In Search of John Vanbrugh

Tuesday 11 June, 5:45pm

About the event

Join us in the Music Room for an engaging lecture by Charles Saumarez Smith, a cultural historian specialising in the history of art, design, and architecture, on the illustrious Sir John Vanbrugh, a luminary of the English Baroque period, renowned for his dual legacy as both a groundbreaking architect and a masterful playwright. This lecture delves into Vanbrugh's work, examining his iconic architectural masterpieces like Blenheim Palace, Castle Howard and of course Stowe which revolutionised the English landscape with their grandeur and innovative design.


Charles Saumarez Smith published The Building of Castle Howard in 1990.  Since then, he has been Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Director of the National Gallery and was Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal Academy until 2018.

Charles states: 'As a postgraduate student, I spent a lot of time working on John Vanbrugh in connection with his designs for Castle Howard, the subject of my PhD and first book.  I remember reading his correspondence with Henry Joynes, the Clerk of Works at Blenheim.  It was the opposite of what you might expect.  Here were the letters of an architect who was hard working, conscientious, deeply involved in all aspects of Blenheim’s construction.  I am now writing his biography to coincide with the tercentenary of his death in 2026 to try to give a sense of him as a person as well as an architect.

In this talk I will give an overview of Vanbrugh’s life, including his work at Stowe, not least because it was his time at Stowe which inspired a previous biography by Laurence Whistler.'