John Peacock. The Stage Designs of Inigo Jones: The European Context. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. 387 pp. + 195 plates. ISBN 0 521 418127 Cloth.
A.W. Johnson
Åbo Akademi University

, A.W. "Review of The Stage Designs of Inigo Jones: The European Context." Early Modern Literary Studies 4.1 (May, 1998): 4.1-9 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/04-1/rev_joh3.html>.

  1. It is now almost twenty-five years since the quadricentennial festivities which revivified the reputation of Inigo Jones. In 1973, The King’s Arcadia -- spearheaded by John Harris, Stephen Orgel and Roy Strong -- swept aside many of the older, duller, assumptions which had straight-jacketed Jones in the mould of Palladian/Scamozzian architect and copyist, replacing them with a new and less reductive picture. Jones, as the exhibition catalogue made plain, had occupied a central position in the Jacobean and Caroline cultural scene -- not only as an architect but also as a painter, collector, connoisseur, neo-Platonist, art theorist, fashion designer and masque maker. His sources had been plural: his achievement, manifold. Nor was such a verdict supported by the exhibition alone, for the almost simultaneous appearance of Orgel and Strong’s two volume edition, Inigo Jones: The Complete Court Masques, shored up their subject’s reputation as a major artist and scenic designer at the same time as it helped to promote a revival of interest in masque as a genre. After Orgel and Strong, Jones’s stage architecture could never again be simply written off (pace John Summerson in the 1960s) as "nonsense architecture," "in the proper dominion of nonsense." The masque had come to be understood as a major site for cultural negotiation -- and Jones’s work had become its clearest, as well as its most fully documented, exemplum.

  2. Since that time, Jonesian scholarship has blossomed on a variety of fronts. Most notably, following John Newman’s meticulous charting of chronological changes in Jones’s handwriting, it became possible -- as Gordon Higgott and John Harris demonstrated in their edition of The Complete Architectural Drawings -- to map out at least some of the contours of his intellectual development from a reading of the annotated volumes from his library and to correlate the results with the dated architectural and scenic designs. In this way Jones’s collection of (mainly) Italian books, as well as his drawings, began to emerge as significant witnesses not only to the range of his borrowing and adaptation, but also as indices to the moments of cultural transmission in which he did so. And accordingly -- as my own doctoral transcriptions of Jones’s annotated Vasari, Plato and 1614 Plutarch attempted to show -- the 1980s offered researchers the possibility of a new synergy in Jones studies: an approach which promised to transcend the monocularities of scholarship within the various specialized fields of Jones’s creative output and gestured towards a more unified view of his achievement as a whole.

  3. That such a promise has taken so long to be fulfilled is no doubt due in the main to the formidable difficulties involved in conducting interdisciplinary studies. John Peacock -- as a Lecturer in English Literature with some twenty years’ experience of writing on Jones for the art journals -- is well qualified to undertake such a task; yet nevertheless it is something of a tribute to his abilities that The Stage Designs of Inigo Jones manages to bring together the diversity of Jones’s achievement with such apparent ease, forming a whole which is much greater in scope than the sum of its parts. Peacock’s method is simple, moving in successive chapters through discussions of Jones’s relation to the theory and practice of imitation; to the masques as pictures; to architecture; to figures; and on to ornament and antiquity. But it is also strategic. For unlike architectural historians such as Andor Gomme -- who do not seem to consider scenography, for instance, to lie within the bounds of architecture proper -- Peacock is at pains to show how Jones constructed a theory and praxis which pre-empted such divisiveness and unified his endeavour throughout the whole spectrum of his activities. Hence he reminds his readers that Vitruvius had "treated stage design as a part of architecture" (56), and that, for Jones -- via a reading of Daniele Barbaro’s commentary on Vitruvius -- scænographia is therefore "not only a province of architecture, and an essential preparation for the architect, it is a fundamental element of architectural design" (58). Hence, too, he is able to stress -- from Jones’s annotations to Vasari -- that, in practice, "stage design is to be included among the arti del disegno " (50). In this way Jones’s fragmentary writings, along with the sketches and drawings, become a kind of unofficial substitute for the more systematic "cours d’architecture" of the European tradition (112). And correspondingly, The Stage Designs of Inigo Jones is able to break through into a new, more integrated, reading of the intellectual biography of its subject.

