What makes Sir Christopher Wren’s buildings so distinctive? Over his lengthy architectural career from the mid-1660s to his death in 1723, Wren produced a remarkable array of pioneering buildings in both classical and Gothic idioms, from churches and royal palaces to colleges and hospitals. Of these, the mighty St Paul’s Cathedral—that monumental statement of cool-headed Anglicanism—undoubtedly looms largest. But how do we account for the immense inventiveness of these structures in a country whose experience of classicism had, hitherto, been confined to the sober, strictly Vitruvian works of Inigo Jones in the first half of the seventeenth century?

For the last fifty years, scholars have attributed Wren’s prodigious architectural creativity to his knowledge of ancient and modern Rome, as mediated through Renaissance treatises and the Baroque buildings...


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