Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Renaissance Architecture in C17 and C18 London

The last several days have been wrapped up in this:

The Impact of the Renaissance on the Architecture and Urban Planning of 17th and 18th Century London

As England grew in power and esteem over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, London, its capital city, physically transformed in response. Renaissance ideas of architecture from fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy, which had already been adopted around the European Continent, found increasing favour in London, as the former town began to assert itself as one of the world’s great cities. The architecture that evolved in Europe at the end of the Middle Ages drew on ancient Rome’s laws of proportion and architectural features. This mixed with a desire “to create a modern, enlightened, Christian architecture,”[1] producing Renaissance Classicism.

According to John Summerson, in London, “taste was a luxury import from abroad.”[2] However, by 1600, “England was the only major European country to which an Italian architect had not been called to design a building.”[3] Taste for Renaissance architecture came to London at the beginning of the 17th century, when there were noblemen and artists in the royal courts who had visited Florence, Milan, and Venice and finally became interested in building Italian buildings in England. Over the following two centuries, Renaissance ideas would transform the face of London.

For purposes of discussion, the two centuries of architectural history can be crudely broken into three distinct periods defined by events and personages. The first period extends from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the Great Fire of 1666. The second period follows Christopher Wren’s career from the rebuilding of London to the turn of the century. The third period constitutes the bulk of the eighteenth century. Within all of these are myriad important events and people, but none are as important in this context as the Great Fire and Wren.

Similarly, buildings influenced by Classicism can be divided into four categories: churches, halls of livery companies and municipalities, houses of ordinary people, and great houses of the Crown, aristocracy, and gentry[4]. To varying extents, but over every one of the three periods, Renaissance ideas of architecture and urban planning changed how all of these types of buildings were built until, after two centuries, the physical appearance of London was dominated by Renaissance style.

The Seventeenth Century to the Great Fire of 1666

At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Renaissance architecture was almost entirely foreign to London. There were a few instances of Classicism in London. Sir Thomas Gresham, the Queen’s agent in Antwerp, was impressed by the Antwerp Exchange and built the Custom House (1559) and the Royal Exchange in Cornhill (1566-1570) with designs and materials from Flanders[5]. The first man to truly bring Italian Classicism to England, however, was Inigo Jones, and he defined this period. In 1615, after his second visit to Italy, he became Surveyor to the King. Summerson writes, “He knew, probably, more about Italian design than any Englishman living.”[6] His main influence was Andrea Palladio (1508-1580), whose style he brought to London[7]. However, “Jones’s influence did not really take hold of English architecture till nearly a century after his most important works were finished.”[8] When the Civil War removed Charles I from power, it also removed Jones from his job.

Great Houses in the Early Seventeenth Century

Kings James I and Charles I both had appetites for Classical architecture, and Jones worked under both of them. Two of Jones’s major projects were the Banqueting House at Whitehall in 1622 and the Queen’s House at Greenwich Palace[9]. Charles was interested in bringing Italian architecture to the suburbs of London as well, so he built a large house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1640[10]. Lindsey House, as it was known, is a distinctly Jonesian design, though its builder is unknown. “It became the classic statement of the form which a London house-front should take.”[11]

Churches in the Early Seventeenth Century

Inigo Jones was less active in ecclesiastical construction. Churches during this period were undergoing many repairs, which were done both in Gothic and Classical styles[12]. Jones advised the rebuilding of St Michael-le-Querne in 1638-1640, but “his advice appears to have been less than welcome.”[13] At the centre of one of his main works, the Covent Garden Piazza, was St Paul’s. He designed this church on a “big Italian scale,” like a “noble Tuscan temple.”[14]

Houses in the Early Seventeenth Century

The impact Jones had on London houses would not be seen until much later. Ordinary houses made up the bulk of the city, but were not ornate or designed by architects. Aristocrats, who brought in Classicism, lived on the fringes of the City,[15] and the designs of Jones were “neither comprehensible nor particularly welcome to the normal Englishman.”[16] However, Jones’s Piazza at Covent Garden would be the inspiration for the many squares built in London years later. The idea for a square was distinctly Renaissance. The Earl of Bedford, who built the Piazza, probably had the Parisian Place des Vosges in mind when he commissioned Jones[17].

Halls of Livery Companies and Municipalities in the Early Seventeenth Century

Jones did not contribute much in Classical style to this type of building. Though the trading companies were having a great impact on England, Bradley and Pevsner write, “Special architecture for the great new trading companies does not at first seem to have been necessary.”[18] One notable project was a collaboration with Nicholas Stone on the Goldsmith’s Hall (1635-1638), where he employed “Artisan Mannerism” designs from the Italian architect Serlio[19].

