Drawing Out Meaning

16th and 17th-century architecture: John Smythson

Detail of a design for a marble hall and a hall fireplace for Bolsover Castle

Design for a marble hall and a hall fireplace for Bolsover Castle, 1600s
Artist and designer: John Smythson
© RIBA Library Drawings and Archives Collections 

John Smythson's drawing of a vaulted marble hall in the Jacobean Bolsover Castle combines a rough plan with one-point perspective, an Italian Renaissance technique that spread to northern Europe during the late 16th century. Referencing the slightly earlier work of Inigo Jones, Smythson attempted to be in vogue with both his architecture and drawing style. Unfortunately, Smythson drew the stone floor without correct one-point perspective and the lack of any scale figure makes this rather small room appear much larger.

This drawing is done in sepia, a natural ink produced from cuttlefish and known for its dark brown colour. Architects began using sepia in the 14th century, pairing feather quills with straight edges to create precise lines on paper. To achieve the uniform line weights seen here required considerable skill and quality smooth paper.

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