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The Stage Designs of Inigo Jones: The European Context.

The book deals with Jones's designs for masques, which designs largely comprise what he had to say about architecture, painting, and sculpture, thus making them the central part of art history from the mid-sixteenth century until 1640, when the last masque was presented. As the subtitle probably means to suggest, the point of view is Italian, Italy in the sixteenth century being "the proximate historical context of Jones's intellectual and aesthetic culture" (267) - and, in this book, of Peacock's. The task of Jones's adult life was less to entertain than to teach that culture to a reluctant English aristocracy. The 195 plates in the book reproduce eighty of Jones's more than 450 surviving stage designs.

"This study," as Peacock says, relies "at every turn on the fundamental work of Stephen Orgel and Roy Strong" (xvii), but it is no mere summary. From beginning to end he is engaged in a sober, thoughtful, and massively researched commentary on it, echoing, adjusting, adding, and sometimes disputing. Often Peacock begins where Orgel and Strong left off and goes well beyond them.

He remarks that his book "is necessarily partial" (3). One might doubt the necessity, but partial, indeed partisan, it certainly is. It is a defense of Jones and of the kind of art he championed, against all comers, including Ben Jonson in his famous quarrel with Jones, and the whole culture into which Jones, Jonson, and Shakespeare were born. Stage design for Peacock, indeed "the whole spectrum of the art" (208), excludes every aspect of English professional drama - its plays, actors, and gorgeous palaces. Indeed, that drama contributed to "the excessive literariness of English culture" (42), and Jonson "represented the essential obduracy of English culture to Jones's whole enterprise" (38).

Nor is Peacock interested in aspects of masques themselves that do not relate directly to art history, such as exactly where and when they took place, or how much they cost. The artful processions that led to them are also mostly absent as are the ways in which Jones's elaborate stage machinery worked or his buildings kept out the rain.

Where Strong declares that Jones was "opportunistic . . . 'a relentless plagiarist, a magpie artist'" (14), Peacock defends Jones by disputing not the basic truth of the remark but its disparaging implication. Jones "follows every model . . . he always imitates other artists . . . no part of the masque designs is 'original'" (27-28). Peacock means "to shake off the bugbear of 'originality'" (26) and, in a sense, spends the whole book doing so. Where Orgel and Strong describe Jones's designs for Prince Henry's Barriers as a "Jumble" (69-70), Peacock similarly defends Jones but concedes that the designs do have a "crowded multiplicity of forms" (74).

Peacock reads pictures and designs as though they were prose whose meaning is not subject to doubt, and terms like "mannerism" take on the certainty of a piece of granite. Occasionally, ideas that seem open to challenge are similarly certainties. "The propagation of Christianity to justify seizure of territory and wealth is the mainspring of early modern imperialism" (297), for example (later a "struggle" is also a mainspring [309]). And of a picture in which the Earl of Arundel points to his collection of ancient sculptures, "The parallel is inescapable: the antique sculptures are a metaphor for the antiquity of Arundel's family" (308).

HERBERT BERRY University of Saskatchewan
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Author:Berry, Herbert
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1998
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