The Court Masque in the 17th Century

The most lavish 17th-century productions were not open to the public. King James I and later his son Charles I commissioned spectacular private performances called ‘masques’ which involved music, dance, opulent costumes and extraordinary scenery and special effects. They were performed once or twice at one of the royal palaces and were only seen by members of the court. Such lavish court entertainments were fashionable throughout Europe as an expression of princely power.

Masques were often used to celebrate royal occasions such as a wedding or birth. Design and visual symbols played an important role in masques which called for lavish costumes and sets. Nobles and royalty would take part, often playing gods or heroes while the other roles were played by professional actors.

Court entertainments were far more opulent than those of the public playhouses, but professional actors and writers crossed over between both. Masque-like elements began to be included in popular plays. There are masque scenes in Thomas Kyd’s 'The Spanish Tragedy’ and Shakespeare’s 'Cymbeline’ and 'The Tempest’. Ben Jonson wrote masques for the court as well as drama for the public playhouses.

Inigo Jones (1573–1652)

Inigo Jones introduced the proscenium arch and moveable scenery arranged in perspective into British theatre.

While travelling in France and Italy he had been impressed and inspired by the use of stage machinery and scenic invention. Under James I and Charles I he collaborated with the writer Ben Jonson on a series of masques and elaborate court productions that cost a fortune.

Inigo Jones’s scenery used a series of shutters that slid in and out using grooves in the floor. He even flew in scenery from above and introduced coloured lighting by placing candles behind tinted glass.

After a series of successful collaborations Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones quarrelled. Jonson accused Jones of ensuring that the scenic changes and transformations had more predominance in the masque than his poetry. Indeed 'The Masque of Oberon’ in 1611 cost over £2000 and the costumes alone cost over £1000. Jonson received £40 for writing the script.

Inigo Jones went on to design theatre buildings. In 1619 he transformed the Banqueting House at Whitehall into a theatre and in 1629 built the Cockpit at Court.

Inigo Jones

It is Throwback Thursday!

Inigo Jones is acclaimed as the first English architect who brought Italian Renaissance architecture to Britain. Born in 1573, he traveled extensively around the Europe and was deeply influenced by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio. Serving as Surveyor to the King’s Works, his first task was to design the Queen’s House in Greenwich with its symmetrical and sturdy façade. He incorporated Palladian architectural elements into Wilton House, a country home in Wiltshire. For royal festivities, he designed the Banqueting House in Whitehall with a glorious ceiling by the Flemish artist Paul Rubens. Following the fourth Earl of Bedford’s order—“I would have it not much better than a barn,” Jones designed the church of St Paul in Covent Garden.

As a person who “knows no other pleasure than learning,” Jones also designed stage sets for the court comedies, in collaboration with the English playwright Ben Johnson.

In 1989, the exhibition Inigo Jones: Complete Architectural Drawings at The Drawing Center presented 100 drawings by the renowned architect of the Elizabethan era. It was the first major exhibition works by this master draughtsman, who transformed architectural drawing into an art form of the highest level.

The Tulip Staircase inside Queen’s House in Greenwich, London

The Queen’s House, Greenwich, is a former royal residence built between 1616–1619 in Greenwich, then a few miles downriver from London, and now a district of the city. Its architect was Inigo Jones, for whom it was a crucial early commission, for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I of England. It was altered and completed by Jones, in a second campaign about 1635 for Henrietta Maria, queen of King Charles I. The Queen’s House is one of the most important buildings in British architectural history, being the first consciously classical building to have been constructed in Britain. It was Jones’s first major commission after returning from his 1613–1615 grand tour[2] of Roman, Renaissance and Palladian architecture in Italy. [1]

Photo: AndreaPucci, via Sylvia Chavez Goldkranz


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Inigo Jones: The Architect of Kings (Studies in British Art)

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The Great Hall: Queen’s House by curry15 on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
I was thrilled to find that photography is now allowed at Queen’s House.

The Great Hall is a huge cube (40 x 40 ft) that rises through the centre of the House’s north side. The design of the whole House and the Great Hall in particular reflects Palladio’s rules of proportion.. Probably the most striking feature of the Great Hall is the geometrically-patterned black-and-white marble floor, laid in 1635 by Nicholas Stone..

The Wilton House “Double Cube Room” was designed by Inigo Jones and Isaac de Caus to display a number of Van Dyck portraits. The room is 60 feet long, 30 feet wide and 30 feet high!

Wilton House is an English country house situated at Wilton near Salisbury in Wiltshire. Begun in 1632, it has been the country seat of the Earls of Pembroke for over 400 years.


The Queen’s House, Greenwich

Commissioned by Anne of Denmark, wife of James I (reigned 1603–25). Traditionally he is said to have given the manor of Greenwich to Anne in apology for having sworn at her in public, after she accidentally shot one of his favourite dogs while hunting in 1614.

In 1616 Anne commissioned Inigo Jones to design a new pavilion for her at Greenwich. Jones had recently spent three years in Italy studying Roman and Renaissance architecture. It was his first important commission and the first fully Classical building seen in England. Though generally called Palladian in style, its prime model was the Medici villa at Poggio a Caiano, by Giuliano de Sangallo.

It was structurally completed in 1635. Reflecting Renaissance ideas of mathematical, Classical proportion and harmony, the House’s design was revolutionary in Britain at a time when even the best native building was still in red-brick, Tudor-derived style.