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The earliest Neoclassical architecture in England was developed at the same time as the Baroque beginning in 16th century and included buildings such as the Royal Chelsea Hospital, Royal Observatory and the St Pauls Cathedral, mapped by Sir Christopher Wren. The neoclassical architecture in London was first introduced by Elgin Marbles and is represented by the most prominent structures such as the Banqueting House and the Somerset House that are going to be discussed in this paper.
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The origin of Neoclassicism is Rome, but it later became popular in France when a group of French students who have been studying in Rome returned to their home country, having rediscovered the Greco-Roman ideals (Palmer, 2011). It primarily attributed more importance to the walls rather than chiaroscuro and had different identification for its parts. In contrast to the Rococo style, it is manifested in its details. It still exists even to date and is commonly referred to as the New Classical Architecture used in the construction of fashionable buildings.
The basic features of this style are those of the classical antiquity and Vitruvian principles. However, the works of Andrea Palladio were also a source of inspiration for the neoclassical architects. He believed that the process of construction was supposed to be guided by reason and principles of classical antiquity because these buildings had proven their durability and solidity having survived over the centuries. It was developed after the excavation of the destructed Italian cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Pompeii was a developed Roman city that was buried in volcanic ash after the eruption of Vesuvius.
The Neoclassical approach was practiced in various artistic genres with its main stylistic features such as the simplicity of forms, predominance of straight lines, and adherence to the values of classicism and antiquity (Palmer, 2011). A rise of classical music was also witnessed at that time. The same tendency was evident in painting and was an indication of the classical restoration that Jaques-Louis David initiated. It was most evident in architecture, decorative arts, sculpture and the classical artistic creations. The sculpture had many ancient models that could be used as examples. In its various manifestations, Neoclassicism opposes the Rococo style.
In its many ways, Neoclassicism concentrated on the principles of symmetry and simplicity, which were recognized as virtues of arts of ancient Greece and Rome. Based on these principles, Neoclassicism began to react against the late Baroque or Rococo, which in architecture, Rococo imply rich ornamentation and asymmetry (Palmer, 2011). These styles were most prevalent and were the opposite of the neoclassical style. Its advancement coincided with the insight of the 18th century and lasted until the 19th century. This tradition of the Grand Tour to collect souvenirs and antiquities laid the foundation of this style in the minds of many artists and helped in the spread Neoclassicism in America and Europe (Palmer, 2011).
The Banqueting House, Whitewall
It is a magnificent and famous survivor representing this style in London. The building is the only remaining part of the Palace of Whitehall found in London. The only part that was not destroyed was that of Inigo Jones, a famous English architect who was greatly inspired by Andrea Palladio during his studies in Italy.It was Elizabeth I who had ordered the construction of the wooden banqueting house for entertainment and another one for the embassy from France (Sharr, & Thornton, 2013). The rooms were used more for ceremonies like entertainment and reception rather than for displaying and consuming banquets, which made them look suitable for shows and masques rather than eating. Moreover, Inigo Jones explored a third prototype known as Basilica when he was developing the designs. In one of his drafts and at the initial stages of construction, a great niche was positioned at the upper end in the area where the kings throne used to be placed in a basilica church.
It was later commissioned by James I after the death of Elizabeth I and the stone-and-brick structure had been destroyed by the fire. James I decision to rebuild in stone after the fire received wide support from both the public and the government and received funding from the City of London (Sharr & Thornton, 2013). However, James I faced some personal difficulties and critical financial problems. Due to his complicated financial situation, he was forced to delay the funeral of his wife Anne of Denmark for almost two months until he could finally afford it. The demise of his wife and the decision to rebuild came close together, and this negatively affected him and left depressed (Sharr & Thornton, 2013). The house was, however, completed despite the various financial challenges and was opened in 1622 as the first major building in England.
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It was completed during the rise of the neoclassical style, and it is of great significance for English architecture in general. However, it was not used because, there was no provision for heating, no offices, and it had no accommodation. It remained in such condition for some time until when it was scheduled for use. It was later made the main home of the Monarchs in the 16th century until when most of it was destroyed again by fire (Sharr & Thornton, 2013). Before its destruction, it was the biggest structure in the city with 1500 rooms, larger than Versailles and Vatican. It is situated in the street where most of the UK government administrative buildings are found.
The building was used as a place for celebrations, political maneuverings, and even executions. It was the most outstanding construction of the period. . It is also considered his significant breakthrough since his predecessors did not manage to finish the construction due to political and financial problems. Later, James approached Rubens to discuss the decorations of the ceilings to be made. After the death of his father James I in 1625, Charles I continued the negotiations regarding the paintings, which consequently led to the installation of the artists canvases in 1636 (Sharr & Thornton, 2013).
Later, two building prototypes were created for space inside the banqueting house. One of the prototypes, the Medieval Great Hall was the first one to be built, and it took the central space of the palace. It was large, rectangular with an outer court, kitchen, and a way leading to private apartments. The two-end hierarchical interpretation was consistent throughout Stuart and Tudor period. The second prototype was banqueting houses that were erected temporarily for special occasions. To construct them, canvas and wood were used as the main materials. However, they were painted as columns and stone. Moreover, sweet herbs and flowers were added as lush decorations.
