Artistic and cultural life in Britain is rather rich. It passed several main stages in its development.
The Saxon King Alfred encouraged the arts and culture. The chief debt owed to him by English literature is for his translations of and commentaries on Latin works. Art, culture and literature flowered during the Elizabethan age, during the reign of Elizabeth I; it was the period of English domination of the oceans.
It was at this time that William Shakespeare lived.
The empire, which was very powerful under Queen Victoria, saw another cultural and artistic hey-day as a result of industrialisation and the expansion of international trade.
But German air raids caused much damage in the First World War and then during the Second World War. The madness of the wars briefly interrupted the development of culture.
Immigrants who have arrived from all parts of the Commonwealth since 1945 have not only created a mixture of nations, but have also brought their cultures and habits with them. Monuments and traces of past greatness are everywhere. There are buildings of all styles and periods. A great number of museums and galleries display precious and interesting finds from all parts of the world and from all stage in the development of nature, man and art. London is one of the leading world centres for music, drama, opera and dance. Festivals held in towns and cities throughout the country attract much interest. Many British playwrights, composers, sculptors, painters, writers, actors, singers and dancers are known all over the world.
Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren
Inigo Jones was the first man to bring the Italian Renaissance style to Great Britain. He had studied in Italy for some years, and in 1615 became Surveyor-General of the works.
The style he built in was pure Italian with as few modifications as possible. His buildings were very un-English in character, with regularly spaced columns along the front.
His two most revolutionary designs were the Banqueting House in Whitehall and the Queen's House at Greenwich. The plan of the latter, completely symmetrical, with its strict classical details and the principal rooms on the first floor, influenced architecture in Britain. But not during the lifetime of Inigo Jones. All those who followed him had to adapt this new foreign building technique to English ways and English climate, English building materials and English craftsmen.
Christopher Wren was the man who did it. He was a mathematician, an astronomer and, above all, an inventor. He invented new ways of using traditional English building materials, brick and ordinary roofing tiles, to keep within the limits of classical design. He, like Inigo Jones, was appointed Surveyor-General to the Crown when he was about thirty years old, and almost immediately he started rebuilding the churches of London, burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666. Wren's churches are chiefly known by their beautiful spires, which show in their structure the greatest engineering cunning.But Ch. Wren also influenced the design of houses, both in town and in the country.The best-known buildings designed by Ch. Wren are St. Paul's Cathedral in London and the Sheldonion Theatre in Oxford.
The period of the Industrial Revolution had no natural style of its own. Businessmen wanted art for their money. The architect was to provide a facade in the Gothic style, or he was to turn the building into something like a Norman castle, or a Renaissance palace, or even an Oriental mosque. For theatres and opera houses the theatrical Baroque style was often most suitable. Churches were more often than not built in the Gothic style. The twentieth century has seen great changes in Britain's architecture.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
It is safe to say that the three most famous buildings in England are Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and St. Paul's Cathedral.
St. Paul's Cathedral is the work of the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren. It is said to be one of the finest pieces of architecture in Europe. Work on Wren's masterpiece began in 1675 after a Norman church, old St. Paul's, was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. For 35 years the building of St. Paul's Cathedral went on, and Wren was an old mall before it was finished.