Inigo Jones, Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor, Sir John Vanbrugh: the founding fathers of English classical architecture. Jones brought the classical style to England under the first Stuart kings. Wren, the mathematician, astronomer, and anatomist, turned himself into an architect after the Restoration, and rebuilt London after the Great Fire of 1666. Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh share credit for the English Baroque. Much has been written in celebration of their achievement, and yet much, it seems, remains to be discovered.
Last year, for instance, a gap was filled in the biography of Vanbrugh (1664-1726), the most colorful of these figures: a soldier and a playhouse manager, the author of two comedies which can still be played with success (The Relapse and The Provok’d Wife), he suddenly—and without any apparent training—turned to architecture, and built both Castle Howard and Blenheim Palace.
Nobody had known what he had been up to between 1683, when the wine business for which he worked went bankrupt, and the end of 1685, when, aged twenty-one, he applied to become a soldier. Legend had it that Vanbrugh had been in France, perhaps studying architecture there. An article by Robert Williams disproved this, and provided the surprising answer to the mystery: Vanbrugh had been in India, working for the East India Company at their factory (trading post) in Surat, in Gujarat.1
That a man who wrote and did so much should have left no evidence of his knowledge of India seems extraordinary. But it turns out that Vanbrugh did indeed leave such a clue. Twenty-five years after leaving Surat he addressed himself, as the aged Wren also did, to the question of building fifty new churches in London. This phase of church-building succeeded Wren’s reconstruction of the churches destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. The government plan in 1711 was to provide places of worship for the newer districts of the expanding city, using taxes on coal. Whereas the churches Wren rebuilt were of necessity constructed on their old, often irregular, cramped medieval sites, the new churches were to belong to a new era of city planning.
Wren thought that no expense should be spared in the purchase of ground in well-populated areas, since the “better inhabitants” would contribute to the upkeep of the parish. He thought that the churches should not be too large—a capacity of two thousand would be the maximum. There were theological reasons for this. Whereas “Romanists” might be content simply to hear the murmur of the mass, and see the elevation of the Host, a Protestant church should be fitted as an “auditory”: one should be able to hear the sermon. Wren and his colleague Robert Hooke had studied acoustics, and Wren had found that “a moderate voice may be heard 50 feet distant before the preacher, 30 feet on each side, and 20 behind the pulpit.” Wren had also found from experience in France that:
A French Man is heard further than an English preacher, because he raises his Voice, and not sinks his last Words: I mention this as an insufferable Fault in the Pronunciation of our otherwise excellent Preachers; which School-masters might correct in the young, as a vicious Pronunciation, and not as the Roman orators spoke: for the principal Verb is in Latin usually the last Word; and if that be lost, what becomes of the Sentence?
This plausible linguistic hypothesis (that their grammar would have forced the Roman orators not to drop their voices toward the end of the sentence), linked to observation in France (the one foreign country Wren is known to have visited), to measurements made by Wren himself, to sociological considerations (one needs rich parishioners to support a new church), and to vital theological issues (the Protestant congregation must be able to hear the sermon)—this “joined-up thinking” is typical of the polymathic Wren, the experimental scientist and leading figure in the newly founded Royal Society. In considering the proposed new churches, Wren took everything into account, from the quality of the brick or durability of the stone, to the practicalities of buying out lease-held land, to the essential purpose of the church itself.
Vanbrugh too, in his proposals for building the fifty new churches, establishes principles that are both practical and innovative. Like Wren, and like John Evelyn, he deplores the practice of burying the dead in or near the city church, but he wonders, as Wren also wondered, whether the rich could be persuaded to give up their prestigious church monuments. Here is the eighth of his proposals in full:
8ly. That they may be free’d from that Inhumane custome of being made Burial Places for the Dead. a Custome in which there is something so very barbarous in itself besides the many ill consequences that attend it; that one cannot enough wonder how it ever has prevail’d amongst the civiliz’d part of mankind. But there is now a sort of happy necessity on this Occasion of breaking through it: Since there can be no thought of purchasing ground for Church Yards, where the Churches will probably be plac’d. And since there must therefore be Caemitarys provided in the Skirts of the Towne, if they are ordered with decency they ought to be, there can be no doubt but the Rich as well as the Poor, will be content to ly there.
