Jones Introduces Classicism to English Architecture

Well into the seventeenth century, English architecture was dominated by the native Tudor and the Gothic Flemish styles. London first encountered a new style between 1619 and 1621, when craftspeople under the direction of the royal architect Inigo Jones built the Banqueting House for Whitehall Palace in Westminster. The first classically influenced Renaissance building in England, it effectively introduced classicism, or Palladianism, to English architecture.

Summary of Event

During the later fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, many aspects of Italian Renaissance culture were introduced into England and became incorporated into British life. Despite this general cultural trend, however, English architecture and architectural tastes remained largely untouched during the Renaissance. Both noble and royal palaces followed the eccentricities of what is often called the Tudor-Gothic style, characterized by rambling construction in brick or half-timbering that sported medieval turrets, towers, spires, gables, crockets, and finials. Stonework on these buildings was rare, and when present it was quite Gothic in style and technique. [kw]Jones Introduces Classicism to English Architecture (1619-1622)
[kw]Architecture, Jones Introduces Classicism to English (1619-1622)
[kw]English Architecture, Jones Introduces Classicism to (1619-1622)
[kw]Classicism to English Architecture, Jones Introduces (1619-1622)
Architecture;1619-1622: Jones Introduces Classicism to English Architecture[0790]
England;1619-1622: Jones Introduces Classicism to English Architecture[0790]
Banqueting House at Whitehall
Jones, Inigo

Some new public buildings, such as Thomas Gresham’s Royal Exchange in the City of London (1567), and private palaces like Somerset House (1550) were inspired by late Gothic and Northern Renaissance Flemish models. Indeed, craftspeople had to be imported from Antwerp to build the Exchange, so strange was this new style to English workers. John Shute’s The First and Chief Grounds of Architecture (1563) introduced readers to some of the classicizing decorative elements and details that characterized the Italian Renaissance style, but it contained no formal analysis of either classical or Italian architecture and espoused no coherent theory of architectural form. Some English Renaissance buildings contained classical bits, but these isolated elements were sporadic and often seemed out of place in the context of the building as a whole. The very notion that a building might be designed by someone other than a carpenter or a master mason was completely alien to the English: Indeed, the word “architect” appeared in English for the first time only in the mid-sixteenth century.

Inigo Jones Jones, Inigo is widely regarded as the first classical English architect and the one who initiated English Palladianism Palladianism, English . He was the son of a cloth worker and is said to have been apprenticed to a London joiner or carpenter as a young man, although little is known of his early life. By the age of twenty-six, though, he had left his home country, and he traveled through northern Italy between 1599 and 1603. In Venice and nearby Vicenza and Padua, he would have been able to visit the villas and churches designed by the great Vicentine Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio Palladio, Andrea . In many ways, Palladio’s work, both in stone and on paper, was the culmination of the revival of classical architecture that began in the mid-fifteenth century with the efforts of the Florentine Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472).

Both Alberti and Palladio studied and imitated the classical Roman architect Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (fl. first century b.c.e.), whose De architectura (after 27 b.c.e.; On Architecture, 1914) proved an important model to generations of Renaissance and Neoclassical architects and patrons. They also studied classical structures, or their ruins, and portrayed them—and their own ideas—in their treatises, Alberti’s De re aedificatoria (1485; Ten Books on Architecture, 1955) and Palladio’s I quattro libri dell’architettura (1570; The Four Books of Architecture, 1738), a copy of which Jones purchased in Venice for two ducats.

Inigo Jones.

(Library of Congress)

A visit to France in 1609 allowed Jones to study Roman architectural remains at places like Nîmes, and in 1613 and 1614 he accompanied Thomas Howard, earl of Arundel, on a tour of Italian cities, an early version of the continental Grand Tour. On this trip, he befriended the Italian architect Vincenzo Scamozzi, Scamozzi, Vincenzo a student of Palladio. Given its role in embedding the classical ideal in Jones and providing him with experience and models from which to build, the historian of the Grand Tour, Edward Chaney, wrote that Jones’s was arguably the most important one ever taken.

Once he returned from the Continent full of ideas, Jones needed a patron and a project, and he found both in London. England’s King James I James I (king of England);arts and and his court resided in Whitehall Palace in Westminster, outside London proper. Early in his reign, it had become customary to sponsor one or more extravagant court entertainments known as masques Masques each year. These included music, dancing, and panegyric speeches written by the likes of Ben Jonson and George Chapman, as well as elaborate sets and costumes. Jones began designing the sets and costumes of the Jacobean court masques in 1604.

