Oxburgh Hall

Design for a tower with turrets

Unidentified late medieval house_530x1171

Design for a tower with turrets
Drawing: English late 15th century master
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection

This rare drawing best displays the late Medieval delight for height, decoration and chivalry. A design for a four-storey tower, it combines castle-like features with domestic luxury. Turrets, battlements and arrow slits are lavishly used, but only decoratively, for they are nonsensical with the vast expanse of windows and fine carving, most obviously the spiky-eared gargoyles, their wide mouths holding trumpet-like water spouts. These are prominent owing to the attempt to show perspective, a technique that only works in parts.

Few English architectural drawings remain from this period. This one survived in the ownership of the Smythson family, Elizabethan and Jacobean architect-masons, and it bears similarity to their work at Hardwick Hall.

However, the drawing has had an eventful history. Presumably once part of a book, sometime after being drawn it was cut out. Strangely, the drawing was only cut on the left side. Why? Did the building’s design continue? Consequently, odd tit-bits of other designs appear: on the right, a wider building, similarly battlemented; on the back, part of a church plan. Are these signs that the sheet was reused? If this was a presentation drawing, this soon lost its value. Now, however, its status has been restored.


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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