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James Gibbs

James Gibbs

The highly individualistic achievement of the British architect James Gibbs (1682-1754) stands between the English baroque school and the Palladian school.

James Gibbs was born at Footdeesmire near Aberdeen, Scotland, in December 1682, the younger son of a Scottish gentleman. As a young man, he traveled on the Continent, pursuing his fondness for drawing. In Rome he determined to become an architect and entered the school of Carlo Fontana. Gibbs became acquainted with many members of the English aristocracy, for whom he made drawings and who were helpful to him in later life. He returned to England in 1709.

Through the influence of Edward Harley, Earl of Oxford, Gibbs was made one of the surveyors to the commissioners for building 50 new churches in London in 1713, and in this capacity he designed St. Mary-le-Strand (1714-1717), his first public building. Here he expressed not only influences of Sir Christopher Wren but also ideas absorbed from Italian baroque and mannerist architecture. Gibbs was employed by Lord Burlington in rebuilding the east block of Burlington House, Piccadilly, before that patron embraced Palladianism, but was superseded by the earl's protegé, Colen Campbell.

When the Whigs, who supported the Palladians, came to power, Gibbs as a Tory of baroque tendencies lost his official post in 1715, but his private practice among Tory patrons continued to be exclusive and remunerative. He built Cannons House, Middlesex (1716-1719; demolished 1747) for the Duke of Chandos; added a chapel and library at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire (ca. 1720), for Lord Harley; built the exquisite Octagon Room at Twickenham, Middlesex (1720), with beautiful plasterwork by Italian stuccoworkers; and erected Ditchley House, Oxfordshire (1720-1725), probably his most splendid house, for the Earl of Lichfield, again with remarkable plasterwork by Italian craftsmen.

But public commissions were not entirely lacking. In 1720 Gibbs designed St. Martins-in-the-Fields (built 1722-1726), one of his outstandingly beautiful works. Like St. Mary-le-Strand and many of his houses, the interior was decorated with plasterwork by the fashionable Italian stuccoworkers, who probably came to England through his encouragement. St. Martins was followed by another building of extreme elegance and dignity, the Senate House at Cambridge (1722-1730), as well as the new buildings of King's College. Many of the ornamental buildings in the park at Stowe House, Buckinghamshire, are his work, including the Temple of Diana (1726), the Temple of Friendship (1739), the Gothic Temple (1740), and the Column with a statue of Lord Cobham.

Gibbs's general influence among architects and clients was great because of his exhaustive knowledge of architecture acquired through long study in Rome, an experience rare among architects of that generation, although later more common. This influence he extended by means of his Book of Architecture (1728), a record of both his executed and unexecuted work, and especially his Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732), a work used by countless architects, students, scholars, and builders up to the present day.

Of Gibbs's later works the circular Radcliffe Library at Oxford (1737-1749) is his most ambitious and monumental achievement; it shows much influence of Nicholas Hawksmoor. Gibbs published the designs in the large folio volume Bibliotheca Radcliviana in 1747, and he received from the university the honorary degree of master of arts. He designed the new decorations of Ragley Hall, Warwickshire (ca. 1750-1755), in the rococo taste then becoming fashionable. A distinguished late work is the church of St. Nicholas at Aberdeen (1751-1755). In his last years Gibbs held the sinecure post of architect to the Office of Ordnance. He died in London on Aug. 5, 1754.

In his early buildings, especially in his churches, Gibbs displayed that discreet form of the baroque which he had absorbed from Carlo Fontana in Rome and also from Wren's example. Characteristic features of his work are window architraves interrupted by prominent rustication blocks, oeil de boeuf (oxeye) windows, boldly projecting cornices, and parapets topped by urns. In his later buildings the exterior form conformed more closely to severe Palladian principles, but the interiors retained a baroque exuberance.

Further Reading

The only monograph on Gibbs and his work is Bryan D. Little, The Life and Work of James Gibbs, 1682-1754 (1955). There are brief discussions of him in Peter Kidson and Peter Murray, A History of English Architecture (1962; rev. ed. 1965), and John Gloag, The English Tradition in Architecture (1963). Gibbs's relationship to contemporary baroque and Palladian architects is dealt with in John Summerson, Architecture in Britain, 1530-1830 (1955; rev. ed. 1963). See also K. A. Esdeile, St. Martins-in-the Fields, New and Old (1944), and Christopher Hussey, English Country Houses: Early Georgian, 1715-60 (1955). □

