The Schools Quadrangle, 1613-24

Commentary
The Schools Quadrangle, 1613-24

Image 1. Schools Quadrangle in the present day, taken from within.

Image 2. Schematic representation of the typical late medieval and early modern university curriculum. Credits: Nermeen Hilton (third-year student, Balliol College, Oxford, February 2018).

Images 3-7. Schools Quadrangle, Bodleian Library, 1613-24. 3: Plan of the Quadrangle, indicating the location of the individual 'schools'  4: west facade: entrance to the Divinity School. 5: north facade: exit toward Clarendon Building, Sheldonian Theatre, Old Ashmolean, Broad Street. 6: east facade: Tower of the Five Orders, exit toward Catte Street. 7: south facade, exit toward Radcliffe Square. Source: all images from panoramic view.

Image 2. From the late medieval period well into the seventeenth century, universities across Europe adopted a more or less uniform curriculum.  At its pinnacle were one or more of the three higher faculties: theology, law and medicine.  Below these was the fourth faculty, designated as ‘arts’ or ‘philosophy’, which was regarded as propaedeutic (that is, preparatory) to the study of the higher disciplines. As its ambiguous names suggest, this fourth faculty was divided between the three philosophies and the seven liberal arts, which were further divided into the trivium and the quadrivium. 
 
Image 3. Nowhere is the resilience of this curriculum more palpably manifest that in the Schools Quadrangle of Oxford University, built between 1613 and 1624.  Within the quadrangle, every one of these disciplines is inscribed over a doorway to one of the ‘schools’ as the chambers set aside for lectures and disputations in the named disciplines were called.  The three higher faculties and the three philosophies all have ‘schools’ of their own.  The quadrivium occupies three schools rather than four, because arithmetic and geometry are housed together.  The trivium, on the other hand, occupies four schools rather than three, because separate housing is provided for Latin and Greek grammar.  Only one discipline is listed which is not in this age-old scheme: history, which shares a school with grammar.
 
Credits: Nermeen Hilton (Image 2) and Howard Hotson (February 2018)