Modernity and Antiquity in British Architecture, 1615-1815 - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Modernity and Antiquity in British Architecture, 1615-1815

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MA Special Option

Modernity and Antiquity in British Architecture, 1615-1815

Detail of ‘Design for a gateway at Blenheim Palace’, 1720, Nicholas Hawksmoor. © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London, United Kingdom.
Detail of ‘Design for a gateway at Blenheim Palace’, 1720, Nicholas Hawksmoor. © The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London, United Kingdom.

Professor Christine Stevenson

This MA option examines the architectural culture of England and Scotland between 1615 and 1815. We study texts, prints, drawings, and gardens as well as buildings from the time. It begins with Inigo Jones’s assumption of his missionary role on behalf of what an admirer called the ‘elegant art of the ancients’, meaning architectural classicism. It ends with the completion of the first stage of John Soane’s house-museum, designed to make the study of history itself a spatial (or, as Soane wrote, ‘poetical’) experience.

These two centuries saw the construction of a variety of buildings and landscapes of great interest, of which a number can be studied first-hand in the London area: the Banqueting House and the Goose-Pie House; Greenwich Hospital and the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary; Blenheim Palace and Culzean Castle; Bedlam and the Bank of England; St Paul’s Cathedral; Newgate Gaol. Often complex and expensive, the buildings were the product of long collaborations among architects, craftsmen and patrons. They resist ready categorisation, even as simple examples of an architectural style.

But how do we get beyond description and begin to think about this architecture? Working within a broadly chronological structure, this course considers different forms of architectural-historical analysis in relation to methodologies within the humanities generally.

Of particular interest will be the ways in which built form and its creators were not only affected by, but contributed to Britain’s shifting understandings of its own past, and therefore of its present and future too. Attitudes to the Gothic, for example, were framed by the collective memory of the architectural destruction of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; whereas classicism might suggest both rural retreat and imperial claims that date right back to the beginning of our period. John Vanbrugh wondered if it was possible to avoid historical quotation entirely and arrive at something he called ‘form’ and, like his mentor Christopher Wren and his colleague Nicholas Hawksmoor, questioned the extent to which an architect can be a free modern and still adhere to a patriarchal canon. George Dance and his pupil Soane did the same, in relation to a proliferation of new building types aimed at confining and managing collective social ills.

Architecture in this period reflected and directed Britain’s political culture. This course illuminates the relationships between the individual, Church, and State during this particularly dynamic period in its history.

Courtauld Course Lecturer

About the lecturer

Christine began teaching at The Courtauld in 2002, after ten years as a lecturer at the University of Reading and, previously, work as an academic editor at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine and the Grove Dictionary of Art. Research for her previous book, Medicine and Magnificence: British Hospital and Asylum Architecture, 1660-1815 (Yale, 2000) led imperceptibly into that for her most recent, The City and the King, which was short-listed for the Longman-History Today Book Prize, the William M. Berger Prize for British Art History, the Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion, and the Art Book Prize.

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