The English architect and designer Inigo Jones (1573-1652) was the most talented native artist in England in the first half of the 17th century. He was responsible for introducing Italian Renaissance architecture into England.
Inigo Jones was born in London on July 15, 1573. Little is known of his early life and education, but between 1596/1597 and 1605 he traveled on the Continent and spent some years in Italy. In and around Venice and Vicenza he observed the buildings of Andrea Palladio, one of the major architects of the Late Renaissance, whose theories and designs had a profound effect on him.
During this period Jones may have worked for a time for King Christian of Denmark. In 1609 Jones traveled in France, and in 1613-1614 he toured the Continent, spending most of the time in Italy. During this Italian sojourn Jones undertook a professional study of Palladio's architecture and architectural theories.
In 1615 James I appointed Jones surveyor of the King's works, an important position, which was essentially that of chief architect to the Crown. He also held this position under Charles I until 1642, when the outbreak of the civil war disrupted court life.
During the reigns of both monarchs Jones designed and produced court masques, elaborate theatrical festivals which were common at courts on the Continent, especially in Italy. Ben Jonson often wrote scripts for the masques, and between 1605 and 1640 Jones worked on at least 25 of these productions. James l's queen, Anne of Denmark, was devoted to lavish entertainment and to the masques, and the tradition was continued in the reign of Charles I.
The masques, in which the sovereigns and courtiers participated, were dazzling spectacles organized around allegorical or mythological themes; they involved music, ballet, and spoken parts and required fantastic costumes, complex stage machinery, and brilliant stage settings. Hundreds of Jones's drawings for the costumes and stage designs are extant, none of which would have been possible without his knowledge of Italian art and draftsmanship. The masques allowed him to exercise an imaginative fantasy which rarely appears in the sobriety of his architectural designs.
Jones was the first professional architect in England in the modern sense of the term, and he turned English architecture from its essentially medieval Gothic and Tudor traditions into the mainstream of the Italian Renaissance manner. He designed many architectural projects, some of them vast in scale; but of the buildings actually executed from his designs only seven remain, most of them in an altered or restored state.
The earliest of Jones's surviving buildings is the Queen's House at Greenwich, a project he undertook for Queen Anne in 1616. The lower floor was completed at the time the Queen died in 1619. Work then stopped but was resumed in 1630 for Queen Henrietta Maria, Charles l's wife, and was completed in 1635. The building is marked by a symmetrical plan, simplicity of classical detail, harmonious proportions, and severe purity of line, all elements that reflected Italian Renaissance sources and constituted an architectural revelation to the English.
The building now most associated with Jones is the Banqueting House at Whitehall (1619-1622). Intended to serve as a setting for state functions, it is a sophisticated manipulation of Italian classical elements and owes much to Palladio. The main facade consists of seven bays and two stories gracefully unified in an elegant, rational pattern of classical columns and pilasters, lightly rusticated stone, discreetly carved ornamentation, and a delicate contrast of textures. The interior is one large double-cube room; its classical severity contrasts dramatically with the richly baroque ceiling containing paintings by Peter Paul Rubens that were installed in 1635.
The Queen's Chapel, Marlborough Gate, completed in 1627, has a coffered barrel vault derived from imperial Roman architecture; it was Jones's first design for a church and the first church structure in England in the classical style. In 1631 he became associated with a city planning project in the Covent Garden district of London and designed St. Paul's Church there. The church, which still exists in a restored condition, is in the form of an austere classical temple with a deep portico and severe Tuscan columns. Between 1634 and 1642 Jones was occupied with extensive restoration of the old St. Paul's Cathedral (now destroyed), which he fronted with a giant classical portico of 10 Corinthian columns. From about 1638 Jones was involved in preparing designs for a vast baroque palace projected by Charles I, but it was not realized.
In 1642 the conflict between Parliament and King erupted in open warfare which swept away the elegant Cavalier court of Charles I, and Jones's world disappeared with it. His last important work was undertaken in 1649, when he and John Webb, who had been his assistant for many years, provided designs for the Double-and Single-Cube Rooms at Wilton House. The architectural decoration of this splendidly proportioned suite of rooms is essentially French in character; the cream-colored walls are decorated with a rich variety of carved and gilded moldings and ornaments to create an effect both opulent and disciplined. Jones died in London on June 21, 1652, the same year that Wilton House was completed.
The most recent work on Jones is Sir John Summerson, Inigo Jones (1966). An older but still useful study is J. Alfred Gotch, Inigo Jones (1928). For an excellent analysis of Jones's place in the history of English architecture see Sir John Summerson, Architecture in Britain, 1530-1830 (1954; 5th ed. 1969). Margaret Whinney and Oliver Millar, English Art, 1625-1714 (1957), is valuable for placing Jones within the context of 17th-century English art in general. J. Lees-Milne, The Age of Inigo Jones (1953), is a useful examination of the artist against the historical background of his period.