A seat of learn­ing

In the 17th cen­tury, Ox­ford Univer­sity be­gan to in­te­grate its in­sti­tu­tional build­ings into an im­pos­ing ar­chi­tec­tural en­sem­ble. In the first of two ar­ti­cles, Ge­of­frey Ty­ack ex­am­ines this re­mark­able evo­lu­tion

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by Will Pryce

In the first of two parts, Ge­of­frey Ty­ack ex­plains the re­mark­able evo­lu­tion of the Schools Quad­ran­gle and Bodleian Li­brary in Ox­ford

The Schools Quad­ran­gle and Bodleian, Ox­ford, part I

Where is the Univer­sity?’ ask the vis­i­tors who flock to Ox­ford. The an­swer is that it is both ev­ery­where and nowhere. Uni­ver­si­ties are, first and fore­most, com­mu­ni­ties of schol­ars and as­pir­ing schol­ars, not col­lec­tions of build­ings and, when the first euro­pean uni­ver­si­ties be­gan in the 12th cen­tury, they had no build­ings of their own and were forced to use spa­ces in churches, monas­ter­ies and pri­vate houses.

In so far as the me­dieval Univer­sity of Ox­ford had a cen­tral build­ing, it was the church of St Mary the Vir­gin—still called the Univer­sity Church—in the high street. Cer­e­monies and dis­pu­ta­tions (struc­tured de­bates) were held there and, in the 1320s, a con­gre­ga­tion house was built onto it for meet­ings of the univer­sity’s gov­ern­ing body, with a li­brary above. Lec­tures were given in rented rooms in School Street (now van­ished) to the north of the church.

In the 1440s, a two-storeyed range of lec­ture rooms called the Oseney Abbey Schools for­malised this ar­range­ment. The range stood at the end of School Street against the city wall and ac­com­mo­dated rooms for teach­ing the lib­eral arts and the com­mon cur­ricu­lum up to MA level: meta­physics, moral phi­los­o­phy, ge­om­e­try, arith­metic and rhetoric on the ground floor and nat­u­ral phi­los­o­phy, as­tron­omy, mu­sic, dia­lec­tic (that is, logic) and gram­mar up­stairs.

Next to the Oseney Schools, and at right an­gles to them, was the Divin­ity School, be­gun in the 1420s for the teach- ing of the­ol­ogy, ‘Queen of the Sciences’, and one of the three ‘higher fac­ul­ties’ lead­ing to a doc­tor­ate (the other two were law and medicine).

The pre­sent Schools Quad­ran­gle (Fig 2) re­placed this ar­range­ment, swal­low­ing up the Divin­ity School in the process, along with the 15th-cen­tury li­brary built above it, the sub­ject of next week’s ar­ti­cle.

Its con­struc­tion di­rectly fol­lowed the re-es­tab­lish­ment of the univer­sity li­brary by Sir Thomas Bod­ley in 1598, af­ter whom the Bodleian is named. he was a Fel­low of Mer­ton Col­lege, Ox­ford, where he had lec­tured in Greek; he later served as a diplo­mat be­fore mar­ry­ing a rich widow in 1586 and in­her­it­ing her for­tune. This en­abled him to re­fur­bish the ex­ist­ing li­brary, de­nuded of its books af­ter the re­for­ma­tion, and to pay for an east­ward ex­ten­sion—arts end— in 1610–12 (Fig 1).

It was the first ex­am­ple in Bri­tain of a li­brary with shelv­ing along the walls, the up­per lev­els of which were reached by tim­ber gal­leries, as in Philip II’S ear­lier li­brary at his palace-monastery of el es­co­rial in Spain.

The build­ing of Arts end en­tailed the de­mo­li­tion of the old Oseney Schools, pre­sent­ing the univer­sity with an op­por­tu­nity both to in­crease its teach­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion and to as­sert its own ar­chi­tec­tural iden­tity as dis­tinct from that of its con­stituent col­leges.

Dur­ing el­iz­a­beth’s reign, the num­ber of stu­dents dou­bled and num­bers con­tin­ued to grow un­til the 1630s, as the univer­sity at­tracted the sons of the gen­try and as­pi­rant clergy. All stu­dents now lived in col­leges and a hand­ful of aca­demic halls and they also re­ceived much of their tu­ition there, but it was

the univer­sity which awarded them their de­grees and it con­tin­ued to or­gan­ise cour­ses of lec­tures.

The de­sire to ar­tic­u­late the im­por­tance of the univer­sity would con­tinue through­out the 17th cen­tury and would later in­volve the con­struc­tion of the Con­vo­ca­tion House (Fig 5) and Chan­cel­lor’s Court in the 1630s be­yond the Divin­ity School, and the Shel­do­nian Theatre ad­ja­cent to it (see Coun­try Life, Novem­ber 27, 2013).

