Inigo Jones and the European Classical Tradition By Giles Worsley.Yale University Press, 2007. £40.00 Expanding ideas presented in his Classical Architecture in Britain:
The Heroic Age (AJ 17.08.95), this book was driven by Giles Worsley's conviction that the existing historiography has been unkind to Inigo Jones (1573-1652), architect of worldrenowned buildings such as the Queen's House, Greenwich, and the Banqueting House, Whitehall - designs of exceptional formal purity and sophistication.
A problem I have with Worsley's central thesis is that he insists that Jones has been presented as an isolated, oldfashioned figure within European architecture, and then goes on to claim that the great architectural historian John Summerson could never make up his mind on this point. In fact, Summerson was absolutely convinced of Jones' wider importance, as in the following quotation, which does not appear in Worsley's book: 'One must think of him not in an English but a European context? His architecture challenges not merely the English but the European achievements of his time.'
As well as emphasising the importance of iconography in architectural design of this period, a substantial portion of Worsley's book highlights the richness of the restrained and often astylar Neo-Classicism of northern Italy, Germany, Holland and France in the early 17th century. This is especially valuable in bringing material to an English-speaking readership that can only otherwise be accessed haphazardly.
Nevertheless, it seems curious to have a chapter, 'Jones and Southern Germany', when there is no concrete evidence he ever visited Germany. Indeed, many buildings that Worsley suggests merit comparison with works by Jones often possess quite limited formal and qualitative points of similarity.
Rather than establishing unassailable causal connections between Jones and continental contemporaries, Worsley succeeds in demonstrating that the hegemony of Roman Baroque was not absolute.
This is hardly revelatory. It is particularly unsurprising in Protestant England, a country where Baroque was indissolubly connected with what were perceived to be the worst moral and aesthetic excesses of Roman Catholicism.
Unfortunately, Worsley does not give sufficient consideration to such wider cultural issues in what is primarily a work of traditional formalist analysis.
Worsley wrote this book while suffering from the cancer that eventually killed him, yet despite such difficulties it is vastly informative, engaging and full of persuasive enthusiasm. It is clear, however, that Summerson was absolutely right. Although this study makes a tremendous contribution to greater understanding of the full range of styles and approaches in early 17thcentury European architecture beyond the Baroque, rather than reducing the perception of Jones as an isolated figure, it actually does the opposite. Even within the context of the European Classical tradition, Jones was absolutely singular.
Neil Cameron is an Edinburghbased writer on architecture and art