The Afterlife of Sir Christopher Wren


Today I engaged in the most businessy business of my English sojourn by presenting a paper at a conference, sponsored by the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain at St. John’s College, Oxford, on Wren’s later life/influence/rejection following his death.   My paper considered what I called Wren’s inexorable influence: he was too big, too famous, too extraordinary to ignore, and yet too problematic ( for 19th- century Americans, at least) to embrace whole-heartedly.  My architect, Walter, found his way around Wren by focusing on the rational and ” scientific” aspects of his practice (especially the dome of St. Paul’s), and he wasn’t alone.  Wren was alternately revered, reviled, totemized and trumped as a model of aesthetics, science, practice, at home and abroad.  In addition to this fine consideration of a great architect, the symposium made me wonder more generally on the nature of fame.  Are there other architects of Wren’s long- lasting, yet changing status?  Are their stories similarly tied to themes of colonialism and empire?  Does that key into the way their appreciation alters through time?  And to what extent, if any, do monumental people rise above, or fall below, the fame of the monuments that they leave behind?   I wonder.

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