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Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

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Notes in italics from Oxfordshire by Jennifer Sherwood and Nikolaus Pevsner (1974)
Yale University Press, New Haven and London.



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The Radcliffe Camera is a library, built in 1737-49 with money left by Dr Radcliffe. The architect was James Gibbs. He adopted the concept of a rotunda which had originally been proposed by Hawksmoor.
The ground floor is rusticated; smooth, wide-jointed blocks. There are eight large arched and pedimented bays all originally open - till 1863 - and eight intermediate bays with niches. ... The upper floor has coupled Corinthian columns, and the bays now alternate between windows and niches. Both are in two tiers. The large windows have pediments, the small ones lugs top and bottom. This is similar in the bays of the niches. Top with balustrade and balls, and then the drum with the dome, which is the chief distinctive mark of the Oxford skyline. The drum has windows between buttress piers, and the dome - not of stone - is more elongated than that of St. Paul's, i.e. rather of the St. Peter's type. Pronounced ribs, small lantern.

John Summerson has written ( in Architecture in Britain 1530-1830, Yale University Press):
Essentially Mannerist is the treatment of the Corinthian order, whose coupled columns separate alternate wide and narrow bays, the difference in width being, however, purposely ambiguous. Again, above the order, the buttresses of the dome come down between and not over the pairs of columns, and yet the bays in which they are occur are precisely not the bays which are strengthened by forward breaks in the rusticated base. Moreover, these emphatic units in the base line up with only one of each pair of columns in the bay above them. The rhythms of the whole structure are thus extremely complicated. No emphasis falls just where you would expect it; everything is syncopated. Very rarely in English architecture has the spirit of Mannerism been so pronounced"


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