A Summer 2003 NEH Institute.
Directed by David Cressy
and Lori Anne Ferrell.


Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677).
Palatium Regis propè Londinium, vulgo White-hall

• Inigo Jones' Banqueting House at Whitehall

Full-text of Thomas Carew and Inigo Jones's Coelum Brittanicum, 1633.

    Inigo Jones' Banqueting House at Whitehall

One of the most important sites of court activity within Whitehall Palace was the Banqueting House, designed by Inigo Jones (1573-1652). Commissioned by James I, Jones's building replaced an older Tudor structure that burnt down in 1619. The Banqueting House was completed in 1622.

The Banqueting House is considered the first Renaissance building in England designed by the first English architect in the Italian sense of the word. Following the model of the architects in Italy, Jones was not a mere craftsman, but also an artist who knew design and theory. He ultimately became a gentleman of the court. Little is know of Jones's early life, but from 1598 to 1603 he was traveling on the Continent, studying painting and the other arts. It was during this trip that he purchased a copy of Andrea Palladio's I quattro libri d'architettura (Venice, 1570). With the succession of James I, Jones returned home and began to work as a "picture-maker," or portrait painter. Soon he became a designer of the scenery, costumes, and stage effects of court masques, often working in collaboration with the poet Ben Jonson (1572-1637). From 1613, Jones was once again traveling abroad, this time to Italy in the entourage of Lord Arundel (1585-1646), an important collector of antiquities. During this trip, Jones made an intensive study of Palladio's villas, civic buildings, and churches in the Veneto. After visiting Rome, Naples, and other cities, Jones returned to England in 1615, where he was appointed Surveyor of the Works, putting him in charge of all royal building projects.

With the Banqueting House, Jones introduced a new style of architecture to England based on the Renaissance ideals of Palladio (1508-1580). The facade, modeled after Palladian prototypes, is built of drafted stone and takes the form of superimposed orders, Ionic and Corinthian, resting on a basement story. Engaged columns articulate the three central bays; coupled pilasters, the ends of the facade. The windows, with triangular and segmental pediments on the main floor, and straight lintels on the floor above, as well as the decorative details, including the swags in the frieze, are all in accordance with the style of Palladio. As two early sketches now in the Chatsworth collection indicate, the preliminary designs were even more Palladian, each with a pediment over the center, in the mode of Palladio's villas.

Inside, the building demonstrates even more clearly the classical ideals of the Renaissance. The large hall, corresponding physically to the two main stories of the facade, is located above a basement level that contained an artificial grotto for drinking parties. In accordance with the classical rules of geometry presented by Palladio in his treatise, the hall has the form and proportions of a double cube (110 feet by 55 feet by 55 feet). In accordance with classical rules of decorum, it is modeled on the ancient Roman basilica, as described and reconstructed by Palladio. Jones, however, replaced the typical side aisles with a cantilevered balcony supported by Ionic engaged columns with Corinthian pilasters above. The original domed niche at the southern end of the space was removed in 1626.

The Banqueting House was used for state banquets and receptions of ambassadors, as well as masques. During these performances, large number of spectators gathered in Jones's grand two-story space, as well as above in the balcony along with the musicians. The stage was constructed at one end of the space, and the masquers, dressed in Jones's costumes, performed verses, songs, and dances against the backdrop of Jones's scenery. In 1635, ceiling paintings by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), depicting the apotheosis of James I and an allegory of the birth of Charles I, were installed. These paintings completed what Jones created at the Banqueting House—an appropriate setting, functionally and symbolically, for one of the most important rituals of the early Stuart Court—the masque.

Lydia M. Soo
The University of Michigan

Suggestions for further reading: Anderson, Christy. "Learning to Read Architecture in the English Renaissance." In Albion's Classicism: The Visual Arts in Britain, 1550-1660, edited by Lucy Gent, 239-286. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

---. "Monstrous Babels: Language and Architectural Style in the English Renaissance." In Architecture and Language: Constructing Identity in European Architecture c. 1000-c. 1650, edited by Georgia Clarke and Paul Crossley, 148-161. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

---. Inigo Jones: Books and Buildings in the English Renaissance. New York: Cambridge University Press, in press.

Harris, John, and Gordon Higgott. Inigo Jones: Complete Architectural Drawings. London: A. Zwemmer Ltd., 1989.

Simpson, Percy. Designs by Inigo Jones for Masques & Plays at Court; a Descriptive Catalogue of Drawings for Scenery and Costumes mainly in the collection of His Grace the Duke of Devonshire. Oxford: Printed for the Walpole and Malone Societies at the University Press, 1924.

Summerson, John. Inigo Jones. New Haven: Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British art by Yale University Press, 2000.

Strong, Roy. Britannia Triumphans: Inigo Jones, Rubens and Whitehall Palace. [London]: Thames and Hudson, 1980.

Thurley, Simon. Whitehall Palace: An Architectural History of the Royal Apartments, 1240-1698. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999.

© 2004 Folger Institute