If these Caemitarys be consecrated, Handsomely and regularly wall’d in, and planted with Trees in such form as to make a Solemn Distinction between one Part and another; there is no doubt, but the Richer sort of People, will think their Friends and Relatives more decently inter’d in those distinguish’d Places, than they commonly are under the Ailes and under Pews in Churches; and will think them more honourably remember’d by Lofty and Noble Mausoleums, erected over them in Freestone (which will no doubt soon come into practice,) than by little Tawdry monuments of Marble, stuck up against Walls and Pillars.
And in the margin Vanbrugh made a note, to which he appended a little sketch. “This manner of Interment,” he wrote, “has been practic’d by the English at Suratt and is come at last to have this kind of effect.” The sketch shows a cemetery enclosed with railings, with a pedimented stone gate and pyramids at the corners. There are towers, domed mausoleums, obelisks, and columns among trees and shrubs. It is a sketch from memory after a quarter of a century, and it is also a classicized version of what he had actually seen in India: it is halfway between a sketch of Surat and a plan for something entirely new in England. The first English garden cemetery was established in Norwich in 1819. Vanbrugh’s sketch and accompanying ground plan date from 1711.
In that ground plan, labeled “Manner of planting the Caemitary,” we see how a six-acre plot may be subdivided by alleyways of trees, illustrating the point that the text insists on: rich and poor must have their own separate areas in the cemetery. Behind all this, no doubt, is a careful calculation. The rich will never give up their highly visible signs of privilege (the conspicuous family tombs in church) in exchange for something that could be remotely mistaken for a pauper’s grave. But the cemeteries Vanbrugh would have seen in Surat arose out of a competition between the English, Dutch, French, and Armenian traders for a display of wealth, and were notable for their use of Mughal forms and details. Robert Williams, in an essay in the admirable volume that he has co-edited with Christopher Ridgway, suggests that while he forbore to emulate the vocabulary and details of Mughal architecture, Vanbrugh, at Blenheim and Castle Howard, remained affected by Mughal concepts of magnificence. Many sketches of what has been taken for garden buildings may in fact have been intended as mausoleums (themselves a new idea in England) on Mughal lines. Williams believes that the Surat cemetery would have had a special emotional significance for Vanbrugh: it seems that relatives of his were buried there.
One might conjecture another sort of significance. Vanbrugh, born in London to a rich sugar trader of Flemish descent, went out to India with a friend in search of a fortune, and a fortune was theirs for the asking if they were prepared to put up with the life of a factory manager (Williams reminds us that Elihu Yale made enough money in Madras to found Yale University with a huge donation in 1718). The question was: Would one survive long enough? Vanbrugh and his friend were valued recruits to the East India Company, but could not be persuaded to stay. No doubt they looked on the English cemetery with a particular personal horror: that was where they would end up, if another epidemic struck. How ignominious such a death would have seemed to the young men—to sacrifice life and youth for the cloth trade. Vanbrugh went home, and joined the army almost at once. It was a better life, and the death it offered might well be tinged with glory.
How fine it would be if someone could do for Inigo Jones what Robert Williams did for Vanbrugh, for it is in Jones’s lost years that the foundation was laid for the education of England’s first architect. Jones was baptized in London in 1573, son of a clothworker also called Inigo—according to Sir John Summerson “an otherwise unheard-of name which the son sometimes latinized as Ignatius but which is almost certainly Welsh.” Contrast this with the opening of Edward Chaney’s essay “Inigo Jones in Naples”:
Given his reputation (as early as 1605) as ‘a great traveller,’ the Spanish-named Yñigo Jones may have visited Spain as well as Southern Italy around the turn of the century.2
This is provocative, not least because Professor Chaney offers no elaboration of his theory that Jones knew Spain, but he may well (most probably does) have something up his sleeve. About the Spanishness of Jones’s name he is surely correct.
Jones is often popularly taken for a Welshman. I lived for a while near the Denbighshire town of Llanrwst, from which his family was supposed to derive, and where he was locally credited (on, it turns out, no evidence at all) with the design of a bridge and a chapel. Wren is supposed to have said that Jones served an apprenticeship to a joiner in St. Paul’s churchyard, in London. Summerson calculates that if this was so he would have finished his apprenticeship in 1594-1595. The missing years, on this calculation, would be 1595-1603, when we find him described as a “picture-maker,” that is, a painter. We know that Jones was in Venice in 1601, when he bought his copy of Palladio’s treatise on architecture (he paid two ducats for it). But how did a London Welshman of modest background acquire the means to travel perhaps for years on end, along with his Italian education in the visual arts and courtly entertainment?
