Inigo Jones was born in London in 1573. Little is known of the first thirty years of his life. It is thought that he may have been apprenticed to a joiner at St. Paul's churchyard. He was in London in 1597, and in the early-1600s spent a substantial amount of time in Italy and became fluent in Italian. He was employed as a designer of sets and costumes at court from 1605 to 1613. The layouts were spectacular, including scenery painted in perspective, multi-level staging and machinery to achieve motion.
During this period, Jones became established in the intellectual circles of London. He began to educate himself on the subject of architecture, and his first designs date from 1608-9. He travelled to France in 1609, officially as bearer of letters to Paris. He also visited Roman antiquities at Arles and Nimes. In May 1610, Jones is listed as surveyor for Prince Henry's household. The prince died in 1612, and from 1613 Jones was granted the reversion of the surveyorship of the king's works. Shortly afterwards he spent just over a year in Italy, examining the architecture.
Jones succeeded to the surveyorship in 1615, becoming the head of a substantial government department. His duties included maintaining the structure of palaces and other royal buildings and the design and building of new ones. From 1615 he supervised the building of stables at Newmarket. Soon afterwards he designed a pleasure house at Greenwich Palace. Several other designs were to follow, including the still-standing Banqueting House at Whitehall Palace. From 1617 Jones continued to design sets for the court masques, often in collaboration with Ben Johnson. These involved spectacular displays of stagecraft with as many as five complete changes of scene within one play.
Jones also undertook minor works for private patrons, notably the brick façade of Sir Fulke Greville's house in Holborn. Features such as the Italianate iron window balcony of Sir Edward Cecil's house and the ‘Italian' timber casement window at Arundel House were much-imitated.
Inigo Jones formed a close relationship with the earl and countess of Arundel. He became an MP for Shoreham in 1621, this being one of the parliamentary seats controlled by the earl. Jones and Arundel were closely involved in a commission to control the erection of buildings in and around London. Guidelines were given in 1619 for the wall thickness and storey height of new houses, and people were encouraged to view new buildings as an ornament to the city, to be created of brick and stone, not timber.
Royal building concentrated on the queen's palaces under Charles I. Constructions included the Queen's House, Greenwich, which incorporated many innovative design features. Work was also undertaken at Somerset House, focussing on the construction of a Catholic chapel from 1630-35, and at St. James' Palace, Covent Garden and St. Paul's Cathedral. Jones' influence in the 1630s encouraged other designers to follow the Italianate model.
Jones' surveyorship was terminated at the beginning of the Civil War, when he was declared a delinquent and fined £1,000. Thereafter, he lived quietly in London. He died in June 1652 at Somerset House.
Newman, John, 'Jones, Inigo (1573-1652)' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2006) http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/15017?docPos=1 [ accessed 25 June 2009]