanderbilt sold most of the estate’s Pisgah Forest land to the federal government to become a national forest. Her grandson George Cecil inherited the property, eventually selling it to allow unobstructed construction of the Mount Pisgah section of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

A ranger’s cabin, constructed in 1912 of decades-old logs salvaged from early settler’s cabins on Vanderbilt’s Pisgah Forest tract, was removed from the site at that time and rebuilt in Asheville as a family home.

In 2015, this historic cabin and some of its furnishings were donated to Biltmore. Now restored in Antler Hill Village, the cabin serves as the headquarters for our Outdoor Adventure Center and Land Rover Experience.

The Dairy Foreman’s Cottage: A Brief History

There’s a new overnight offering at Biltmore—a cozy, casual home in a peaceful woodland setting. Introducing the freshly renovated Dairy Foreman’s Cottage on Biltmore Estate™, an historic structure, reimagined to offer today’s guests an oasis of service, style, and charm. 

In honor of this exclusive new lodging option, let’s take a step back in time for a closer look at the history of this unique Biltmore residence. 

A Family Home for Estate Workers

Originally labeled a “Dairy Worker’s Cottage,” this welcoming home was one of five identical houses designed by Asheville architect Anthony Lord in 1935 for Biltmore Dairy employees and their families. According to archival correspondence from the time, the cottage was built for $535 with materials provided by the estate.

Archival photo of cows with Dairy Foreman's Cottage in the distance
The earliest archival photo of the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage (center of image, top of hill), ca. 1940

One of the first families to live in this house was likely the Allen family in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Ernest Allen brought his family to the estate in 1927, and over his 38 years of employment at Biltmore, primarily as a Farm Foreman, they lived in seven different estate residences. 

Ernest’s daughter Martha Allen Wolfe recalled in a 2016 interview with our Oral History Program that they had indoor plumbing and electricity while growing up in the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage. 

Archival image of Dairy Foreman's Cottage
Archival photo believed to be the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage, ca. 1950

Even with seven brothers and sisters, she remembered the home as being very comfortable. Her brothers slept upstairs, and apparently, they would secretly climb out of the windows at night, engage in some youthful mischief, and then sneak back in the same way.

One of her brothers was Bill Allen, who would eventually follow his father’s footsteps and have a 45-year career at Biltmore—first as Farm Manager and later Vineyard Manager. 

Martha said of the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage, “We loved it, and it was home.”

Gorgeous gourmet kitchen in Dairy Foreman's Cottage
The cottage’s gorgeous gourmet kitchen features stainless steel appliances.

New Life for an Old Cottage

Today, this 1,778-square-foot home has been beautifully updated with modern touches. Accommodating up to five guests, the cottage offers two bedrooms with a king-sized bed in each as well as a pullout sofa in the reading room. 

And there’s plenty of room for entertaining: an open kitchen that extends to dining and living areas, a formal sitting room, a screened-in back porch, and an outdoor dining patio.

Charming front porch with swing and rocking chairs
The charming front porch offers a secluded oasis of rest and relaxation.

The Dairy Foreman’s Cottage puts you just steps away from quiet nature trails, made lush by original forest plantings that contributed to the estate’s National Historic Landmark designation as the birthplace of American Forestry.

This welcoming abode is also located within walking distance of lively activity in Antler Hill Village, tastings of award-winning wines at our Winery, and the luxurious amenities offered at our four-star Inn.

For your next getaway, we invite you to make the Dairy Foreman’s Cottage your home away from home. Delight in the privacy of one of the most exclusive and customized lodging experiences the estate has to offer. Book your stay today.