Engraved portrait of Sir Christopher Wren from his grandson's book Parentalia, 1750
Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) is regarded as the most influential British architect in history. At Oxford University, he had studied the sciences, and was an eminent astronomer by his mid-twenties. Through family connections, he began his architectural career by designing buildings for Cambridge and Oxford. After the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed much of the city, he was appointed by King Charles II to a commission charged with rebuilding the city. In the next 46 years he designed and supervised the rebuilding of over 50 churches, including his masterpiece and one of London's most beloved landmarks, St. Paul's Cathedral. In 1669 he became Surveyor General of the King's Works, thus supervising architectural work on all royal palaces.
Wren's style is a restrained version of the Baroque, using standard classical forms of columns, pediments, and domes. By elaborating these forms he created a more dynamic and dramatic appearance, though not to the bold extent of the Italian or German Baroque architects. His inventiveness is exemplified by his signature 'wedding cake' steeples, a feature that is created by stacking various classical elements to form a spire.
He did not publish his own theories, but in his essays that were published by his grandson in Parentalia (1750), he wrote that his primary tenet was the importance of geometry in creating beauty. As a scientist, he believed that the regularity of geometrical figures derived from the orderliness of nature.
His pupils and colleagues carried on and elaborated his design concepts into the early years of the 18th century. Architects such as John Vanbrugh abandoned much of Wren's basic simple elegance to design grandiose and imposing palaces for the aristocracy.