We need a patron, someone to fulfill the role that Giangiorgio Trissino played in the life of Palladio himself (raising him, by education in Rome, from the rank of stonemason to architect). John Harris, a leading authority, puts the matter thus:
We can only speculate on the reasons for Jones’s travels and why this humble-born “painter” should have merited such exclusive treatment and patronage. In Italy he may have attached himself to the circles of Henry Wotton in Venice, and perhaps also to those of the homosexual dandified Earls of Essex and Southampton. Even if Jones’s genius were apparent this early, he would have required powerful friendships to permit him to spend so long in Italy; it might be suggested then that Jones participated in an intimate relationship with his patrons.3
That he, as it were, slept his way to the top? Why not? But, if he did do so, it seems that his having done so was not held against him, or was soon forgotten. Ben Jonson, with whom Jones quarreled after many years of collaboration on masques, wrote four or five poems against him, and included him as a character in a play. Jones is mocked for his humble origins, his pretentiousness, and his treacherousness, but not, as far as I can tell, for having been some lord’s minion.4
To call Inigo Jones England’s or Britain’s first architect is not to imply that he was the first Briton to whom that term was applied. Rather, he was the first to whom the term could be applied in anything approaching the modern sense. His predecessors had been “surveyors,” a term for which the Latin equivalent is supervisor. They did not spend their time measuring land—they were overseers of building projects. They could draw a plan and an elevation (a “platt” and an “upright”) but might leave the detailed work to others. They might know some Latin, but they were unversed in the classical authorities, and had never traveled abroad.
Jones’s education, that mysterious achievement, equipped him to draw figures somewhat after the manner of Parmigianino; brought him a thorough grounding in classical architectural style; and gave him the ability to express this style by means of architectural drawings of a sophistication unknown in Britain at the time. It also made him acquainted with important architecture in various European countries, and established him as an expert on court entertainment. It gave him status at court, and it does not surprise one in the least that Ben Jonson would have found this status hard to swallow, since it was important to Jonson to assert his own professional status. Jonson’s epigram “To Mime,” if it indeed does refer to Jones, is really a complaint that too much attention is being paid to a fellow human being:
That not a pair of friends each other see,
But the first question is, when one saw thee?
That there’s no journey set or thought upon
To Brentford, Hackney, Bow, but thou mak’st one;
That scarce the town designeth any feast
To which thou’rt not a week bespoke a guest;
That still thou’rt made the supper’s flag, the drum,
The very call, to make all others come:
Think’st thou, Mime, this is great? Or that they strive
Whose noise shall keep thy miming most alive
Whilst thou dost raise some player from the grave,
Out-dance the babion, or out-boast the brave?
Or (mounted on a stool) thy face doth hit
On some new gesture, that’s imputed wit?
Oh, run not proud of this. Yet take thy due:
Thou dost out-zany Cokely, Pod, nay, Gue,
And thine own Coryate too. But, would’st thou see,
Men love thee not for this: they laugh at thee.
John Summerson’s book on Inigo Jones was first published in 1966, and it is reissued by Yale with some footnotes and an extended bibliography, together with a very brief introduction by Howard Colvin. It is a short and readable account that leaves one in no doubt that the time is ripe for a full-length biographical study which would see the man whole. From certain recent essays, including the striking one by Professor Chaney mentioned earlier, we can learn a little of how Jones conducted his own education. He acquired the important books, annotated them carefully, and, when possible, compared their illustrations of classical buildings with the originals. In 1609 he traveled to Arles and Nîmes in order to examine Roman buildings there. Five years later he was in the company of the Earl and Countess of Arundel, on their Grand Tour, when he made his crucial acquisition of numerous drawings by Palladio, as a result of which British collections are still rich in drawings by this architect.
Only eight of forty-six known works by Jones survive: the Queen’s House at Greenwich (the first Palladian villa in Britain), the Queen’s Chapel at St. James’s Palace, the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden are the only remaining buildings. Some great projects came to nothing. Charles I had an idea of building a palace at Whitehall which would have been more than twice the size of the Escorial, a building which Jones may have known, either through engravings or that possible trip to Spain. Summerson says of this project, which would have covered most of St. James’s Park: “Had Charles I lived to build it, the new Whitehall would have been a grave and fitting backcloth for the bloodier revolution which it would most certainly have helped to precipitate.”
