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Inigo Jones (1573-1652) English architect and designer

England's first major architect and designer introduced into his country the classical architecture of the late Italian Renaissance.

Inigo Jones was born in London on July 15, 1573, the son of a Smithfield clothmaker. Sometime between 1600 and 1603, he is known to have visited Italy (possibly sponsored by the earl of Rutland), principally staying in Venice, but also attending theatre events at the Medici court in Florence. There he was greatly influenced by the architecture of the Romans, especially as adapted by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio, afther whom the style Palladian was named.

King Christian IV of Denmark induced him to leave Italy and accept an appointment at the Danish Court. Buildings are named both in Italy and Denmark as having been designed by Jones, but seemingly without proof.

A long association with the English court as a theatrical designer and an architect began in 1605 under British King James I and continued through the reign of Charles I. Jones designed fantastic settings and costumes for dozens of the elaborate court entertainments called masques, some of which he even wrote himself. At royal request, Jones also wrote a book entitled Stone-Heng Restored (sic) in which he reaches the astonishing conclusion that Stonehenge was the remains of a Roman Temple of the Tuscan order.

In 1615 Jones took the post of Surveyor General of royal buildings and began to design royal houses. A major work was the austere Queen's House in Greenwich, London (1617). His masterpiece 'though was the Banqueting House (1619-22) in Whitehall, London, a setting for formal banquets and court masques, and it was based on the design of a Roman basilica. The building was for many years the home of the Imperial War Museum, but now it has been restored to its original purpose as a venue for state occasions.

Jones introduced town planning to London in 1630, designing and constructing Covent Garden, including St. Paul's Church and its square. The restoration of St. Paul's Cathedral (1634-42) was another of his major projects, which had great influence on Sir Christopher Wren, who reconstructed the cathedral after the Great Fire of 1666.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642, Jones was forced to flee London because of his associations with the Royalists. He then built other houses in the country. Especially regarded as outstanding was his advisory work on Wilton House, near Salisbury, which was built from 1649 to 1653, although this is now believed to be the work of his pupil and nephew James Webb.

Jones's later days were filled with adversity, and he died worn out with grief and disappointment in London on June 21, 1652. He was buried in the chancel of St. Benet's in Paul's Wharf.

Inigo Jones’s use of Italian Sources

Inigo Jones was trained as a 'picture maker', and it was in this capacity that he was brought to the attention of the court of James I. His scenery and costume designs evoke the baroque style, which was fashionable at the time. He travelled on the continent in 1598, and visited the countries of France, Germany and Italy, probably with Lord Roos, the brother of the Earl of Rutland. It is possible that he stayed in Italy until 1603, when he returned to England via Denmark. The insights into Italian theatre and culture gained during his stay in Italy helped his career as a picture maker, working for King Christian IV of Denmark, before returning to England in 1603. When he returned to England, he worked as the royal masque designer with Ben Johnson for Christian’s sister, Anne of Denmark, wife of King James.

Designs of this period show an understanding of Italian architecture, rendering typical street scenes with an accomplished grasp of perspective, then almost unknown in English theatrical designs, but commonplace in Italian theatre. It was at this stage in his career that Jones made his first architectural designs under the patronage of the Earl of Salisbury, Sir Robert Cecil. One example of these early designs was for New Exchange on the Strand (1608) , but Jones’s design was rejected in favour of one by the Surveyor to the Crown, Simon Basil. Jones’s design was transitional, containing elements of both the prevalent Jacobean style and the classicism all’ antica that he was to later adopt completely. The skyline used lanterns in the Jacobean style, but the lower storeys are more convincingly classical with a central serliana, or Venetian window.

In recognition of Jones’s work on the court masques, he was appointed Surveyor to the Prince of Wales, Prince Henry, in 1610. Henry appointed many classically-orientated artists and architects to design masques and gardens. However, the death of Prince Henry in November 1612 scattered the collective expertise of the artists and architects, and a possible classical architectural revolution was put off.

