The History of Cities and their Architecture

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The History of Cities and their Architecture

HEAVEN AND EARTH: discussing the relationships between the church of St Stephen’s Walbrook by Sir Christopher Wren and Agnolo Bronzino’s Allegory with Venus and Cupid (also known as Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time).

The current church was designed by Wren to replace an existing building destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. Constructed 1672-91, it is an example of English Baroque Architecture and was praised by Palladio as “the truest proportioned enclosed building in the world”2. Allegory with Venus and Cupid predates the church by a little over a century (painted C.1546)3. It was likely to have been commissioned by the Medici family and was later sent as a gift to King Francis I of France4. It is an example of the High Mannerist style of painting which characterised the late Italian Renaissance.

These two works use a similar vocabulary, drawing on classical forms, but the rhetoric of each is very different. The painting is a taut, visceral image: it shows the complex agony of the desires of the flesh. It is explicit to the point of antagonism and unusually, it appears not to be a straightforward moralistic, ‘anti-vice’ allegory5 .

The church rejects the high drama of the painting. Wren's restrained baroque styling is applied in a rational scheme with emphasis on harmony, space and light. It is a sanctuary from the noisy, overcrowded, foul smelling and necessarily earthly surroundings (in 1685 the North door of the building was bricked up against the odours from the slaughter houses)6. By excluding the darkness and turmoil of the streets, Wren provided an enclosure of purity for the parishioners of St Stephen’s - a different vision from Bronzino’s allegory.

One of the most stri...

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...omposition. The church, if it has a narrative, tells of God and an immaculate experience brought to Earth.


1 (2013)

2, 7 (15th April 2013)

3 C. Bambach, J. Cox-Rearick, G. R. Goldner The Drawings of Bronzino (2010), p.146


5 B. A. Oard, The Mirror of Mannerism , 2011 Essay: AGNOLO BRONZINO, AN ALLEGORY WITH VENUS AND CUPID, 1540-50 (National Gallery, London)

6 S. Perks, The History of the Mansion House (1922), p. 119

7 see 2

8 R. Mayer, The Artist’s Handbook of Techniques and Materials, 4th Ed. (1976), p.112-113

9 Ven. P. Delaney, Walbrook and The City of London: Thoughts on the Architecture (2011), p. 2

10 see 5

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