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The interior of St Martin-in-the-Fields, mirroring the plasterwork ceiling make by Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Battista Bagutti. Photo: akg-images/Bildarchiv Monheim


InJuly 1720 – nearly 300 years back – the commissioners that St Martin-in-the-Fields solicited designs indigenous London’s leading architects for a brand-new church in which come worship. The architect the they selected native this highly competitive ar was James Gibbs (1682–1754), among the most exciting and original architects then functioning in the capital. The church the was developed over the complying with years and consecrated in 1726 is this day a familiar landmark. Stand on the north-east edge of London’s Trafalgar Square, that projecting Corinthian portico set the example for the an excellent chain that classically inspired structures of i beg your pardon this, among the many recognisable urban spaces in the world, is comprised.

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But the influence of St Martin’s has expanded far past Trafalgar Square. For a century after ~ its construction, Gibbs’s unconventional combination of classic temple front v spire served as the prototype for numerous places that Anglican worship. This includes churches in ~ the brothers Isles yet also, with the expansion of the brothers Empire, many overseas, specifically in India (in Kolkata, for instance), and also what is now the united States.

St Martin’s presented perhaps the most preferable commission the the day. The parish, in existence because the 12th century, had involved be well-known as the ‘royal parish’ as result of its proximity to Whitehall. A decision to rebuild the old church was taken as early on as 1710, as soon as a inspection revealed that its wall surfaces were rapid approaching a allude of collapse. But it to be not till 1717, as soon as the parishioners effectively petitioned parliament for the establishment of a different commission to rebuild the church in ~ their very own expense, the any far-reaching progress was made towards the brand-new building.


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The west former of St Martin-in-the areas inLondon, draft by James Gibbs (1682–1754) and also published in A book of design (1728)


The commissioners’ decision to select Gibbs was no doubt affected by his recent work at the church of St mary le Strand, only half a mile west that St Martin’s and also then quiet under construction. It had actually turned heads throughout the capital and beyond, v William Kent requesting copies of the plans come be sent out to the in Italy. In ~ St Martin’s, Gibbs refined method that the had first adopted in ~ this previously church. The can ideal be explained as a marriage of the recent ecclesiastical architecture of teacher Christopher Wren (1632–1723) with ideas informed by Gibbs’s amazing training in Rome under the pope’s architect, Carlo Fontana (1638–1714).

quickly after receiving the commission, Gibbs take it the commissioners on a walking tourism of Wren’s current City churches. Together the architect who had, an ext than any type of other, sought to discover a method of adapting the timeless language of design to the needs of the good news liturgy, Wren’s was an apparent model to follow. In his an initial proposals because that a round, centrally to plan church for the site of St Martin’s, Gibbs’s blame to Wren is clear, v the plan resembling Wren’s ‘round’ style for St Paul’s, which is well-known through a drawing in all Souls College, Oxford. Gibbs was, however, unable to realise his ambitious very first scheme for the church, likely as result of its limit site.

As Gibbs started to rethink his technique to the St Martin’s commission, Wren remained in the forefront of his mind. Together built, the church contains many Wrennian devices. A prominent example is the spire, i m sorry responds to Wren’s successful classicising in his City churches of a form that Gibbs regarded to it is in of ‘Gothick extraction’. This is additionally true that the interior, whose columned, basilican kind owes much to examples such as St James’s, Piccadilly. In ~ the same time, Gibbs arisen Wren’s concepts further. Uneven Wren, Gibbs wanted not to rest the galleries the the aisles on pedestals; the impact is because that the columns to come to be taller and more monumental 보다 in Wren’s churches. The splendid plasterwork ceiling, moreover, the occupational of Ticinese stuccatori Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Battista Bagutti – ‘the best Fret-workers that ever before came into England’, as Gibbs hailed them – is quite unlike noþeles that deserve to be found in the City churches.


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St Andrew’s Church, created in 1815–18, on B.B.D. Bagh (formerly Dalhousie Square) in Kolkata, India. Photo: Robert Wyatt/Alamy share Photo


Yet Gibbs’s decision to it is adapted at St Martin’s the temple kind of pagan classical times to 18th-century Anglican worship was modern technology entirely that his own. The motivation behind this was likely his cultivate in Italy. The idea of repurposing antique continues to be to serve contemporary needs was far from frowned top top in 18th-century Rome; among Carlo Fontana’s unrealised jobs was for a church to the Christian martyrs which was to have occupied the room in the center of the Colosseum. Gibbs had an initial explored the idea of combine church and temple quickly after his return indigenous Italy, submitting two models to the the supervisory board for building Fifty new Churches for churches in a holy place form. Both models to be surmounted by spires, the interlocutor conjunction come which Gibbs to be to return in ~ St Martin’s. That was among these models – because that a church in the pseudoperipteral style of the temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome – that detailed the basis for the final style of St Martin’s. His chief breakthrough was come widen the body of the church beyond the portico, allowing it to action forward more into the then-crowded street. Gibbs seems to have been highly conscious of the originality of his design, which was acclaimed by contemporaries, confidently signing his surname in the inscription on the entablature, a gesture that was without criterion in the London the his day.

The affect of St Martin’s is early out in no small component to Gibbs’s pioneering A book of architecture (1728), the an initial architectural publication by a British-born architect to consist of exclusively his very own designs. The striking simplicity that its kind meant the it could be easily replicated in places, occasionally overseas, where an architect that Gibbs’s calibre might not have been close at hand. But the enduring popularity of this model above all rather is as result of Gibbs’s success in investing an antique type with good news meaning. That was just in the later 19th century, as the Gothic revival took hold, that St Martin’s influence finally happened superseded.

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From the January 2020 worry of Apollo. Preview the existing issue and subscribe here.