Architect: Inigo Jones, 1619-22
A milestone in London's architectural history: the capital's first orthodox Classical building, designed by someone recognisable as an architect.
London looked very different before Inigo Jones emerged as an architect. It was Jones, under the patronage of James I, who introduced fully-fledged Italian Classicism to England, and the Banqueting House, originally part of the Palace of Whitehall, was his most prestigious completed commission. Jones' work displays elaborate levels of detailing and classical harmonic proportions, much of it absorbed during his travels through Italy studying the treatises of Vitruvius and Palladio.
Today's facing of monochrome Portland stone accentuates the building's size, whereas Jones' original design incorporated a subtle, three-tone design of Oxford, Northamptonshire and Portland stones that instead emphasised the depth and sculptural treatment of the seven-bay facade. With its perfect double cube interior, the scheme was hugely ambitious for the building technology of the day in terms of span, height and weight. Nevertheless, one of the most impressive aspects of Jones' meticulous design was his treatment of corners, from the kissing capitals of the facade, to the delicate gallery brackets of the hall.
Although called the Banqueting House, the structure originally housed two main functions: theatrical royal balls known as 'masques;’ and the reception of foreign ambassadors. At one of these latter occasions in 1634 Charles I persuaded the artist-ambassador Peter Paul Rubens to produce nine canvas ceiling panels for the hall, commemorating the reign of James I and the divine right of kings. Just fifteen years later, Charles was ushered from the building onto a temporary scaffold where he became the first and only British monarch to be legally executed for treason.
Best time to visit: Monday-Saturday 10am-5pm except Bank Holidays.
Address: Whitehall, London SW1A 2ER