Sir Christopher Wren

Overview

Christopher Wren is England’s most celebrated architect. But he is also one of the most difficult, on account of his background in experimental philosophy (he was Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford and a founder member of the Royal Society before turning to architecture) and the huge amount he produced, which includes one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, several royal palaces, and much else besides.

In the eight sessions of this course we will attempt two things. In the first half of the term we will situate Wren’s career in the intellectual history of seventeenth-century Europe. How do we make sense of his transition from science to architecture, and what influence did the one have upon the other? In addressing these questions, we will explore some of the ways that architecture was conceptualised in early modern culture. In the second half of the term we will look at a series of built case studies in great detail, paying particular attention to their design history. These will include St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace, Trinity College Library, Cambridge, and the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford.

The course will therefore provide a focussed but diverse introduction to seventeenth-century English architecture and to architectural history more generally. It will provide a rigorous training in formal and archival analysis, while at the same time encouraging you to grapple with the complexities of understanding architecture in its intellectual and cultural setting.

Aims

By the end of the module, students should have acquired:

  • A specialist knowledge of aspects of Wren's architecture
  • Experience of using primary sources, especially architectural drawings
  • A critical relationship to the existing Wren scholarship
Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) copied by Edmund Dyer (detail), oil on canvas, by Sir Godfrey Kneller

Module information

  • Module title
    Sir Christopher Wren
  • Module number
    HOA00015M
  • Convenor
    Anthony Geraghty

For postgraduates