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Gordon Higgott on 'Designs by Inigo Jones' (vol 12)

A century ago, The Walpole Society published a ground-breaking catalogue of Inigo Jones's masque drawings, compiled by two Oxford scholars, Percy Simpson (1865-1962) and Charles Bell (1871-1966). We are most grateful to architectural historian and Walpole Society member Dr Gordon Higgott FSA for contributing the following guest post, reflecting on the volume's significance.

Dr Higgott's own researches on the masque drawings, published with the late A.V. Grimstone in Walpole Society vol. 82 (2020), established the hand of Jones's assistant, Edward Pearce senior, reattributing to Pearce a significant portion of the masque designs until then given to Jones.

Title Page, The Walpole Society, Volume 12 (1923-4)

The Simpson and Bell catalogue was pioneering in several respects, and was by far the most advanced catalogue of drawings by Inigo Jones in its time. The only earlier published catalogues were those by the architect-historian J. Alfred Gotch of the architectural drawings by Inigo Jones and John Webb at the RIBA Drawings Collection in London, at Worcester College, Oxford, and at Chatsworth House. They were published as articles in The RIBA Journal and The Architectural Review  in 1911, 1912 and 1913, but were simply lists of the drawings with brief descriptions of each design, and with transcriptions of the notes on the sheets, in which the hands of Jones and Webb were identified for the first time. However, these summary catalogues do not describe the media of the drawings or give any useful information on the sheets themselves.


Simpson and Bell produced descriptive catalogue entries for each of the masque drawings. They describe the media used, give information on the mounts, and describe the collector’s marks (now known to be John Talman’s) on certain sheets. Each entry describes the drawing in question in some detail, since only about a quarter of the 486 stage designs are illustrated in the plates. Thus written description was needed. These descriptions are still useful, as they explain the parts of the costume and the elements of the stage designs which otherwise would lack terminology. 


Following their catalogue in 1924, the next published catalogue of Jones-Webb material was Margaret Whinney's, ‘John Webb’s Drawings for Whitehall Palace’, in Walpole Society, 31, 1946. This maintains the standard established by Simpson and Bell, and remains the standard work on this subject.


As I explain on p. 40 of Higgott and Grimstone in Walpole Society vol. 82, Simpson and Bell supply detailed technical information on tracing methods used on the preparatory sheets for the finished drawings of many of the finest costume designs for masques (rubbing the backs of the sheets with black chalk or graphite to aid the tracings of lines on the sheets used for the finished drawings). They assumed that an assistant was involved in this process, but did not think it worth investigating who this was. As far as they were concerned, a single mind was behind the whole process. However, their carefully recorded information — now hidden from view by the mounting of the drawings on card later in the 1920s — proved crucial for identifying Pearce’s hand as the assistant in question. 

Page 38, The Walpole Society, Volume 12 (1923-24)

Simpson and Bell were well ahead of their time in 1924, for when Roy Strong re-catalogued the drawings for the two-volume catalogue of Jones’s stage designs that he co-authored with Stephen Orgel in 1973, he overlooked the significance of the technical information they supplied on tracing methods. Orgel and Strong simply copied out Simpson and Bell’s technical descriptions without realising that each drawing in question related to a highly finished presentation design that was evidently not in Jones’s hand. 


Orgel and Strong’s catalogue appeared a year after John Harris’s catalogue of Jones’s architectural drawings at the RIBA. In 1979 Harris published a catalogue of the drawings by Jones and Webb at Worcester College. Of these three published catalogues in the 1970s, only Orgel and Strong’s is a match for Simpson and Bell’s in terms of academic and descriptive content. This is because Orgel and Strong were able to make significant advances in the identification of the subjects of the stage designs, even though they, like Simpson and Bell, were not interested in identifying other hands amongst the drawings, other than that of John Webb (whose hand Simpson and Bell had already identified in 1924).  They were critical of many of Simpson and Bell’s mis-identifications of masque drawings, but this criticism overlooked how much progress the earlier pair had made in establishing Jones’s oeuvre as a stage designer.


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