The Elizabethan was a minor age in art. Metalworkers turned out some lovely silverware, like the Mostyn salt cellar, and majestic grilles like that in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor. The making of Venetian glass was domiciled in England about 1560; vessels of such glass were by many valued above corresponding pieces in silver or gold. Sculpture and pottery were undistinguished. Nicholas Hilliard developed a school of miniature painting, and Elizabeth granted him a monopoly in so reproducing her features. Portrait painters were importees: Federigo Zuccaro from Italy, Marcus Gheeraerts and his son of the same name from the Netherlands. The son has left us an imposing portrait of William Cecil in resplendent, voluminous robes as a Knight of the Garter.56 Otherwise there was no great painting in England between Holbein and Vandyck.
Only architecture was a major art in the England of Elizabeth and James, and it was almost entirely secular. While Europe was fighting the battle of the faiths, art, like conduct, neglected religion. In medieval centuries, when the profoundest poetry and art had their roots in the sky, architecture dedicated itself to church building, and made homes a form of life imprisonment. In Tudor England religion departed from life into politics; the wealth of the Church passed into lay hands and was transformed into civic structures and lordly palaces. Style changed accordingly. In 1563 John Shute returned from Italy and France bursting with Vitruvius, Palladio, and Serlio; soon he published The First and Chief Grounds of Architecture, lauding the classic styles; so the Italian scorn of Gothic entered England, and Gothic verticals fought for air amid the encompassing horizontals of the Renaissance.
In civic architecture the age could boast some handsome achievements: the gate of honor of Caius College and the quadrangle of Clare College at Cambridge, the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the Royal Exchange in London, and the Middle Temple. As lawyers, since Wolsey, had replaced bishops in the administration of England, it was fitting that the civic masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture should be the great hall of a law school, finished in the Middle Temple in 1572. No woodwork in England was finer than the oak screen at the inner end of that hall. It was demolished by bombs in the Second World War.
When Elizabethan magnates could afford it they built palaces rivaling the châteaux of the Loire. Sir John Thynne raised Longleat House; Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, had her Hardwick Hall; Thomas, Earl of Suffolk, built Audley End at a cost of £190,000, “mainly procured from Spanish bribes”;57 Sir Edward Phillips reared Montacute House in chaste Renaissance style; and Sir Francis Willoughby erected Wollaton Hall. William Cecil poured part of his gleanings into an immense château near Stamford; and his son Robert spent almost as much on Hatfield House, whose long gallery is one of the grandest interiors in all the architecture of the age. Such long galleries, on an upper floor, replaced in Elizabethan palaces the timbered great hall of the manor house. Magnificent chimney pieces, massive furniture in walnut or oak, majestic stairways, carved balustrades, and timbered ceilings gave these palatial chambers a warmth and dignity missing in the more brilliant rooms of the French châteaux. So far as we know, the designers of these palaces were the first to receive the title of architect. The epitaph of Robert Smythson, creator of Wollaton Hall, called him “architector,” i.e., master builder; now at last the great profession found its modern name.
Now, too, English art became personal, and a man stamped his work with his character and his will. Born in Smithfield in 1573, Inigo Jones showed in youth such a flair for design that an earl sent him to Italy (1600) to study Renaissance architecture. Back in England (1605), he prepared the scenery of many masques for James I and his Danish Queen. He visited Italy again (1612–14) and returned an enthusiast for the classic architectural principles that he had studied in the English translation (1567?) of Vitruvius, and which he found illustrated in the buildings of Palladio, Peruzzi, Sanmicheli, and Sansovino in Venice and Vicenza. He rejected the anomalous mixtures of German, Flemish, French, and Italian forms that had predominated in Elizabethan architecture; he proposed a pure classic style, in which the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders would be kept apart or combined in a congenial sequence and unity.
In 1615 he was put in charge of all royal construction as surveyor general of the works. When the banqueting hall in the palace of Whitehall was burned down (1619), Jones was commissioned to build a new hall for the King. He planned an immense congeries of structures—all in all, 1,152 feet by 874—which, if completed, would have given the British ruler a vaster home than the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Escorial, or Versailles. But James preferred drinking for the day to building for centuries; he confined his outlay to the new banqueting hall, which, deprived of its intended setting, presented an unprepossessing façade of classical and Renaissance lines. When Archbishop Laud asked James to repair the old Cathedral of St. Paul the architect committed the crime of encasing the Gothic nave in a Renaissance exterior. Fortunately this structure was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Jones’s Palladian fronts gradually replaced the Tudor style, and it dominated England till the middle of the eighteenth century.
Jones not only served as chief architect for Charles I, but learned to love that luckless gentleman so visibly that when the Civil War broke out he buried his savings in the Lambeth marshes and fled to Hampshire (1643). Cromwell’s soldiers captured him there, but gave him his life for £1,045.58 During this absence from London he designed a country house in Wiltshire for the Earl of Pembroke. The façade was simple Renaissance, but the interior was a model of grandeur and elegance; the “double-cube” hall, sixty by thirty by thirty feet, has been judged the most beautiful room in England.59 As royal armies consumed aristocratic wealth, Jones lost patronage as well as popularity; he retired into obscurity and died in poverty (1651). Art slept while war remade the government of England.