GIBBS, James


GIBBS, James
(1682-1754)
   James Gibbs is best known for his monumental churches in London, as well as for his successful blending of Renaissance and Baroque architectural elements into an early-18th-century Neo-Classicism. Born a Catholic in Scotland, Gibbs revealed himself very early on as an excellent draftsman. He went on to study in Rome with the Late Baroque Italian architect Carlo Fontana. When Gibbs returned to London, he received a position as a surveyor to help with the planned construction of 50 new churches in London. His first commission for this project was the Church of Saint Mary-le-Strand in 1714. In 1722-1726, Gibbs constructed his most famous church, Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, in London. This building reveals the integration of a Palladian portico front with a basilica church plan, which has a spire rather than a dome rising from the roof of the building. This type of spire was widely copied across Europe in the 18th century and became popular in New England as well during the subsequent century. In 1728, Gibbs's Book of Architecture was first published, and in 1732, the publication of his Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture provided an English-language architectural manual used widely in England and the United States.
   His most famous building, the Radcliffe Camera, was constructed in 1739-1749 in Oxford to house the university's science library. While the English architect Nicholas Hawksmoor can be credited with the idea for a round building, Gibbs created a beautiful fusion of Renaissance and Baroque features in this unique structure. The three-part design consists of a rusticated ground level topped by a two-story central section articulated with paired columns alternating with two registers of windows, which is then topped by a balustrade and then a dome capped by a spire. Highly sculptural, this building recalls the general classical column order in its overall layout, while its round design echoes the format of Donato Bramante's small Tempietto, built in Rome in 1502. This building best embodies James Gibbs's desire to blend Renaissance classicism with Baroque grandeur into a more modern English context.

Historical Dictionaries of Literature and the Arts. . 2008.

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