History of Art



This site-based course looks at the role played by architecture in the wildly dramatic events that gripped London in the 17th-century. The death of Elizabeth I in 1603 brought an end to the Tudor dynasty, and the first Stuart king, James I, sought to distinguish himself from his charismatic predecessor through grand architectural statements in the city. His court architect, Inigo Jones, introduced a new, elegant classicism to England that looked back to the stateliness of Greco-Roman antiquity, but at once rejected the ornamental excess of Elizabethan building and the “monstrous” Gothic. James and Jones thus seized on one of the most powerful and enduring functions of architecture: its ability to construct identity by negotiating our relationship to time. In this course we will consider the range of expressive means deployed by London’s 17th-century architects to argue about our connection to the past, and to show how we are in the present. We will also visit sites of destruction. The Civil War that followed the beheading of James’ father, Charles I, in 1649, saw no great building projects, but we will consider its iconoclasms as architectural statements and occasions to think about how the living presence of buildings might tempt their annihilation. While the breaking of statues and columns was a wilful rejection of a previous identity, the Great Fire of 1666 was a naturally violent rupture that saw the unwelcome loss of much of old London. The rebuilding campaigns by Christopher Wren and his assistants famously modernized the city skyline with new church spires, but they also featured some of the earliest revivals of Gothic style. In closing, we come full circle by looking to how the once reviled Gothic becomes an object of melancholy yearning for lost time.