Author: William Schäppi
James Gibbs, a critic of his home country’s architecture, was studying as a catholic priest in Rome in Italy when he came in touch with the Georgian architecture for the first time. The beautiful ornaments on and inside of the buildings fascinated him so much that he left behind the wish to become a priest and instead scrutinized the details of Italian churches and other buildings in Rome. With his oeuvre A Book of Architecture Containing Designs of Buildings and Ornaments he wanted to import the Georgian style from Italy to the United Kingdom, where the new style was still unknown. The book serves as reference for other architects in England and contains a collection of architectural designs and plans, mostly for public buildings like churches. It is meant for interested people (e.g., architects, artists, and clients) who want to recreate these designs in England and transform British architecture. However, Gibbs attaches great importance to his own variations and asks others to not change the designs or create own interpretations of the Georgian architecture. Moreover, he warns about the consequences of not using professionals to execute the construction of the buildings. It’s crucial to keep the right proportions.
To enhance the character of his buildings and to set a new and distinguishable style, Gibbs embellished them with carefully selected and well-placed ornaments. His book depicts elements like columns, door openings or fences, each of them in various versions. Some of his drawings show rather plain ornaments, on others he illustrates highly detailed door lintels which require the knowledge of an experienced mason. This may be the reason why he does not want maladroit workmen for the execution of his designs.
Gibbs’ book consists of 380 different designs, engraved on plates. Not only can the architect or client find designs and blueprints concerning buildings, but he also finds various iterations of furniture items like mirrors, vases, or pots. In one of his drawings, he depicts for example nine vases, every single one with a different kind of ornament. The objects perfectly represent his new style of design: none of his furniture designs should remain plain, each surface had to be enriched with beautifully detailed ornaments.
With his approach, he wanted to create a new and impressive style in the boring British architecture, unfortunately without much success. Soon after he passed away, neoclassical architecture got popular in the United Kingdom and his work was buried in oblivion.
Keywords: ornaments, details, new style