A Book of Architecture by James Gibbs serves as an extensive catalogue for designs and plans of different types of buildings and their ornaments as well as furnishings such as for example tables or vessels. The book can therefore be divided into two parts. The first part, consisting of drafts for buildings, starts with 15 examples Gibbs has already built himself. Thereby he mainly tries to endorse his own work as a way of self-promotion or legitimization. Even though he states that this book is especially useful to people in “remote parts of the Country, where little or no assistance for Designs can be procured”. Which is certainly also true. The book provides a large collection of designs and plans for buildings, ornaments and furniture each with several variants for the architects, constructors or clients to choose from. All laid out in a thoroughly systematic and strict manner. Gibbs is of the opinion that the users of the book should rather choose from his variants instead of making personal changes to his designs as they “frequently [prove] a Detriment to the Building, as well as a Disparagement to the person that gives them”, if they aren’t made or approved by a “person of Judgment”. He therefore makes the explanation, “[cautioning] Gentlemen from suffering any material Change to be made in their Designs by the Forwardness of unskilful Workmen, or the Caprice of ignorant, assuming Pretenders”. And then goes on to warn the reader about the consequences of not appointing a professional artist or architect to address design challenges with regards to buildings and their ornaments in even more detail. Explaining that those failed buildings had to be vastly altered or even taken down completely at a very great expense to once again manifest the importance and worth of a skilled artist. Considering that Gibbs had the seldom opportunity to learn in Italy, it comes as no surprise that he emphasizes the importance of symmetry and order, saying that even the most pristine materials such as marble can be seen daily in a rather disadvantageous form, as they do not follow any rules of proportion. Furthermore, it is the proportions of the parts of a building to each other and to the whole building that give it grandeur. We can then recognize how his main concern, being the aforementioned demand for appropriate proportion, might have been inspired by ancient architectural theory when considering the comparison to the concepts of Vitruvius. Especially the relation to the principles of ordinatio and dispositio or symmetria and eurythmia respectively is imminent. According to Gibbs, a building can thereafter be left plain or enriched with a few carefully selected and properly disposed ornaments. Finally, he mentions again the importance of good craftsmanship for the execution of his ornaments and designs in general, concluding with the importance of fabrica for the architect to guarantee complete control and integrity in his designs.
Keywords: catalogue; variants, proportion; dispositio, ordinatio, symmetria, eurythmia, fabrica
Quote (complete excerpt):
“What is here presented to the Public was undertaken at the instance of several Persons of Quality and others ; and some Plates were added to what was at first intended, by the particular direction of Persons of great Distinction, for whose Commands I have the highest regard. They were of opinion, that such a Work as this would be of use to such Gentlemen as might be conerned in Buildings especially in the remote parts of the Country, where little or no assistance for Designs can be procured. Such may be here furnished with Draughts of useful and convenient Buildings and proper Ornaments ; which may be executed by any Workman who understands Lines, either as here Designed, or with some Alternation, which may be easily made by a person of Judgment; without which a Variation in Draughts, once well digested, frequently proves a Detriment to the Building, as well as a Disparagement to the person that gives them. I mention this to caution Gentlemen from suffering any material Change to be made in their Designs by the Forwardness of unskilful Workmen, or the Caprice of ignorant, assuming Pretenders.”