European Architecture Series
Inigo Jones

English Architect Influenced by Palladian Architectural Designs.

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Queen's House at Greenwich.
(1617-35) Designed by Inigo Jones.

Inigo Jones (1573-1652)


Background: England and the European Renaissance
Life and Works
Inigo Jones's Architecture
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See: Architecture Glossary.


Inigo Jones was one of the greatest architects in England during the period of early Baroque architecture, and the first to introduce a style of Renaissance architecture, based on the work of Andrea Palladio (1508-80). This style was founded on the values of Greek architecture and the traditions of Roman architecture as outlined by Vitruvius. The strength of Jones's influence can be gauged from the fact that Italian Renaissance art was much distrusted in England, due to its links with Catholic dogma, and that hitherto its influence on English Baroque architects had been minimal. In addition to his architecture - which he only took up in his late 30s - Inigo Jones is noted for his drawing, and his costume and scenery designs for the popular court masques. But it was his architectural skills that gave him significant influence and prestige at the 17th century royal courts of James I and Charles I. Of his building designs, the best surviving examples are the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London (completed 1622), the Queen's House at Greenwich, London (completed 1635) and the Chapel Royal, St James, the first Classical church in London. Jones' influence was to be out of all proportion to the number of his buildings, because of the Palladian revival of the 18th century in both England and America. As it is, he ranks alongside Christopher Wren (1632-1723), Nicholas Hawksmoor (1661-1736), and John Vanbrugh (1664-1726) as one of the most influential designers of his day.

Background: England and the European Renaissance (c.1500-1650)

Although the Tudor royal courts were ardent patrons of works by certain artists, including the portrait art of Holbein (1498-1543) as well as the miniature painting of Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619) and Isaac Oliver (1568-1617), the most important British contribution to the European Renaissance lay not in the visual arts but in science and literature. Shakespeare and Milton, Bacon and Newton were outstanding among many men of letters, poets and philosophers. Visual art, indeed, was regarded with some suspicion, particularly by the increasingly powerful middle classes. This was not only due to Puritan reference for low-key Protestant art rather than the flamboyant and ideological Catholic art, but there was also a popular association of European art with the Roman Catholic Church on one hand, and political absolution and royal prerogative on the other. This neatly bracketed Italy and France, the two leaders in art and architecture, together as undesirable foreign examples.

As a result Baroque art in England continued in a mood of provincial isolationism which was not to be entirely broken until the 18th century. King Charles I tried to establish his court upon European lines. He patronised Rubens and Van Dyck and built up a major collection of European paintings and drawings, and had ambitious plans drawn up for Whitehall palace in a modern monumental style befitting a major European capital. But his political blunders turned almost everyone against him. As it was, the most important artists active in England during the 17th century were limited to the portraitists Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), William Dobson (1610-46) and Peter Lely (1618-80); and the limner Samuel Cooper (1609-72), best known for his series of portraits of Oliver Cromwell. Architecture was a stronger suit, although British designs had no influence on the continental Renaissance.

Life and Works

An essential item in Charles I's program to wrench England out of isolationism and into line with European culture was an ambitious building program. This was entrusted to Inigo Jones (1573-1652), a London-born painter, stage designer and architect. Like a number of educated young men of his time, Jones had travelled extensively in Europe, and had returned full of enthusiasm for the work of Andrea Palladio (1508-80) - the dominant force in Venetian Renaissance architecture - and bearing copies of his books on architecture.

During the early 1600s, Jones was employed by Queen Anne, wife of James I, to provide costumes and settings for the regular court masques, a service he continued to provide even after he began receiving architectural commissions. His first-known building commission was the New Exchange in the Strand in London, designed around 1608 for the Earl of Salisbury. Three years later Jones was appointed surveyor of works to the Prince of Wales, who died somewhat inconveniently in 1612. In 1614, not long after his return from a second visit to Italy, he was appointed to the position of surveyor to the king, a position he held until 1643.

His first important project was to design and build a residence for the Queen at Greenwich. Work began in 1617, but due to her death in 1619 was only completed in 1635. In 1619, following the destruction by fire of the old Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace, Jones was tasked with designing its replacement - a task he completed in 1622. He also worked on the restoration of St Paul's Cathedral, providing a magnificent portico for the west end. As it was the entire building burned down in 1666 during the Great Fire of London.

Following the outbreak of the English Civil War (1642–1651) between Parliamentarians and Royalists, and the consequent seizure of the king's properties, Jones' tenure as surveyor came to an abrupt end. Reportedly arrested by Parliamentarian forces in 1645, but subsequently released, he died in June 1652.

Inigo Jones's Architecture

In his day Jones stood alone in his contact with and knowledge of Italian architecture, both antique and contemporary. Palladio's buildings are severe, elegant and chaste, and Jones followed suit. As a stage designer he had been free and fanciful, but there is nothing theatrical or extravagant about his architecture. In all, he designed less than 50 buildings - on several of which he worked with the virtuoso wood carver Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) - and of these buildings only seven survive. His typical style is seen as being cool and sophisticated on the outside, while more colourful and dramatic on the inside.

The Queen's House at Greenich is typically Palladian in form and proportion, but sensibly adapted to English weather and climate. Its decoration, in shallow engraving rather than sculpture itself, is well suited to the soft grey light. In its unity of design it is deceptively small, looking as if it could be picked up and held in the hand. Jones' plans for a fine palace in Whitehall reveal his inability to plan a large-scale complex of buildings, but interrupted by the Civil War, his plans were never realised.

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