Different Directions in England

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Different Directions in England

Modest Means.

In comparison to France, England had always been a relatively poor country, where the rituals of court and government had long been celebrated on a far more economical scale. The country's population—about four million in 1600—was only one quarter of that of France. Although the grandeur of the Tudor court might appear considerable to modern observers, Elizabeth I (r. 1558–1603) was notoriously tight-fisted by the standards of her era. With the accession of James I (r. 1603–1625) and the rise of the Stuart dynasty upon her death, greater luxury and opulence did come into fashion in the circles that surrounded the crown. Still James' wealth was considerably more limited than that of the French king. He may have desired to present an elegant face to the outside world, and he did try to do so, but the shortage of funds was an endemic problem and one that always threatened the monarch's efforts to create architectural monuments on a grand scale. Still, in the years of his reign several important projects, designed mostly by the talented architect Inigo Jones, laid the foundation for English classicism, a style that was persistently revived over the following two centuries and molded to fit the changing tastes of the time. Jones's style was considerably more restrained than the Italian Baroque and less monumental in scale than the French classicism of the time. He imitated many elements of the sixteenth-century architecture of the northern Italian, Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). During his long career Palladio had created a number of important public buildings and country villas, as well as several influential churches in the Venetian Republic. His ideas for a relatively unadorned architecture that nevertheless made use of elegant, often sinuous lines had been communicated in Northern Europe through the publication of his important architectural treatises. Nowhere, however, did these ideas take root more forcefully and pervasively than in England.

Inigo Jones.

Born in 1573 in London, Jones had few of the advantages of the great gentlemen architects that came after him in England. Despite his humble situation as the son of a clothmaker, he managed to travel to the continent in 1603, his visit perhaps financed by a nobleman. Somewhat later he returned again to Italy where he made a detailed study of ancient Roman architecture. Largely self-taught, he rose in the court circles of Stuart England, and together with Ben Jonson he staged some of the most elaborate court masques of the early seventeenth century. These entertainments required great skill in staging as well as a thorough knowledge of design. Under both James I and his successor Charles I, Inigo Jones received a number of commissions for large-scale houses and he began work on the Queen's House in Greenwich outside London during 1616. Slightly later, Jones received the commission for the Banqueting House in Whitehall. Both structures survive and demonstrate the architect's thorough mastery of Palladian design principles. They are two of the first buildings to integrate the High Renaissance style in England, although by the standards of the time they might have looked rather severe and small in scale to continental observers. The Queen's House—intended for James I's wife, Anne of Denmark—was built on the grounds of the royal palace at Greenwich, although that larger palace has since been destroyed. Jones ingeniously devised the Queen's House to provide a bridge over a local road that cut the royal park in two. To solve this problem he built an H-shaped structure with two wings joined at the upper story by a bridge (the crossbar in the H). Later this design feature was covered up when the road was redirected and the center portion filled in. The ground floor of the structure was constructed from rusticated stone, with simple squared pediments as the only decoration above the windows. On the second floor, Jones used smoother masonry, yet repeated the same simple windows. A balustrade finished the structure. The entire mood of the Queen's House is somber, yet elegant, and thoroughly Palladian in its elements. The appearance of the Banqueting House, by contrast, is less severe, and the structure makes use of a greater range of decorative details. Although its interior is a single block, the structure appears from the street as a three-story structure with a rusticated ground floor. The first floor that rises above has alternating circular and triangular-pedimented windows and its columns are of the Ionic order, while on the floor above Jones used the Corinthian order and squared pedimented windows. To finish the structure, he created a decorative garland frieze and a simple balustrade. At the time of the building's construction in London in the early 1620s, nothing this classical in spirit had ever been seen before on the streets of England's capital. While Jones received many commissions during his long career, none of his subsequent work ever matched the influence of these two projects, although one of his most important achievements was his design of Covent Garden in London beginning in 1631. This was, like the Place des Vosges in Paris and several earlier examples in Italy, a purpose-built square, the first in London. It derived many of its features from the earlier Parisian example. It was to be followed in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by many other handsome squares, most of them built in the western part of the city. In those years, Jones's architectural examples also inspired a string of designers who were even more accomplished in applying Palladian classicism to the English environment.


