Inigo Jones

Many people walk down Whitehall today and pay little attention to the Banqueting House on the corner; it seems to blend in amongst all the other buildings, all similar in design. Some of our visitors even say that they walk straight past it not knowing where the entrance is. However, what many people do not realise is that most of the buildings along Whitehall have imitated, copied and paid homage to the Banqueting House’s style. Why? Because it was arguably the most revolutionary building of its time. When completed in 1622 with its three coloured stone exterior, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the Tudor brick buildings of Whitehall Palace, no one knew how to react. It was so new, people did not know whether they liked it or not. The Banqueting House would play host to the most exuberant and decadent performances of the Stuart age, the Masque, it would be the place where the institution of the British monarchy would change, and be the site of one of the most shocking events of the Stuart era – the beheading of a King. The man who designed this building was just as revolutionary, that man was Inigo Jones. Inigo Jones was born of humble origins but would work his way up from a picture maker to working as Surveyor of the Kings works under two monarchs. This is his story.

Inigo jones 2

Inigo was born on the 15th July 1573 in London. He was not born to a rich family; his father was a cloth worker in Smithfield. Growing up he taught himself and began his career possibly as an apprentice joiner at St Pauls and then as a picture maker (in effect a painter). In 1603 Inigo can be found travelling across Europe with wealthy patrons and studying the work of great architects. During his travels, he would end up in Denmark, possibly at the request of King Christian IV where he was given his first commission. Eventually Inigo would end up back in England as a Masque designer for King James VI wife Anne of Denmark. From here Inigo would eventually work for Prince Henry, King James VI eldest son and heir, as Surveyor of the king’s works for the Prince of Wales in 1613. His role would mainly be making sure that the Princes two palaces, St James Palace and Richmond Palace, remained in good repair.

Inigo Jones was heavily influenced by Classical Roman architecture and by the buildings designed by a man named Andrea Palladio. Palladian Architecture (which was also inspired by classical architecture) would work on the belief that everything was mathematically related and should be of equal proportions. Inigo would use the geometry of ancient Roman architecture combined with the elements of building he had seen in Venice and used these powerful influences to create his own unique style. Inigo used and made a lot of notes from Palladio’s book Quattro Libra, where he had meticulously drawn plans with measurements, material, ornaments etc.

In 1615, he finally became Surveyor of the Kings works for King James after the death of its previous post holder Simon Basil. Inigo moved into his house which as located in Scotland Yard at Whitehall Palace. Inigo would live in the property for most of the rest of his life, even after he had lost the title and position of Surveyor General. 

As surveyor his role was mainly administrative, which included preparations for the Kings visits to the Palaces, supervising of repairs and overseeing financial matters relating to the buildings, this role therefore made it his responsibility to replace the Banqueting House when its predecessor had  burnt down in 1619. This gave him the opportunity to build this magnificent building to his own design.

Inigo Jones Banqueting House was the first complete building in England designed on the principles of classical architecture. It was built after the previous structure had burnt down and was to replace the Tudor Great hall as a place where James would meet foreign ambassadors into his court. It was also to be a place where the Stuart Masques, a form of entertainment would be performed. Many people in London at this time would not have been used to see columns and stone balustrades as part of their buildings. The dimensions are perfectly symmetrical; the hall is a hundred feet long, 55 wide and 55 feet high, which makes it exactly twice as long as it is wide or high – a double cube. These are the dimensions that Vitruvius (the architect of ancient Rome whose work inspired Palladio and other creators of the classical revival of the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries[2]) recommended for a basilica The hall was cleverly designed to look like it is greater in height than is width.  However this is an illusion which is was created by the two rows of columns which line the wall.  These are actually called pilasters as they are only half columns.  The lower ones are Ionic with their simple scroll at the top, or capital.  The higher ones are Corinthian and have a leaf motif at the top.  These are mirrored on the outside of the building. 

BH Interior
outside BH
Banqueting House

Of course one does not become a famous architect by designing just one building alone. Inigo was responsible for the designing and creation of many buildings, most are no longer with us today. Other than Banqueting House the other two well-known buildings that Inigo created were the Queens House at Greenwich and the design of Covent Garden.[i]

Queens House, Greenwich

However, Inigo is not just remembered for being an architect; he also designed and produced over 50 Masques between 1605-40.The purpose of the Masque was to convey a strong symbolic message about the authority and rule of the king and celebrating the benefits of ‘divine’ kingship. They would have been performed for the king who would sit and watch. In some cases[3], if not himself, his queen or children would actively take part.

The Masques offered a complete indulgence of the senses: they were a combination of dance, music, poetry and flamboyant costumes. The Banqueting House would have been completely transformed. There would have been tieredseating with an enormous stage, which would sometimes have moving parts, like stormy seas to people flying. The hall would have been lit with hundreds of torches and candles too.

