Before Inigo Jones came on the scene, the word "architecture," to Europeans, meant only "Italian architecture." Who could ever dare to compete with the classical Greeks and Romans? Jones changed all that by making his mark as the first major British architect in the modern world. And what is particularly interesting about him is that, in ultra-class-conscious Britain, he rose, solely through his own merit, from the humblest of beginnings as the son of a Welsh cloth-maker to become a consultant to kings. Given the overwhelming societal pressures in those days to keep the lower classes in their place, such real-life rags-to-riches stories were almost unheard of (although as anyone who's read Hilary Mantel's magnificent WOLF HALL knows, Henry VIII's advisor Thomas Cromwell was another member of that very small club). So anyway, even though Jones spent only the first third of his life in the 16th century, I hope you'll agree that he was remarkable enough for me to include in my A to Z roster.
Very little is known about Jones's early life, but commentators seem to agree that, sponsored by some wealthy patron, he must have visited Italy within a year or two either before or after the turn of the 17th century. The strongest evidence of this journey is the fact that Jones learned to speak Italian fluently at about this time, and the fact that he acquired a four-volume Italian-language architecture treatise byAndrea Palladio, one of the most gifted contemporary Italian architects. Since Jones appeared in the household records of the Earl of Rutland in 1603 as "Henygo Jones, a picture maker," it seems likely that the Earl may have been the one who had subsidized his first trip abroad. While in Italy, Jones acquired the patronage of King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway, and relocated to his court for a time before returning to England.
Beginning in 1605, Jones began staging theatrical performances in London for which he designed the sets and costumes. That was the year when Queen Anne, wife of James I of England (and also, perhaps not coincidentally, the sister of Jones's patron Christian IV), first hired Jones to stage a masque (a form of entertainment in which costumed and masked performers arrive at a party, mingle with the guests, and then perform a ceremonial dance) at court. Anne must have been pleased with his work, because he continued to design masques for her, and later (after she died) for the king, until 1641. Over 450 drawings for these designs still exist, and demonstrate Jones's skill as a draftsman.
Although he began designing architectural works before 1610, he continued his theatrical work, often in contentious collaboration with the playwright Ben Jonson (apparently the two of them bickered constantly), for another 30 years.
In 1608 Jones was commissioned by Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury, to create his first known architectural design, for the New Exchange in the Strand. Around that same time, Jones produced some designs for the restoration and improvement of Old Saint Paul's Cathedral, although these were later superseded. In 1610 Jones was awarded the post of surveyor of works for Henry, the heir to the throne, but Jones did not produce any notable designs for Henry before the prince died in 1612.
The following year, the King's surveyor of works died, and the job was promised to Jones, who was permitted to take a second trip to Italy before stepping into his new assignment. During the leisurely 18 months he spent in Italy from 1613 to 1614, he studied both ancient ruins and the architectural works of modern masters, Palladio in particular. By the time Jones returned to England, he had transformed himself from a provincial British set designer to a true classical architect.
From 1615 to 1643, Jones was the surveyor of works first for King James, and then for his successor King Charles. His major works included the royal Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace(1619-22),
the Queen's House (a work begun for Queen Anne, suspended when she died in 1619, and completed in 1635 for King Charles's wife),
and a piazza at Covent Garden, which became the first London square.
The Earl of Bedford, who had commissioned the square at Covent Garden, felt obliged to include a church (St. Paul's) in it but didn't want to spend a lot of money doing so. He instructed Jones just to build "a barn," and Jones famously replied that the Earl would have "the finest barn in Europe."
In later years (1633-42), Jones also worked on the restoration of Old St. Paul's Cathedral, although tragically, the building was severely damaged during the English Civil Wars (1642-51) and then, before it could be repaired, was destroyed altogether in the Great Fire of London (1666).
The outbreak of the Civil Wars and the seizure of the King's properties more or less ended Jones's career. He lost his royal post, fled from London, and was captured and fined. A year later he was pardoned and his estate was returned to him, but he never really recovered from the trauma. He continued to work, but designed no important buildings. Jones, who had never married, died in 1652 and was buried with his parents. He is remembered for being the first person to import the concepts of classical architecture to England, inspiring Christopher Wren and generations of others.