Rebuilding After the Great Fire to the Eighteenth Century

The Fire that burned down 13,200 houses, 436 acres, or five sixths of the City[20] allowed one of England’s most notable architects to reshape the city with Renaissance ideas. Christopher Wren, an Oxford professor of astronomy turned architect, spent 1665 and 1666 visiting Paris, looking at buildings and meeting architects, some Italian, and he came back inspired with Renaissance ideas of architecture[21]. Charles II, a great admirer of Louis XIV[22] made Wren royal architect in 1669, and Wren became the “leader of English architecture” for an unprecedented sixty years[23]. He developed a brand of Classicism termed “English Baroque” that became more widely adopted than Jones’s Palladian[24]. Although Wren’s urban plan for rebuilding the City, a Baroque scheme that would have radically changed the City layout, was rejected in favour of keeping the old plan[25], Wren turned most types of building architecture sharply towards Classicism during this period.

Churches in the Rebuilding Period

Only 22 out of 107 London churches survived the Fire. Wren was made part of the Royal Commission for rebuilding and, in the Rebuilding Act of 1671, was put in charge of rebuilding 51 of the churches and St Paul’s Cathedral. Here, Wren tried his hardest to implement Renaissance ideas, many of which were carried out. All of the churches were rebuilt in a Classical style. Wren’s churches gave London its steeple-studded skyline. By 1701 there were many more tall spires than before 1666[26]. The steeple designs were extremely varied, drawing mainly from Classical sources like Borromini and Baroque but also Gothic ones[27]. However, Wren’s original imagination put the churches at the ends of vistas or in piazzas, visions from the Renaissance, but none were[28].

Wren’s masterpiece was the New St Paul’s Cathedral, but it was built with much frustration on his part. Wren’s Great Model (1673), which was inspired by St Peter’s in Rome, was based on a Greek Cross design and had a large dome, was rejected. His Warrant Design (1675), very similar to the Old St Paul’s, was approved but had a tall spire over a low dome and a long cross floor plan[29]. Wren, as part of his goal of equalling Rome and Paris, later reinstated the dome, a “Renaissance innovation,” making Renaissance architecture the fixture of the London skyline for centuries[30].

Halls of Livery Companies and Municipalities in the Rebuilding Period

Nearly one hundred halls were rebuilt in the City, and, unlike the churches, their designs were not guided by a commission and usually not done by architects[31]. The masons and carpenters used much Classical detail, but “made little contribution to the development of London architecture.”[32] Wren worked with Edward Jerman, the City Surveyor, on rebuilding the Royal Exchange, which carried Flemish influence from Gresham[33]. Wren and his fellow scientist-architect, Robert Hooke, added a 202 foot fluted Doric column to the London cityscape as a monument to the Great Fire[34]. He also worked with Nicholas Hawksmoor on the Royal Hospital at Chelsea (1682-1683), inspired by Louis XIV’s Hôtel des Invalides[35].

Great Houses of the Rebuilding Period

The Rebuilding Period saw the construction of some pieces of art, but the great houses were “generally of poor taste” in the City[36]. Many of the large houses were built in the West End, including Berkeley, Burlington, Clarendon, and Montagu Houses, but with “uncertain style” and “vernacular roughness.”[37] Between 1689 and 1694, Wren rebuilt Hampton Court for William and Mary with a “touch of Versailles.”[38] Sutcliffe calls Wren’s work on the palace at Greenwich one of his “greatest masterpieces.”[39] Wren designed the Royal Observatory (1675-1676) and Royal Hospital for Seamen (1692), both at Greenwich, in his English Baroque style[40].

Houses of the Rebuilding Period

Unlike the other buildings, houses were essentially untouched by Wren and other architects. By the end of 1973, most of the houses[41], 8,000 of them[42], were rebuilt, largely thanks to Lord Southampton and Nicholas Barbon. Southampton was responsible for bringing building leases, arrangements whereby landowners lease land to speculators to build on, to London. His system became “the basis of all future development of the sort.”[43] Southampton also built Bloomsbury Square, launching “a new town-house style destined to dominate London”[44] in the form of the many squares that followed. The square formed a “residential unit, a kind of village,”[45] and the houses standardized vertical living. Barbon was “a master speculative builder”[46] who “was active all over London.”[47] His specialty was leasing palaces along the Strand, tearing them down, and replacing them with affordable housing. He also built squares, markets,s and lawyers’ chambers across London. Barbon’s success was no victory for Renaissance architecture either, as Barbon built simple, three to four storey “box houses”[48] with “the same simple but stylish ornamentation”[49] exampled by Gray’s Inn Square.

