The trouble with attribution

Following on from last month’s blog post (on Inigo Jones’ designs for Somerset House), there are two further sheets of drawings linked to Somerset House by the architectural historians John Harris and A.A. Tait in their 1979 catalogue: H&T 15 and 249 (which are joined together on one sheet) and H&T 16 (an 18th-century copy of the earlier sheet; references are to Harris and Tait, Catalogue of the drawings by Inigo Jones, John Webb, and Isaac de Caus at Worcester College Oxford, abbreviated as H&T). We rather ran out of space last month to include them with the designs for Somerset House’s Strand front, but further reading has shown that a separate blog post is indeed more suitable: these drawings have a complicated history that reminds us of the skill needed to read and interpret such objects.

H&T 15/249

H&T 15 and 249 is now one sheet (with a clear join down the middle – the two sheets were joined early, perhaps in the 17th century, and certainly by the early 18th), 300 x 390 mm, in pen and ink: on the left-hand side of the page is a design for the elevation and plan of a scenic theatre; on the right-hand side, two half sections of a theatre identified as the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. When this image was first published by W. Grant Keith in 1917, Grant Keith saw the similarity between the theatre designs on the right and a drawing by the Italian architect Andrea Palladio for the Teatro Olimpico – a drawing that was once owned by Inigo Jones (the Palladio drawing is now in the RIBA Drawings Collection: B.D. XIII/5; Lewis, Catalogue, no. 124). It was perhaps this link that led Grant Keith so securely to suggest Jones as the designer and draughtsman of this image.

Jones was certainly interested in Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico at Vicenza. In a 17th-century hand resembling John Webb’s (see Orrell, The theatres of Inigo Jones and John Webb, page 161) on the verso of our drawing is the statement: ‘The Theatre at Vicenza – designed by Palladio and described by Inigo Jones at ye beginning of Palladio’ – that is, Jones made notes on the Teatro Olimpico in his own heavily annotated copy of Palladio’s published treatise on architecture, the Quattro Libri.

17th-century notes on the verso of H&T 15/249.

Indeed, turning to the volume of Palladio owned by Jones (also in the Worcester collections), one can find Jones’ very comments inscribed on the verso of the fifth fly-leaf (facing the volume’s title page):

Jones commented upon the perspectives visible through the arches in the scaenae frons (i.e. the scenic architectural background) of the Teatro Olimpico (a project begun by Palladio in the last year of his life, 1580, and completed by Scamozzi in 1584), it being the theatre’s ‘chief artifice… that whear so euer you satt you sawe on[e] of these Prospectes’ (Jones’ fly-leaf annotations).   A similar artifice is used in the main arch in the top-left of H&T 15/249. Yet this link between Jones and Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, made so early after the drawing’s discovery, has perhaps clouded the attribution of this drawing in Worcester’s collection.

The most recent discussion of the drawing, by John Orrell, notes: ‘It seems more likely… that the whole set has nothing to do with Jones at all’ (Orrell, The theatres of Inigo Jones and John Webb, page 161). Accepting a fact noted by Harris and Tait in their catalogue, namely that the drawing is actually in the hand of Jones’ apprentice, John Webb (who is known to have made copies of designs by Jones as a record for posterity, perhaps intending to publish them as a treatise on Jonesian architecture), Orrell feels that this drawing represents ‘John Webb’s scheme for an apparently unrealized scenic theatre based on Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico’ (The theatres of Inigo Jones and John Webb, page 160). Remarking on the notes in Webb’s handwriting on the practicalities of the design (on the left-hand sheet, to the left of the elevation and across the stage in the plan), Orrell thinks this is more likely to have been a work-in-progress, representing Webb’s own experimentation with theatre designs after Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, rather than a Webb copy of a Jones design.

If this is not already a little complicated, things can become a bit more confusing. The drawing Grant Keith published and discussed in 1917 was not actually drawn by Webb: rather it was an almost exact copy of Webb’s drawing (still unknown to Grant Keith in 1917) made by George Clarke’s friend and collaborator, Henry Aldrich (1648-1710), Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. That Aldrich or Clarke connected the design with Jones is suggested by the fact that Aldrich’s drawing (H&T 16) was stored between folios 56 and 57 of Jones’ own copy of Palladio (i.e. between pages 34 and 35 of Book II of the Quattro Libri – pages which have, it must be noted, no link to the Teatro Olimpico, although that project, Palladio’s last, is not included anywhere in the Quattro Libri, having only been begun in 1580): H&T 16 (Aldrich’s drawing) was folded and trimmed so as to fit the book.