Although Jones drew figures as if he were a mannerist of an earlier age, he was, as an architect, in favor of a “masculine and unaffected” classicism. Here he is in a unique passage (with its own unique orthography) expressing his thoughts on the ornamentation of buildings:
And to saie trew all thes composed ornaments the wch Proceed out of ye aboundance of dessigners and wear brought in by Michill Angell and his followers in my oppignion do not well in sollid Architecture and ye fasciati of houses, but in gardens loggis stucco or ornaments of chimnies peeces or in the inner parts of houses thos compositiones are of necessety to be yoused. For as outwarly every wyse maåø carrieth a graviti in Publicke Places, whear ther is nothing els looked for, yet inwardly hath his immaginacy set on fire, and sumtimes licenciously flying out, as nature hir sealf doeth often tymes stravagantly, to dellight, amase us sumtimes moufe us to laughter, sumtimes to contemplation and horror, so in architecture ye outward ornaments oft [ought] to be sollid, proporsionable according to the rulles, masculine and unaffected.5
Of Jones’s surviving buildings, the Queen’s House has the exterior simplicity appropriate to a villa; the Queen’s Chapel is modest in scale, however monumental the conception of its classical Roman barrel-vaulted ceiling; the Banqueting House is indeed magnificent without and within, the more so because the existence of this banqueting house would imply an adjacent palace of vast proportions—a palace which may have been mooted under James I, but was never built. Each of these royal commissions under James, furthermore, was strikingly sophisticated and ambitious in comparison with what had been built by his predecessor Elizabeth: that is, practically nothing. (It was the nobility who built magnificently in order to entertain the Queen, not vice versa.)
The fourth of Jones’s surviving buildings, St. Paul’s Church in Covent Garden (1630-1631), was designed for the Earl of Bedford, as part of a scheme, itself entirely novel in England, for an integrated church and square. Here is the explanation of the design of the church, as later related by Horace Walpole:
When the Earl of Bedford sent for Inigo he told him he wanted a chapel for the parishioners of Covent Garden, but added he would not go to any considerable expense; “In short,” said he, “I would not have it much better than a barn.” “Well! then,” said Jones, “You shall have the handsomest barn in England.”
What comes across as a casual piece of banter may well reflect a careful theological and architectural discussion, for the Covent Garden church in question was to be a significant addition to London’s places of worship. It was the first church to be built on a new site, for Protestant worship, in London since the Reformation. As such, it would attract interest and criticism on theological grounds, and when the Earl of Bedford said he would have it not much better than a barn he could as easily have meant that this would be the only appropriate way to build a Protestant church.
Jones, assenting, chose the Tuscan order for his design. He did so undoubtedly because Palladio had stated that this was the purest and simplest of all the orders of architecture. Being quite without ornament, it retained its “primal antiquity.” Palladio explained that because the architrave in the Tuscan order can be made of wood, the pillars can be placed wide apart. This makes it possible to construct a colonnade cheaply (as the Earl of Bedford wanted). It was also very suitable for villas, because carts and farm implements could be brought in. The colonnade at Palladio’s Villa Badoer uses these virtues, and Jones had already imitated it in the design for a brewhouse for King James’s house at Newmarket. So the Covent Garden church, known today as the Actors’ Church, does indeed look like a barn, but a barn as Palladio would have designed it. And one might say that, as a Protestant church, it displays the qualities of architecture in its primal antiquity. It is perhaps our first primitive church.
Quite what the seventeenth century understood by the term “primitive” is an interesting question. Inigo Jones, perhaps the most qualified man in Britain to judge classical architecture, made a striking mistake when he declared Stonehenge to be a Roman construction. Its design, he found on measuring it, was based on four interlocking equilateral triangles, which, on the authority of Palladio’s reading of Vitruvius, he believed to be the layout of an antique type of theater. It may be said that Jones’s mistake looks more vulnerable in Summerson’s account than on closer examination, for Jones had arrived at it by exclusion of some hypotheses much more fantastic: that it was the work of Druids (still the popular theory, although classical authority has Druids worshipping in groves rather than temples), or that it had been transported magically by Merlin from Ireland.
