Famous architect Inigo Jones was born 445 years ago today so I thought it was fitting to write a post about one of his well-known builds, the Queen’s House in Greenwich, known as the first classical build in Britain. I visited the house and the beautiful area of Greenwich in April, and have been waiting to write a few posts about my visit, including a trip to the Painted Ceiling Tour which will be coming in the next few weeks. Greenwich is such a lovely area of London, I’d never been before but there are so many architectural gems, especially around the Old Royal Naval College.
Today, the Queen’s House is home to an internationally renowned art collection and a substantial part of the National Maritime Museum’s collection of maritime paintings and portraits. Its original function was quite different, Jones was initially commissioned to create a modern, private house for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I in 1616, an apology gift from the king for swearing in front of her after she accidentally killed one of his favourite dogs during a hunt. However, building work ceased in 1618 as Anne became ill and sadly died shortly after; work restarted in 1629 and was completed in 1635 and given to the queen consort Henrietta Maria by King Charles I.
It’s grand original use as a house of leisure and social gatherings were shortlived as the English Civil War that began in 1642 swept away court culture and left the interiors of Queen’s House destroyed. The building was used by members of the royal family until 1805 when George III granted the Queen’s House to a charity for the orphans of seamen, called the Royal Naval Asylum. This remained its function until it was taken over by the National Maritime Museum in 1934, as the school moved to Suffolk.
The Queen’s House was Inigo Jones’s first major project after returning from his 1613–1615 grand tour of Italy. During his travels, Jones was inspired by the work of Andrea Palladio who expressed his theories and ideas in Four Books on Architecture in 1560. Jones brought this classical architectural style back to England, evoking the classical orders, symmetry and proportion in a style that became known as ‘Palladian’. The Queen’s House was incredibly innovative for the time and people called it ‘The White House’, because of it’s unusual colouring against the familiar red brick buildings of previous styles. Jones designs were meticulously constructed, a famous trope being his use of a cube room, seen within the Great Hall of the Queen’s House. The Great Hall is a 12 m (40 ft) cube, and the design of its marble floor matches the composition of squares and circles on its ceiling. Jones employed this design for the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall and the Double Cube Room at Wilton House.
After a series of major restoration projects, Queen’s House has been furnished in the style of the 1660s as much as possible, using a mixture of original and replica furnishings. One of the highlights and original features of the interior is the Tulip Staircase, which is the first geometric self-supporting spiral staircase in the UK. I love the colours of the stark white, contrasting against the blue of the railings, it really is such a beautiful feat of design. Although named after tulips, it is thought that the flowers in the wrought-iron balustrade are in fact fleurs-de-lis, the emblem of the Bourbon family of which Queen Henrietta Maria was a member.
One major change to the design and one much contested when it was revealed was the Great Hall ceiling created by Turner Prize-winning artist Richard Wright in 2016. Wright followed the traditions of 17th Century artists and craftsmen, creating a subtle and detailed pattern to bring to life the previously blank ceiling panels. The design was initially drawn as a cartoon on paper which was then transferred to a surface through a technique called pouncing (piercing cartoon holes and running chalk through it), which created a subtle tracing of the work on the ceiling. These marks were then painted with size (adhesive) and covered with gold leaf to create the delicate and elaborate design we see today. I loved how elegant yet subtle the design was and also how wholly appropriate it was to the setting, not distracting from the original elements, yet enhancing them to create a period appropriate composition. ( I didn’t manage to take a clear photo, have a look on the website here for photos of the Great Hall ceiling)
For me, the art collection wasn’t too interesting, don’t get me wrong there are some beautiful maritime paintings from a range of periods, however, this style of painting isn’t really my thing. One of my favourite images was, ‘The Sea Maidens’, by Evelyn De Morgan 1886, one of the most famous female artists of the late 19th century, whose paintings often depict women trapped, whether that be metaphorically or physically. And of course one of the most famous paintings in the collection, ‘The Armada Portrait’ of Elizabeth I 1588, a symbolic propaganda portrait to enforce her power as a female monarch.
I loved exploring the Queen’s House, it’s such an iconic building in British architectural, so it was a great experience to see it in person. Hope you enjoyed reading this post and learning more about the Queen’s House, for more information visit the website here.
Have you been to any of Inigo Jones’ buildings?