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Wren and his draughtsmen
SIR CHRISTOPHER WREN AND HIS DRAUGHTSMEN AT ST PAUL’S
On becoming Surveyor at St Paul’s Cathedral on 30 July 1669 Wren had charge of a small office of works in the old cloister in the south churchyard. He was assisted by John Tillison, the Clerk of Works, and Edward Woodroofe, an experienced surveyor who, eighteen months earlier, had helped Wren prepare a scheme – abandoned that summer – for a temporary choir and auditory the ruined nave. Now Woodroofe worked on Wren’s designs for the ‘First Model’, completed in May 1670. Soon afterwards he drew the ‘Greek Cross’ design that King Charles II approved for construction as a model in December 1672 (see 1. Designs for the Great Model, 1673, figs 4 and 5).
Early in 1673, the octagonal Convocation House, or chapter house, in the middle of the cloister, was re-roofed to create a well-lit upper chamber, about 12 metres wide, for the design and construction of the Great Model. This chamber now became Wren’s drawing office – as we know from a remark by John Tillison in a letter to Dean Sancroft on 22 September 1673: ‘Dr Wren & Mr Woodroof have been the week last past in the Convocation house, drawing the Lines of the Designe of the church upon the Table there, for the Joyner’s Directions for making the new Modell’ (Wren Society 13, p.51). The Convocation House was demolished in 1690–91 (Wren Society 14, pp.74, 84); thereafter the Great Model and drawing office were probably re-housed in the south range of the old cloister. The footings of the Convocation House were revealed during F.C. Penrose’s excavations of the churchyard in 1878–79 (fig. 1). (See Campbell 2007, pp.42–52; Schofield 2011, pp.147–57, 221–22)
The hands of at least thirteen of Wren’s draughtsmen have now been identified in the St Paul’s Collection drawings. They include measurers, carvers, masons, an engraver, and the future architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, Wren’s most prolific draughtsman and the only one who was paid specifically for drawing (Wren Society 16, p.67). A striking characteristic of the Wren-office drawings is the evidence they present of close collaborative working on paper. The usual hierarchy of the architect’s office, whereby the master prepares the sketch for the assistant to work up as a finished drawing, is absent. From start to finish design-work is shared, and very rarely does a single draughtsman – even Wren himself – have a monopoly on paper of any part of the scheme at any one time.
Sir Christoper Wren (1632–1723) drew with great precision and elegance, relying almost entirely on outline to convey three-dimensional architectural form. Twenty-three drawings in the Collection can now be identified as wholly in his hand: WRE/1/1–3; WRE/2/2/1 and 4–7; WRE/2/3/1, 2, 4, 5, 8; WRE/2/4/2–4; WRE/4/1/4 and 5; WRE/5/1/12; WRE/6/1/1 and 2; and WRE/7/4/1 and 7. He exploited the flexible nib of the quill to drawn thicker or thinner lines for wall edges and moulding profiles to express depth and the fall of light (WRE/2/2/6 and 7). Trial marks from a quill pen are found on several of his drawings (see WRE/2/4/3, reverse). He applied freehand pencil softly to explore alternatives for plans, profiles and ornaments; see WRE/1/2 and 3 and (fig. 2). Once recognised, this technique can be identified in many preparatory studies, irrespective of the draughtsmen responsible for the finished ink drawings (see WRE/5/1/11). His ruled pencil drawings often have a scale bar with combined comma and colon marks at the 5-ft divisions; see WRE/4/1/5 and WRE/6/1/1. This convention first appears on one of his early ink studies: WRE/2/2/7. He separated numbered dimensions with dots rather than dashes and rarely used ‘feet ‘and ‘inch’ abbreviations. In the 1680s and 1690s Wren also sketched freehand in ink (WRE/5/1/12). (See Geraghty 2007, pp.8–13).