  4. Before descending, however, into the detailed consideration of Jones’s visual imagination which fills out the body of the book, Peacock uses Jones’s marginalia as an entrée into the vexed question of the latter’s approach to the theory and practice of imitation. In paraphrase of Vasari, Jones had noted that "gudd / manner coms by Copii/nge ye fayrest thinges"; and Peacock -- having registered a tension between Newman’s praise of Jones’s "copying" and Strong’s attack on it -- opts for the more affirmative approach. Where for Gauguin (cited as an epigraph to the first chapter), "L’artiste sera ou plagiaire ou révolutionnaire" (6), Peacock’s Jones emerges as something of a revolutionary plagiarist, or (to put it less pejoratively), as a revolutionary synthesist. Since, for Jones, "imitativeness is a philosophical receptiveness" (27), he is content to commit himself to "a lifetime of imitation" (32): importing his images from their predominantly French and Italian source cultures through what amounted to "a campaign of grand larceny" (13). And since the tastes of his English clientele were, for the most part, unaccustomed to the nuances of the traditions from which such images were borrowed, Jones’s function as imitator was supplemented to a large extent by his necessary (and significant) role as a cultural mediator and educator.

  5. The richness of the book’s central chapters is testimony enough to the fecundity of such an approach. As a counterpoise to over-literary "Jonsonian" representations of masque as a form, for example, the Jonesian masque is used as a means of tracing out phases in the visual development of the English imagination: from emblematic tableau, to picture, to the landscapes and self-referential architectural scenery of the pastorals or the late masques -- bounded by ornamented proscenia which stand as majestic "frontispieces" to the whole (259). Nor are these moves perceived in terms of oversimplified linearities. Even within a relatively restricted topic such as Jones’s reinvention of the Satyric Scene, Peacock emphasises how Jones sought to reconcile opposing tensions from his inherited tradition: working the pictorial inspiration of, say, Tempesta and Bril into viable stage sets; or conversely, but equally successfully, adapting preformed scenes (such as those of Parigi) in order to render them more pictorial (192). It is an argument which is supported -- as elsewhere in the volume -- by a generous supply of photographic plates which enable the reader (at the cost of a little labour) to engage at first hand with the subtleties of Jones’s borrowings and transformations.

  6. By keeping such a tight rein on the relation between the visual and textual levels of argumentation in his book, Peacock is able to demonstrate -- rather than merely asserting -- a number of key strands in Jonesian practice. He reveals, for instance, the masque-maker’s habit of magnifying small items from the collections of Arundel or the King in order to generate special effects (47). He leads the reader through the complexities of ornamental decorum implicit in Jones’s assimilation of the fantastic and the grottesche. He traces borrowings through the labyrinthine paths of Renaissance print books and is particularly convincing on his subject’s use of Marcantonio Raimondi and the prints of his successors (125); on the importance of Riccio via Andreani (211) -- or, even more markedly, on Rosso, via the Livre de la Toison d’or (242) -- as dynamic inspirational forces in the development of the Jonesian aesthetic. And in the later stages of the volume, Peacock is able to bring together image and text to spectacular effect when he feeds Jones’s relation to the iconography of Trajan and Constantine into a socio-political reading of the masques and entertainments for Prince Henry (290-2). By the end of the volume, Peacock’s Jones has emerged triumphant as a "classical mannerist" who has educated an English Protestant taste wary of the visual arts, eliminated his opposition and "reformed" the divergent forces of his own source materials into a distinctive and unified aesthetic which is devoted, in the main, to the celebration of monarchic power. Tellingly, for Peacock, the mature Jones was able to enjoy a "personal rule" over the masque productions, figuring implicitly as the King’s "double," identifying his cultural politics "with the principles of Charles’s rule," and fortifying the effect of his designs "without as it were breaking cover and surrendering the role of hidden persuader" (325).