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King Charles I walked through the window of the house before he met his death. He was executed in 1649 on a platform in front of the banqueting house. It happened after years of conflict between the power of the king and the authority of the Parliament. It consequently led to a civil war that took place in 1642-1649. King Charles I was found guilty and accused of treason and acting against the interest of Parliament and the English people and was sentenced to death. In his last speech, King Charles I was unable to address the crowd but expressed his loyalty to the Church of England and explained in length to the reporters and people around about the principles for which he was to be executed. In his last words, he said I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be.’ (Sharr & Thornton, 2013) .Immediately after he was condemned, a setting of the scaffold by the carpenters against the Banqueting House walls was installed.
Banqueting House is made of three floors. The ground floor has the storerooms and the cellars and was built on the foundation where the wine collection room for King Henry VIII was found. It is followed by the first floor, which is the main floor that holds a double-height banqueting hall. Finally, is the second floor, which, when viewed from the outside, appears as if it does not exist and is the extension of the first floor. The height of the columns for the Banqueting House was determined by calculating the ratio between the height of the column and the diameter of the shaft right at its base (Palmer, 2011). The building was extended by the deployment of three critical orders of a column and unique decorations. The first one is Doric column seven diameters high; second – Ionic column eight diameters high, and lastly, the Corinthian column, which is nine diameters high. The Doric order is characterized by faceted, short, thick columns with round plain tops and without a base. Its height is measured four to eight the size of its diameter. The Doric shaft is channeled with 20 flutes. Second, the Ionic order has slender fluted pillars that have a large base with two opposed volutes. Unlike Doric, it has four more flutes. It also has two convex moldings known as Tori and Scotia. The Corinthian order is referred to as the most beautiful of all (Hoff, 2013). It has 24 flutes, is ten diameters high and was used mostly for the second level inside. Moreover, there exists a Composite order, which is a mix consisting of volutes of the Ionic and the leaves off Corinthian order and was used for the outside (Hoff, 2013).The Venetian window portrays most of the Palladios work that inspired Inigo Jones and is considered one of the significant trademarks in his early career. The window looks like a curved arch and it illumination consists of a central light. Being the nearest to the upper end of the private apartment, the large window illuminates the room especially the dais where the Lords Table and chair are found.
Another architectural detail applied on the building of banqueting house is the pattern of masks and swags. They are joined by large ribbons that bow to adorn the highest points of the internal walls and facades. This is the outstanding use of the naturalistic swags and masks as an extension of frieze hints at the ceremonial and the theatrical purpose of the Banqueting House. Swags usually portray the traditional way of decorating a Banqueting House using greenery and fresh flowers (Read & Robinson, 2013). It should be noted that the order and symmetry influence the concept of the building. The inside enhancements correspond with the outside, and the facades match. One of the designs includes the pediment bay that creates a central focus on the facade to create a rhythmic treatment of columns, windows, and pilasters. The inside and outside treatments correspond, and the facades match. According to Jones artistic decision, regarding the facades, a particular emphasis was laid on the hierarchy of the interior. It can be explained by the fact that Palladios approach mainly based on values, symmetry and perspective of the formal Roman classical temple architecture (Read & Robinson, 2013).
When the Banqueting House was finished and scheduled for use, the materials and craftsmen were needed to transform the interior. With the climax of James I concerning the central oval, the ceilings glorified the monarchy the same way as the masques (Hoff, 2013). It has a stern and even a formidable immobility. One of the great rooms was used for crucial ceremonies at Whitehall. Most of the interior decoration resembled the outside, with an extra gallery between the lower and the upper tiers with an arched window found at the high end as well as the internal doors. The same swags, masks, and foliage decorated the tops of the wall. The interior walls had white painting, with little space between the windows and the gallery.Rubens wrote to the English monarch about his paintings, explaining that he was better in doing large work than the small ones, and, therefore, the Banqueting Houses big ceiling was good for him (Hoff, 2013). He made the paintings of the Banqueting Hall with panels in the same year, and his work was outstanding and enormous. The ceiling paintings were not taken to Charles I until his father died. Charles I intended that part of it be for his fathers virtues and the other for him.
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The roof was flat, and the roofline had a balustrade. The ground floor included a warren of cellars and the storerooms, and its small windows indicated its lowly status (Hoff, 2013). The lower windows compose of alternating segmented triangular pediments while the unadorned frames make up the upper. The walls inside were bright and had to be covered with tapestries so that they could look dark inside (Hoff, 2013).
The Somerset House
The Somerset House is a beautiful example of Neoclassicism that situated in central London on the south side of the Strand. It overlooks River Thames on the east of Waterloo Bridge. The design of the house belongs to Sir Williams and was the original site of Tudor palace. Queen Elizabeth I lived in the house during the reign of Queen Mary I, her half-sister. Later, a number of expensive additions and improvements were commissioned, with Inigo Jones being the author of some of those alterations. The building had a small cemetery attached with a few tombstones, which created a special enigmatic charm at the place.