Edward Woodroofe (c.1622–1675) was Wren’s first draughtsman at St Paul’s and became Assistant Surveyor in May 1674. His death in early November 1675 helps establish the extent of the design in the first few months of construction. Seven drawings in the Collection can be attributed to him: they are for the eastern arm and crossing at the lower levels, and for the crossing arches of a 16-bay dome; see WRE/2/1/2, 4, 5–7; WRE/2/2/2 and 3 (the last two bearing pencil sketching by Wren). They show that Wren had not finalised the crossing piers and smaller internal order when he had nearly completed the design of the crypt and basement walls in 1675. Woodroofe drew in thick, even, ruled ink lines, occasionally reinforced with ruled shading and freehand pencil shading. Corinthian capitals have lobe-shaped leaves. Numbered dimensions are marked with large chevrons and include a ‘4’ with an open top and an ‘8’ written as two equal circles (fig. 3). (See Geraghty 2001)
An unidentified draughtsman (fl.1675–c.1687) was active from before the start of construction in June 1675 until the early phase of revisions in c.1685–87. Twenty-seven drawings are wholly or partly in his hand. He drew the acanthus leaves of Corinthian capitals as flattened, club-like forms (WRE/3/2/5), wrote his ‘3’ with a straight top, and usually wrote an ‘i’ for a ‘1’ in scale bars (see WRE/2/4/8). He shaded tentatively in parallel lines, and used red chalk for the plans of the upper walls (WRE/3/2/1). His hand is found in drawings for the crypt and the crossing at church-floor level around the start of construction (WRE/2/1/1 and 3), and in early studies for the Lord Mayor’s and Dean’s Vestry (WRE/2/3/9 and 10). It appears alongside Edward Pearce’s in several studies for the transept entrance, internal wall, and the Dean’s Vestry in c.1678–79 (WRE/2/4/5–8, 10–12; WRE/2/3/13). He drew an important half-section at triforium level of c.1679–83, which shows the aisle wall surmounted by an attic rather than a screen wall (fig. 4), and two early designs for the triforium roof structure and screen wall (WRE/3/1/8 and 9). He did not draw any designs for the west end, and may have been a mason in one of the teams working in the eastern arm and crossing, perhaps that of Thomas Strong, since the earliest drawing assigned to him, WRE/2/1/1, is for the eastern half of the crypt where Strong’s team had charge.
Edward Strong (1652–1724) worked as a mason from 1675 and succeeded his brother Thomas as a master-mason on the latter’s death in 1681. Five drawings can be assigned to him, partly on the basis of their inscriptions, which closely match those in several signed notes in the St Paul’s Cathedral Acquittance books (GL MS, 25,481/3), especially in the z-shaped lower-case secretary ‘r’ (fig. 5 and WRE/3/2/7). His responsibility for an important half-plan of the transept end in c.1678–79, WRE/2/4/12, can be established from comparisons with the annotations on these drawings, notably in the ‘8’s and ‘4’s and in the use of chevrons, dashes and fractions.
An unidentified draughtsman associated with Edward Strong (fl. c.1706–07) prepared an annotated pen-and-wash drawing for the masonry of the lantern, probably in connection with a small-scale model completed by Strong’s team in January 1707, WRE/5/3/10. His hand is not evident elsewhere in the Collection.
Edward Pearce (c.1635–95) joined the St Paul’s office as a master-mason in September 1678 and left in 1690. Thirteen drawings are wholly or partly in his hand. An exceptional sculptor of naturalistic ornament, he drew fruit and foliage in plump, rounded forms, freely shaded in pen and wash, and often in profiles that resemble a dolphin’s head (see WRE/2/4/6). He shaded Corinthian capitals in horizontal pen lines, often used double-ruled scale bars, and wrote in cursive, rightward-slanting hand with long looped ‘f’s and ‘I’s, and a secretary lower-case ‘c’ (see WRE/2/4/1, 2, 5, 6, 14, 17, 18). He drew designs for the upper elevations, including an early study for the triforium roof, flying buttress and screen wall (WRE/3/1/10). In 1685 Pearce was paid for ‘making of Divers Modells, & other extraordinary Works, by order of Mr Surveyors’, including ‘severall Modells for the Head of the great south door’, ‘the Model of the Portico’ and one of the ‘great Tribune of the Dome’ (Wren Society 13, p.198). Several drawings appear to be connected with these models; see WRE/2/4/6, 16–20 (fig. 6). (See Roscoe 2009, pp.961–65)
An unidentified mason-draughtsman (fl. c.1678–c.1690) drew two annotated construction drawings for the vaulting the transept aisle windows and the western chapels: WRE/2/4/13 and WRE/3/4/20. He wrote the names of masons on the blocks of an arch on the second drawing, suggesting that he himself was a mason. The handwriting on both sheets differs from that of the draughtsman discussed above.
