Sir John Vanbrugh (1664––1726) was by turns a merchant, soldier, playwright, architect, and herald. But he is best remembered as the architect of Castle Howard, Blenheim Palace, and numerous other country houses in England. The pattern of Vanbrugh's career, therefore, invites the challenge of relating architecture to other things. Vaughan Hart's new book attempts to understand "the interrelationship of Vanbrugh's diverse interests" (xiv). In particular, Hart sets Vanbrugh's architecture against the plays and, more broadly, against the literary culture of late Stuart and early Georgian England.

All Vanbrugh scholars——Hart included——quote Jonathan Swift: "Van's genius, without thought or lecture" was "hugely turned to architecture" (29). These lines, however, have surely exaggerated the significance of Vanbrugh's amateurism. The same could be said of Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Roger Pratt, and William Talman.

The myth of Vanbrugh's amateurism, however, is central to Hart's thesis,...

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