The Eighteenth Century

There was no definite event or person cleanly separating the seventeenth from the eighteenth century, but by the end of the seventeenth century the frenzied rebuilding was essentially over and many other architects joined Wren in influencing London architectural trends. In the early eighteenth century, John Vanbrugh, Nicholas Hawksmoor, and others brought a short-lived “Baroque interlude,” drawing on “full-blooded Baroque” particularly from Italy[50]. Before the half-century, London experienced a “Palladian Revival,” turning back to the architecture of Jones,[51] when several books showing Palladian design were published in London. In particular, there was a profusion of squares built with Jones’s Piazza and Southampton’s Bloomsbury as models, urban plans with the Renaissance at their heart.

Churches in the Eighteenth Century

Church building was not what it had been during the “Wrenaissance,” but the Church Building Act of 1711 put up several notable Classical churches[52]. The Act called for the construction of fifty churches, but only twelve were built. Hawksmoor, who had been Wren’s senior assistant and who Sutcliffe calls the “best-trained architect of his day,”[53] was the chief architect of the project. Hawksmoor designed six of the twelve churches in his Baroque style that was “as eloquent as anything by Borromini.”[54]

Great Houses in the Eighteenth Century

The large houses built in this period show the return of Palladianism to London. In the early part of the century, the Venetian architect, Giacomo Leoni, published a translation of Palladio’s Four Books of Architecture, and the Scottish architect, Colin Campbell, published Vitruvius Britannicus, a portfolio of mainly Palladian drawings. Many of the drawings were of Jones’s work. Consequently, the aristocracy returned to building in the Palladian style. The Earl of Burlington rebuilt the Chiswick House with a design inspired by Palladio’s Villa Rotunda[55]. Sutcliffe calls the House “the best of the Italian Renaissance.”[56] Burlington, an Italian enthusiast, built another house at Piccadilly based on Palazzo Porto-Colleoni at Thiene that impressed the rest of the aristocracy[57].

Halls of Livery Companies and Municipalities in the Eighteenth Century

Baroque and Palladian styles also dominated the building of big new halls in the eighteenth century. The rebuilding of ancient hospitals became the “most charitable enterprise in eighteenth century London,”[58] and they were built in a mixture of Baroque and Palladian. The “chief architectural events” before 1760, according to Summerson,[59] were the building of Mansion House, a Corn Exchange, and the first Bank of England, and all three were built in Classical styles. The Mansion House and Corn Exchange were both designed by George Dance the Elder[60]. The Mansion House displayed “monumental Palladianism”[61] to the City.

Houses in the Eighteenth Century

The eighteenth century produced a standardized town house for London and many squares in which people began living. The Georgian town house arrived in the early part of the century, which populated the cityscape but was not particularly Renaissance inspired. The verticality of the town house differed from Continental taste. However, Palladian exteriors dominated the houses built from the 1730s to 1760s[62]. By the eighteenth century, it was particularly fashionable to build houses in squares following the example of Jones’s Covent Garden. St James’s Square was possibly the most fashionable of them all[63]. It was, however, because of the Adam brothers that “town living became stylish.”[64] They built London’s “finest riverside building,”[65] Adelphi, in a “Neo-Classical” style[66]. Rasmussen calls it “a fantasia upon antique motifs.”[67] The building housed both the upper classes and their servants[68]. By the end of the century, “no house was built in the West End that did not bear some mark of Robert Adam.”[69] Though London was not exactly Rome or Milan, the mark of the Renaissance was across the city for all to see and live in.
When the nineteenth century came, London was one of the world’s most important cities, and it looked the part. The art of Palladio, Serlio, and Borromini could be found in all types of buildings and in any locale. Clearly London did not look exactly like an Italian city, nor could it pass for a French one. London was not a pretender; over two centuries it developed its own architecture out of Renaissance ideas. In the ashes of the Great Fire, London made a quick, triumphant comeback, remaking itself with the best Renaissance ideas it could. Though it forwent the chance to drastically remake its street plan and realize a vision of a completely Renaissance city, Renaissance ideas were the driving force behind the many changes in architecture that came with London’s rebuilding. Those ideas gave London English Baroque churches and the dome atop St Paul’s. The ideas persisted through the eighteenth century during London’s rise to the forefront of the world. They blended in with the Georgian town house and characterized London’s biggest building projects of the age. The impact of Renaissance ideas of architecture and urban planning can be much more easily understated than overstated. London did not look like the Continent. At the dawn of the nineteenth century its face was mature, unique, and handsome.

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