The Period of Inigo Jones and Its Design Effect on the Period Known as Early American Colonial FurnitureHistory of Early American Colonial Furniture

Staircase from Design of Inigo Jones

Staircase from Design of Inigo Jones

SINCE the days of the Italian Renaissance, the history of the art of the rest of Europe and the Americas early American Colonial furniture it shows a parallel development in different countries, the gradual intermingling of the Renaissance and Gothic styles, followed by the exclusion of the Gothic, and the final triumph of classic principles. In England, however, such development was complicated early in the seventeenth century by the genius of Inigo Jones, who stands apart from all his contemporaries as an exponent of classic knowledge.

The ban of Excommunication against Queen Elizabeth had during her reign so severed this country from dire& intercourse with Italy that knowledge of the new classic art had to be obtained through other channels. Its effects, however, were now becoming less acute, although even at a later date it was somewhat unsafe for Protestant heretics" to travel in Italy, at all events is in the parts still under Spanish sway. The fad of Inigo Jones being a Catholic obviated such difficulties in his case and helped him in acquiring his knowledge of the art of Ancient Rome earlier than his fellow countrymen.

Like the English nobles and architects and American colonials (early American Colonial furniture makers ) who studied in Italy a century later, he absorbed the principles of classic architecture to the entire exclusion of other styles; especially he would seem to have profited by the treatises of Serlio, Perruzzi, Vignola, and Palladio, as well as by the actual buildings in Rome and Venice designed by these and the other great architects of the Renaissance. So thorough was the knowledge that he thus acquired, and so masterful the supervision of the work which, on his return to this country, he undertook, that examples of his skill, such as the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, are as pure specimens of classic architecture as any buildings since erected; the more remarkable does this appear when it is realized that during his time houses were still being erected all over England strictly faithful Elizabethan traditions.

To anyone familiar with the examples of Dutch and Flemish architecture at beginning of the seventeenth century, it is difficult to believe that Inigo Jones had not also travelled these countries; possibly they were included in “the politer parts of Europe," which he admits having visited as well as Italy; indeed, it would seem that his decorative work, and certainly that of his son-in-law, Webb, were affected by Dutch as well as by Italian influence.

Possibly few architects have had so many designs attributed to them as Inigo Jones on no evidence in British or early American Colonial furniture but tradition. Records, however, prove his work at Whitehall, Greenwich, Cobham, Castle Abbey, York Gate, Kirby, Ford Abbey and Wilton; nor is there any reason to question such examples as Coleshill and Rainham. These specimens alone are sufficient to justify his great reputation. Walpole's statement that he saved " England from the disgrace of not having her representative among the arts," was made at a time when the names of Palladio and Inigo Jones were almost wor­shipped, but no one even today disputes his position as England's greatest architect..

Authentic examples of his work only exist in such buildings as have already been referred to, these have been so often illustrated that it is unneces­sary to do so here. The chimney-piece on page 15 possesses several character­istics from which one could imagine that rumour, which has attributed its design to him, may in this case be correct. The design of the one on the previous page, although it shows a distinct departure from the usual Flemish work of the period, by no means adheres strictly to classic principles, and can only claim to represent the beginning of his influence. The illustration of the third chimney-piece, which dates from the middle of the seventeenth century, is given not as an example of the work of Inigo Jones but to show the quiet dignity and the knowledge of true proportion which he im­parted to Webb and his other immediate pupils and successors. The staircase which is also shown (page 13) was erected in 117 2 9, but was admittedly copied from his design; in many respects it resembles the one at Coleshill.

In addition to some drawings by Inigo Jones of scenes for masques (still preserved at Chatsworth), Lord Burlington obtained early in the eighteenth century the copy of Vitruvius containing his sketches and notes. Dr Clarke, another celebrated amateur architect, had also acquired several of his original drawings, as well as the copy of Palladio (bequeathed in 17 3 6 to Worcester College, Oxford which Inigo Jones on his journeys through Italy had copi­ously noted and interleaved with sketches. These, with the examples in the buildings referred to, served Kent, Ware, Gibbs, Swann and others as models for furniture (early American Colonial furniture) ceilings, chimney-pieces, doors, staircases and other features of internal decoration. Through such sources the influence of Inigo Jones was strongly felt in England down to the end of the eighteenth century.

There is little to relate in decorative or arts in England the outbreak of the Civil War, but by then the last survivals of Gothic art had disappeared from this country. Not unnaturally, Inigo Jones was stanch loyalist; he suffered considerably in the cause of his master. In 1643 he was deprived of his offices and had to leave London; a few years later he was fined about £ 1,000. He died in 1652, and certain works which he had commenced were completed by his son-in-law, John Webb.
At the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Webb applied for the office Surveyor-General, which Inigo Jones had held: for political reasons it was en to Sir John Denham, and he was promised the reversion. However, en it fell vacant in 1666, Wren, whose fame by then was firmly established, was appointed, and Webb, again disappointed, gave up his practice and retired to the country.

Chimney-piece circa 1620

Chimney-piece circa 1620

Chimney-piece circa 1640

Chimney-piece circa 1640

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