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Of good use or serious pleasure : Vitruvius Britannicus and early eighteenth century architectural discourse

By Lucy Elisabeth Rumble

Abstract

The central thesis of this work is that Colen Campbell's \ud three volume Vitruvius Britannicus (1715-25) is not, as it has been frequently seen, a Palladian manifesto designed to change architectural practice in England (and in the process Campbell's own fortunes as an architect), but rather a publication celebrating architectural achievements, consumed by polite society.\ud \ud The twentieth century view of Vitruvius Britannicus, stems from John Surnmerson's seminal work, Architecture in Britain 1530-1830. It posits Vitruvius Britannicus as a stylistic manifesto that served the particular interests of Colen Campbell and his associates as advocates of and builders in the Palladian style, and foregrounds the idea of the author. This view has been incorporated almost unquestioningly into subsequent interpretations not least\ud because it conforms to a powerful 'Whig' interpretation of history emphasising periodisation, style, revolution, development, and the search for origins. In contrast I argue that Vitruvius Britannicus met the demands of a market interested in architecture as a topic of polite\ud conversation. The subscription lists for Vitruvius Britannicus show that it was neither priced to be, nor received as, a builder's manual, nor was it a stylistic manifesto. Rather, it was a celebration of contemporary British architecture that gave pleasure and some instruction to polite society. Drawing on disciplines outside of art and architectural history, I consider\ud Vitruvius Britannicus as an object of consumption offering an alternative reading of the publication that highlights a number of important avenues for further research. \ud \ud Chapter 1 positions the thesis within critiques of stylistic history. Chapter 2 briefly introduces\ud some historiographic issues, and then considers the contents and style of the publication, and\ud the nature of its subscribers. This highlights issues neglected in histories of Vilruvius Britannicus and challenges many of the commonly held conceptions of the publication. These conceptions are then examined in Chapter 3 in the light of evidence and issues raised in the\ud previous chapter. Chapter 4 considers other architectural and illustrated books and positions Campbell's work within wider publishing paradigms such as cartography and a literature of tourism. Chapter 5 outlines some of the intellectual ideas that influenced the way in which\ud publications such as Vitruvius Britannicus were understood. This is developed in Chapter 6 which considers the way in which Vitruvius Britannicus functioned within a contemporary\ud architectural discourse that codified the group identity of a polite elite

Publisher: Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies (Leeds)
Year: 2001
OAI identifier: oai:etheses.whiterose.ac.uk:404

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