  7. Overall, The Stage Designs of Inigo Jones is a beautifully crafted and meticulously argued book, presenting its main thesis convincingly and with great lucidity. However, lucidity has its price, and there are some moments, understandably enough, where Peacock appears to over-polarise his subject, gaining clarity at the expense of a certain amount of complexity in his account of the issues involved. A case in point might be in his reassessment of Jacobean romanticism (74-81), where he is excellent on the French sources (particularly from the Château d’Anet) for Oberon, but completely neglects the simultaneous importance of Italian texts, such as the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Similarly, Jones’s visualism is characterised throughout the volume in an antithetical relation to Jonson’s verbalism, a perspective which owes more to the extremities of their final quarrel in the 1630s than it does to their highly successful (if fraught) partnership over the previous twenty seven years. After all, Jonson -- trained in building and possessing his own copies of Vitruvius -- may have known as much as Jones did about architecture when they first collaborated in 1605; and the dynamism of their early relationship could be explained, in part at least, by the possibility that they were so similar in outlook that they tended to intrude on one another’s territory. Accordingly, Peacock is perhaps overdoing it in thinking that Jonson "must" have needed Jones’s prompting to help explain the novel use of perspective in The Masque of Blackness (162); since Jonson had been interested in the subject for some years (c.f. his dedicatory poem for Nicholas Breton (1600), or the early fascination with painting evinced by his prefatory poem to Thomas Wright’s The Passions of the Minde). Likewise, Jones and Jonson do not need to have related antagonistically to the subject of fantasy in the antimasque (138-147). For although, as Peacock argues, Jonson’s comic drama does proclaim its "fidelity to an Aristotelian imitation of drama" (139), the case of the masque (as Ben well knew), constituted a different package of generic precepts. Jonson, it is worth remembering, had experienced visions, composed poetry out of his dreams, and confessed to sitting up all night imagining armies playing around his big toe. And as Jones (who, like Jonson, was guarded in his approach to the fantastic) could find his way to sanctioning moments when the "Immaginacy" could be set free and sometimes fly out "licenciously"; so Jonson -- in his Discoveries -- made it clear that, on occasion, he did not forbid "the steering out of our sayle," at moments of inspiration.

  8. Perhaps more damaging than these small details of emphasis is Peacock’s circumspection about those aspects of Jones’s personality which were not appealing. There is ample warrant, from the records of his workmen or ambassadorial comment to suggest that like the poet, the architect grew more difficult, intractable and inflexible as he aged; and that, to some extent at least, this rigidity hardened into the work itself. In a diatribe against Jonson, the aged Jones claimed that he himself had been the storehouse of the poet’s "plottes"; and later in the same piece he had quipped that in the latter’s verse the best was translation while the worst was the poet’s own. Similarly, some years earlier, he had made it clear on page 283 of his Vasari that "he who hath not desine and great Inuention of himsealfe shal euer be Poore of graace[,] perfection and Iudgment In great Compositions of archetetture." Jones, in other words, was clear enough about the ethical issues raised by imitation and was able to blame the thefts of others at the same time as, in the later years, he borrowed and delegated with an increasing pragmatism which is somewhat played down in the book. (Without further evidence it is surely not quite fair, for instance, to lay the aesthetic conservatism of the designs for Artenice at the feet of Henrietta Maria (87-8), on the assumption that "she must have ordered Jones" to follow the scenographic conventions of the Hôtel de Bourgogne.) Despite the attraction of Peacock’s affirmatory vision, Strong’s questions about the reactionary and unregenerate side of Jones’s relation to plagiarism still stand.

  9. If, as seems likely, this splendid book is to endure as the major contribution to Jones studies of the present decade, it may not be out of place to suggest that the publishers consider a paperback reprint at a price which will make it more accessible to the new generation of Jonesian post-graduates.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at EMLS@UAlberta.ca.

© 1998-, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).

(LH, AWJ, RGS, 30 March 1998)