The masques were performed in the palace’s banqueting hall, a large ceremonial chamber first built during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. This decrepit timber structure was demolished, and a new, grander one in brick and timber was completed in 1609, perhaps according to a plan by Jones. The hall’s interior was open in the center with galleries on three sides. Following classical principles, Doric columns held up the galleries, while the higher Ionic order was employed in the interior. The banqueting hall burned to the ground on January 12, 1619.

As a result of the fire, Jones got his chance to design and construct a fully Palladian building. The king required a new banqueting house, and Jones had been appointed surveyor of the King’s Works in late 1615, a position that placed him in charge of all royal construction. James I had no particular taste in architecture, though he may have been impressed by Jones’s Palladian designs for the Queen’s Palace at Greenwich and the new Star Chamber, neither of which was completed. The sale of two English port towns in Flanders provided the roughly £2,000 needed for construction, so Jones had virtually a free hand. The first function held in the new Banqueting House was a reception for the Knights of the Garter on April 21, 1621.

Palladio’s mature version of classical architecture was based upon clear order, mathematical proportion, functionality, and clean lines, and Jones incorporated all of these elements into his new hall. He designed it as a Roman basilica with the proportions of a double cube, 55 by 110 feet (17 by 34 meters). Like its predecessor, it had a cantilevered gallery around three sides, leaving one end open for the king’s throne. The Ionic order was used on the ground floor, while the higher Corinthian appeared above. He left the ceiling flat with compartments into which Peter Paul Rubens’s Rubens, Peter Paul famous ceiling would be inserted between 1634 and 1638.

Due to later remodeling, little else is known about the building’s original interior, although it was probably thoroughly whitewashed, both to aid in nighttime illumination and to provide a neutral backdrop for the Raphael-inspired tapestries that adorned the walls. The exterior featured clean lines of simple stonework and pilasters whose capitals echoed the orders used inside. Simple garlands topped each second-story window, and an equally simple balustrade crowned the street-front façade. All of these features signaled the arrival of a new architectural style at the very heart of the kingdom. Surrounded by the Tudor-Gothic buildings of Whitehall, the Palladian Banqueting House seemed thoroughly out of place: It was a sign that the king and his architect planned further changes to London’s principle royal residence.


The royal plans to continue rebuilding Whitehall were never realized. Despite being the only Palladian building in the palace, however, the Banqueting House served as an impetus for the application of classicism to English structures from garden pavilions to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Initially, the Banqueting House struck many as odd, since the English retained a largely medieval aesthetic that could not appreciate the beauty inherent in its classical form and elements. Moreover, the hall soon became a symbol of royal decadence in a very Puritan city: It was no accident that Parliament chose it as the site of the execution of Charles I in 1649.

Nonetheless, the Banqueting House and several buildings inspired by it survived the Puritan Commonwealth to become models for Restoration, Baroque, Georgian, and Neoclassical designs well into the eighteenth century. The effects of Jones’s embrace of the classical Roman and Palladian Renaissance styles rippled through the plans and buildings of such outstanding architects as Sir Christopher Wren, Nicholas Hawksmoor, James Gibbs, Thomas Jefferson, and John Soane.

Further Reading

  • Jones, Inigo. The Theatre of the Stuart Court: Including the Complete Designs for Productions at Court. 2 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973. Contains sketches and drawings by Jones of costumes and sets for many of the court masques held in the Banqueting House during the rule of James I and Charles I.
  • Leapman, Michael. Inigo: The Troubled Life of Inigo Jones, Architect of the English Renaissance. London: Review, 2003. Detailed biography of Jones that concentrates on his masques.
  • Palme, Per. Triumph of Peace: A Study of the Whitehall Banqueting House. London: Thames & Hudson, 1957. Classic study of the building and its famous ceiling.
  • Strong, Roy. Britannia Triumphans: Inigo Jones, Rubens, and Whitehall Palace. New York: W. W. Norton, 1981. Expanded version of lectures, primarily on the Banqueting House ceiling and Jones’s role in its Solomonic imagery and design.
  • Summerson, John. Inigo Jones. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. Nicely illustrated short study of Jones’s architecture.
  • Worsley, Giles. Classical Architecture in Britain: The Heroic Age. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995. Places Inigo Jones’s introduction of classicism in the context of later developments in English architectural classicism.

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James I; Inigo Jones; Ben Jonson; Peter Paul Rubens; Sir Christopher Wren. Banqueting House at Whitehall
Jones, Inigo