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Robert Willis and the rise of architectural history

Buchanan, A.C.; (1994) Robert Willis and the rise of architectural history. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis is an examination of the contribution of the English scholar, Robert Willis (1800-1875) to the discipline of architectural history. Willis's writings are set within a context of nineteenth-century antiquarian scholarship and their methodology and conclusions explored and evaluated. the work i not treated as a conventional biography, for reasons given in the Introduction, but divided into sections dealing with the different types of work produced by Wilils. chapter One examines Willis's first architectural work, Remarks on the Architecture of the Middle Ages, especially of Italy, (1835). This is discussed in relation to a tradition of 'scientific' antiquarianism which includes such scholars as James Essex, Thomas Kerrich, Thomas Rickman and William Whewell. The influence of Whewell's study of German gothic on Willis's approach is assessed and the differences between the two works considered in terms of the contrasting concerns of German Idealism and French Rationalism as well as WIllis's stated aim of discovering principles of gothic design to be used in nineteenth-century architectural practice. The book's role in the revival of gothic is appraised and also the relationship between Willis's principles and the 'true principles' of A.W.N. Pugin. Chapter Two looks at another attempt by Willis to discover the principles of gothic design by studying the vaults of the middle ages. the formation of a language in which to speak of gothic vaults is described and the various ways in which they were classified. With reference to unpublished notes from the Cambridge archive, I endeavour to explain how the study of individual features led Willis to become dissatisfied with the methodology of gothic 'system builders', who were concerned primarily with the abstract progression of styles. Chapter Three examines Willis's alternative to the theoretical history of architecture, expressed in the series of architectural histories of individual cathedrals produced for the British Archaeological Association (founded in 1843), and thereafter the Archaeological Institute. The history of the study of documentary and structural evidence relating to buildings and Willis's estimation of their relative value is explored. The Architectural History of Canterbury Cathedral, Willis's first such study, is described in detail to demonstrate his use of data and strategies of argumentation. Thereafter particular elements of his methodology are treated with respect to examples of their employment in the subsequent histories. Chapter Four is a study of some of Willis's 'minor' works, on architectural nomenclature, seals, the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and his editions of the St. Gall plan and the sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt. they are discussed in terms of how Willis responded to previous scholarship, his own concerns and the use made of works by their various audiences. This demonstrates how Willis's intention in writing did not necessarily correspond to the response of the readership and the influence of a work was not always coincident with its inherent worth. In Chapter Five I discuss Willis's practical involvement in architecture at various levels. Examples are listed of his acting as an architectural consultant and his role in the restoration of Ely cathedral is examined in detail. His philosophy of restoration is explained and contrasted with those or Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc, two other individuals whose influence in England was rather through their ideas than actual activity. I also consider the role of antiquarian scholarship in the practice of architecture in the nineteenth century and the different estimations by contemporary architects of the value of Willis's contribution. Chapter Six treat Willis's final architectural study, The Architectural History of the Conventual Buildings of Christ Church Canterbury, and The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge, which was published after his death with substantial additions by his nephew, John Willis Clark. The works are similar in their concentration on the study of plans. The Canterbury work is set within a context of the archaeology and interpretation of conventual architecture and I investigate the part played by Willis in the identification of the standard location of the various offices. The Cambridge project developed over many years and I examine Willis's changing views on the relationship between the monastic and collegiate plans as well as discussing the political circumstances in which Willis was writing, which made any investigation of University history an inevitably controversial activity. The final chapter attempts to review the influence of Willis on the modern discipline of architectural history, showing how his methodology and conclusions were transferred and raising questions about his continued relevance. Appendices discuss the evidence for Willis's unfinished magnum opus and reproduce a series of unpublished notes on restoration.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Robert Willis and the rise of architectural history
Language:English
Additional information:Thesis digitised by British Library EThOS. Third party copyright material has been removed.
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > History of Art

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