Inigo would also help to transform the viewing of a play and would introduce elements from Europe to British theatre that is still with us today such as the proscenium arch, stage wings and moving scenery. A proscenium arch would give framing to the stage, which would be about 6 foot in depth. By introducing changing scenery in one location, Inigo was able to give the audience a constant focus, whereas before performances would have little, if any, scenery or the audience would need to move their attention to different parts of the auditorium.[4] He also introduced coloured lighting to the stage design by placing candles behind tinted glass. The stage was designed to hide all the levers, pulleys and pivots along with the men who were required to operate the moving scenery.

An example of a Proscenium arch

Inigo’s talents did not stop there; he would also help and design some of the costumes worn in the Masques. The courtiers and singers costumes were magnificent and costly. There would be jewels and bright colours sown into the fabric. They were outlandish in design, beautiful and bizarre.

A sketch by Inigo Jones of a costume to be used in a Masque

 While Inigo would be responsible for the scenery, Ben Jonson, an English playwright, poet and literacy critic of the seventeenth century, would produce the words and story into the productions. However, the two did not get on. Their relationship was fraught with competition and jealousy between the two, with arguments about what was more important in the Masque – literature or the staging. Ben would write many ironic poems about Inigo and the supposed importance of staging over literature –

O shows, shows, mighty shows!
                           The eloquence of masques! What need of prose,

Or verse, or sense to express immortal you?
You are the spectacles of state! ‘Tis true
Court hieroglyphics, and all arts afford
In the mere perspective of an inch board!…

O, to make boards to speak! There is a task!
Painting and carpentry are the soul of masque!
Pack with your peddling poetry to the stage,
This is the money-get, mechanic age!

Eventually the two went their separate ways with Jones being triumphant with regards to the patronage of the monarchy. Inigo, in close consultation with the King and Queen, would devise the plot, and then engage somebody to write the words. There were plenty of aspiring poets and jobbing playwrights to choose from, happy enough to gain royal attention[5].

By the mid-1630s Inigo had been a long-standing member of the court and as their by virtue of his professional skills rather than because he was an aristocrat or by family connections. Both he and King Charles had a mutual interest in the visual arts and had been collaborating in the Masques for the past 15 years[6]. Charles had begun to realise that Inigo was almost the only English born architect with any specialism in classicalism buildings and design. He decided that someone else would need to be trained as Inigo was now 52 years of age. Charles would issue a special command to Inigo to train John Webb, who was married to a lady who was possibly a blood relation to Inigo. Inigo would go on to train John Webb, with the plan that he would replace Inigo when he died.  However this was never to happen. The title of surveyor general would never be given to Webb.

Even after the outbreak of Civil War, Inigo was still involved in designing new buildings with King Charles. For many years, Inigo had been in discussions with both James and Charles to redesign the whole of Whitehall Palace, in a similar design to that which he used for Banqueting House. The plans however kept being put on hold due to lack of finance. The final plans were discussed while King Charles was in captivity at Carisbrooke Castle in 1648. He summoned Inigo and his pupil John Webb to discuss a third scheme of Whitehall Palace. However the plans would never progress and Charles was executed on 30th January 1649, outside Banqueting House; this would be the end of Inigo career as an architect. He was residing within Basing Castle when it was besieged by Cromwellian forces in August 1645. He survived the siege and would eventually settle in with the new regime. He would continue to live at Scotland Yard, even though he no longer held or enjoyed any official status[7]. He eventually passed away on 21st June 1652. He was buried with his parents at St Benet Paul’s Wharf, the Welsh church of the City of London. A monument dedicated to him was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666.

Inigo Jones plans for Whitehall Palace

Today 120 buildings are attributed to Inigo Jones however we can only confirm a small number as actually being his such as Queens House, the Banqueting House and Covent Garden. Without Inigo’s pioneering vision, and passion for the classical architecture of ancient Rome and his break from the current traditions, the work of his successors [Wren Hawksmoor, Gibbs and Soane] would have looked very different…[8]’ In actual fact some of us probably see Inigo Jones legacy around us every day without really realising it. The most common house in Britain, the terraced House is a direct descendant of classical palaces built in Italy by Palladio, they are a stripped down version but nonetheless their principles are the same. This would have been something that Inigo would have helped bring into England and is why Inigo can probably be described as the first modern English architect.


[1] This was a home, which Basil had built for himself while holding the title of Surveyor

[2] Leapman, M (2003) Inigo Jones Review. London p.11

[3] During King Charles I reign

[4] Leapman, M (2003) Inigo Jones Review. London

[5] Leapman, M (2003) Inigo Jones Review. London. P295

[6]  ibid p.224

I ibid p.340-1

[8] ibid P.1


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