But in February 1613, Princess Elizabeth married Frederick V, and a royal party went to Heidelberg with the couple, arriving in June 1613. Inigo Jones was chosen to go as the travelling companion of Thomas Howard, 2nd Earl of Arundel, who lead the travelling party. The plan was that Jones would accompany Howard as a guide for a Grand Tour to last until 1615. He was chosen because of his previous visit to the continent and his knowledge of Italian. The tour encompassed Padua, Venice, Vicenza, Bologna, Florence, Rome and Siena, as well as Turin, Genoa and Paris on the way back to England. During their stay in Venice, he met with Vincenzo Scamozzi, then just two years from death. Jones brought with him his 1601 edition of Andrea Palladio’s I Quattro libri dell’architettura and compared Palladio’s drawings with the villas built in and around Vicenza, making copious notes in the book. Howard shared and encouraged his enthusiasm, purchasing many original drawings by Scamozzi and Palladio. On return, Howard kept two chests, probably by Scamozzi and passed to Jones the drawings by Palladio and some by Scamozzi. As well as the drawings, they brought back paintings, sculptures and miniatures, as well as books on art and architecture.

The collection of Palladio’s drawings that Jones had acquired supplemented and surpassed the woodcuts in the Quattro libri, and provided the catalyst and sustainer of the neo-classical movement in England that Jones had initiated. It was a constant source of information and inspiration as the collection passed between various promoters of the classical style for more than a century. The advantage of the collection was that as it contained preliminary drawings as well as the finished plans it provided a view of the workings of the design approaches used by Palladio. The beginning of English Palladianism can be counted as 1615, when Jones returned to England, to find that Simon Basil had died, and Jones was appointed the new Surveyor General of the King’s Works. However, a fully formed classicism didn’t start immediately, it took Jones time to assimilate and digest the information obtained during his tour.

In the year of his appointment as Surveyor, Jones began work on a house for Queen Anne, the Queen’s House. It was on the site of an old gatehouse, which straddled a public road, so the design had to accommodate that. It appears that from surviving drawings that the design approved had two porticoes, facing north and south, and that on the end elevations the road was bridged at first floor level with a depressed arch and a Venetian window above. When the Queen died in 1619, no more work was carried out, until Charles became King in 1625, and the building was transferred to his wife, Henrietta Maria. The work so far had only reached the top of the rusticated base, so Jones took the opportunity to carry out some revisions to the original design. The Palladian statuary from the roofline was omitted, and was replaced with a simple balustrade, reinforcing the rectangular shape of the front elevation. The curved windows were removed, apart from the central window on the north front. The design changed from being less Palladian to becoming more academically classical. The Queen’s House bears no direct resemblance to any house by Palladio, Jones was concerned to revive the spirit of antiquity through architecture and any resemblance in his buildings to Palladio’s designs is a by-product of their common admiration for the antique. But, it is worth noting that the south front of the house resembles the inverse of the Palazzo Chiericati in Vicenza. The loggia on the Queen’s House is in the same position on the frontage as the covered section on the Chiericati. Jones didn’t intentionally copy the Chiericati, but the proportion of the loggia to wall must have come from Palladio’s Quattro libri. As the house was not completed until 1638, Jones had had time to digest and refine his ideas formed during his Grand Tour. The house is an extraordinary performance in antique revival, the quattrocentro idea of a Roman patrician villa, brought to the Thames, subjected to the full rigour of Palladio and Scamozzi, and resolved into such a serene and simple statement that it might easily belong to 1816 as 1616. Jones provides England with a vision of neo-classicism that can be compared to Le Corbusier’s visions of Modernist living that appeared in Paris in 1922, with the Citrohan houses.

The other vision of neo-classicism built by Jones during this period is the Banqueting House in Whitehall. This building uses a rusticated base with small, square windows, and above that two superimposed orders, Ionic below and Composite above. The three central bays are emphasised by half- and three-quarter columns, while the side bays have pilasters, doubled at the ends. The columns, although applied to the wall surface, have entasis, and the Ionic frieze is pulvinate, both features characteristic of Palladio’s ornamentation. Early designs had a central pediment, but this was abandoned in the final design. The interior is a double cube, not of Palladio’s ‘perfect’ 60 x 120 feet, but he used 55 x 110 feet. He seems to have had a somewhat ambivalent regard for the mystical value of numbers. But a possible reason for this difference is that

