Detail of the Radcliffe camera

The Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 changed the face of British architecture.

After the upheavals of the English Civil War (1642-49) and Interregnum (1649-60), King Charles II and his court, plus many learned men returned from exile. Abroad, they had experienced the glorious Baroque architecture being developed in France, the Netherlands and Italy and wanted to adapt it to English circumstances.

Baroque architecture broke rules. Architects abandoned the discipline advocated by Vitruvius, the second-century Roman architect and writer, which had been revived in the Renaissance. Now plans and details were handled with much greater freedom and vigour: columns could be twisted like barley sugars; rooms shaped as ovals or quatrefoils; architecture became sculptural. Inside and out, buildings had a sense of movement.

The architects who produced these designs were unlike modern-day professionals. Until the development of a recognised architectural profession in the mid-eighteenth century, most were middle or upper class men who designed for themselves or their friends. Sir Christopher Wren was a scientist, Sir John Vanbrugh a soldier and playwright. However, although amateurs, the architecture they produced was sophisticated and engaging. Regarded as distinctively English, it has inspired architects ever since.

About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

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