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The Inigo Jones Period

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



1620-1660

AS shown in Chapter X, the mansions built from 1620 to the end of the Commonwealth were of two distinct types—those still designed in the early Renaissance style of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, and those that sprang from the genius of Inigo Jones or his followers. It is somewhat difficult at the outset to realise that such buildings as Hatfield House and Whitehall Palace were built within ten years of each other, of such a different conception was the work of Jones to that of any other contemporary building. From the beginning he broke right away from the jumbled and loose ideas that characterised the work being produced, when he commenced his task of raising English architecture from the decline into which it was falling during the reign of James I.

His wonderful success in creating in England an elevated and purified school is all the more remarkable, when one considers the adverse conditions that prevailed towards the end of his life. The civil war all but terminated artistic activities, and the national temperament during the Commonwealth period was anything but favourable to any serious development. To realise fully the difference between his school and the early Renaissance work, it is necessary to understand the conditions under which it was produced. The craftsmen employed by Inigo Jones worked always to his original plans. Every detail was thought out by him. That they were not always carried out exactly to his ideas is a debatable point, but the craftsman was not allowed to execute his task in accordance with the dictates of his own fancy as under the old system. The latter course was obviously impossible for such advanced ideas as those of Jones. His designs not only revolutionised the general scheme of the interior, but the details themselves were vastly different in feeling. The workers were thus freed from the necessity of originating the design, and all that was required of them was to perfect their technique. This probably accounts for the gradual refinement of the craftsmanship during the 17th century.

Of the work of the period in existence today but little can be directly attributed to Inigo Jones himself. Many rooms commonly attributed to him were probably carried out by his followers, although it is likely it was from the master that the original inspiration came.

It was in Italy that Jones derived his knowledge of the Italian Renaissance as set down by Palladio.

Although this knowledge formed the basis of his work, he was in no sense a copyist. His buildings in England were quite of an individual character, and not merely the transplantation of the Italian Renaissance. He returned from Italy in 1614, when his chief occupation at first seems to have been that of designing the masques.

Perhaps one of the most striking features of his exteriors, when compared with those of the contemporary buildings, is their forceful opposition to any exuberance of ornamentation. He relied chiefly upon his fine sense of proportion. In his interiors, however, he allowed more licence in their degree of splendour, but they were always on a strictly ordered plan. A salient feature of his rooms, resulting probably from his Italian studies, was his preference for marble, stone, or plaster for his material in place of the more national use of wood. The latter was the chief form of wall covering used by the Jacobean craftsmen, and was essentially in the nature of a clothing rather than a constructional necessity. The use of panel-ling certainly gave an effect of warmth and comfort, and in the British climate was in many respects more suitable than the rather cold impression given by stone or marble. In cases where Jones used woodwork, it was often painted to convey the impression that it was some other material.

The hall at Raynham Hall, Norfolk (Fig. 52), is a good example of Jones's work, and forms a striking contrast to the contemporary halls built by the purely Jacobean craftsmen. It should be compared with the hall at Hatfield House, shown in Fig. 31, which is a few years earlier in date, and is a typical Jacobean building. The general atmosphere at Raynham is stately and dignified, but cold. It seems far more suited to the entrance hall of a public building than that of a country mansion. The proportions are fine, and the whole is a wonderful creative effort. Of its type, it is perfect, but it fails to create a feeling of comfort and homeliness like that produced at Hatfield. Rooms such as this were the direct outcome of Jones's intimacy with Italy, which, apart from being his source of inspiration, had a climate to which spacious and cool treatment was essentially suited.

The character of Raynham is purely architectural. The pilasters are of the classical Ionic order, and are superimposed by an entablature which runs continuously round the hall. The walls are of plaster, and the wooden doors and their framing are painted white to match the whole. The treatment of the doorways with their classical pediments is particularly noteworthy. The ceiling is very rich and dignified, and has none of the inconsistent exuberance of the characteristic Jacobean ceilings. Enlarged portions of the decorative details are given in Fig. 53.

The next illustration (Fig. 54), at Wilton House, Wiltshire, forms a good example of the sumptuous embellishment with which Jones often treated his interiors. The pictures with which the walls are decorated form a necessary part of the decorative scheme, and are inset with large panels. The modelled pendants between the latter, the decoration in the frieze, and that at the tops of the panels are of composition, and are picked out in gold. The painted ceiling is a striking departure from the traditional plasterwork. The combined effect of the white walls, with their gilt decoration, the portraits, and the painted ceiling, is extremely rich. Ceilings were often painted by the leading painters of the period, and a wide field for decorative treatment was thus opened.

