Vision, Modelling, Drawing

Christopher Wren was recognised as a brilliant student while at Oxford in the 1650s. The diarist John Evelyn called him ‘that miracle of a youth’ and ‘that prodigious young scholar’. His academic career was meteoric: a fellow of All Souls, Oxford in 1653, professor of astronomy at London’s Gresham College in 1657 and a founding member of the Royal Society in 1660. By the time he returned to Oxford as Savilian professor of astronomy in 1661 he had a European-wide reputation as a mathematician and natural philosopher. His inventions and discoveries from this time are characterized by an interest in practical utility and, in particular, by a powerful ability to envision complex mechanical and geometrical problems in three dimensions.

This section of the exhibition explores the theme of visualization as it appears in in his work during the mid-1660s, both in his science and in his first steps towards architecture. For Wren, architecture was a new and fascinating challenge, but it must also have seemed familiar. His early efforts in the field relied on the same sensibility that he had honed through his work as a scientist and mathematician. As his friend and colleague Robert Hooke put it in 1665 ‘since the time of Archimedes, there scarce ever met in one man, in so great a perfection, such a Mechanical Hand, and so Philosophical a Mind’.

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