Vanbrugh, Sir John

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Vanbrugh, Sir John

Sir John Vanbrugh (vănbrōō´, văn´brə), 1664–1726, English dramatist, architect, soldier, and adventurer, b. London, of Flemish descent. In 1686 he obtained a commission in the army. He was arrested for espionage in 1690 and spent two years in a French prison. After his return from France he turned to writing for the stage. His first play, The Relapse (1696), was a counterblast to Colley Cibber's Love's Last Shift. Vanbrugh's masterpiece, The Provoked Wife (1697), was attacked (1698) by Jeremy Collier in his famous diatribe on the immorality of the English stage. Vanbrugh was an inventive playwright, imbued with the wit and cynicism that were common to the Restoration dramatists. As his reputation as an architect grew, Vanbrugh turned away from the stage. He became Wren's principal colleague and his style, expansive, ostentatious, and theatrical, is derived from Sir Christopher Wren and from Nicholas Hawksmoor. His best-known buildings are Blenheim Palace (the perfect example of his genius for the heroic and a culmination of English baroque), Castle Howard, the Queen's Theatre in the Haymarket, and Seaton Delaval (one of the finest English baroque homes). Vanbrugh's later plays include The Confederacy (1705) and A Journey to London (completed by Cibber as The Provoked Husband, 1728). He was knighted in 1714.

See his complete works, including letters (ed. by B. Dobrée and G. Webb, 4 vol., 1927–28); biography by L. Whistler (1938, repr. 1971); study of his architecture by K. Downs (1977).

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