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Gibbs, James

Gibbs, James (1682–1754). A Scots RC, he turned to architecture in 1704 while training for the priesthood in Rome, and became a pupil of Carlo Fontana. He returned to Britain in 1709, having acquired a thorough knowledge of Roman Baroque. Partly through the good offices of Wren, he became one of the two Surveyors to the Commissioners for Building Fifty New Churches in London in 1713, and designed the masterly St Mary-le-Strand (1714–24), with its powerfully Roman side elevations and modelling recalling works by Cortona and Borromini, which made his reputation. With Queen Anne's death in 1714 and the new regime of King George I (1714–27) and Whiggery, Gibbs, who, as a Tory, Scot, and Papist, was suspect, was dismissed. He was then patronized by Burlington, but shortly afterwards superseded by Campbell as architect of Burlington House. Campbell's machinations also led to the omission of any mention of Gibbs from Vitruvius Britannicus. Through John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll (1680–1743), he was employed to design Sudbrooke House, Petersham, Surrey (c.1717–20), and in 1720 designed St Martin-in-the-Fields, London (1722–6), with its Roman temple-front, steeple derived from the works of Wren, and galleried rectangular body with two rows of windows, which became the prototype for urban Anglican churches for the next century, being widely copied even across the Atlantic. He also designed Derby Cathedral (1723–5), the mausoleum at Kirkleatham Church, Yorks. (1740), and St Nicholas Church West, Aberdeen (1741–55).

His secular buildings were many, and his training in Italy gave him an advantage over his rivals, compensating for his difficulties of birth and religion. He designed the Senate House, Cambridge (1722–30), Fellows' Building, King's College, Cambridge (1724–49), and the Radcliffe Library, Oxford (1737–8). The last owes much to earlier designs by Hawksmoor, but as completed shows an Italian influence unthinkable in Hawksmoor.

Among other works are the cupolas at Houghton Hall, Norfolk (1725–8), various fabriques at Stowe, Bucks., including the Gothic Temple of Liberty (1741–4), Temple of Friendship (1739), and Belvedere (1726–8—demolished). He also designed numerous monuments, including several in Westminster Abbey (e.g. Dryden, 1720). Gibbs advertised his work in A Book of Architecture (1728—2nd edn. 1739), which spread his influence far and wide, and was probably the most widely used architectural book of C18. He also published Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732—with further editions of 1736, 1738, and 1753).

Bibliography

Colvin (1995);
Friedman (1984); Gibbs (1728, 1732, 1747);
E. Harris (1990);
Little (1955);
Summerson (ed.) (1993)

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"Gibbs, James." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Gibbs, James

Gibbs, James (1682–1754). As an architect Gibbs was unusual for his time, not because he was Scottish-born or even because he was Roman catholic, but because he spent six years in Rome and studied under Carlo Fontana (1703–9). Although Gibbs shared with the Palladians an admiration for Palladio, his thought was unblushingly baroque. He was predictably patronized by Tory magnates, but his own Toryism did not preclude him from a governorship of St Bartholomew's hospital (1723), for which he planned a rebuild; in 1728 the Whig duke of Argyll accepted Gibbs's dedication of his Book of Architecture. Appointed as surveyor for the ‘50 new churches’ legislated for London in 1711, Gibbs built St Mary-le-Strand (1714), but he lost the ‘political’ surveyorship in 1715. It appears to have been through his sheer professional competence that he was appointed architect for the unbaroque St Martin-in-the-Fields (1722–6). Probably his best-known secular building is Oxford's Radcliffe library, the ‘Camera’, completed 1748; at Cambridge, he built the Senate House and Gibbs's Building at King's.

David Denis Aldridge

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"Gibbs, James." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Gibbs, James

James Gibbs, 1682–1754, English architect, b. Scotland, studied in Rome under Carlo Fontana. Returning to England in 1709, he was appointed a member of the commission authorized to build 50 churches in London. Only 10 of these were completed; they include two of Gibbs's most distinguished works, St. Mary-le-Strand (1714–17) and St. Martin-in-the-Fields (1721–26); the latter formed a basic inspiration for many of the steepled churches of the colonial period in America. Gibbs did considerable work for the universities, including the circular Radcliffe Camera at Oxford (1739–49), considered his finest design, and the Senate House at Cambridge, where from 1722 onward he was constantly employed. He designed also many town and country houses. His works have the distinction characteristic of the Georgian period and of the work of Sir Christopher Wren, by whom he was chiefly influenced. He wrote a Book of Architecture (1728, repr. 1968) and Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732).

See study by B. Little (1955).

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Gibbs, James

Gibbs, James (1682–1754) Scottish architect who was inspired by Sir Christopher Wren. Gibbs was an individualist, fitting neither into the Baroque style, which preceded him, nor the later Palladian. His best-known work is the church of St Martin in the Fields, London (1722–26).

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