Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640 Mark Girouard

By Henderson, Paula | British Art Journal, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640 Mark Girouard


Henderson, Paula, British Art Journal


Elizabethan Architecture. Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640

Mark Girouard

Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British

Art 2009 45 [pounds sterling] ISBN 978-0-300-09386-5

Mark Girouard's much-anticipated book on Elizabethan (and Jacobean) architecture was always going to be a big book, but no one quite expected it to be this big! Weighing in at 7.5 pounds (3.3 kilos), it is difficult to lift, much less position in such a way to read or takes notes from. There is little else, however, to criticize in this monumental book, full of magnificent photographs (607 of them) and new information (in 516 pages).

For students of Elizabethan architecture, Girouard's first book (Robert Smythson & the Architecture of the Elizabethan Era, 1967), his catalogue of the Smythson drawings (published in Architectural History in 1962) and Sir John Summerson's catalogue of the drawings of John Thorpe in the Soane Museum (The Walpole Society, 1964-6) were the starting points for the scholarship of the intervening forty years. In this book, Girouard combines the recent work of many other scholars with his own ideas, some of them introduced in previously published articles and lectures and hem pulled together and comprehensively re-examined.

Girouard begins with the 'people', from the clients, mostly men with new wealth and an overwhelming desire to demonstrate their achievements in magnificent buildings, to the 'artificers', the low-status workers who were ultimately responsible for the buildings themselves. The most talented artificers were employed by the Royal Works where they worked on the maintenance of royal palaces and were then exposed to the great builders of the period--Thynne, Burghley, Hatton, Leicester and others--who employed them on their ambitious building schemes. In many ways, the Elizabethan period had far more in common with the Middle Ages: the building was the vision of the patron (say, Lord Burghley instead of Abbot Suger) supervising a group of highly trained masons, carpenters, carvers, et al, who carried out this vision. Of the many names that have tome down in accounts and documents, only about 50 artificers are known to have made drawings and, of these, only 30 examples survive. How to assess, then, to what degree any of these men might have aspired to being an 'architect', someone who could design an entire building. Girouard devotes a chapter to three men 'whose creative ebullience set them apart': Robert Smythson, William Arnold and John Thorpe. The dramatic buildings of Smythson--from Longleat, to Wollaton and Hardwick--continue to thrill Girouard but his very important reassessment of the authorship of the drawings in the collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects is unfortunately relegated to a footnote (p491, n4). Based on the discovery by Adrian Woodhouse of a signed drawing by John Smythson, Girouard now believes that many of the drawings that he assigned to Robert were, in fact, by his son John. All of this needs more careful evalutation in terms of John's career.

William Arnold, architect of Wadham College, Montacute House and Cranborne Manor, is the second of Girouard's architects. …

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