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English Renaissance - Influences

( Originally Published 1921 )

I. Geographical.—The island influence still continued, as in previous periods (p. 311), to produce those pronounced modifications which stamp all English architecture with an essentially national character. There is therefore no need for further reference to geographical influences, except in so far as their operation was affected, altered or arrested, by other considerations, such as the varying relations of England with Continental powers. Moreover, owing to the distance from Italy, the birthplace of Renaissance, England was the last country to fall under the influence of the new movement which naturally reached this island by way of France and the Netherlands. The friendly relations which, at different times, marked our intercourse with these countries may be seen faithfully reflected in English architecture. The great wars, however, at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century closed Continental travel to Englishmen, and it is a curious coincidence that this period marks the least attractive phase of English architecture. Through-out the nineteenth century a rapid shrinkage of distance was brought about by railways and steamships, while electricity, photography, and other processes of reproduction also contributed in some measure to the gradual reduction of geographical influence.

II. Geological.—This influence has been considered in the Mediaeval period (p. 312), and, as one of the natural influences, it is continuous, and still gives a special character to the architecture of various districts ; though other elements have modified its operation. Timber, for instance, gradually fell into disuse for building purposes, partly on account of its liability to fire, and also because it was no longer so easy to obtain, as the growth of towns and the cultivation of land for the needs of an increasing population had involved the clearing of forests ; but timber was still used in the Elizabethan period, in Lancashire, Cheshire, Shropshire, and other timber-growing counties. Terra-cotta, introduced in the Tudor period, was not much used even for architectural details until recent times. Inigo Jones first made use of Portland stone in his London buildings, and it produces very similar effects, after exposure to the weather, as the stone of Venetian palaces. Sir Christopher Wren also adopted it for his many churches and secular buildings after the Great Fire of London, and it has been largely used up to the present day. Bath stone of the soft oolitic formation, which crosses England diagonally from Somerset to Lincoln, gives a charming character to the manor houses of these districts, just as the hard Yorkshire gritstone, which did not lend itself to carving, caused the adoption there of a plain and unornamented style. The geological map (p. 311) gives a rough indication of the building materials available in different districts. Dutch fashions under William III gave an impetus to the use of red brick with all its warmth of colour, which is so welcome a note in our grey climate, and the manner of its use is perpetuated in the technical term " Flemish bond."

III. Climatic.—The influence of climate was operative in the Renaissance as in former periods (p. 312). When the new style was introduced from Italy, the dull English climate at once began to adapt it to our northern use. In order to admit abundant light, large windows still continued, especially in the early period, in striking contrast to those of Italy. A growing desire for comfort, coinciding also with the more general use of coal as fuel in the reign of Charles I, brought about the introduction of a fireplace in each room ; while chimneys continued, as in the Tudor period, to be prominent symmetrical features of the external design, instead of being disguised as in Italy.

IV. Religious.—Early in the sixteenth century religious controversy was astir in the land, and the Reformation in religion coincided in England with the commencement of Renaissance in architecture. Abuses had crept into the church, and the Popes had failed to deal with them. The constant irritation which had always existed between kings of England and popes of Rome had already been accentuated in England by the attitude taken up by Henry VIII, and the relation of the English Church to the Crown was finally settled by the Act of Supremacy (A.D. 1559) in the reign of Elizabeth. When the monasteries, large and small, had been suppressed (A.D. 1536-40), much of their property was distributed among the courtiers of Henry VIII. Monasteries either fell into ruin or, in a way characteristically English, emerged as national cathedrals ; while others again were cleared away for the erection of country houses, or were even incorporated in the mansions of the new nobility. During this period men's minds were turned rather to Church reform than to church building. Moreover, the great church-building area of the Middle Ages had left an ample supply of churches, and not until the latter part of the seventeenth century was there a renewal of church building. In London especially, the Great Fire gave Sir Christopher Wren an opportunity of exercising his genius in the new style which, from an ecclesiastical point of view, was specially suitable for the preaching which formed so important a part in the Protestant service.

