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Fergusson, James

Fergusson, James (1808–86). Scots architectural writer. His first book was Picturesque Illustrations of Ancient Architecture in Hindustan (1847). A skilled draughtsman, he prepared his own illustrations and carried out the measured drawings of Indian buildings, many of which he published, establishing a name for himself as an authority on Indian architecture. In 1849 he published his Historical Inquiry into the True Principles of Beauty in Art, which he always held to be his best work, although it was not commercially successful. It included some of the earliest expositions of themes he was later to develop, such as the means by which Greek temples were illuminated. In the 1840s and 1850s he brought out various papers on fortifications as well as his views on the topography of Jerusalem which prompted various surveys of the city: later, in 1878, he was to publish a book on Jewish temples and other buildings. His major work, however, was A History of Architecture in All Countries. This began as Illustrated Handbook of Architecture (1855) and History of the Modern Style (1862), which were revised and brought out as the 3-volume History (1862–7). A useful text for students, and the first comprehensive study of the subject, it was appreciated for its accuracy, and especially for the quality of its many excellent illustrations, even though Fergusson was given to speculation and dogmatic opinions: he held, for example, that structure was the prose and ornament the poetry of architecture. He later (1876) added another volume on Indian and Eastern architecture. Awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1871, by the end of his life Fergusson was being compared with Vitruvius, and his work was respected in many countries. Heinrich Schliemann (1822–90), the archaeologist and discoverer of Troy, dedicated his book on Tiryns to Fergusson.


J. Fergusson (1847, 1847a, 1849, 1851, 1855, 1862, 1862–7, 1874, 1876, 1878, 1883);
MacLeod (1971);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)

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