Cambridge University

Vaults, King's College Chapel, Cambridge

Kings College chapel vaults_530x748

Vaults, King's College Chapel, Cambridge
Photograph: Edwin Smith (1950)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection

The architecture of King’s College Chapel is remarkably restrained. Unlike earlier Gothic buildings, such as Ely Cathedral’s choir, effect is not gained from rich carvings. In fact, this was the intention of the college’s founder, King Henry VI. He wanted the buildings ‘clean and substantial’ without ‘superfluous detail and busy moulding.’

Thus the glorious fan vaulting relies principally on line and shadow for effect, as can be seen in this photograph by Edwin Smith. Unlike earlier Medieval vaults there are few bosses added. Their main decoration are tiny fleur-de-lys, suitable symbols for a royal foundation.

Elsewhere carvings of crowns, Tudor roses and portcullises can be found, additions ordered by Henry VIII, who paid for the completion of the chapel and the gorgeous screen, covered in Renaissance ornament. The vaults, however, still demand our attention, and looking closely, even the figures on the organ case gaze upwards.


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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