introduction: The art and architectural theorists of the Baroque era frequently engaged in heated disputes about the precise style that was most aesthetically pleasing to the eye. French theorists, in particular, were anxious to weigh their own developing architectural traditions against those of the Italians, very often finding their own classicism superior to the innovation and experimentation of southern European designers. In England and the Netherlands, the shape of much writing about architecture was decidedly more practical. Rather than treating aesthetics, Balthazar Gerbier (1592?–1667), a Flemish architect and diplomat who settled in London in 1617, showed his readers how to garner the maximum architectural effect economically. Gerbier's A Brief Discourse Concerning the Three Principles of Magnificent Building set out solidity, conveniency (or convenience), and ornament as the chief principles that should govern a patron's choices in building. In a highly practical vein Gerbier also informed his readers about the best possible building practices to use, and he showed them how to safeguard themselves from the tricks of cost-cutting artisans and laborers. In this passage he treats the proper mixture of mortar to make cement.

The Romans are very curious in their tempering of mortar, and in the laying it as thin as they possibly can to prevent the sinking and bending of their walls, which the laying of their mortar too thick doth cause; and experience doth show, that when some walls are taken down in England, half of the substance is sand and dust.

The Romans (as likewise the Greeks before them) did not make use of their lime at the same time it was flaked, but for six months' time did suffer it to putrify, and so putrified composed a cement which joined with stone (or brick) made an inseparable union, and such work as I have seen iron tools break on the old mortars of the amphitheaters at Verona and Rome.

Their manner of preparing lime is to lay it in cisterns, the one higher than the other, that the water (after it has been so stirred as it is well mixed and thoroughly liquid) may drain from one cistern to the other, and after six months' time (the lime having evacuated its putrefaction) remains purified, and then they mix two parts lime with one part of sand, and makes that strong and perfect mortar, which if practiced in England, would make a wondrous strong union, especially if the clay makers did bend the clay as it ought to be, the English clay being better than the Italian, nay the best in the world.

They are very careful in making large and deep foundations, and to let the walls raised on the foundations rest and settle a good while before they proceed to the second story.

Some of our carpenters have learned to lay boards loose for a time, the Italians and other nations are not sparing therein. They nail them as if for good and all, but rip or take them up again, to fit them for the second time.

As I said before, no building is begun before a mature resolve on [decision is made based upon] a model of the entire design; the builder having made choice of his surveyor, and committed to him all the care and guidance of the work, never changeth on the various opinions of other men, for they are unlimited, because every man's conceits are answerable to his profession and particular occasion.

A sovereign or any other landlord is then guided by natural principles, as well as by his own resolve, taken on a long considered model, because they know by experience how sudden changes are able to cause monstrous effects.

source: Sir Balthazar Gerbier, A Brief Discourse Concerning the Three Principles of Magnificent Building: Solidity, Conveniency, and Ornament (London: n.p., 1664): 19–22. Text modernized by Philip M. Soergel.

Rebuilding London.

The greatest of Baroque English architects was Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723), a figure who left a major imprint on London after the city's catastrophic fire of 1666. Wren was the son of an eminent clergyman who eventually became the Dean of Windsor, the site of England's largest royal castle. Thus, the young Wren moved in powerful circles from an early age; his playmates were members of the royal family, and by virtue of his superior education, he matured into something of a Renaissance man. He attended Wadham College, Oxford, at the age of sixteen, where he worked under a brilliant anatomist and conducted some of the first experiments in the use of opiates as anesthesia. When he completed the Master of Arts degree, he received a prestigious fellowship to All Souls College, also at Oxford, a position he held for the next twenty years and which allowed him to pursue his research interests in astronomy. While still a fellow, he also accepted an academic appointment at Gresham College in London, where he gave regular lectures in Latin and English. While in London, he and a close friend founded the Royal Society for the Promotion of Natural Knowledge,


introduction: In 1677 the massive rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral was just getting underway following the building's devastation in the Great Fire of 1666. The following poem, published in London, celebrated the effort to rebuild the church, an effort it compared to the great architectural achievements of the ancients and of the Roman Renaissance. Something of the excitement that the unprecedented building produced on the London scene can be gleaned from the poem's elaborate rhetorical flourishes.