John Aubrey, the antiquarian best known today for his Brief Lives, later checked Jones’s measurements, which convinced him that Jones “had not dealt fairly, but had made a Lesbian’s rule, which is conformed to the stone; that is, he framed the monument to his own hypothesis, which is much differing from the thing it self.”6 (A Lesbian rule, from the island of Lesbos, was a lead mason’s rule which would bend to fit the curve of the stone: hence a somewhat accommodating attitude to the evidence.) But the method Aubrey used in order to refute Jones effectively depended on widespread research. With great pains, Aubrey had collected information from all over the British Isles concerning ancient monuments of the Stonehenge type: stone circles, standing stones, and so forth. From the widespread distribution of such monuments he was able to conclude that they were the product of one culture which had ruled the whole territory. Since neither the Romans nor the Saxons nor the Danes had ever ruled the whole territory, the stones must be prehistoric.
This type of reasoning, the product of the systematic accumulation of evidence, is typical of the work of the Royal Society members in post-Restoration England. If, as a traveler, you arrived in London in the 1660s with stories of, say, Syria or the wilds of Greece, you would find yourself pounced on by various highly intelligent and inquisitive men in large wigs, and whisked away to a debriefing. And these men were the likes of Wren, Aubrey, John Evelyn, and Samuel Pepys. They had a thirst for detail. Had you seen the Seraglio or the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople? How were domes supported in the Syrian churches? Had you seen Baalbec? What remained of Persepolis? What was the design of a Muslim arch? Any recent sightings of the Tower of Babel?
These ruin-bibbers, randy for antique (to borrow Philip Larkin’s expression), were not only, or even mainly, antiquarians. Their subject was the history of all the mechanical trades. They were natural historians, gardeners, mathematicians, magicians, and divines. They were encyclopedists, senders-out of questionnaires, demonstrators of experiments, scientists in the new Baconian mode as well as church disputants, dwellers in the far past to whom great present tasks had been entrusted. When Wren, in the years after the Great Fire of 1666, was reconstructing the City of London, his workers were digging around in the Roman foundations. London was an ancient history to him, and a geology. Ludgate Hill, the street leading up to St. Paul’s Cathedral, had been, he said, a sand dune, like the dunes on the Dutch coast. But there is no way of knowing whether his saying so implies that he had seen the Dutch coast. He might with equal confidence have discussed the Temple at Ephesus, or the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. Indeed, these were the typical themes, for Wren and his circle, of dinnertime conversation.
They were obsessed with Solomon’s Temple, seeking every means to bring it back to life in drawings, engravings, and by means of models. In 1674, Constantijn Huygens, the Dutch virtuoso and translator of Donne, sent a letter to Wren introducing Rabbi Jacob Judah Leon, who had made a model of the Temple which he desired to show in England, by means of which “he doth presume to have demonstrated and corrected an infinite number of errors and paralogisms of our most learned scholars who have meddled with the exposition of that holy fabrick….”
Rabbi Leon’s model was supposed to contradict most especially the engraved reconstructions published by a Spanish Jesuit, Juan Bautista Villalpando, in which Solomon’s Temple comes out looking remarkably like the Escorial (Villalpando was a pupil of the Escorial’s chief architect, Juan de Herrera). One should imagine Rabbi Leon’s model not as something that could be packed away in a traveling case (unlike the souvenir models of the Holy Sepulchre, made in Jerusalem and inlaid with mother of pearl, which Wren mentions7 ), but as an elaborate and extensive structure, the product, as Huygens says, of many years’ work.
Against all odds (for nothing is so vulnerable as an architectural model), a model of Solomon’s Temple from this period (it is dated circa 1680) has survived. Formerly in Dresden, it is now in the Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte in Hamburg. It is twelve feet square, and seems essentially to follow the ideas of Villalpando, imagining a temple of the Corinthian order, in a complex of courtyards.8 No doubt there were several model Temples being lugged around Europe at the time by rival interpreters of Ezekiel and Josephus. Sir Isaac Newton was a Temple theorist. So too was William Whiston, the translator of Josephus and former pupil of Newton, who built his own model of the Temple, which he used to draw audiences to his lectures. 9
This devotion to certain key architectural achievements of the distant past arose from a fascination with the primitive. (Wren speculated at length on the construction of Noah’s Ark and the Tower of Babel, as well as the “Theatre, by the Fall of which, Sampson made so vast a Slaughter of the Philistines, by one Stretch of his wonderful Strength.” And what the word “primitive” meant was the first, the primary example of what-ever was under discussion. Noah’s Ark was the first naval architecture, Wren says. The theater Samson destroyed was an example of the Tyrian order, which was the “first Manner” of architecture.