The house was later refurbished by Sir Christopher Wren (King, 2013). However, there was a revolution in 1688, which resulted in a long period of decline of the buildings condition. In the middle of the 17th century, there was a growing criticism of the architectural picture of London, and the city was blamed for the lack of great public buildings. The criticism was based on the fact that the learned societies and the government departments were housed in small old buildings that were scattered all over the city. London was called a capital without the content. Reacting from the pressure that was geared towards it, the Parliament of London passed an Act in 1775 concerning the national building that was led by Edmund Burke. The objective was to erect public offices in the Somerset House (King, 2013).
Surveyor-general of works, Sir William Chambers was appointed to design and construct the new building and was being paid a salary of ?2,000 p.a. Sir William spent his last two decades in the building of the present Somerset House from 1775 (King, 2013). Inigo Joness drawings were the primary input in design that resembles the riverfront of the original building (King, 2013).
Chambers expressed his capabilities and genius as a designer for Somerset House through sinking the building into the ground creating an external optical illusion that made the building look as if it was at the same height. It, however, brought about problems with lighting for the bottom floors. He solved this problem by introducing cavities around the structure, which were known as light wells that helped the house to receive enough lighting. Chambers also made arcades on the Embankment that were used to harbor ships. By imitating Palladio and Sangallo, he used Doric columns along a triple- arched entry to the building. Chambers also used the Corinthians and Doric orders to show the importance of the structure. The North Wing was announced complete by 1780 and fronted the strand.
The south wing front of the building reflected the Palladian style with its basements rusticated. It provided a platform that consisted of a Venetian window that was found at its center and three balconies that gave it an elegant look. Its facades were made facing the spaces that were made for parking that was designed by Jones. The wing also consisted of two major tiers and three bay patterns but did not have a basement storey.
The reception area constituted the North wing and served those entering the place before they climbed the Tulip stairs heading to the Queens house. Double cubic rooms with a cantilevered gallery surrounding them were situated besides the Queens House. The details of balusters and bracket resembled those of the Banqueting Hall gallery.
Originally, there were three doorways that were found behind the portico. The survivor was the middle one that initially brought about an impression of a false door.
There were bronze sculptures made for Queen Maria and that were initiated by Charles I. The house had a lower base that was surrounded with a pool that was much smaller. Due to its small size, it enabled one to view it from a close distance without any difficulty.
There were also water jets that were found at the nymphs and their nipples emerged from various places around the fountain. There was also a gilt statute that was erected within the compound that was made by the king for Huber Le Sueur. The building materials used were bricks and stones and were used alternatively. The window was made of the semi-circular arch, a central light, and other two light each on its side and with pilasters. The windows and the cornice were made of stones and above the cornice were facades that were made of stone balustrade. The constructors lowered the ground floor windows, thus their architraves and sills made them more visible. Moreover, the cornices were constructed in such a particular manner thus resting on the top of the architrave.
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The ground floor consisted of nine openings with two small windows and a central doorway. Inigo Jones used his design in the making of the columns, and he used the Ionic order. The order occupied almost the entire central bay. Part of the central intercolumniation was made in such a way that they corresponded with the doorway that is found below. The columns bases are found within the plinth blocks, and in between them are the stone balustrades with the balusters of the column being found way below the sills of the widows of the facade (King, 2013). The chimneys were developed by Jones for the Queen, and one of them was situated in the room next to the stairs at the back of the building. Inigo Jones erected the Diana fountain, which is one of the landmarks of the building. He also designed a walking pavement that passed through the fountain and the Bushy Park. Later on, at the top of the Diana fountain, a female figure was put giving it a unique look (King, 2013).
After Chambers death in 1796, James Wyatt completed the bigger share of the remaining parts. Until 1801, the construction works continued. However, by late 1819, some decorations had not been completed, and the river had not been embanked (King, 2013). The Thames wrapped the South Wing, which was the place where three massive arches allowed barges and boats to access the landing sites of the building.
The Royal Academy of Arts and the Royal Society among other were the initial occupants of the Somerset House. Increasingly, it has accommodated several government institutions such as the Navy Board and the Inland Revenue. Towards the end of the 20th century, it was found not suitable for modern buildings, and this made the government vacate it for modern buildings.
The architectural style of Neoclassicism is based on the principles of classical antiquity, Vitruvian basics, and the works of the renowned Italian architect Andrea Palladio. It is characterized by simplicity, symmetry, and proportion. A distinguishing feature of the neoclassical architects approach is the use of classical and mythological motifs and attention to details.
The Grand Tour stimulated many artists, architects, and officials to go abroad to gain knowledge and experience. The impressions gained from the trips allowed for the implementation of the new techniques, styles and approaches into the sphere of architecture, art and music such as Neoclassicism. The style was applied in the construction of magnificent buildings elevated the image of London, and such structures were highly regarded and used to host kings, queens, and other renowned persons. The brightest examples of the neoclassical architecture in London are magnificent buildings such as the Banqueting House and the Somerset House that have a rich history and exhibit the peculiarities of Neoclassicism in architecture.
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