Architecture Program

 

Date of this Version

2002

Comments

Published in Nexus IV: Architecture and Mathematics, ed. José Francisco Rodrigues and Kim Williams (Turin: Kim Williams Books, 2002), pp. 109-126.

Abstract

Inigo Jones's interpretation that Stonehenge was a Roman temple of Coelum, the god of the heavens, was published in 1655, three years after his death, in The most notable Antiquity of Great Britain, vulgarly called Stone-Heng, on Salisbury Plain, Restored. King James I demanded an interpretation in 1620. The task most reasonably fell in the realm of Surveyor of the King's Works, which Jones had been for the preceding five years. According to John Webb, Jones's assistant since 1628 and executor of Jones's will, it was Webb who wrote the book based on Jones's "few indigested" notes, on the recommendation of William Harvey, physician to James and to Charles I, and John Selden, antiquarian. The treatise included a plan of the megalith restored. On the outer circle were thirty columns, to which a concentric circle of thirty smaller columns corresponded, the radius of the latter tracing the outermost intersections of the four equilateral triangles within the first circle. On the hexagon resulting from two of the four triangles were six sets of two stones each. A side of this hexagon was as wide as that of the dodecagon.

Jones's Stonehenge interpretation reveals an important difference between his world and ours. Jones demonstrated the ideal through architecture, no matter if, as was in fact the case, the ideal was far from the real. Mathematics, and geometry in particular, enabled him to do so. Stone-Heng was not so much related to the original as to its ideal. It not only idealized the megalith but also the nation and monarch. It further idealized Jones's own realm, that is, architecture, the architect, and his own being. To compare, today's advanced technology makes almost any construction possible but at the same time allows us to be oblivious to what ought to be built. Professionals might ask what is timely, but often fail to question whether being timely is always good. Positivistic clarity in the matters of economy and efficiency makes it difficult for us to see ethical values. In order to fully appreciate Jones's world, we need to get at the provenance of his knowledge.



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