V. Social.—At the time when the Renaissance came to England, not only had new social conditions been created, but national life was rich in every variety of social, artistic, and literary movement. The Renaissance, with its recognition of the inherent human right to the enjoyment of life, appealed strongly to a community which had thrown off ecclesiastical domination and was rapidly developing a free national and domestic life along secular lines. The Wars of the Roses (A.D. 1455–85) had already decimated the old nobility, but expanding commerce was constantly supplying a new class of wealthy merchants and traders to take the place of the former feudal lords. The new men who, as we have seen, had acquired land—often from monastic establishments—now required houses suitable to their wealth and to the standing in the country which their enterprise and success in trade had conferred upon them. These then were the men who were ready to adopt the new style which, in its grandness of scale, exactly suited their ideas. Of this period it may also be said that " knowledge spread from more to more " ; for Caxton, with his printing press at Westminster (A.D. 1477), had brought the hoarded knowledge of the privileged few within the reach of common humanity. The printed and picture book also served to make artists and craftsmen familiar with the plans and details of Classic buildings. An Englishman, John Shute, published the " First and Chief Groundes of Architecture " in A.D. 1563 ; while the great work of Vitruvius, the ancient Roman architect, was also translated and circulated.

Foreign artists, imbued with Renaissance ideas, had already flocked to the Court of Henry VIII, and to these were added, in the reign of Elizabeth, Flemish and German craftsmen, who settled in the eastern counties, and there influenced the style of the new mansions. Finally, the Massacre of S. Bartholomew (A.D. 1572) drove to England many skilled Huguenot craftsmen who contributed to the efficient execution of the new style in their new home. The changed social conditions, together with practical considerations resulting from new methods of warfare and the increasing use of gunpowder, had rendered the fortification of dwelling-houses useless. Thus the ancient castle had given way to the Tudor manor house, which in its turn was developed into the stately mansion of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods. We have already seen the result of the suppression of the monasteries in the foundation of national cathedrals and in the erection of country houses ; and, yet another phase of national and local life, affected by the dissolution of monastic establishments, is seen in the growth of educational and philanthropic endowments. Both Henry VIII and Edward VI had devoted part of the monastic treasuries to the foundations of colleges and grammar schools, and thus some of the monastic funds continued in use for one of their original purposes, but no longer under the special control of the Church. The progressive development in domestic comfort and the increase in hospitality during the reign of Elizabeth (A.D.1558–1603) was responsible for an era remarkable for the erection of those great and commodious. mansions which are still the special pride of England ; nor must we forget that many important building schemes had previously been initiated, amongst which were those of the ambitious Protector Somerset, which were cut short by his execution in A.D. 1552.

During the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth literature bore no small part in influencing national architecture ; for the writings of such literary giants as Spenser, Shakespeare, Bacon, and Sir Philip Sidney, with their constant reference to the themes and traditions of ancient Rome, could not fail to give a Classic tone to the buildings erected by men who were artists in stone as the others were artists in words. In all these combined and simultaneous activities we see a new national art in the making, under the influence of Italian and French Renaissance. During the reigns of James I and his son, English colonising enterprise, which then surpassed that of any other country, led to the expansion of English trade, with a consequent further accession of numbers to the wealthy classes who, following the king's example, lived much in the country and there erected many. stately houses. Though Charles I was a patron of art, the disturbed condition of the country during the ill-starred reign, culminating in the Civil War, arrested the progress of architecture, as exemplified in the abandonment of the great scheme for the projected Palace of Whitehall (p. 71.5). During the Stuart period the English Colonies of North America and the West Indies exceeded all others in importance, and together with Indian and African trade established English overseas prestige. This growing trade also gave increased consideration to all questions of home commerce and a consequent greater importance to the trading classes.

The Bank of England was established in A.D. 1694 ; the economic.. situation underwent a marked change, and the " mercantile system " was concerned in securing a surplus of exports over imports, which naturally resulted in an increase of home manufactures. These conditions also. created a further demand for houses for wool staplers and weavers, who challenged the supremacy of those in France and Holland. Agricultural industry was in a more thriving condition, and pauperism consequently decreased ; while the Settlement Laws of the period helped to equalise:. the poor relief of different districts and to arrest vagrancy. There was a greater sense of security of living, which created, better conditions for general architectural enterprise. It is difficult to realise that as late as the end of the eighteenth century there were still only some five million inhabitants in England and Wales ; while London, with its half-million,. far exceeded any other town in size, and correspondingly influenced public opinion and national policy. Norwich, with its weaving and banking-community, and Bristol with its West India trade and sugar refining, were next in importance to the capital. The increase of population in. London did not, however, induce the City to extend its boundaries, and thus a new town grew up to the westward, which gave a further opportunity to Renaissance architects, in addition to that which had been afforded by the Great Fire in the City in A.D. 1666. The general increase in wealth, the rise in the standard of comfort, and the improved social conditions,, small as they appear measured by the standard of to-day, are all seen in the large number of plain yet comfortable houses which line the streets of many country towns and belong to the Georgian period of architecture.