The Primitive Christians of the late Roman era, who attracted so much attention during this period, were not crude Christians, or wild, war-painted Christians, but simply the first generations of Christians, who might be reasonably supposed to have followed Christianity in its purest form. This would make them worthy objects of emulation, both in their liturgy and in their architecture. But only up to a point, from an Anglican perspective. It would not do to imitate the practices of the persecuted Christians under the last pagan emperors, who worshiped in catacombs and private conventicles, because this type of worship led inevitably to sects and schisms. The early churches were public places to which people went to worship, in public, before all the world, to show what religion they professed, what God they worshiped, and how they worshiped him. The primitive Christians, according to William Cave, “spared no convenient cost in founding and adorning public places for the worship of God, yet they were careful to keep a decent mean between a sordid slovenliness and a too curious and over-nice superstition….” What we see in such passages is an attempt to stop Primitive Christianity, as an ideal, getting out of hand, and undermining the prestige and position of the Established Church.
Wren’s churches were built after the Great Fire of 1666. There were fifty-one of them—more than Wren wanted or thought necessary for the City of London. It is characteristic of the great medieval cities that they had far more churches than later ages required. Thirty-five of the City churches destroyed in the fire were not rebuilt, but the others had active parishes which could not, at the stroke of the pen, be disbanded. Wren compromised (many of the churches were in fact being restored and built by the parishes before he could get around to them), but could not stop the inevitable historical process. Readers of Paul Jeffery’s handbook will see from its extremely useful gazetteer that a large number of the restored churches were pulled down, from the late eighteenth century onward, to make way for road-widening schemes and the like. Then the Luftwaffe firebombed the City, reducing twenty-two churches to ruins. There are now just over twenty Wren churches, in various states of restoration, many of them in the “Square Mile” of the City. But the Square Mile itself is virtually devoid of residents.
Wren was a compromiser: his genius lay in that direction. In Tract V he says:
Whatever a mans sentiments are upon mature deliberation it will be still necessary for him in a conspicuous Work to preserve his Undertaking from general censure, and to aim to accommodate his Designs to the Gust of the Age he lives in, though it appears to him less rational.
The City churches are “rational” in that their language is for the most part classical, and therefore founded, as Wren thought, on the principles of natural or geometrical beauty. But they are nearly all of them eccentric in one way or another, making ingenious use of the ground plan or the space available, and indeed in one case, St. Mary Aldermary, providing an exercise in late Gothic or Perpendicular, with fan-vaulting executed in stucco. True to his ambition to make his churches auditoriums, Wren eschewed the use of altar screens; but when he did provide such a screen it was delicately designed and executed (as is the screen now in St. Margaret Lothbury). “Views contrary to Beauty are Deformity, or a Defect of Uniformity, and Plainness, which is excess of Uniformity; Variety makes the Mean,” Wren wrote, and he continues with this characteristic formulation: “Variety of Uniformities makes compleat Beauty: Uniformities are best tempered, as Rhimes in Poetry, alternately, or sometimes with more Variety, as in Stanza’s.”
If you want to see a parish church built as Wren thought churches should be, then St. James Piccadilly is the one to visit. Outside the limits of the old City, it has enough space for a small churchyard and is clearly sited in relation to the main street. Such churches, with their upper floor of galleries, give a much stronger communal sense to the congregation than do their medieval predecessors, with their chancels and choirs and remote high altars.
If, on the other hand, you want to see a cathedral built the way Wren wanted, the task is more difficult, because Wren was obliged to alter his plans for St. Paul’s in order to escape accusations of Romanism. What Wren wanted to achieve, as it seemed to him, was a domed construction, centrally organized, after the manner of the Hagia Sofia (as he understood it to be): a church on the plan of a Greek cross, with no nave, transepts, and chancel as such. The Great Model (which is unfortunately not on public display) embodies his first modification of that scheme. The cathedral as it exists is a magnificent realization of a compromise between medieval and classical. Lydia Soo’s invaluable edition of Wren’s writings on architecture ends with an account of that compromise.
