James Gibbs

James Gibbs

James Gibbs (1682-1754) was one of Britain's most influential architects. Born in Scotland, he trained as an architect in Rome, and practised mainly in England. His most important works are St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London, and the cylindrical Radcliffe Camera at Oxford University.

Gibbs was a Roman Catholic and a Tory, and was therefore not part of the Palladian movement which was prevalent in English architecture of the period. The Palladians were largely Whigs, led by Lord Burlington and Colen Campbell, a fellow Scot who developed a rivalry with Gibbs. Gibbs' Italian training under the Baroque master, Carlo Fontana, also set him apart from the Palladian school. However, despite being unfashionable, he gained a number of Tory patrons and clients, and became hugely influential through his published works, which became popular as pattern books for architecture.

His architectural style did incorporate Palladian elements, as well as forms from Italian baroque and Inigo Jones (1573-1652), but was most strongly influenced by the work of Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723), who was a supporter of Gibbs during the latter's early career. Overall, Gibbs was an individual who formed his own style independently of current fashions. Architectural historian John Summerson describes his work as the fulfillment of Wren's architectural ideas, which were not fully developed in his own buildings. [Summerson, pp.330, 333] Despite the influence of his books, Gibbs, as a stylistic outsider, had little effect on the later direction of British architecture, which saw the rise of Neoclassicism shortly after his death.


James was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, a younger son of a Roman Catholic family, and studied at Marischal College there. He later travelled through Europe, visiting Flanders, France, Switzerland and Germany, before entering the Scots College in Rome, in 1703, to train for the Catholic priesthood. Gibbs left the following year, and entered the studio of the Baroque architect Carlo Fontana (1634 or 1638–1714), where he trained until 1709.Summerson, p.324] He came to London in 1710, having attracted the notice of the Earl of Mar while abroad.


Early works

Mar attached Gibbs' name among the list of architects to be responsible for the new churches to be built under the Act for Fifty New Churches, and in 1713 he was appointed one of the Commission's two surveyors, the contemporary term for an architect, alongside Nicholas Hawksmoor. He held this post for two years, until he was forced out by the Whigs, because of his Tory sympathies, and replaced by John James. [Summerson, p.280] During his tenure he completed his first important commission, the church of St Mary-le-Strand (1714-1717), in the City of Westminster. A previous design had been prepared by the English Baroque architect Thomas Archer, which Gibbs developed in an Italian Mannerist style, influenced by the Palazzo Branconio dall'Aquila in Rome, attributed to Raphael, as well as taking elemnts from Wren. [Summerson, p.286] Such strong Italian influence was not popular with the Whigs, who were now taking political control following the accession of King George I in 1714, leading to Gibbs' dismissal, and causing him to modify the foreign influences in his work. Colen Campbell's "Vitruvius Britannicus" (1715), which promoted the Palladian style, also contains unfavourable comments regarding Carlo Fontana and St Mary-le-Strand. Campbell went on to replace Gibbs as the architect of Burlington House around 1717, where the latter had designed the offices and colonnades for the young Lord Burlington.

Other early designs include the house of Cannons, Middlesex (1716-1720), for James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, and the tower of Wren's St. Clement Danes (1719). [Summerson, p.325] At Twickenham he designed the pavilion at Orleans House, called the Octagon Room, for a Scottish patron, James Johnston (1655-1737) former Secretary of State for Scotland, about 1718.fact|date=September 2008 It is the only part of the house and grounds that has survived.

Country houses

Gibbs' "mature" style emerges in the early 1720s, with the house of Ditchley, Oxfordshire (1720-1722), for George Lee, 2nd Earl of Lichfield. It typifies his conservative domestic manner, which changed little throughout the rest of his career.Summerson, p.326] His other houses include Sudbrooke Lodge, Petersham (1728), for the Duke of Argyll, works at Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, for the 2nd Earl of Oxford, and Patshull Hall, Staffordshire (1730) for Sir John Astley. Gibbs also completed the Gothic Temple (1741-1748), a triangular folly at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, as well as other garden buildings at Stowe.


Between 1721 and 1726 Gibbs designed his most important and influential work, the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields, located on Trafalgar Square, London. Gibbs' initial design for the commission was for a circular church, derived from a design by Andrea Pozzo.Summerson, p.327] This was rejected by the commission, and Gibbs developed the present, rectangular, design. The layout and detailing of the building owes much to Wren, in particular the church of St James', Piccadilly. [Summerson, p.328] However, Gibbs' innovation at St Martin's was to place the steeple centrally, behind the pediment.Summerson, p.330] By contrast, Wren's steeples were usually adjacent to the church, rather than within the walls. This apparent incongruity was criticised at the time, but St Martin-in-the-Fields nevertheless became a model for church buildings, particularly for Anglican worship, across Britain and around the world.

At the same time, Gibbs designed a chapel of ease for the 1st Earl of Oxford, now known as St Peter's Vere Street (1721-1724). In 1725 he designed All Saints', Derby, now Derby Cathedral, on similar lines to St Martin's, although at Derby the original gothic steeple was retained. Gibbs created numerous designs for funeral monuments, often collaborating with the sculptor Michael Rysbrack.

The universities

Gibbs worked at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Designs for the Senate House (1722-1730) at Cambridge were begun by Gibbs, but as executed the building is probably the work of James Burrough (1691-1764). [Summerson, pp.293-294] The Fellows' Building at King's College (1724-1730) is, however, the work of James Gibbs. A simple composition, similar in style to his houses, the building is enlivened by a central feature incorporating an arch, within a doric portal, and a Diocletian window, all under a pediment. This mannerist composition of features from Wren and Palladio is an example of Gibbs' more adventurous Italian style.

More adventurous still was Gibbs' last major work, the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford (1739-1749). A circular library building was first planned by Hawksmoor around 1715, but nothing was done at the time. Sometime before 1736, new designs were submitted by Hawksmoor and Gibbs, with the latter's rectangular design being preferred. However, this plan was abandoned in favour of a circular plan by Gibbs, which drew on Hawksmoor's 1715 scheme, although it was very different in detail.Summerson, p.333] Gibbs' design saw him returning to his Italian mannerist sources, and in particular shows the influence of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice (1681), by Baldassarre Longhena. The building incorporates unexpected vertical alignments, for instance the ribs of the dome do not line up with the columns of the drum, but lie in between, creating a rhythmically complex composition. Gibbs was awarded an honorary degree of Master of Arts in recognition of his work.fact|date=September 2008

Published works

Gibbs published his "Book of Architecture" in 1728, a folio of his building designs both executed and not, as well as numerous designs for ornaments. It was intended to be a pattern book for both architects and clients, and became, according to John Summerson, "probably the most widely-used architecture book of the century, not only throughout Britain, but in the American colonies and the West Indies". In 1732, Gibbs published the "Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture", a textbook which was used well into the 19th century.

In 1735, Gavin Hamilton painted "A Conversation of Virtuosis... at the Kings Arms", a group portrait that included Gibbs and Rysbrack, along with other artists who were instrumental in bringing the Rococo style to English design and interiors.

ee also




*Summerson, John (1993) "Architecture in the United Kingdom, 1530-1830" 9th edition. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300058864

External links

* [http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/detail.asp?ContentID=162 James Gibbs] , Twickenham Museum

Further reading

*Friedman, Terry. 1984. "James Gibbs", (Yale University Press).

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