‘The Vicentine is more than our English foot by 2 inches or one 6th part and the inch is more than an inch by 6th part, all the designs in this book are measured by this foot’*
Put more simply, the Vicentine foot is 14 English inches long, so 6 Vincentine feet = 7 English feet. Jones attached great importance to the use of a repeating module throughout a design, and his plans are controlled by obvious geometrical figures such as the square and triangle, and principal rooms may be cubic – or double cubes, as with the Banqueting House. At the Banqueting House, Jones used a module derived from the column diameters of the orders, a practice encouraged by Scamozzi (in Book VII of the Idea). Even the size of the rusticated blocks is governed by this module. This careful control was originally enlivened by the use of different colours of stone. The rusticated base was of a honey-coloured Oxfordshire stone, the same stone used for Blenheim Palace, the upper walls and orders were of a darker brown Northamptonshire stone, and the balustrades were of Portland stone. This polychromic effect was lost as the darker, softer stone deteriorated, and gradually, the entire building was refaced in Portland stone, the white limestone we see today, by Sir John Soane in 1829.

The internal structure also called for a change in English building techniques, because of its size and the requirement that it should have a flat roof, traditional hammer-beam methods couldn’t be used, so an Italian method was used instead. This method was described in Barbaro and Palladio; it used a system of continuous horizontal ties supporting a system of triangulated timber members above, which resulted in a very low external pitch and a flat roof inside. Because of the introduction of these innovations, there was no previous model in England for Jones’s workmen to refer to, so Jones had to re-educate them in the Italian building methods he wanted to use. It seems that the Banqueting House was meant to be part of a larger whole, because it has no proper end elevations and no staircase, except for a temporary affair jutting out to the north. But it isn’t until 1638 that we hear of a plan to completely rebuild Whitehall. That was an ambition of Charles I, and if the seeds of the plan existed in James’s mind in 1619, there are no documents to confirm the fact. The possible reason is that James had very little money to spend on large building projects.

Under Charles I, a plan was made to restore St. Paul’s Cathedral, with Jones as the architect. It was paid for by subscription, but money was not immediately forthcoming apart from the King, and the money saved by William Laud, Bishop at St. Paul’s. Eventually, the project got underway, among trouble at the Portland quarry, and resistance from the people whose houses were being cleared from next to the cathedral. By the time work finished in 1642, the whole exterior was renewed, except for the central tower, and the interior was almost untouched, except for careful replacement of mediaeval masonry. The most dramatic change was the addition of a massive portico, rising some 56 feet to the top of the entablature, the biggest portico this side of the Alps, easily matching the Pantheon in Rome. The portico was topped with statuary in the Palladian style, of James and Charles among the Saxon kings.

Jones partly based the façade on Palladio’s reconstruction of the ‘Temple of Venus and Rome’. The significance of this was that Charles wanted to reinforce his ‘divine right’ message, and the Papacy claimed that Rome was the new Jerusalem, as the capital of the Christian world. By making London into the new Rome, Charles was aiming for London to rival that claim. But the advent of the Civil war and the execution of Charles I stopped these plans.

Inigo Jones used his Italian sources to great effect, promoting the Italianate style in what was at that time an England still dominated by the Gothic style of architecture. He has been rightly credited with reviving the skills of Palladio and Vitruvius, by using their treatises on architecture to find a personal style of pure, academic classicism. This style would dominate English architecture right through to the 19th century. During the reign of Charles I, England saw a complete, radical conversion to continental, specifically Italian standards of taste. Rubens painted in Whitehall, Van Dyck settled in London, and Inigo Jones introduced Italian style into architecture for the first time since the Roman occupation. Jones didn’t copy specifically from Palladio and Scamozzi, he absorbed their knowledge on his tours of Italy, and developed his own ideas of how to use the classical forms and rules, and apply them to buildings for England. It can be argued that Jones’s Classicism is closer to the ideals than Palladio’s, Jones sticks rigidly to the rules of proportion and the allowed forms, while Palladio takes the opportunity to develop the rules and forms into something aesthetically pleasing, but not strictly in proportion. Jones redefined architecture in England, and re-introduced the splendour of the ancient world.

*footnote from Jones’s copy of I Quattro libri


D. Watkin, A History of Western Architecture, 2000

R. Wittkower, Palladio and English Palladianism, 1974

J. Summerson, Inigo Jones, 1966

A. Palladio, The Four Books on Architecture, (English Translation MIT 1997)

J. Harris & G. Higgott, Inigo Jones: The complete architectural drawings, 1989

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