Hawksmoor was Wren’s assistant in his office, which must be where he received his training. Indeed, of four English architects here mentioned, he is the first one might describe as professionally trained. After 1711, when Parliament passed an act making available the coal tax money that had previously restored the City churches for a new program of fifty new churches, Hawksmoor managed to get the commission for six of the twelve churches eventually built under this initiative. These are the white stone structures that dominate the East End of London.10
They are larger and more imposing than the average Wren church, and yet their architect believed them to be exercises after the manner of the Primitive Christians, and he shows this in particular by the use of plain surfaces and simple geometrical forms. There are many surprises in Hawksmoor’s buildings, discussed in devoted detail by Professor du Prey. The churches, which are mostly on spacious sites, are situated in such a way as to make an impression from the street—they are propaganda in the battle against Dissent, and they are designed to impress. But their liturgical axis, the traditional east-west, might not be the same as their exterior would lead you to believe.
Hawksmoor throws in some very strange details. In three of the designs there are pagan sacrificial altars. In Greenwich we are to imagine that the Primitive Christians took over a basilica or some kind of temple, and shifted these altars outside, like a row of bollards. In St. George’s the altars have been recycled by being hoisted onto the belfry. Most bizarrely of all, in Bloomsbury, the steeple consists of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, topped by a sacrificial altar, topped by a statue of George I. The architect C.R. Cockerell said of this that “Hawksmoor was scarcely sober when he designed it.” But of course he was sober. His mind was full of the wonders of the ancient world, on this occasion not only Halicarnassus but also the Temple of Bacchus at Baalbec. Whether du Prey is right to suppose that Hawksmoor had his tongue in his cheek, I doubt. One does not erect a monument to the King in a mood of levity. But one might get carried away by the force of speculation, and this might be the consequence. Hogarth records what this steeple once looked like, in the background of “Gin Lane.”
October 5, 2000
See “Vanbrugh’s Lost Years,” in The Times Literary Supplement, September 3, 1999. ↩
See Edward Chaney, The Evolution of the Grand Tour (Frank Cass, 1998). ↩
See John Harris and Gordon Higgott, Inigo Jones, Complete Architectural Drawings (Zwemmer, 1989), p. 13. ↩
The character called In-and-in Medlay in the play A Tale of a Tub is clearly Jones. According to Summerson, Charles I himself censored an earlier draft. The possible epigrams against Jones are numbers 115 and 129. The Ungathered Verse, in Ian Donaldson’s 1975 Oxford edition, includes three satires on Jones, numbers 34-36. Lantern Leatherhead, the hobbyhorse seller in Bartholomew Fair, has been thought to be based on Jones, a possibility played down by E.A. Horsman in his 1967 edition. ↩
Cited by John Summerson in Architecture in Britain, 1530 to 1830 (Penguin, 1963), p. 67. ↩
Cited in Lydia M. Soo, Reconstructing Antiquity: Wren and His Circle and the Study of Natural History, Antiquarianism, and Architecture at the Royal Society Ph.D. dissertation (Princeton University, 1989), p. 317. ↩
“In like manner, at this Day, small Models of Wood, garnished with Mother of Pearl, of the holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, are usually made for Sale to Pilgrims and Foreigners.” Two such models passed recently through the London salerooms. ↩
See Hans Reuther and Ekhart Berckenhagen, Deutsche Architekturemodelle, Projekthilfe zwischen 1500 und 1900 (Berlin: Deutscher Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 1994), p. 26. ↩
Educational models of the city of Jerusalem must have continued in use in England during the nineteenth century. In Jude the Obscure Sue encounters Jude while showing her pupils a model of Jerusalem, on display for a penny entrance fee. Sue is not impressed. “I fancy we have had enough of Jerusalem,” she says, “considering we are not descended from the Jews. There was nothing first-rate about the place, or people, after all—as there was about Athens, Rome, Alexandria, and other old cities.” ↩
Saint George’s-in-the-East, St. Anne’s Limehouse, and Christ Church Spitalfields are the East End churches proper, along with St. Alphege’s or Alfege’s Greenwich. St. Mary Woolnoth is a late rebuilding of a city church (mentioned in The Waste Land). St. George’s Bloomsbury is a prominent neighbor of the British Museum. ↩