What Miracle of Art will grow from hence,
And challenge through the World a Parallel,
When the bare Model only for Expense,
And real Value does so far excel?

But something more Majestic than even this
May we with solid reason expect,
Where to the Work, a C H A R L E S auspicious is:
A help so great can have no small effect.

Hereafter, how will every Generation
Bless that dear name, when from Records they know
This City's Beauty, Glory of the Nation,
To th' pious greatness of his soul they owe.

Nor shall Posterity forget the least
Of those, who such a Monument shall raise;
For when from their surviving Work they rest,
Eternal Fame shall mention their due Praise.

What did I say—only, eternal Fame?
Better Records are to such merit given;
Angels shall write with their own quills, each name
In the everlasting Registers of Heaven.

While in the front of those deserving men,
As the Conductor of this beauteous Frame,
Stands England's Archimedes, Learned Wren,
Who builds in Paul's a Trophy to his Name.

Earth's Cabinet of Rarities, famed Rome,
Shall now no more alone possess what's rare;
Since British Architecture dares presume
To vie with the most celebrated there.

Britain, who, though perhaps, the last she be
To imitate what's great in Foreign Parts,
Yet when she that hath done, we always see
Th' Inventors she excels in their own Arts.

Ah happy Englishmen! if we could know
Our happiness, and our too active fears
Of being wretched, did not make us so!
What cause of grief, other than this appears?

France, and the neighboring Europe, flame in War,
Seeking by Arms each others rest t' invade;
But while they burn and bleed, we only, are
Rich in an envied peace, and Foreign Trade.

While there, nor Church, nor Sanctuary can
Shield the rich Merchant from the armed rout,
Nor Virgin from the Lust of furious man.
Our Island one Asylum seems, throughout

Sacred and Civil Structures there decrease,
And while to Arms their lofty heads submit,
We are employed in the best Works of Peace,
And erect Temples to the God of it.

Rise noblest Work, rise above Envy's eye,
Never in thy own Ruins more to lie,
Till the whole world finds but one obsequy.

Rise to that noted height that Spain, and France,
Nay, Italy, may by their confluence
To our North Wonder, thy great Name advance.

And, what's to Protestants of better sense,
Make them confess our English Church expense,
And Beauty, equals their Magnificence.

source: James Wright, Ecclesia Restaurata: A Votive Poem to the Rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral (London: Henry Brome, 1677): 4–6. Text modernized by Philip M. Soergel.

the institution that remained England's premiere national academy for scientific research. Appointed to a prestigious professorship at Oxford in 1661, Wren began to dabble in architecture after his uncle, the bishop of Ely, asked him to design a chapel for Pembroke College, Cambridge. Several small commissions followed, but his rise to prominence began soon after the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed more than two-thirds of the City of London, including the medieval core. Within a few weeks of this catastrophe, Wren presented the king with comprehensive plans for rebuilding London. As a result of Wren's travels in Europe, he longed to remake London into a city filled with monuments in the French classical and Italian Renaissance styles. The king and court admired his plans, but decided they were too costly to ever be completed. Wren wanted to demolish much of what was left in London and fill the rebuilt city with grand avenues and broad squares. Charles II instead appointed him to the post of Surveyor General, a position he held for half a century. Like Paris, London had outgrown its medieval core by the seventeenth century, although the area destroyed in the fire had been the center of commerce and of civic and religious life. Eighty-nine of London's almost 100 churches had been destroyed in the fire. Wren's plans for rebuilding included designs for only 51 churches. Thus, his architectural renewal had a long-lasting effect on the city's spiritual life, since his design resulted in an ambitious, but very controversial program of parish consolidation. Today, only a portion of the handsome churches Wren created survive; many were lost in bombing raids during the Second World War while others have been destroyed by terrorist attacks since the 1970s. Still, enough of Wren's achievement survives to point to the vibrancy of his architectural style, as well as its ready adaptability to many different kinds of circumstances.

