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Inigo: The Troubled Life of Inigo Jones, Architect of the English Renaissance

By Michael Leapman.Headline,2003. £20

For one of Britain's greatest and most influential architects, Inigo Jones did not build very much, writes Ruth Slavid.Much of Michael Leapman's biography is dedicated to explaining why. Jones relied on the patronage of two kings, James I and Charles I, who had grandiose ambitions for buildings but were permanently strapped for cash.

But, at least in what he did build, and in his designs for masques, Jones left his mark. In other respects he was curiously invisible.

Living in a rumbustious age in which the elaborate formality of masques often degenerated into orgies, and in which life at court was full of adulteries, betrayals and even poisonings, Jones seemed to have no liaisons and to keep no diaries.His writings are chiefly confined to his architectural jottings in the works of Palladio and Vitruvius that he bought, and there are few records of any conversation.

Leapman, from fairly slender evidence, and in particular from the vitriol of Jones'collaborator and enemy Ben Jonson, concludes that Jones was proud, self-centred, insensitive and a hypochondriac.

But if the central character of this biography is curiously blank, Leapman compensates by bringing his surroundings to life. We learn about Jones'youthful travels in Italy (and that the Classical movement had 'a philosophy not too distant from today's fashionable cult of feng shui in interior design'), and about the fantastic invention and extravagance of those masques that did so much to prop up the Stuarts'ultimately fatal self-esteem.

Nor were the masque design and the architecture entirely unrelated. Jones'supreme achievement, the Banqueting House in London (pictured), was built to provide a better home for the masques, although the lights proved too smoky when Rubens'ceiling paintings were finally installed.

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