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God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain Hardcover – 2 Aug 2007
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'A magnificent biography, as sumptuous and intricate as anything Pugin built' -- The Sunday Times, John Carey
'An excellent and detailed biography' -- The Times, Peter Ackroyd
'Hill's absorbing book is a marvellously clear guide through the agitated density of Pugin's life ... the picture is unforgettable.' -- The Guardian, Alan Hollinghurst
'as the readable biography of a most protean and brilliant man, it is worthy of the best of his buildings' -- Irish Times, Colm Toibin
'A marvellous biography.'
'A meticulously researched, admirably illustrated and beautifully written account of this maverick genius.' -- James Joll, Spectator
'A superb study of this true romantic and tragic original. It is scholarly, but intimate, warm and readable too, immediately becoming the standard work.' -- Stephen Bayley, Observer
'This book is by far the best biography of Pugin. Moreover, it is sympathetically and wittily written, full of insight and delightful turns of phrase....this book depicts the whole man - 'tremendously hearty' yet dejected, writer, artist, Catholic. It will not easily be superceded.' -- John Martin Robinson, Literary Review
'This is surely the best biography of a British architect yet written: an enthralling book.' -- Simon Bradley, Evening Standard
'a very remarkable book about a very remarkable man' -- Daily Mail, A.N. Wilson
Pugin was one of Britain's greatest architects and his short career one of the most dramatic in architectural history. Born in 1812, the son of the soi-disant Comte de Pugin, at 15 Pugin was working for King George IV at Windsor Castle. By the time he was 21 he had been shipwrecked, bankrupted and widowed. Nineteen years later he died, insane and disillusioned, having changed the face and the mind of British architecture. Pugin's bohemian early career as an antique dealer and scenery designer at Covent Garden came to a sudden end with a series of devastating bereavements, including the loss of his first wife in childbirth. In the aftermath he formed a vision of Gothic architecture that was both romantic and deeply religious. He became a Catholic and in 1836 published Contrasts, the first architectural manifesto. It called on the 19th century to reform its cities if it wanted to save its soul. Once launched, Pugin's career was torrential. Before he was 30 he had designed 22 churches, three cathedrals, half a dozen extraordinary houses and a Cistercian monastery.For eight years he worked with Charles Barry on the Palace of Westminster creating its sumptuous interiors, the House of Lords and the clock 'Big Ben' that became one of Britain's most famous landmarks. He was the first architect-designer to cater for the middle-classes, producing everything from plant pots to wallpaper and early flat-pack furniture. "God's Architect" is the first full modern biography of this extraordinary figure. It draws on thousands of unpublished letters and drawings to recreate his life and work as architect, propagandist and romantic artist as well as the turbulent story of his three marriages, the bitterness of his last years and his sudden death at 40. It is the debut of a remarkable historian and biographer. See all Product description
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I can highly recommend this book, and not just to those who are knowledgeable and interested in architecture and design. I certainly didn't think I was interested in the former before I read this book, but reading Pugin's story has quite changed my mind.
I am not sure that it was possible to divide his private life from his public interest as architect, designer and polemicist. The fact that as a Catholic convert he so strongly believed that medaeval Gothic represented the highroad to a true Catholic architecture, ascribing as Pagan anything diriving from Vitruvius, effectively meant that his personal convictions drove his architectural standpoint. At all events this author does not attempt to separate into different chapters his leisure interests and love life from his professional practice and so, every so often, we have to be prepared to be jerked on the same page from somewhat highbrow matters into sentimental affairs of the heart !
There is so much ground covered in this densely written, well researched work. Who would imagine, for instance, that while designing interior details for the Palace of Westminster for Sir Charles Barry, our hero is concerned with salvaging 18 tons of Russian tallow with a purpose-bought longboat called Caroline ? Although now best known for this collaboration with Barry when he got little money and even less credit at the time, Pugin had several aristocratic patrons, the most important being the Catholic Lord Shrewsbury. Pugin had a favorite builder in George Myers, and was loyal to a number of suppliers : John Hardman for metalwork and latterly stained glass; Herbert Minton for ceramics, especially encaustic tiles; J Gregory Crace for textiles and wallpapers.
A great many pages are devoted to ecclesiastical matters that were of profound ground-shattering significance at the time but which now in this relatively agnostic age seem of little relevance ! Pugin as a Catholic convert was always friendly towards the movers and shakers of the Anglican High Church Movements hoping that ultimately a reconcialition with Rome would be found. So we hear much about the Tractarians, and Puseyites that animated the Oxford movement, and the Camden Society, originally formed to study Church architecture, which originated in Cambridge.
Pugin expounded his appreciation of pointed medaeval architecture in "Contrasts" where he compared it favorably to the increasingly debased Pagan works that had come back into favour since the Renaissance. Later came "True Principles" which opened up the possibilities for architects to tamper with Gothic. Gothic could now evolve provided the external and internal appearance of an edifice was illustrative and in accordance with the purpose for which it was designed. I make these points here because these treatises proved to be very influential and helped bring about the Gothic revival of the High Victorian Era with architects like Street, Scott and William Butterfield carrying the flame of pointed architecture onto every High Street in the country.
Pugin died at forty, insane, having married three times and professionally having achieved so much. He could be witty : "Being an architect to one grate or fireplace is worse than keeping a fishstall !" However he often drove others as hard as himself, was sometimes undiplomatic and certainly made some enemies.
All in all Rosemary Hill has written an astonishing biography. It makes for an excellent read in its own right, but it is particularly recommended as background reading for architectural students, students of social history, and indeed seminarians preparing for ordinatiion ! There is a comprehensive compilation of Pugin's executed works at the end of the book.
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