Nicholas Hawksmoor (c.1662–1736) joined the office sometime in 1685 and was Wren’s most prolific draughtsman at St Paul’s. Just under 100 drawings in the Collection are wholly or partly in his hand. He was not paid as a draughtsman until 1691 (Wren Society 14, pp.84–85; and 16, p.67). Until then he was probably paid privately by Wren. His earliest drawings of c.1685 include studies of cornice and basement profiles and part-designs for the upper apse, upper transept front, and two-storey western body and west front (WRE/3/1/1–4; WRE/3/2/3 and 4; WRE/3/3/5–8, 10 and 11). Identifying traits include vertical and hatched pen shading around the capitals, scale-bars with triple-dot divisions, ‘5’s with a short lower loop, and tentative pencil sketching. In a slightly later sequence of drawings for the upper elevations and sections of the west end, c.1685–86, the pen technique is tidier and line shading is largely absent (WRE/3/4/9–11, 13, 15–17). He collaborated with Simon Gribelin on drawings for engraving in c.1686–88 and annotated Gribelin’s proof print of a long section, WRE/5/1/2. Gribelin may have taught him the art of grey-wash shading for he gained mastery of this technique in the early 1690s, especially in drawings for the choir fittings and dome, in which the wash is often laid over pencil, without the addition of ink outlines (WRE/4/1/8–17, WRE/4/2/1–6, WRE/5/1/4, WRE/5/2/2–4) (fig. 7). He collaborated with Grinling Gibbons in early designs for the choir fittings in c.1693 (e.g. WRE/4/1/1 and 2) and with William Dickinson in designs for the western towers between c.1699 and c.1702 (see WRE/6/1 and 2). Thereafter his hand is no longer found in the St Paul’s drawings, but he probably helped conserve the Collection, as it includes a study in his hand for the north elevation of St George’s Bloomsbury in c.1716, WRE/7/4/8. (See Geraghty 2007, pp.11–13)
Simon Gribelin (1661–1733) came to England in about 1680 and is chiefly remembered as a silver engraver and for his engravings after figurative paintings between c.1706 and c.1730. Twenty-three St Paul’s drawings can now be assigned to Gribelin, partly on the basis of comparisons with his line elevation of the west front, prepared for his engraving of 1702 (WRE/6/2/7). Drawn to a scale of 10 ft to 1 inch, this elevation shares features with a group of studies and record drawings at the same scale, datable c.1685 to c.1694, and previously known as ‘the post-Definitive sets’ (Downes 1988b, nos 63 to 72). Common traits include Corinthian and Composite capitals with vertical sides and a central division in the leaves, fluently drawn cherub-head keystones, and festoons in the friezes drawn with string-like suspensions (see especially, WRE/3/1/13, 14, and WRE/3/2/10) (fig. 8). Ink outlines are laid over full pencil under-drawing; pencil is sometimes un-inked to denote unresolved areas (WRE/3/4/18 and 19); and two drawings are wholly in pencil (WRE/2/2/9 and WRE/3/3/15). One drawing has smoothly graded grey wash, WRE/3/4/17. This example helps identify Gribelin’s hand in two drawings of the west front with a giant Corinthian portico, WRE/3/3/3 and 4. Two smoothly washed drawings for a rotunda or mausoleum in an unrealised scheme for the precinct in c.1696–97 also appear to be in his hand, WRE/7/1/4 and 5. Most of Gribelin’s earlier drawings appear to have been prepared with engraving in mind, as several are in reverse; see WRE/3/2/11 and WRE/3/4/3.
