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8 Masterworks of a Superior Order

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

No person can in this life reach the point at which he is excused from outward works.

Meister Eckhart.

Although every London church of the era was built according to sacred geometry and classical proportions, and founded with customary rites and ceremonies, there is not space to describe each one individually. St Paul’s Cathedral is, without doubt, the major London church of this period, and my work on it will appear in a subsequent publication. This chapter is a selection of the more notable examples of the work of three architects: Wren, Hawksmoor and Gibbs. The principles embodied in these churches reveal the character of the others not described here. They all embody structure and symbol in a masterly way, emulating a superior order that emanates from the creative intelligence that is the source of all. This commonality of purpose is the thread that links them all.

The London architects of this era understood and acknowledged continuity. Many new churches were built on the sites of earlier ones, themselves having replaced, it was believed, Pagan temples of the ancient Britons and Romans. These architects acknowledged pluralistic sources in Pagan, Jewish and Christian spiritual traditions, and understood their basic principles well enough to create unified ensembles. Inscriptions in Hebrew, Greek and Latin acknowledge these multiple sources of spirituality, whilst mathematical, mythic, emblematic, symbolic, astrological and craft traditions also have their often unobtrusive places. Clearly, these structures expressed something of the aspirations of their builders, and possess a soul of their own.303

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4 The Sacred Art of Geometry in Action

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

It is in the public interest to learn and practise the art of geometry.

Justinian’s Compendium of Civil Law.

The basics of geometry do not change, neither does the symbolism. Geometry is the underlying continuity in sacred art, which has been known and developed from the time of megalithic Europe and the ancient Egyptians, and added to by the analytical work of the Greek philosophers Archimedes and Euclid. A key work in western geometry is Euclid’s The Thirteen Books of the Elements, written originally in ancient Greek, but transmitted to later times through Arabic and then Latin versions. In the twelfth century, the Italian Gerard of Cremona, and the English scholar Aethelhard, produced Latin translations, and in the thirteenth century, Johannes Campanus of Novaro made a version that was infuential until the renais-sance.124 Euclid’s work contains defnitions, postulates, propositions and proofs of various geometical problems that have formed the basis of teaching ‘Euclidean geometry’ to this day. However, the most infuential architectural theorist of the renaissance, Leon Battista Alberti, does not mention Euclid, but was a follower of Archimedes. In addition to the known written sources of antiquity, Archimedes, Euclid and Vitruvius being among the most signifcant, there is a parallel transmission through craftsmanship, generally kept as trade secrets. By the mid-seventeenth century, all the various ancient works were published and available to architects, as well as the now-divulged trade secrets of the masons and carpenters, who had formerly not given them to anyone who was not a fellow practitioner. In addition, there was continuous research and progress brought about through new insights and discoveries. It is because of the integration of these multiple sources in the seventeenth century that the unique buildings erected after the Great Fire of London took the form they did.

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Appendix 1: Glossary of technical terms

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

AD QUADRATUM Geometrical scheme based upon the square and subdivisions of the square

AD TRIANGULUM Geometrical scheme based upon the equilateral triangle and its developments

AEDICULE Architectural frame of a niche or opening, with columns and entablature (q.v.)

ARCHITRAVE The lowest segment of the three parts of the entablature, also a moulding around a door or window

BEAK Complex moulding with convex geometric curve, semicircular concave undercut and oval-section lower part

BALDACCHINO Columned tabernacle covering a high altar

CAPITAL Head of a column, varying in form between the fve classical orders

CARDINAL DIRECTIONS North, east, south and west. Between each are the intercardinal directions

CARDO The straight north-south road of the Etruscan Discipline, crossing the decumanus at the omphalos, or centre

CAVETTO Hollow moulding, generally a quadrant of a circle, but sometimes a more complex geometric curve

COMPOSITE Architectural order originating in Imperial Rome, combining Ionic volutes with Corinthian foliage

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6 Symbols and Emblemata

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

Man rashly mounting through the empty Skies
With wanton Wings shall cross the Seas wel-nigh
And (doubtles) if the Geometrician fnde
Another World where (to his working Minde)
To place at pleasure and convenience
His wondrous Engines and rare Instruments,
Even (like a little God) in time he may
To some new place transport this World away.

Salluste du Bartas, His Devine Weekes and Workes, (translated by J. Sylvester, London 1606).

The infuential tradition of emblem books emerged from the renewed interest in the meaning of classical myths, allegories and symbols in ffteenth century Italy. Francesco Colonna’s book, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published in Venice in 1499, provided the infuential early emblematicists, Andrea Alciato and Achille Bocci, with some of their motifs. Alciato’s Emblemata, which first appeared in 1531, ran through 170 known editions. Between 1531 and 1700, it is estimated that over two thousand editions appeared of around one thousand different emblem books, written by six hundred authors.187Achille Bocci (1488-1562), who taught in the Faculty of Rhetoric at the University of Bologna from 1508 until 1562, was an important influence upon the development of the emblem book, developing the theory of emblematics in a practical form.188 His major work, Symbolicae Quaestiones (1555) used Pagan imagery which gave specific functions for gods and personifications such as Atlas, Bellerophon, Constantia, Fortuna, Hercules, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Proteus and Sapientia as well as Socrates’ daimon and the triumphal car of the Gallic Hercules, Ogmios (depicted as binding the ears of his followers with the chains of eloquence). In addition, Bocci’s emblems employed architectural features such as Temples of Janus, Fortune and Honour, urns, garlands and obelisks (which had appeared in Hypnerotomachia Poliphili and later in physical form in the new classical architecture). The classical Pagan tradition had been explored in both Boccaccio’s Genialogia degli Dei (Genealogy of the Gods) and Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Many appear to have been designed according to the precepts of the art of memory.189

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Appendix 2: A chronology of London classical church building

Pennick, Nigel Aeon Books ePub

There were fifty-six churches rebuilt in the City and environs in the aftermath of the Great Fire, as well as St Paul’s Cathedral. More were built outside the City boundaries after the 1711 act. In addition to purely classical designs, signifcant Gothic reconstructions and constructions are listed, for example Hawksmoor’s additions to Westminster Abbey. Few churches ascribed to Wren are wholly his design, and this is not surprising in the context of how many designs had to be produced. Wren was in charge of the project and he certainly authorized any design that was built. So the rubric ‘Wren churches’ is more a matter of convenience than direct ascription. Wren as virtually sole author is celebrated in Christopher Cockerell’s much-reproduced watercolour, A Tribute to the Memory of Sir Christopher Wren (1838), and Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo’s infuential book of 1883, Wren’s City Churches.

St Paul’s Cathedral, St Mary-le-Bow, St Stephen’s Walbrook, St Andrew’s Holborn and St James, Piccadilly are almost totally by Sir Christopher Wren. But not every design component in any of these churches was necessarily by the named architect. The associates and assistants of Wren frequently produced their own designs for various parts, and perhaps whole churches traditionally ascribed to Wren were not by him. In some ‘Wren’ churches, the major hand in design was Robert Hooke. Edward Woodroffe and John Oliver also may have designed individual buildings. Events certainly affected the buildings. No new church was begun in 1673, when England was engaged in a naval war with Holland. Steeple design altered radically after 1703. When Hooke died in 1703, Nicholas Hawksmoor became a more important infuence. Hawksmoor certainly designed some steeples of ‘Wren’ churches, as did William Dickinson, and later he worked in association with John James. But how much the design change came about because of Hawksmoor and how much was a response to the November 1703 hurricane is unknown.

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