Renaissance architecture in England
The elderly Inigo Jones, the first architect to bring Italianate Renaissance architecture to Britain, is reckoned to have had a hand in this country house, particularly the dignified south facade, with its central Venetian window and pedimented corner towers (a trick Jones had borrowed from the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio, and others borrowed from Jones). Behind that central window is a grand state room of solid Renaissance proportions – it is called the double cube room – but dripping with proto-baroque ornament, all gold leaf, carved foliage, painted ceilings and Van Dyck portraits. The window is off-centre, which Jones would surely never have allowed.
Before Henry VIII altered and expanded it to match his girth, the original Hampton Court marked the first shift away from the gothic and towards the fashionable Renaissance style – even if no one in Italy would have recognised it as such.
Cardinal Wolsey imported Italian sculptors to add some Florentine flourishes to the original palace, and probably laid out the sprawling complex according to genuine Renaissance principles of geometry and symmetry.
With Inigo Jones, Britain at last at last gets to grips more than a century late with the principles of Italian Renaissance architecture, rather than just copying the decoration.
This is the first properly classical building in England, and its rigorously ordered facades must have made the sprawling Tudor palace of Whitehall around it (which burned down in 1698) look like a botch-job. Those once-radical patterns of pedimented windows divided by columns and pilasters are still synonymous with sophistication today – testimony to the building's influence. The interior is less restrained, with the Rubens ceilings the climax.
The telltale signs of the Jacobean (1603-1625) can be seen creeping in here: the curvy Dutch gables suggest the new Flemish influence, and the facades are generally busier than in Elizabethan (1558-1603) times, mixing brick and stone and incorporating classical elements such as Doric columns. It's no less fancy inside, with an ornately carved wooden staircase and plasterwork ceilings. Designed by Robert Lyminge, this was the home of the Boleyn family – Anne's headless ghost supposedly still haunts it.
Jones transplants an Italian villa to Greenwich, and plants the seed of Palladianism in the process. This plain, regular, white-painted block, indebted to, but not directly imitating Palladio, must have looked terribly unfashionable in frilly Jacobean times. Instead, its prestige was expressed in proportion and restraint – new benchmarks of taste for Britain. The exterior relates to the interior, for example – something of a novelty in British architecture up to this point – and the rooms are classically pure: the fabulous double-height central hall is a 12m cube.
This lavish affair is proof of both Elizabethan England's more international outlook and its growing number of architectural dilettantes. Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's well-read chief adviser, doubtless had a personal hand in the design, which nonchalantly mixes a host of styles. The tower in the centre of the courtyard, for example, looks like a French triumphal arch, but with a very English bay window stuck on to it, all capped by a Flemish-looking obelisk and adorned with the three main classical orders on different storeys. A monument to Burghley's knowledge, if not his restraint.
Originally the centrepiece of the fourth Earl of Bedford's ambitious property development – hence its cost-cutting modesty. "I would have it not much better than a barn, " Bedford told Inigo Jones, who modelled it on the no-nonsense Tuscan order. Jones planned the whole area along Italian lines, in fact, with a large, public piazza in front of the church, lined on two sides by arcaded houses. Today only the church remains.
The classic, half-timbered style that launched a thousand 20th-century "Tudorbethan" eyesores rarely reached Moreton's levels of artistry back in the day, but this fairy-tale edifice testifies to the continuous prosperity and experimentation of the era. Construction of the moated manor house was begun in 1450, to a familiar medieval technique – an oak timber frame resting on stone footings, filled in with wattle and daub.
But that technique was tested to its limits by extensions and additions over the entire Renaissance period, to the extent that the weight of the upper storey and roof caused the lower floors to sag. The gradual growth also explains the irregular plan and clashing patterns of the framework, and the Renaissance touches that appear here and there, in the carvings and the fireplaces.
"Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall", as the saying used to go, and for a nation more used to wattle-and-daub huts, the huge windows of Hardwick must have seemed like an exotic fantasy.
The Italian influence is most obvious in the classical-looking loggia – a roofed, open gallery – over the front entrance. But mason, surveyor and "architector" Robert Smythson's complicated layout includes a central, two-storey great hall at its heart and separate floors for public and private uses. The "ES" initials of Smythson's powerful patron, Bess of Hardwick, are set into the stonework of the towers like a precursory corporate logo.
Owner Charles Cavendish was clearly not to be outdone by his mum, Bess of Hardwick (see Hardwick Hall). This unashamedly romantic edifice began the British tradition of "sham" castles, built for picturesque rather than defensive purposes, and over the top inside and out. Cavendish even employed John Smythson, son of his mother's architect Robert.
You'll need a black belt in jargon to describe some of these features – is that a mix of banded and vermiculated rustication on those corbelled columnar shafts?
Nine years younger than Shakespeare, Jones is often described as the first English classical architect. The reality is slightly more complicated, as Elizabethan architects before him were influenced by classical architecture. But there is no doubt that Jones was decisively different. He went to Italy and studied the work of Andrea Palladio at first hand, and his detail and proportion followed classical precedents far more closely than any that had gone before. His surviving works are relatively few. He designed the Queen's House in Greenwich, straddling the muddy road where Sir Walter Raleigh did his thing with the cloak. He laid out Covent Garden Piazza, the first formal square of its kind in Britain, and designed the church of St Paul there, the "finest barn in Europe" with its sturdy Tuscan portico. He created the Banqueting House in Whitehall, as a celebration of the Stuart monarchy, from whose balcony Charles I would exit to his execution.