Wren 's Style.

The architect's crowning achievement was his plan for the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral, a structure that imitates the massive proportions of the Baroque, yet in most respects owes much to the High Renaissance designers Bramante and Palladio. Initial plans had called merely for the repair of the surviving Gothic church at the site. Wren soon realized that the destruction was too considerable to be repaired, and so he planned a central-style church to be constructed in the form of a Greek cross. The canons of St. Paul's, however, reacted bitterly to the design as impractical for the demands of worship. Wren responded by adopting the more traditional Latin cross as the basic shape. The final structure demonstrated his encyclopedic knowledge of the major buildings constructed during the previous century in continental Europe. While much of the flavor of the building derives from the High Renaissance, the building's dramatic sense of energy seems more a feature of the Baroque. This emphasis on drama can be seen in the two-storied portico that Wren designed for the building's west façade. Here he grouped paired columns together, as in Perrault and Le Vau's east wing of the Louvre. As at that structure, he included a central pediment as a culmination point, although he placed this pediment between two bell towers that borrowed from the Roman architect Borromini's plans for the Church of Sant' Agnese in Rome. The dome that rises to be seen through this portico is more than 35 stories high, and its design again shows much indebtedness to continental models, especially to those pioneered by Michelangelo and Bramante. The dome's drum is encircled with a colonnade in the manner of Bramante's High Renaissance Tempietto at Rome (constructed in 1502), while the shape of the structure that rises above it is pure Michelangelo. In short, the building long appeared to many observers as the perfect integration of many Renaissance and Baroque design elements, and for this reason it influenced many other structures in Britain and throughout the English-speaking world. It was the only truly monumental Protestant church to be constructed in Northern Europe during the seventeenth century, although, inside, some of the weaknesses of the union between Protestant theology and monumental church architecture become apparent. Queen Victoria, for instance, dubbed the interior dreary, and many have agreed. In comparison with similar Catholic churches of this magnitude, the absence of gilt and of decoration—rejected by Protestants as too ostentatious and wasteful—makes the interior appear severe. These problems became accentuated over the decades, since the inferior-quality stone of the massive building required that the church interior be painted to hide its flaws. Rather quickly over time, the pristine white walls of the church grew gray with soot, a grime that is only now beginning to be removed by a painstaking process of restoration. Still, the details of Wren's interior show a faithful integration of the Corinthian order as well as other classical design elements. In the long Gothic space of the church, though, these elements prove to be inadequate to sustain the visual interest of most viewers.

Other Projects.

There are a number of other masterpieces among the fifty other churches that Sir Christopher Wren created to replace those burned in the London fire of 1666. At St. Mary Le Bow, for instance, Wren used the church's pre-existing foundation, as he often did in the rush to complete these structures. Since these medieval foundations were of varying height and width, he sometimes imaginatively deployed these irregular spaces in his creations. At Mary Le Bow, he designed his first great steeple, which again made use of the medieval belfry's foundations. Palladian-arched windows adorn the first upper level of the belfry, which is decorated with classical pilasters. Above a round, colonnaded temple, similar to Bramante's famous Tempietto in Rome, supports a smaller second colonnaded structure from which rises a final obelisk as a steeple. Wren's fertile mixing of Renaissance, Baroque, and classical elements as in the Church of St. Mary Le Bow, was for many years one of the most distinctive features of the London skyline. Before the advent of the twentieth-century glass and steel skyscraper, the forest of steeples with which Wren endowed London was one of the city's most recognizable elements. These steeples, too, were widely copied wherever English settlers moved, finding their way into the town squares of villages throughoutNorth America and in places as distant as Australia and New Zealand.


Kerry Downes, English Baroque Architecture (London: Zwemmer, 1966).

John Harris, The Palladians (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1982).

Joseph M. Levine, Between the Ancients and the Moderns: Baroque Culture in Restoration England (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999).

Christian N. Schulz, Baroque Architecture (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1986).

Rudolf Wittkower, Palladio and English Palladians. Compiled by Margot Wittkower (London: Thames and Hudson, 1974).

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Different Directions in England

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