H&T 16

So, in summary, what we have here are two drawings (presented under three catalogue headings):

  • H&T 15 and 249: seventeenth-century drawings in the hand of John Webb, originally thought to be by Jones and to relate to designs for an indoor theatre for the Stuart court, but now considered to represent theoretical designs by John Webb himself, tied to no identifiable theatre project.
  • And H&T 16: an 18th-century copy of H&T 15 and 249 by Henry Aldrich.

Although very close copies (Aldrich has even paraphrased Webb’s notes in a similar position on the verso), there are nevertheless differences: Webb, the draughtsman of H&T 15/249, has used cross-hatching as opposed to Aldrich’s ink wash; in H&T 15/249 you can see the scoring which was used to guide Webb’s pen. Aldrich’s copy, most likely made for his own architectural education, dispensed with the need for scored lines; it nonetheless illustrates the use made of Clarke’s drawing collection by his architecturally-minded friends in their own studies.

Before leaving these drawings, a word is perhaps needed on the link with Somerset House. The connection with Somerset House was made as Inigo Jones was known to have been commissioned many times to stage performances there and H&T 15/249, if related to a real theatre, seems to have been for an indoor one: the design has no entrance or exit for spectators, which led Per Palme to suggest that the ‘design was for a temporary structure in an existing room’ (H&T, page 15). When the drawing’s link to Jones was weakened, however, the link with Somerset House evaporated. We see in H&T 15/249 rather Webb’s own theoretical work on theatre design, undoubtedly influenced by Jones’ notes on the Teatro Olimpico at Vicenza and, indeed, Jones’ earlier theatres – as Orrell has noted, Jones completely changed English stage design (Orrell, page 3). And just as Webb learned from Jones, in the 18th-century copy of H&T 15/249 (that is in H&T 16), we see Henry Aldrich learning from Webb, copying his design as a means of architectural education.

Mark Bainbridge (Librarian)


Harris, J. and A.A. Tait, Catalogue of the drawings by Inigo Jones, John Webb, and Isaac de Caus at Worcester College Oxford (Oxford, 1979)

Lewis, D., The drawings of Andrea Palladio, second edition (New Orleans, 2000)

Grant Keith, W., ‘A theatre project by Inigo Jones’, Burlington Magazine xxxi (1917), pages 61-70

Orrell, J., The theatres of Inigo Jones and John Webb (Cambridge, 1985)


Inigo Jones’ Designs for Somerset House, London

Design by Inigo Jones, drawn by John Webb, of the plan and elevation of the Strand wing of Somerset House. Second design.  With scale.

Inscribed: (by Webb) Ground platt of ye Pallace at Somersett How: ye second Appartiment 1638 and Upright of ye Pallace at So: Ho: ye second designe 1638.

(Harris and Tait 18)

This blog has been live for over a year now and looking back I was surprised to discover that, although mentioned in passing (see, not a single post has been about one of our drawings.  Perhaps this is the result of trying to find less well-known treasures.  The drawings, superbly executed, finely detailed, and, of course, all unique, are naturally counted among our most important holdings.  Yet this oversight should be rectified.  The choice is, of course, huge: around 250 drawings from the 17th century (catalogued and published in Harris and Tait, Catalogue of the drawings by Inigo Jones, John Webb and Isaac de Caus at Worcester College Oxford) and just over 600 drawings of the 18th and 19th centuries (catalogued and published by Howard Colvin in A catalogue of architectural drawings of the 18th and 19th centuries in the Library of Worcester College, Oxford).   From such riches, I have picked as our February Treasure ‘Harris and Tait 18’ (henceforth H&T 18) and associated drawings, which I came across when preparing for a research visitor earlier this month.  It is a drawing (dated 1638) in pen in the hand of John Webb (1611-1672) of a design by Inigo Jones (1573-1652) for Somerset House in London.


H&T 18: Plan and elevation of the Strand wing of Somerset House. Second design. With scale. Dates to 1638. (Pen and cross hatching; 362 x 464mm)

Somerset House was originally built as the Tudor palace of Edward VI’s Lord Protector, his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.  In 1617, it became the residence of Queen Anne of Denmark (James VI and I’s queen); and on her death, it was granted to her son, the future Charles I, who in turn gave it to his queen, Henrietta Maria, in 1626 (the grant is dated Valentine’s Day 1626 (Thurley, Somerset House, page 45)).  Henrietta Maria almost immediately set about redesigning the property and ‘[w]ork at Somerset House was almost continuous from 1627 to 1637’ (King’s Arcadia, page 148).  Inigo Jones, the ‘first English classical architect’ (Summerson), had been Surveyor of the King’s Works since 1615, and so was undoubtedly involved in designs for the queen’s extensive renovations at Somerset House, renovations which included: the Queen’s Chapel and Closet in 1626-7; the Queen’s Cabinet Room and new water stairs in 1628-30; the new chapel in 1630; a cistern house in 1632; and the refitting of the Cross Gallery in 1635-6 (see Harris and Higgott, Inigo Jones: complete architectural drawings, page 193).