The new Schools Quad­ran­gle was, in the words of the 17th-cen­tury Ox­ford an­ti­quary An­thony Wood, a ‘com­pleat quad­ran­gu­lar pile, wherein the Schools of the su­pe­rior and in­fe­rior Arts, as also the Tongues [lan­guages] might be con­tin­ued’.

The first English univer­sity to ar­range its lec­ture rooms around a court­yard was Cam­bridge, where the 14thand 15th-cen­tury build­ings still sur­vive as univer­sity of­fices, barely no­ticed in the shadow of King’s Col­lege Chapel. The same pat­tern was fol­lowed abroad as at Padua, a place much vis­ited by English trav­ellers and seek­ers af­ter knowl­edge. There, the ‘palazzo dell’uni­ver­sità’ of 1546–87 boasted not only lec­ture rooms and a mag­nif­i­cent

aula for cer­e­monies, but also an anatomy theatre that still sur­vives.

At the Univer­sity of Würzburg in Ger­many, re­built by the Prince-bishop in the full flush of the Counter-re­for­ma­tion in 1582, there was room for be­tween 150 and 200 stu­dents, along with a church, re­fec­tory, rooms above for trainee priests, lec­ture rooms, an aula and a li­brary, all ar­ranged around a three-storeyed court­yard.

The build­ing of the new quad­ran­gle in Ox­ford in­volved buy­ing up prop­erty fac­ing Catte Street, to the east of the for­mer Oseney Schools. An ap­peal was launched among old mem­bers and even­tu­ally brought in £4,500. Bod­ley promised to pay 10% of the fi­nal cost him­self and, in his will (1613), he left money for a third storey, which could serve in the short term as a pic­ture gallery and even­tu­ally as ‘a very large sup­ple­ment for the stowage of books’.

Work be­gan im­me­di­ately. The two lower floors housed lec­ture rooms for each of the aca­demic dis­ci­plines cur­rently taught, with the names of the sub­jects picked out in gold over the door­ways from the quad­ran­gle. The two higher fac­ul­ties of law and medicine oc­cu­pied rooms on the first floor to the west, now reached from the vaulted en­trance hall or proscholium un­der Arts End (Fig 3)—which also gave ac­cess to the Divin­ity School—by stair­case tow­ers; the stairs with their twisted wooden balus­ters date from later in the 17th cen­tury.

Lec­ture rooms for the seven lib­eral arts, lead­ing to the BA and MA de­grees, were housed on two floors in the rest of the build­ing, along with rooms for the teach­ing of Greek and (later) He­brew—essential com­po­nents of Hu­man­ist (Clas­si­cal) learn­ing as un­der­stood at the time.

The rooms were, in Wood’s words, ‘am­ple and spa­cious au­di­to­ries, each with a chair for the lec­turer and benches for stu­dents’, but none of the orig­i­nal fur­nish­ings have sur­vived suc­ces­sive changes of use. The ground­floor lec­ture rooms are now of­fices, those on the first floor, in­clud­ing the for­mer Anatomy School (used as a mu­seum of bizarre spec­i­mens in the late 17th and early 18th cen­turies) as the Li­brary’s Lower Read­ing Room.

The third floor, now the Up­per Read­ing Room (Fig 6) took the form of a gallery run­ning around three sides of the quad­ran­gle. It housed the univer­sity’s por­trait col­lec­tion and there were cab­i­nets for coins and medals, to­gether with ‘cu­riosi­ties’, which in­cluded a chair made out of tim­bers from Sir Fran­cis Drake’s ship Golden Hind.

The gallery was open to vis­i­tors at stated times and has a claim to be­ing the first pub­lic art mu­seum in Bri­tain. In 1949, its painted frieze of 200 portraits of writ­ers and philoso­phers, dat­ing from about 1616–19, was un­cov­ered and re­stored; the sub­jects were cho­sen by Bod­ley’s first li­brar­ian, Thomas James, draw­ing upon An­dré Thévet’s Pour­traits et vies des

hommes il­lus­tres (1584), with writ­ers on the lib­eral arts in the north range, on medicine and law to the east, and on the­ol­ogy to the south.

A mu­ni­ment room and an ob­ser­va­tory—a sine qua non of any up-to­date univer­sity of the time—oc­cu­pied the top two floors of the gate tower.

