Wren – Masters Of Painting

Begun in 1675, St. Paul’s Cathedral was completed in thirty-five years’ time, at a cost of about 4750,000, which was defrayed by a tax on coal. Wren’s salary as architect was but £200 a year. As with many architects, before and since his time, his genius was hampered by the interference of those who possessed power without knowledge, or influence unguided by justice. The following extract from the most authoritative life of Wren yet published tells something of the obstacles placed in the architect’s path.

“During this time Sir Christopher, now formally appointed architect of St. Paul’s with a modest salary of 4200 a year, had busied himself in designs for the future cathedral. Every one, whether qualified or not, gave their opinion about the designs. The first, which was ‘a fabrick of moderate bulk, but of good proportion, a convenient quire, with a vestibule and portico, and a dome conspicuous above the houses,’ was planned by Wren at a time when the cathedral fund was very small, and the chances of increasing it appeared but slender. This design was rejected as deficient in size and grandeur. After this, in order to find out what style of building was really desired, Wren made several sketches ‘ merely for discourse sake,’ and perceiving that the generality had set their hearts upon a large building, he de-signed one with which he was himself satisfied, considering it ‘ a design antique and well studied, conformable to the best style of Greek and Roman architecture.’ . The design was greatly admired by those who understood the matter, and they begged Sir Christopher to let them see it in a model. Wren accordingly made a large one, apparently with his own hands, in wood, with all the intended ornaments properly carved. Its ground plan was that of a Greek cross, the choir was circular, it had a very short nave, and no aisles. Externally there was a handsome portico, one small dome immediately behind it, and over the centre of the cross a larger dome. Within it would have been as beautiful as it was original, with the eight smaller domes, not seen outside, encircling the central dome. The Duke of York, on seeing the plan, complained much of the absence of side oratories, such as are common in most foreign cathedrals, and insisted upon their being added. Sir Christopher knew that such a change would cramp the building and break the beauty of the design to a degree that went to his heart. He shed tears in attempting to change the duke’s opinion. The latter was, as ever, obstinate, and the change had to be made.

” The outside, with the two hollow curves joining the transepts with the nave, and the two different sized domes, would probably “have been disappointing ; but one speaks with diffidence, for this was Sir Christopher’s favorite design, the St. Paul’s which he told his son he would most cheerfully have accomplished. When the time came for working out the design, it is very likely that he would have remedied many of the defects which critical eyes now see in the model ; but no such opportunity ever came. Preparations were indeed made, in May, 1674, for a building after this design ; but the clergy were startled by the novelty of the plan, the circular choir, and the absence of aisles, and the architect was compelled to give up his cherished scheme. Several de-signs, none equal to the first, were produced by Sir Christopher, the large central dome appearing in each of them. Upon this feature he had determined, even in the days before the fire, when the old pointed choir still stood.

“At length Wren grew weary of criticism and showed his designs no more to the public. King Charles decided on one, and issued a warrant for its erection, stating that the duty on coal amounted to a considerable sum, and saying :

“‘ Among the designs we have particularly pitched on one, as well because we find it very artificial, proper, and useful, as because it was so ordered that it might be built and finished by parts.’ The east end was to be begun first. Liberty was left to Wren ‘to make some variations, rather ornamental than essential, as from time to time he should see proper,’ and the whole was left to his management.

“This design is wholly unlike the present cathedral, and is inferior to any of Wren’s other buildings. ‘ Artificial,’ in the modern sense of the word, it undoubtedly is. The west end much resembles St. Paul’s as Inigo Jones left it, and is poor and flat ; there is a low, flat dome, then a lantern, with ribbed vaulting, surmounted by a spire something like St. Bride’s, but thin and ungraceful. One feels that Wren must have been disgusted with the design when finished, and could only have done such a thing at a time when his genius was rebuked and harassed by vexatious limitations and interference. Accepted, however, the design was, and Wren, provided with funds, and ordered to begin, shook off the fetters which had so cramped him, and by a series of alterations, which certainly reversed the king’s order, being essential rather than ornamental, he by degrees worked out the plan of the beautiful St. Paul’s which is the crown of London.

“No objection seems to have been raised to these changes.

” He had a large staff of workmen under him, and an assistant surveyor, John Oliver, who directed the workmen, measured the masons’ work, bought in materials, and examined the accounts ; a clerk of the works,

Laurence Spencer, who overlooked the men, saw that they did their work as directed, and made up the accounts ; each of these was paid £i00 a year, half as much as the salary of the architect himself ; a clerk of the cheque, Thomas Russel, who called over the laborers three times a day, and kept them to their business. Besides these, there was the master-mason, Thomas Strong, the master-builder of St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, frequently employed by Wren, and the master-carpenter, Richard Jennings; all were carefully chosen, and were devoted to Sir Christopher, whose great genius, gentle disposition, and steady, equable mind, made him much beloved and respected.