In the nineteenth century further changes in social conditions are reflected in a breaking away from tradition in architecture, and many minds turned restlessly for inspiration to past styles, which they applied to the new buildings required for the various needs of an increasing population. Nineteenth-century developments are referred to later (p. 763).

VI. Historical.—Henry VIII had been firmly established on the English throne, and the security of his position at home enabled him to interest himself in affairs on the. Continent, and his famous meeting with Francis on the Field of the Cloth of Gold in A.D. 1520, with all its. resplendent accessories, resulted in attracting foreign artists to his court, and they largely determined the manner of the adoption of the Renaissance style in England, alike in architecture, sculpture, and painting. Henry VIII was on friendly terms with his brother monarchs, but would brook no interference from Rome with his royal prerogative. He handed on this legacy of political and religious freedom to his son, Edward VI ; but the position was temporarily changed during the reign of Mary, who, through her marriage with Philip II, was much under Spanish influence, though it did not extend much beyond her own immediate surroundings. A similar foreign influence had been at work in Scotland, and there French architectural features were popularised, as at George Heriot's Hospital, Edinburgh (p. 433), owing to the alliance of Francis and Scotland under James IV (A.D. 1488-1513).

The accession of Elizabeth brought in widely different elements, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada (A.D. 1588) not only marked the decline of Spanish power in Europe, but also further established the independent position of England, and gave an extended scope to her national genius, both in politics and art. The patriotic outburst occasioned by the challenge of Spain and the defeat of her Armada found material expression in the splendid mansion-building of the period ; and the dominating note in architecture was domestic, rather than military or ecclesiastical.

The Stuarts brought England into closer touch with the Continent, more especially with France and Italy. James I was not only a disciple of the new learning, but was also a patron of Inigo Jones, the great English architect who studied in Italy and introduced the Palladian Renaissance into England, notably in his design for a new royal palace at Whitehall. Charles I inaugurated a period marked by an amazing intermingling of intrigue, politics, and war, when the King found himself embroiled both with France and Spain. These conditions were depicted in architecture, painting, and the minor crafts, which were fostered by the fine artistic sense of the King, but the Civil War arrested progress in all forms of art. The Commonwealth, with the social upheaval consequent upon a new form of government, together with the reaction represented by Puritanism, overshadowed general historic influences. It was essentially a period when the connection between England and the Continent was marked rather by the power of Cromwell in asserting the position of England than by the operation of foreign influences upon English art. Charles II had lived at the court of Louis XIV, and there imbibed French ideas in art, which were introduced into England at the Restoration and continued in force till the Great Rebellion and the flight of James II (A.D. 1689). William of Orange brought over those Dutch influences which were so long predominant in English domestic architecture. He introduced into his new kingdom those substantial red brick houses, with the formal gardens and water-ways which make up the landscape of Holland, and which form such conspicuous features at his Hampton Court Palace. The later Stuart period had seen the carrying trade of the world transferred from Holland to England, while English victories over the French, followed by the Peace of Utrecht (A.D. 1713), secured to England the chief trade of Europe and made her rich enough to build up a navy which gave her supremacy at sea, both over France and Holland. England still depended largely on the manufactured products of those countries, but Huguenot weavers from France helped our workmen in the towns to develop their industries, and engineers from Holland taught our agriculturists to convert swampy fenlands into corn-growing country. Thus there was an increase in general prosperity which naturally produced a still further demand for more and better dwelling-houses.

The reigns of Queen Anne and the four Georges saw Dutch influence on architecture gradually anglicised, and the houses that were now built were of that convenient and comfortable type known as Queen Anne and Georgian, well suited to the needs of the increasing middle classes, both in town and country.

The French Revolution (A.D. 1789) was the outcome in one country of a spirit of revolt general in all countries, which in England led to the breaking up alike of stereotyped social conventions and of continuous tradition in architecture, and this resulted, during the nineteenth century, in that revival of past styles which is the special characteristic of modern architecture.

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