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Sir Christopher Wren

Wren, Sir Christopher, 1632–1723, English architect. A mathematical prodigy, he studied at Oxford. He was professor of astronomy at Gresham College, London, from 1657 to 1661, when he became Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford. Though now known as the greatest architect of the English baroque style, in his time Wren was a celebrated astronomer and mathematician who, in 1660, was one of the founders of the Royal Society. His architectural career began in 1661 when Charles II appointed him assistant to the royal architect and in 1665 he spent six months in Paris studying architecture. The distinguished buildings Wren created in the years thereafter owe much of their cerebral rigor to his mathematical training. After the great fire of 1666 Wren prepared a master plan for the reconstruction of London, which was never executed. He designed, however, many new buildings that were built, the greatest of which was Saint Paul's Cathedral.

In 1669 Wren was named royal architect, a post he retained for more than 45 years. From 1670 to 1711 he designed 52 London churches, most of which still stand, notable for their varied and original designs and for their fine spires. They include St. Stephen, Walbrook; St. Martin, Ludgate; St. Bride, Fleet Street; and St. Mary-le-Bow, the latter manifesting the type of spire in receding stages generally associated with Wren's name. Among his numerous secular works are the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford; the elegant library of Trinity College, Cambridge; the garden facade of Hampton Court Palace; Chelsea Hospital; portions of Greenwich Hospital; and the buildings of the Temple, London. Wren also built residences in London and in the country, and these, as well as his public works, received the stamp of his distinctive style. His buildings exhibit a remarkable elegance, order, clarity, and dignity. His influence was considerable on church architecture in England and abroad. Wren was knighted in 1675, and is buried in the crypt of St. Paul's.

See biographies by A. Tinniswood (2001) and L. Jardine (2003); studies by G. Webb (1937), E. F. Sekler (1956), V. Fürst (1956), J. N. Summerson (new ed. 1965), and M. Whinney (1972).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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