” On June 21, 1675, the first stone of St. Paul’s was laid by Sir Christopher and his master-mason, not by King Charles, as is sometimes said.”

The year 1710 arrived and found Wren laying the last stone of the building.

All London had poured forth for the spectacle, which had been publicly announced, and were looking up in wonder to the old man . . . who was on that wondrous height setting the seal, as it were, to his august labors. If in that wide circle which his eye might embrace there were various objects for regret and disappointment ; if, instead of beholding the various streets of the city, each converging to its centre, London had sprung up and spread in irregular labyrinths of close, dark, intricate lanes ; if even his own cathedral was crowded upon and jostled by mean and unworthy buildings ; yet, on the other hand, he might survey, not the cathedral only, but a number of stately churches which had risen at his command and taken form and dignity from his genius and skill. On one side, the picturesque steeple of St. Mary-le-Bow; on the other, the exquisite tower of St. Bride’s, with all its graceful, gradually diminishing circles, not yet shorn of its full and finely proportioned height. Beyond, and on all sides, if more dimly seen, yet discernible by his partial eyesight (he might even penetrate to the inimitable interior of St. Stephen’s, Walbrook), church after church, as far as St. Dunstan’s – in – the – East, perhaps Greenwich, may have been vaguely made out in the remote distance ; and all this one man had been permitted to conceive and execute — a man not originally destined or educated for an architect, but compelled, as it were, by the public necessities to assume the office, and so to fulfil it as to stand on a level with the most consummate masters of the art in Europe, and to take his stand on an eminence which his English successors almost despair of attaining. . . . Once a year it was his habit to be driven to London, and to sit for awhile under the dome of his own cathedral. On one of these journeys he caught a cold, and soon afterward, on February 25, 1723, his servant, thinking Sir Christopher slept longer after dinner than was his wont, came into the room, and found his master dead in his chair, with an expression of perfect peace on the calm features.

” They buried him near his daughter in the southeast crypt of St. Paul’s, by one of the windows, under a plain marble slab, with this inscription : ‘ Here lieth Sir Christopher Wren, the builder of St. Paul’s, etc., who died in the year of our Lord MDCCXXIII., and of his age XCI.’

“The spite of those who had hampered his genius in life showed itself again after his death. The famous inscription, written by his son, ‘ Subtus conditur hujus Ecclesiae et Urbis Conditor Christophorus Wren, qui vixit annos ultra nonaginta, non sibi, sed bono publico. Lector, si Monumentum requiris, circumspice,’ was placed in the crypt, and in the cathedral itself there was nothing to preserve the memory of its architect.

” This has in later years been remedied, and the inscription is now in gold letters over the door of the north transept. Some of Sir Christopher’s plans have, as has been shown, been executed; and further, the cathedral has been set in green turf, and all around it is cared for instead of neglected, the once empty campanile is filled by twelve bells, whose music floats down over the roar of London, as if out of the sky itself, and the dome is filled by vast congregations in the way which Sir Christopher almost foresaw.

” In the cathedral his memory is cherished ; but in the city of London, which he rebuilt from its ashes, no statue has been erected to him, no great street has been honored by taking as its own the name of Christopher Wren, though a name —

“‘ On fame’s eternall beadroll worthie to be fyled.’ ”

In our picture Wren leans upon the plan spread on a half-carved capital, while Charles II. stands beside him, and turns to address some member of the group accompanying him. In this group the artist has portrayed the Duke of York, John Evelyn, Pepys the diarist, and Grinling Gibbons, the famous carver, whose beautiful work is so often met with in the buildings designed by Wren.

John Seymour Lucas, who painted this canvas of the Merry Monarch’s visit to Wren, was born in 1849, and received his art education in the schools of the Royal Academy. His “Fleeced,” a picture of a young heir who has been robbed of his patrimony by card sharpers, made a hit in 1876. Since then his successes have been numerous. They include “Intercepted Des-patches,” “The Gordon Riots,” “The Armada in Sight” (the two last belong to the gallery of Sydney, N. S. W.), “After Sedge-moor,” “Charles I. before Gloucester,” “A Whip’ for Van Tromp,” “The Latest Scan-dal,” and “The Surrender.” “After Culloden ” is in the National Gallery of British Art, and among the frescoes in the Royal Exchange, Seymour Lucas is represented by ” William the Conqueror Granting the Char-ter to the Citizens of London.” He was elected a full member of the Royal Academy in 1898.