Grinling Gibbons (1648–1721) drew, or contributed to, just four drawings in the Collection in the period c.1693–95. All are unexecuted, early studies, superseded in the fabric, and they include two studies, drawn jointly with Hawksmoor, for the organ in c.1693 (WRE/4/1/1 and 2). Gibbons drew his ink outlines evenly and laid on wash in layers to emphasise cast shadow and depths of relief. His ink and wash has a slightly greenish-brown tinge (fig. 9). (See Esterly 1998, pp.162–67; Roscoe 2009, pp.511–19)
An unidentified draughtsman associated with the west end and dome (fl. c.1685–91) worked alongside Hawksmoor in the preparation of studies for the west door recess (WRE/3/3/9 and WRE/3/4/4–7), and for sections and elevations of the south side of the west end (WRE/3/3/13, WRE/3/4/12 and fig. 10). Thirteen drawings can be assigned to this hand, the last five being studies for the dome datable c.1690–91 (WRE/5/1/5–9). Distinctive traits are smoothly drawn but inaccurate Corinthian capitals, with lobed or trefoil-shaped leaves and thin abacuses, undulating outlines for vases and leaf ornaments, pencilled diagonals on cornice profiles, and loosely applied grey wash.
An unknown draughtsman associated with the west end, c.1685 – possibly the same man as above – drew two early studies for the west front in collaboration with Wren, to explore the addition of a giant order portico to the two-storey elevation: WRE/3/3/1 and 2 (see Upper elevations and west end from c.1685, fig. 3). Both have coarsely rendered Corinthian capitals, columns and pilasters, with crudely drawn leaves and volutes and clumsily proportioned bases. The draughtsman was unfamiliar with the grammar of the orders, but applied wash in a painterly fashion and drew the supporters of the crest in the tympanum of the second design very fluently. He may have been a figurative artist.
The Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber (1630–1700) (pronounced ‘Sibber’) was paid £280 in March 1698 for carving the ‘8 Great Key Stones in the Arches round the Dome’ (Wren Society 15, p.38). He drew in an intricate fashion, avoiding hard outlines and building up wash in layers, occasionally adding shading lines in brush or pencil. A pair of studies for relief ornaments around the vaults and crossing arches can be attributed to him from comparisons with drawings at Sir John Soane’s Museum and All Souls College, Oxford (fig. 11) (SM volume 110/63 and Geraghty 207, nos 418, 419). He also drew a study for a vaulting cartouche on the reverse of WRE/5/1/7. (See Roscoe 2009, pp.274–77)
William Dickinson (1671–1725) joined as a measurer in 1696 (see Wren Society 15, p.69). Soon afterwards he was working with Hawksmoor on designs for the peristyle of the dome (WRE/5/3/6–8) and on a site plan of the precinct and churchyard. He appears to have drawn with a ruling pen. He shaded the column shafts with fine, close-set but loosely applied ruled lines, a technique modelled on Hawksmoor’s shading methods. He annotated his drawings more thoroughly than Hawksmoor and learnt to apply coloured with smoothness and precision (WRE/7/2/6 and 7). He wrote in a rightward slanting, cursive hand, with long looped descenders and ascenders, and frequent abbreviations. He put colon divisions between feet and inches, and used comma-and-colon markings in his scales (WRE/5/3/9). From 1704 he added dates to most of his drawings (see WRE/5/3/11, WRE/6/2/9 and 11, WRE/7/2/2–4 and 6) (fig. 12). He documented his drawings more carefully than any of Wren’s draughtsmen and was perhaps the most fully trained of them all. It could be said that with Dickinson, architectural draughtsmanship in Britain entered the modern era.
John James (1673–1746) replaced Richard Jenings as Master Carpenter in 1712 and was Assistant Surveyor at the opening of George I’s Commission for ‘Finishing and Adorning’ the Cathedral 1715 (Wren Society 16, pp.115–17). He prepared designs for the balustrade above the upper walls in 1716. A sketched pencil profile of this feature on a cross-section through the choir may be in his hand; see WRE/3/1/16. (See Geraghty 2007, p.13)
Henry Flitcroft (1697–1769) was Surveyor from 1746 to 1756. A single drawing in his hand (or that of an assistant) records the south-east quarter of the plan where a crossing pier was repaired in 1752, WRE/7/3/4. Drawn in neat grey ink line and wash, it was copied from a quarter-plan of c.1675, WRE/2/2/9, thus demonstrating that many Wren-office drawings remained at the Cathedral long after its completion.