Collecting Palladio

Sir Henry Wotton


The story of the arrival of drawings by Palladio in Britain begins with Sir Henry Wotton, diplomat, writer and courtier of King James 1.

Educated at Oxford University in the 1580s, he went on to pursue a diplomatic career, finding favour with the new king James I.  In 1604 he became Ambassador to Venice, a post that he would fill for most of the next twenty years.

As a diplomat, Wotton travelled extensively and encountered some of the most brilliant architecture in Europe. Amongst the highlights must have been buildings by Palladio in the Veneto, for he was inspired to acquire a small number of Palladio's drawings: just a few preliminary designs for woodcuts for I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura. Their influence was to be considerable.

Passionate about architecture, Wotton returned to Britain in 1624. His experience of Italian buildings must have been the subject of many a discussion at court. He became Provost of Eton College in the same year, and continued to write and collect books.

In 1624, Wotton produced The Elements of Architecture, the first significant British contribution to architectural theory. Based on Vitruvius's de Architectura, Wotton made this ancient text more accessible to English readers with maxims such as 'Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity and delight.'

Perhaps Wotton's most significant use of the drawings was as a gift to Inigo Jones, rising star of English architecture. When exactly these were given is uncertain, however it was probably when Jones was touring Italy and studying the buildings of the Veneto around 1613.