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The Queen's House at The Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, UK

Inigo Jones - Renaissance Man

Image Credit: | Above: The Queen's House at The Royal Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, UK

Inigo Jones, today one of the least recognised of British artists, perhaps because of the diversity of his talents, was a man so various that he seemed to be not one, but the epitome of the Renaissance uomo universale.

Philip Howard, London's River

Although Christopher Wren is most famously associated with London's architecture in the Stuart period, Inigo Jones arguably made a more lasting impressing on building style. Jones was the man who introduced the classical architecture of Rome and the Italian Renaissance to Britain, ushering in an age of elegance and classical proportion and harmony.

Born in 1573, Jones, like many educated men of his time, travelled extensively in Europe, bringing back a wealth of ideas. He was especially taken with the work of Italian architect Andrea Palladio.

As Surveyor of the King's Works to James I, one of Jones' most important buildings was The Queen's House in Greenwich. The first fully classical building in England, it was built in the Palladian style (although the main model for it was not actually by Palladio). The house featured a perfectly cube-shaped Great Hall with an impressive black and white marble tiled floor, along with the elegant 'Tulip Stairs', the first geometric self-supporting spiral staircase in the country. Compared with the red brick Tudor buildings that came before, it was nothing short of revolutionary.

Work on the house stopped when Anne became ill and died, then resumed when Charles I gave Greenwich to Queen Henrietta Maria in 1629. It was finally completed in 1635 and is now part of the National Maritime Museum.

Jones also built the New Exchange in the Strand, the Queen's Chapel in St James's Palace and the Banqueting House in Whitehall. The Banqueting House was designed in 1619 and features soaring columns and large windows. It also features huge ceiling paintings by Rubens. Commissioned in 1635, they are the only surviving in-situ ceiling paintings by the artist.

The house was originally used for 'masques' and receptions but, when Rubens' paintings started to show signs of damage, these entertainments were moved elsewhere. The Banqueting House was later the setting for the execution of King Charles I and was the only part of Whitehall Palace to survive the fire in 1698.

Jones' contribution to London's evolving landscape can also be seen at Covent Garden, where he created London's first 'square' in 1630 and designed the church of St Paul. Jones also worked on St Paul's Cathedral, but his restorative works and additions were lost in the Great Fire of 1666.

Jones' trips to Europe taught him not just architectural ideas but also an important new way of building roofs. The innovation was called the king post truss – a central post held up by the rafters which allowed much larger roofs to be built. Later, this idea was extended by Christopher Wren and used in some of his celebrated designs.

In total, Jones designed 49 buildings. Sadly, only seven survive as monuments to his brilliance. His buildings were noted for being cool and sophisticated on the outside but full of colour and drama inside. More importantly, they were boldly different from what came before, introducing a style of architecture to England that is still influential today.

Did you know?

Inigo Jones rose to fame not as an architect, but as a designer, dresser and scene-setter for masques. This popular form of Tudor entertainment was a cross between a ball, an amateur theatrical, a play and a fancy dress party.