Inigo Jones

Inigo Jones has been called the 'first English classical architect'



Composition of the works of Inigo Jones


Image: Composition of the works of Inigo Jones
Credit: RIBA Collections 

Inigo Jones
Portrait of Inigo Jones
Credit: RIBA Collections

Leading British architectural historian John Summerson called Inigo Jones (1573-1652) 'the first English classical architect'. Jones, a follower of Andrea Palladio, has been described as the father of English Palladianism. He is best known for his revolutionary buildings in London, most notably the Queen's House, Greenwich and the Banqueting House, Whitehall, both were commissioned by royalty. In London he also designed important churches: St Paul's, Covent Garden, and St Paul's Cathedral. He remodelled the cathedral and gave this Gothic building its Classical-style portico, sadly destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Early years

Born in Smithfield, London, in the 16th century, little is known of his early life except that he was the son of a Welsh cloth worker, and was christened at the church of St Batholomew the Less. Yet despite this humble start, Jones was to go far. 


An architect of immense creativity, one of his greatest influences was Andrea Palladio. He examined Palladio's buildings in detail, as well as his books and drawings. However, he also drew on the ideas of Bramante, Serlio, Scamozzi (whom he met in Venice, 1614), Vitruvius and the French designer Jean Barbet. 

Grand Tour

Travel was key to Jones's meteoric rise. On two separate occasions he travelled to Italy, undertaking an early version of the Grand Tour. These trips, between the years of 1598-1603 and 1613-1614, transformed his understanding of architecture.

Queen's House, Greenwich, London. Architect: Inigo Jones

Image: Queen's House, Greenwich, London
Credit: Bernard Cox / RIBA Collections 

In Italy, Jones was captivated by the Roman ruins and the buildings of Palladio. Whilst there, he purchased a significant quantity of Palladio's drawings, a collection that would prove to have an extraordinary influence on British architecture. 

Palladianism, a royal style

Portico of St Paul's Cathedral, London
Image: Portico of St Paul's Cathedral
Credit: RIBA Collections

Prior to his second visit, Jones had established himself as the leading designer of elaborate court entertainments known as 'masques'. On his return, Jones's architectural career began in earnest; in 1614 he was appointed Surveyor to the Kings' Works.

With both James I and Charles I as Jones's chief patrons, Palladianism gained a reputation as the royal style. This resulted in a series of brilliant, costly buildings. However, this close association also meant that Jones's career was subject to the political upheavals of the day: the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, brought an end to his glittering career.

In 1652, Jones died in Somerset House, London. He was succeeded by his assistant John Webb, who continued to champion his fledgling architectural style. Only a few of Jones's building still exist, while some of Jones's drawings survive in the RIBA's collections, held alongside the world's biggest collection of Palladio's drawings.

Design for a frieze incorporating putti and a horned mask

Image: Design for a frieze incorporating putti and a horned mask
Credit: RIBA Collections 

New exhibition

A major exhibition on Palladio's legacy, 'Palladian Design: The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected', is open at the RIBA from 9 September 2015 to 9 January 2016. Free entry.


References available from the RIBA Library

  1. Summerson, J., (rev. ed) 2000. 'Inigo Jones'. New Haven; London: Yale University Press for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
    Books Collection. 72.034(42).61:92J // SUM [Ref]
  2. Harris, J., and Higgott, G., 1989. 'Inigo Jones: Complete Architectural Drawings'. New York: Drawing Center   Books Collection. 72.034(42).61:92J // HAR [Ref]