The English architect and designer Inigo Jones (1573-1652) was the most talented native artist in England in the first half of the 17th century. He was responsible for introducing Italian Renaissance architecture into England.
In 1615 James I appointed Jones surveyor of the King's works, an important position, which was essentially that of chief architect to the Crown. He also held this position under Charles I until 1642, when the outbreak of the civil war disrupted court life.
During the reigns of both monarchs Jones designed and produced court masques, elaborate theatrical festivals which were common at courts on the Continent, especially in Italy. Ben Jonson often wrote scripts for the masques, and between 1605 and 1640 Jones worked on at least 25 of these productions. James l's queen, Anne of Denmark, was devoted to lavish entertainment and to the masques, and the tradition was continued in the reign of Charles I.
The masques, in which the sovereigns and courtiers participated, were dazzling spectacles organized around allegorical or mythological themes; they involved music, ballet, and spoken parts and required fantastic costumes, complex stage machinery, and brilliant stage settings. Hundreds of Jones's drawings for the costumes and stage designs are extant, none of which would have been possible without his knowledge of Italian art and draftsmanship. The masques allowed him to exercise an imaginative fantasy which rarely appears in the sobriety of his architectural designs.
Jones was the first professional architect in England in the modern sense of the term, and he turned English architecture from its essentially medieval Gothic and Tudor traditions into the mainstream of the Italian Renaissance manner. He designed many architectural projects, some of them vast in scale; but of the buildings actually executed from his designs only seven remain, most of them in an altered or restored state.
The earliest of Jones's surviving buildings is the Queen's House at Greenwich, a project he undertook for Queen Anne in 1616. The lower floor was completed at the time the Queen died in 1619.
The building now most associated with Jones is the Banqueting House at Whitehall (1619-1622). Intended to serve as a setting for state functions, it is a sophisticated manipulation of Italian classical elements and owes much to Palladio. The main facade consists of seven bays and two stories gracefully unified in an elegant, rational pattern of classical columns and pilasters, lightly rusticated stone, discreetly carved ornamentation, and a delicate contrast of textures. The interior is one large double-cube room; its classical severity contrasts dramatically with the richly baroque ceiling containing paintings by Peter Paul Rubens that were installed in 1635.
The Queen's Chapel, Marlborough Gate, completed in 1627, has a coffered barrel vault derived from imperial Roman architecture; it was Jones's first design for a church and the first church structure in England in the classical style. In 1631 he became associated with a city planning project in the Covent Garden district of London and designed St. Paul's Church there. The church, which still exists in a restored condition, is in the form of an austere classical temple with a deep portico and severe Tuscan columns. Between 1634 and 1642 Jones was occupied with extensive restoration of the old St. Paul's Cathedral (now destroyed), which he fronted with a giant classical portico of 10 Corinthian columns.
In 1642 the conflict between Parliament and King erupted in open warfare which swept away the elegant Cavalier court of Charles I, and Jones's world disappeared with it.