The quad­ran­gle takes its ar­chi­tec­tural cue from Arts End and, more dis­tantly, from the Divin­ity School. Best

‘com­mu­ni­ties Uni­ver­si­ties are, first and fore­most, of schol­ars and as­pir­ing schol­ars

seen from Rad­cliffe Square, it is a mas­sive rec­tan­gu­lar block with large win­dows, the out­line en­livened by bat­tle­ments and pin­na­cles. En­trance is through a gi­ant gate­house, which is in­ter­nally dec­o­rated with the five orders of Clas­si­cal ar­chi­tec­ture— Tus­can, Ro­man Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Com­pos­ite—neatly stacked one above the other and a pro­fu­sion of strap­work, curlicues and obelisks sur­round­ing the royal coat of arms at the top (Fig 4).

In Eng­land, the Clas­si­cal orders— as a French bor­row­ing—were per­haps first used dec­o­ra­tively in the Gate of Hon­our at Gonville & Caius Col­lege, Cam­bridge (1567) and were ten­ta­tively in­tro­duced to Ox­ford in the en­trance to St Al­ban Hall in Mer­ton Street in 1599. They were more promi­nently dis­played in the Clas­si­cal fron­tispiece to the Fel­lows’ Quad­ran­gle at Bod­ley’s col­lege, Mer­ton, in 1608–10, the first col­le­giate quad­ran­gle to be built of three storeys through­out; there is a sim­i­lar ‘fron­tispiece’ at the cen­tre of the Hall and Chapel range of the newly funded Wad­ham Col­lege (1610–12).

The War­den of Mer­ton, Sir Henry Sav­ile (1549–1622), was a Clas­si­cal scholar and poly­math who had taught Greek to El­iz­a­beth I, had lec­tured on Coper­ni­cus and who sub­se­quently founded en­dowed chairs in as­tron­omy and ge­om­e­try, the in­tel­lec­tual dis­ci­pline that tra­di­tion­ally en­com­passed ar­chi­tec­ture (in­ci­den­tally, the point of Christo­pher Wren’s en­try into the dis­ci­pline).

Sav­ile’s mon­u­ment by Ni­cholas Stone in Mer­ton Col­lege chapel is flanked by fig­ures of Eu­clid and Tac­i­tus, whose works he had edited, and he owned a copy of Vitru­vius, which he gave to the Bodleian Li­brary. A close friend of Bod­ley—who said that he had ‘the judg­ment of a ma­son’—he brought in two stone­ma­sons from his na­tive West York­shire, John Akroyd and John Bent­ley, to work both at Mer­ton and on the Schools Quad­ran­gle, en­rag­ing the lo­cal Ox­ford ma­sons in the process, and he took over the ar­chi­tec­tural di­rec­tion of the whole project fol­low­ing Bod­ley’s death in 1613.

Sav­ile must have de­ter­mined the de­sign of the gate­house as a ‘tower of the orders’: a fea­ture that, as Roger North re­marked in the 1690s, was ‘very suit­able for an academy’. Ack­royd was de­scribed in the reg­is­ter of Ox­ford Univer­sity as the ‘chief builder’ of Arts End and the Schools Quad­ran­gle, but he died in 1613 and was suc­ceeded by Bent­ley, de­scribed on his mon­u­ment (1615) as ‘the most skil­ful ar­chi­tect of the li­brary and schools’. Bent­ley’s brother then took over and, af­ter his death, a car­pen­ter, Thomas Holt, su­per­vised the fi­nal stages of the build­ing.

In 1620, James I gave the univer­sity a copy of his pub­lished works on the­ol­ogy. The Univer­sity com­mem­o­rated the gift by com­mis­sion­ing a sculp­ture (orig­i­nally painted) for the in­ner face of the fourth floor of the gate tower. It shows the King en­throned un­der a canopy bear­ing the words ‘Blessed are the peace­mak­ers’ and at­tended by Fame and Learn­ing, the for­mer blow­ing a trum­pet. The sculp­tor was prob­a­bly John Clark, who may have been Ack­royd’s son-in-law.

The build­ing has re­mained su­per­fi­cially un­changed since its com­ple­tion in the early 1620s, but there have been many in­ter­nal, and some ex­ter­nal, changes since then. In 1876–82, the whole build­ing was taken over by the Bodleian Li­brary fol­low­ing the build­ing of Thomas Gra­ham Jack­son’s ex­u­ber­antly de­tailed Ex­am­i­na­tion Schools in the High Street. To­day, the Schools Quad­ran­gle is still the in­tel­lec­tual heart of the Univer­sity, the citadel to the ‘Re­pub­lic of Let­ters’ to which Sir Thomas Bod­ley ded­i­cated his li­brary more than 400 years ago.

Fig 1: Arts End, the first Bri­tish li­brary with wall shelv­ing

Fig 5 above: The Con­vo­ca­tion House, built in the 1630s. It served as a par­lia­ment cham­ber on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. Fig 6 be­low: The Up­per Read­ing Room can claim to be Bri­tain’s first pub­lic art gallery. The frieze of bust portraits dates to about 1616–19

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