Architecture in Early Modern England: Themes and Methods

This seminar takes a selective approach to architectural culture in 16th– and 17th-century England (that is, roughly speaking, from the Tudor period to the aftermath of the Great Fire of London in 1666). The seminar is divided into rubrics or themes chosen to highlight questions of patronage and class, the spatial implications of pageantry, material culture and display, architecture and literature, the ideology of kingship and the rewriting of the past, the transformation of urban environments, and the role of science and technology.

We will begin with the phenomenon of prodigy houses, so-called by the British architectural historian John Summerson to characterize the large-scale “proud, ambitious heaps” finding their apogee during the reign of Elizabeth I. We will then, under the aegis of the rhetoric of architecture, explore the legibility and poetics of architecture (from the country house poem as genre to Inigo Jones’s masques and, later, John Vanbrugh’s Restoration comedies). Urban design will be treated in a variety of contexts so as to explore early modern notions of public space (examples might range from the market square and the city gate to the rebuilding of London’s churches after the Great Fire). This will be followed by a consideration of some of the exchanges between architecture and science (Robert Hooke’s anatomy theatre or Christopher Wren’s interest in astronomy) as well as the culture of scientific tools. The seminar concludes with antiquarianism and the rewriting of the past from Stonehenge to the Temple of Solomon. Seminar participants will be encouraged to explore the projects and works of architects such as (but not limited to): John Shute, Robert Smythson, Inigo Jones, John Webb, Roger Pratt, John Evelyn, Christopher Wren, Elizabeth Wilbraham, Robert Hooke, Nicholas Hawksmoor, John Vanbrugh. Requirements include: weekly responses to readings, discussion participation, oral presentation, and final paper (15-20pp).

Prerequisites: This advanced history elective is designed for students in the postprofessional (MDES) and doctoral programs (PHD/DDES) as well as students in the professional programs who have completed core and, preferably, are embarking on thesis. Some knowledge of the early modern history and theory of architecture is required.