Classical architecture arrives in Oxford, 1599

Classical architecture arrives in Oxford, 1599

Image 1. Former entrance to St Alban Hall, Merton Street, Oxford: Source: photo by Robin Stevens, 28 April 2007. Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0:

Image 2. St Alban Hall in 1814. Engraving by John Le Keux, from drawing by F. Mackenzie, published in James Ingram, Memorials of Oxford (1837). Public domain. From 

Images 3-4. St Alban Hall in 1675. From David Loggan, Oxonia illustrata (1675), plate xxxiv.

Commentary. For most of the sixteenth century, classical scholarship was well established in Oxford. Nowhere more firmly identified with this trend than Corpus Christi College, founded at the western end of Merton Street in 1517 by a friend and patron of Erasmus. For generations after the foundation of Corpus, however, Oxford remained virtually untouched by classical architecture. The oldest semi-classical column in Oxford was not, strictly speaking, an architectural element at all, but the free-standing sundial in the front quadrangle of Corpus; nor was this column accurately modelled on any of the five classical orders which were already canonical in Italy and France.  It was not until the final year of the century that the first known classical architectural elements were added to the exterior of an Oxford building: the two pairs of Tuscan columns flanking the modest entrance of what was then St Alban Hall. The introduction of classicism is not only a central theme of the building programme which transformed the University between 1598 and 1637: it also contributed to the stabilization of mathematics within the University curriculum over the course of the seventeenth century and the rise of architecture as a profession from master artisans to gentleman architects.

For St Alban Hall, see Loggan, Oxonia illustrata (1675), plate xxxiv.