King's College Chapel, Cambridge, from the Backs
Drawing: A. Beresford Pite (1880)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection
This view of King’s College Chapel from the Backs is one of the best known images of England. The chapel, with the Classical Gibbs’ Building to its right (1712), stands majestically above the long lawns extending down to the River Cam, proud against the big East Anglian sky. Drawn by the young architect Arthur Beresford Pite (1861-1934), this scene has a certain timeless quality.
This setting, however, is very different to that intended in the fifteenth century. The ambitious plans for the college were unfinished, its great court never built. The green expanse of lawn was meant to be covered by a cloister, with a graveyard beyond, and a tall, square tower challenging the height of the chapel.
Later improvements and additions changed the focus of the college. Most buildings are far removed from the chapel, making its isolated bulk seem even more striking. The chapel, then, is a Medieval remnant placed in a later landscape, its reflection in the slow moving waters of the Cam a fortuitous accident.