This superbly argued revisionist study of Inigo Jones examines the architect’s work in the context of Stuart-era religious tensions, writes Timothy Mowl
Timothy Mowl, Sunday, 1st January 2012
Inigo Jones: The Architect of Kings
Yale University Press, £35
This is the third of a trio of architectural monographs by Vaughan Hart, a professor of architecture at Bath University. Hart has been tracking backwards, from the early 18th century to the beginning of the 17th, to produce revisionist studies of three major architects of the period: two heavyweights of the English Baroque, John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor, and Inigo Jones, the man who introduced Vitruvian classicism to England. Building upon the work of Kerry Downes and Giles Worsley principally, Hart has revisited the work of Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, taking a fresh perspective on the influence of the ‘ancient wonders’ and nascent neo-Palladianism in their oeuvres. Now comes his new interpretation of Jones’ use of classical proportion and the Orders of architecture as signifying ‘a public expression of court policy and self-image’, as well as being, paradoxically, ‘consistent with the Puritan artistic sensitivities of Stuart England’.
Given Hart’s predilections for subvert-ing the received wisdom on these innovative architects, we must now expect a large monograph on Christopher Wren. Who knows what new insights that might present? Certainly, Hart is one of the more intellectually challenging of contemporary architectural historians; he is very much in the mould of Joseph Rykwert. He has obviously been influenced too by the work on Andrea Palladio and Leon Battista Alberti by his former Bath colleague Robert Tavernor, and also by John Onians’ seminal book: Bearers of Meaning: The Classical Orders in Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Inigo Jones – The Architect of Kings is a brilliant and demanding study that needs to be read as much visually as textually, for the 284 illustrations often do as much as its closely reasoned text and scholarly footnotes to enable the reader to judge its propositions. Inigo Jones, though obscure in his biographical details, lies like a clasp upon that historic knot in English history when the religion, constitution, and building style of the country were all being decided. That a commoner – essentially an interior decorator, costume and masque designer, impresario and ambitious courtier – should have become more influential in national affairs than his king, his queen or the archbishops of the Church of England requires much measured and detailed explanation.
Hart’s revisionist polemic is delivered in a preface and introduction that set out clearly his overview of Jones’ importance and impact; this is balanced against the opinions of previous writers – Sir John Summerson, Michael Leapman, Edward Chaney, Christy Anderson and Giles Worsley – whose contributions to the debate are all acknowledged. Then follows a summary of the five-chapter format: ‘Protestant Ancient Britain’, ‘The Orders as Emblems of Royal Triumph’, ‘Heraldry and the Orders of Chivalry’, and the last two chapters in which Hart explains what will become the angle of his Jones monograph (which he expressly states is not intended to be a biography): ‘the concept of the columns as “bearers of meaning”, and what they might have signified to Jones in his unique role as Royal Surveyor’. Where art, architecture, sculpture and their 17th-century symbolism were concerned, Jones appears to have been the authority. Both King Charles and his French queen, Henrietta Maria, seem to have been putty in Jones’ obsessively confident hands.
The essential message of Hart’s thesis is that Jones’ architectural innovations, particularly those on the west front of Old St Paul’s Cathedral, were the straws that finally broke the camel’s back of Protestant patience (Fig. 1). For the English, a church had to be designed in the Gothic, or at the very least, Tudor-Gothic style. Conversely, for Jones, real architecture had to be pure, simple, correctly proportioned and classical – the all’ antica style that he had studied closely on his tours to Italy – but supported by the royal authority of columns with their varied symbolism of the five Orders: feminine Corinthian and Ionic, confusingly imaged Composite, masculine and reassuring Tuscan and Doric. The precise ornamentation and exact dimensions of the Orders were Jones’ religion of style.
But what Jones did not fully appreciate, according to Hart, is that this classical simplicity would come to be interpreted by neurotic Protestants as the Catholic style for church architecture. To apply a forest of Corinthian columns to the public entry of London’s beloved cathedral was the religious equivalent of spitting on the altar. Even more tactlessly, Jones put two life-size statues of the Stuart monarchs – James I and Charles I – on top of that entrance, thus linking the crown with Catholicism and the loathsome fires of Smithfield. Add to that the challenge of Queen Henrietta Maria’s personal and outwardly austere show of the all’ antica style in the Queen’s Chapel at St James’ Palace (Fig. 2), a hotbed of Catholic worship, and the Protestant conscience was fully alerted.
Each new ‘Catholic’ simplicity that Jones designed was an affront to Protestant faith and loyalty; each new design was innovative and disturbing for all its brilliance. For Hart the king was himself the pillar of the state and the classical column of the Laudian-Caroline revolution was a thrust into the very heart of the English way of life. According to the antiquary, William Dugdale, statues of the Catholic Saxon kings, intended to flank those of James and Charles on the entrance loggia, were actually set up on the internal choir screen at Old St Paul’s, thus symbolising further, royalty as public image.
Jones, much travelled in Italy, never quite appreciated the role he was destined to play with his costumed masques, proud process-ions, pillared palaces and, above all else, his proportioned simplicities. Paradoxically, his austere Vitruvian classicism, which has hitherto been associated with a conscious minimalism in his later works, is argued here to be both in tune with the Puritan times and also part of that Catholic iconography emblematic of the Stuarts, which would lead eventually to Charles’ execution. This elegantly produced and cogently argued book will call for some rethinking of the visual history of the Stuart Court and Jones’ role in it as Master of Ceremonies.
Timothy Mowl is Professor of History of Architecture and Designed Landscapes at the University of Bristol.
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