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Vaughan Hart, Inigo Jones: The Architect of Kings (Yale University Press, 2011)

Vaughan Hart, Inigo Jones: The Architect of Kings.  New Haven and London: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2011.  ISBN 978-0-300-14149-8. 336 pp. Hbk. £35.

Reviewed by R. Malcolm Smuts

[1]  This beautifully produced book follows two other important recent studies of Jones, Giles Worsley, Inigo Jones and the European Classicist Tradition (New Haven, 2007) and Christy Anderson, Inigo Jones and the Classical Tradition (Cambridge, 2008). Where Worsley explored Jones’s relationship to the European architecture of his own age and Anderson concentrated on his methods of reading architectural manuals, Hart seeks to elucidate how Jones attempted to reconcile classical principles of design ‘to English tastes and sensitivities,’ (xvii) and how he used architectural language to express the ideals of the Stuart court. Although marred by an oversimplified and unconvincing central argument, Hart’s book offers much of value.

[2]  Until fairly recently scholars have presented Jones as a rigorous Palladian classicist who radically broke with the native ‘neo-medieval’ traditions that had dominated English building before his arrival. We now recognize that this view obscures the complexity of relationships between classical and native elements in early modern English culture and the degree to which contemporaries often treated medieval and Greco-Roman traditions as essentially complementary components of an antique British civilization. Hart’s first substantive chapter explores how Jones’s work emerged out of and fed back into an early Stuart vision of a ‘Protestant ancient Britain’, in which classical architecture, chivalric ideals and a biblically rooted, non-popish Christianity were all assumed to be present. His designs for the re-edification of St Paul’s Cathedral, for example, drew upon an influential study of Ezekiel’s description of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Jesuit scholar Juan Bautista Villalpando, to incorporate presumed Solomonic features, thereby complementing the efforts of the ‘British Solomon’, James I to turn London into the ‘new Jerusalem’ of restored Christianity.

[3]  Subsequent chapters interpret Jones’s use of the classical Orders in relation to contemporary patterns of emblematic thought and the language of heraldry. Hart suggestively remarks that the first rigorous use of the Orders in England occurred on the arches erected for James I’s entry into London in 1604. This helped establish an association between classical pillars and the visual language of royal processions, Hart argues, which Jones attempted to extend through permanent structures he designed on or near the Strand processional route linking Whitehall to the City.  Although in places highly speculative, the development of this point is also provocative and often insightful, especially when Hart returns to the St Paul’s designs, interpreting them as alluding to ancient temples of the Sun and the Moon or Apollo and Diana, allegorical symbols for Charles I and Henrietta Maria.

[4]  Hart is equally good at elucidating the rhetorical and philosophical underpinnings of Jones’s architectural theory through a close analysis of the marginal annotations in the architect’s books. Jones recognized that Vitruvian concepts of architectural ornament and decorum owed a largely unacknowledged debt to rhetorical theories going back through writers like Cicero and Quintillian to Aristotle and Plato. Marginal notes in his copies of Italian translations of Aristotle’s Ethics and Plato’s Republic show him tracing these ideas to their philosophical sources, in concepts like the Aristotelian ideals of magnificence and the virtue of the mean. Jones saw architecture as a rhetorical art and thought of the process of designing buildings as analogous to composing a speech, by working out an underlying structure and appropriate use of ornament to suit a particular purpose.

[5]  But he also shared the bias displayed in the English architectural treatises of John Shute and Henry Wotton against the exuberant ornamentation of mannerist architecture and the more decorative Corinthian and Composite Orders, especially with respect to exterior elevations, which he believed ought to be ‘proportionable, according to the rules, masculine and unaffected’. This attitude often led to an astylar architecture, from which columns and most overt references to the Orders were removed, leaving only an underlying harmonic structure and a few understated ornamental features, such as simple door and window surrounds. But there are a few exceptions, notably the great Corinthian portico Jones placed at the West End of St Paul’s and the Whitehall Banqueting House, which has Composite pilasters and festoons sporting female faces on its upper story. Hart explains these anomalies by arguing that the English associated simple ‘masculine’ architecture with Protestantism and ornaments like Corinthian pillars with ‘effeminate’ Catholicism.

[6]  Unfortunately his evidence for this assertion is thin and impressionistic and in developing his case he needs to explain away seemingly contradictory examples. Thus he explains the largely astylar ‘masculine’ exteriors of Catholic chapels Jones designed for St James and Somerset House as evidence that court Catholics wanted to avoid provoking Puritan opinion, and the comparatively ornate and ‘effeminate’ façade of the Banqueting House, erected by the Protestant James I, as reflective of the King’s policy of tolerating Catholics during the period of the building’s construction. Hart quotes the opening lines of Ben Jonson’s ‘To Penshurst’, criticising ornate architecture, as evidence of a ‘Puritan temperament’ without noticing Jonson’s anti-Puritan satires and erstwhile Catholicism (129). Sebastian Serlio’s advocacy of the masculine Doric Order in churches dedicated to saints Peter and Paul similarly gets interpreted as reflecting ‘Protestant, or rather evangelical sensitivities,’ although Serlio was an Italian Catholic (133). At one point Hart uses a late Victorian painting of a scowling Puritan in an attempt to prove an assertion about Civil War uniforms (131). Straining the evidence to fit preconceived conclusions, he thus erects a simple dichotomous opposition between Puritan and Catholic aesthetics, with conformist Protestants and Laudians aligned at appropriate points along the spectrum.

[7]  But as a generation of historical research has shown, the word Puritan was a highly protean term of abuse in the seventeenth century, applied to people who differed widely in social and cultural background and often disagreed with each other about many religious and political issues. The notion that there was a common Puritan attitude toward Corinthian columns seems implausible and certainly cannot be assumed without detailed evidence. Catholic aesthetic attitudes were also more varied than Hart implies: if many Roman baroque churches were indeed highly ornamented, several buildings erected by the Spanish Habsburgs, such as the Buen Retiro Palace and the royal nunnery, the Descalsaz Real, had relatively austere and mainly astylar facades. Jones’s patron, the Catholic or crypto-Catholic and pro-Spanish Earl of Arundel, was famous for the sobriety and formality of his dress and demeanour.

[8]  Hart is convincing when he argues that for Jones and at least some of his contemporaries, architectural forms possessed moral, as well as rhetorical significance. He may be correct in thinking that many early seventeenth-century English Protestants preferred simpler Doric and Tuscan forms to more decorative Corinthian and Composite styles, perhaps because they associated the latter with Italian over-sophistication and corruption. And he is certainly right to ask why the façade of the Banqueting House seems to depart from the principles of restraint Jones expressed in his Roman sketchbook and displayed in most of his other works. But positing a simple dichotomy between ‘masculine’ Puritan sobriety and ‘effeminate’ Catholic or Laudian ornamental exuberance is no more helpful, in understanding the early seventeenth century, than similarly simplistic contrasts between retrograde medieval and progressive classical styles. We need to move beyond these stereotypes to a more complex and nuanced understanding of seventeenth-century culture.

University of Massachusetts Boston, December 2011