Radcliffe Camera model by Nicholas Hawksmoor

During the 1730s a number of architects were considered by the Radcliffe Trustees for the job of designing  and managing the building of the new library, and two were asked to submit drawings for consideration: Nicholas Hawksmoor and James Gibbs. In 1734 or 5, Hawksmoor’s design for a round library was made into a model (below), presumably because this design was favoured by the Trustees. His plans show the Radcliffe Library was to be built abutting the Bodleian Library, rather than as a freestanding building, with the ground floor open to the elements and the entrance to the library reached from beneath. Unfortunately, Hawksmoor became seriously ill and died of “gout of the stomach” in March 1736, opening the way for Gibbs to be awarded the contract. Gibbs’s own library design had originally been a more conventional rectangular building, but by 1737 the current freestanding, circular design was submitted by Gibbs, clearly influenced by Hawksmoor’s model.

The model is made from wood (the lighter pieces are modern restoration), and it can be dismantled to show the interior rooms and spaces. The scale may be 1 inch =

4 feet, which would make the ground floor diameter just 100 feet. The model was made by John Smallwell, junior, of London, who was Master of the Joiners Company in 1731 and worked for Sir John Vanbrugh. He was paid £87.11s for his efforts.

The model found its way eventually to Ditchley Park, the home of the 3rd Earl of Lichfield, who was a Radcliffe Trustee from 1755 to 1772, where it seems to have spent much of its life being used as a dolls house, until it was given to the Bodleian Library in 1913 by Viscount Dillon.

1 thought on “Radcliffe Camera model by Nicholas Hawksmoor”

  1. In the back garden of St Giles’ House (owned by St John’s College) is a small pavilion that has a pantheon-styled cupola said to be a replica of the model made by James Gibbs in 1734 for the stone dome he intended for the Radcliffe Camera.
    It is said to be modelled after that of Brunelleschi’s dome for the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

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