The drawings at Worcester shown here date to 1638, when Jones turned his attention to the palace’s Strand front, which was isolated from the rest of the building’s irregular frontage and had long been problematic.  ‘Jones’ solution was to ignore privately owned land and to build a monumental front along The Strand, demolishing the Protector’s front, but tying in the central unit with the Tudor courtyard behind’ (King’s Arcadia, page 154): this solution is represented in H&T 18.  It has been suggested that this and associated drawings (see below) should be seen as a trial run for Jones’ Whitehall Palace designs (many of which are also at Worcester, with others distributed between Chatsworth and the RIBA Library – see Summerson, Inigo Jones, page 123).

From the drawings, one can tell that Jones proposed at least two different designs: the first (H&T 17), inscribed by Webb as ‘Not taken’, shows a front of three main storeys, broken into 5 sections (the central section, two three-bay end pavilions, linked by astylar blocks (i.e. blocks without columns or pilasters), all under a continuous roofline):


H&T 17: Elevation of half the Strand wing of Somerset House. First design. Dated 1638. (Pen and cross-hatching; 464 x 667mm)

It was the second design (illustrated at the top of this page) that was accepted, however. Here, the roofline has been broken and the overall width of the building reduced by six bays. As Bold notes: ‘The design is authentically Jonesian, relying for its effect on the accumulation of refined details rather than on the juxtaposition of large masses which Webb himself was to favour…  The plan on the same sheet… shows that it was intended to tie in the new range with the existing sixteenth-century courtyard plan’ (Bold, John Webb, page 106).  Indeed, a further sheet illustrates some of Jones’ ‘refined details’, depicting groupings of doors and windows:


H&T 19: Two composite groupings (A and B) of doors and windows from the second design. With scale. (Pen and cross-hatching; 457 x 356mm)

In both designs, the source of the central block has been identified as a design by Palladio (now in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth; catalogued as number 121 in Lewis, The drawings of Andrea Palladio) for encasing the Doge’s Palace in Venice.  It is likely that this drawing was once owned by Inigo Jones, who acquired many of Palladio’s architectural designs now in England (see Harris, ‘Three unrecorded Palladio designs from Inigo Jones’ Collection’, page 34).  The flanking parts are inspired by the work of the Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio (H&T, page 19).  Although accepted, the second design ‘came to nothing; the royal finances were simply unable to bear a work on this scale’ (Thurley, page 56).


Inigo Jones (1573-1652). Plaster bust after John Michael Rysbrack.

It was at Somerset House that Inigo Jones died in 1652, when his drawings and books were inherited by John Webb. After John Webb’s death, they passed to his son William Webb, whose widow eventually dispersed the collection, which split into two groups: the larger eventually becoming the property of Lord Burlington, and then part of the Chatsworth Collection (most of which was given in trust to the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1894, with Chatsworth retaining drawings mostly pertaining to Jones’ masque designs for the theatre of the Stuart court); the second, smaller group came to Worcester through the gift of Dr George Clarke (1661-1736), together with some 45 books previously owned by Inigo Jones, many of which contain his marginal annotations. The Somerset House of Henrietta Maria, meanwhile, lasted until 1776, when after years of deterioration it had to be demolished.  New Somerset House, the building we know today, is an eighteenth-century design by the architect Sir William Chambers.

Mark Bainbridge (Librarian)


Bold, J., John Webb: architectural theory and practice in the seventeenth century (Oxford, 1989)

Harris, J., ‘Three unrecorded Palladio designs from Inigo Jones’ Collection’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 113, no. 814 (Jan. 1971), pages 34-37

Harris, J. and G. Higgott, Inigo Jones: complete architectural drawings (London, 1989)

Harris, J., S. Orgel, and R. Strong, The King’s Arcadia: Inigo Jones and the Stuart Court (London, 1973)

Harris, J. and A.A. Tait, Catalogue of the drawings by Inigo Jones, John Webb, and Isaac de Caus at Worcester College Oxford (Oxford, 1979)

Lewis, D., The drawings of Andrea Palladio, second edition (New Orleans, 2000)

Summerson, J., Inigo Jones, [revised edition] (London, 2000)

Thurley, S., Somerset House: the palace of England’s queens 1551-1692 (London, 2009)