A in Fig. 55 is one of the large pendants between the panels, and shows the human mask and the heavy bunches of fruit and floral work. Jones avoided an over-naturalistic treatment in all his detail. It was essentially imposing, still and impassive. A panel heading is shown at B in which the human mask is repeated with swags of fruit and leafage at either side. The rich treatment of the cornice and frieze is shown at C. Great importance is given to both the fireplace and the doorway, which are of large and stately proportions.

Jones had two notable followers—namely, Webb and Pratt. The latter had also studied in Italy and returned to England in 1647; he was responsible for many interior schemes of decoration. Webb was designing buildings soon after the accession of Charles I. His designs followed closely upon the teaching of Inigo Jones. It is evident that much of his work was inspired in the first instance by the older architect, for whom he acted as assistant. He was in many respects a more national designer than Jones, and delighted in panelling, and this, although designed to be in keeping with Jones's principles, was really a retention of the traditional customs of England. His schemes of panelling, however, were vastly different to those of the early Jacobeans. In place of the small, regular, and usually rectangular panels with intermittent pilasters, the scheme he adopted was of a more architectural character. The panels were very large, and a dado was usually introduced. The wood was usually left in its natural state, especially when, after the death of Ingo Jones in 1652, he relied purely upon his own initiative.

The general tendency as the century progressed was to give a structural appearance to the interior, whether the walls had a lining of panelling or not. The Elizabethans had used panels of such a width that they could be cut from a log without the necessity of joining them. Too wide boards could not be used without the risk of their warping. A glance through the interiors shown in this book will reveal the opposite tendency during the 17th' century. The panels were often of tremendous size, and were joined in two or more pieces to obtain the necessary width.

The dining-room at Thorpe Hall, Northamptonshire (Fig. 56), is a happy example of Webb's work after the death of Inigo Jones. The walls are entirely panelled in oak left in its natural state, and when compared with the white plaster used by Jones seems far more suited to the English climate. The arrangement of the panelling should be compared with that at the Jacobean mansion of Quenby shown in Fig. 35. In the latter the panels, _which are small and regular, are carried uniformly down to the floor, and the whole is the direct result of an endeavour to provide a covering to the walls by the most obvious method.

At Thorpe, the scheme has been carefully designed. A dado is provided, and the door and fireplace form an harmonious part of the scheme. The panels are large, and those flanking the doorway have imposing headings consisting of a cornice and frieze. This is shown in closer detail at B, Fig. 57. The doorway, which is particularly fine, has a similar heading, but has heavy swags of fruit in the frieze hanging from the central console and the whorled scrolls at the ends. The architrave is broken at the sides near the top, and has half pilasters to support the overhang. A in Fig. 57 shows these details, while C shows one of the centre panels of the double doors. The overmantel has the small centre panel between the scrolls, such as that in the panel heading B, Fig. 57. The main centre panel is now occupied by a mirror. The plaster ceiling is in many respects similar to the designs of Inigo Jones.

The system of house-planning used by the Palladian designers was on very different lines to that of the Jacobean builders. The mansion was usually either oblong or square in plan, and the hall formed simply an entrance place, although a great deal of attention was given to its decoration. In some cases the staircase was built in the hall, as at Coleshill House, Berkshire, in which the staircase is double, and rises in broad flights on opposite sides of the hall and joins a gallery immediately facing the entrance. Great importance was given to the staircase during the 17th century. In some cases the panelled balustrading similar to that at Ham House (Fig. 50) was used by the Palladian designers, the general tendency being to replace the scrolled strapwork or the heraldic devices or the martial motifs as at Ham, by scrolled acanthus leafwork. The principal staircase at Thorpe Hall is of the latter type, and was designed by Webb.

A similar staircase, also designed by Webb, is that at Thorney Abbey House, Cambridgeshire, and illustrated in Fig. 58. It will be noted that the hand-rail is still mortised into the newel, the universal method of the Jacobean and Elizabethan craftsmen, but the capping moulding is widened at the newel over which it fits. A, Fig. 59, shows this detail more clearly. This was the general tendency about the middle of the century, and the ornament surrounding the newel was eventually completely discarded. The newels were still of. generous proportions, and the use of turned balusters came into general favour. The Thorney staircase bears a strong resemblance to that at Cobham Hall, illustrated in Fig. 59, B, excepting that the latter has no capping over the newel, and is thus rather reminiscent of the Jacobean type. The secondary staircase at Thorpe Hall is also very similar, and has the capping above the newel as that at Thorney. All three staircases have the scrolled support at the foot of the newel.



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