His Invention So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren

His Invention So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren

His Invention So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren

His Invention So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren

Synopsis

In His Invention So Fertile, Adrian Tinniswood offers the first biography of Christopher Wren in a generation. It is a book that reveals the full depth of Wren's multifaceted genius, not only as one of the greatest architects who ever lived--the designer of St. Paul's Cathedral--but as an influential seventeenth-century scientist. Tinniswood writes with insight and flair as he follows Wren from Wadham College, Oxford, through the turmoil of the English Civil War, to his role in helping to found the Royal Society--the intellectual and scientific heart of seventeenth-century England. The reader discovers that the great architect was initially an astronomer who was also deeply interested in medicine, physics, and mathematics. Family connections pulled him into architecture, with a commission to restore the chapel at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Tinniswood deftly follows Wren's rise as architect, capturing the atmosphere of Restoration London, as old Royalists scrambled for sinecures from Charles II and Wren learned the art of political infighting at court, finally becoming Surveyor of the Royal Works-the King's engineer. Most important, the author recounts the intriguing story of the building of St. Paul's. The Great Fire of 1666--vividly recreated in Tinniswood's narrative--left London a smoldering husk. Wren played a central role in reshaping the city, culminating with St. Paul's, his masterpiece--though he had to steer between King and cathedral authorities to get his radical, domed design built. As the Enlightenment dawned in England, Wren's magnificent dome rose above London, soon to become an icon of London and world architecture. One of the most influential architects in history, Christopher Wren comes vividly to life in this fittingly grand biography.

Excerpt

I have known and enjoyed Christopher Wren's architecture for nearly three decades. And how could it be otherwise for anyone with even a passing acquaintance with that architecture? Who could stand beneath the dome of St Paul's, or gaze across the Thames at Greenwich Hospital, or hear divine service in St James Piccadilly, and remain unmoved by the experience?

I was dimly aware, of course, that Wren had been a professor of astronomy before he turned to architecture. But, frankly, it seemed of little consequence. Buildings were his life and his legacy, and the fact that the genius who built Trinity College Library and transformed Hampton Court Palace also lectured on the heavens was a matter of indifference to me. Then, six years ago, I began to think more seriously about the circuitous path he took to become Britain's most eminent architect. Sir John Summerson famously said that if Wren had died at thirty, he would still have been ‘a figure of some importance in English scientific thought, but without the word “architecture” occurring once in his biographies’. Over the course of time my hesitant interest in Wren as a figure of some importance in English scientific thought has grown into an obsession with a man who, I have no doubt whatsoever, helped to change the course of European cultural history — and not only by creating the greatest buildings that Britain has ever seen.

That obsession led me into unfamiliar and magical territory. I learned about the paths of comets and the internal organs of spaniels. I became familiar with brilliant men who, until I started my research, were little more than names to me: Hooke and Boyle, Wilkins and Neile, Evelyn and Petty and Scarburgh. And my respect for Wren's achievements . . .

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