THE rank John Webb holds in the early hierarchy of British architects--of whom he, far more justifiably than Inigo Jones, can claim to be the first professional--has consistently been underestimated. This is largely because he was always content to lurk in the shadow of his great master, to whom the disciple in pure veneration and humility never failed to give honour when it was due and often credit when it was not. Had Webb flourished in any subsequent era he would have been acclaimed an architect of exact, if limited scholarship, much power, and even originality, qualities which his work after Jones's death amply displayed. Had he lived during George I's reign he would have been regarded by the Burlingtonian group as the greatest of them all. It was frequently Webb's work which in mistake for Jones's, these literal students set themselves to imitate, and it was Webb himself who indirectly brought the influence of Palladio to bear upon early Georgian architecture almost to the exclusion of the other influences, from which Jones derived his various inspirations.
Even less is known of John Webb's life than of Inigo Jones's. Whereas Jones's career by virtue of his position of surveyor-general was punctuated by a number of official references, often of the driest possible kind, Webb's long subserviency called for no such records. Although he was for years the right-hand of the surveyor- general, there was seldom an occasion to refer to his name. After Jones's death, and during the Commonwealth, there was less occasion still; and throughout the fourteen remaining years of his life the sun of royal patronage which brilliantly illuminated many men of less talent and less sorely-proved loyalty than "Inigo Jones's man" this is Evelyn's single reference to Webb--shone but fitfully upon him. Lack of official position once again meant lack of official references.
He was born in 1611, that is to say thirty-eight years after Inigo Jones. If we reflect that in Tudor and Stuart times it was quite normal for young men to be married at eighteen, we realize that Webb could easily have been Jones's grandson. The wide gap in years makes the relationship between the two interesting. It is not usual for a very young man to revere the work and person of his grandfather's contemporaries. The fact that Webb did so, speaks well for the compelling genius of Inigo