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Christopher Wren
Design for the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, a
Brown ink, pencil on paper

213 x 245 mm
© The Trustees of the British Museum

British Museum, The

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Christopher Wren
Design for the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, a
Drawing in brown ink over pencil
213 x 245mm

Design for the cupola of St Paul’s Cathedral, London two half-sections, showing the relation of the inner and outer domes, the finial to the dome of the right-hand study is a ball supported by scrolls, each study has a scale, in the upper left-hand corner a sketch of a cherubs head (?), scroll and pendant drapery Pen and brown ink over graphite


The old medieval Gothic structure of St Paul’s Cathedral burnt down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. From the beginning, Wren (1632-1723) planned a dome over his new building. It would be England’s only cathedral built in the classical architectural tradition. He altered the shape and profile of the dome several times. It was not until around 1697 that the exact design for the dome was agreed. The build was finally completed in 1710.

This free-hand drawing shows relation of the inner and outer domes. The outer dome is supported on a massive, circular drum surrounded by giant columns. This lighter outer dome is built of timber covered with lead, hence its distinctive grey colour. It rests partly on the brick cone which rises from the inner dome. This cone, which rests on the supporting drum, also supports the crowning stone lantern, ball and cross. They can be seen from the floor below, through the domes.

The famous dome dominates the City of London. It also marks the site of Wren’s tomb. The Latin inscription on his tomb beneath the dome, reads: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice (If you are seeking his monument, look around you).


Compass and Rule: Architecture as Mathematical Practice in England, 1500-1750


Museum of the History of Science, Oxford:
June 16–September 6, 2009

Yale Center for British Art:
February 18–May 30, 2010


Christopher Wren, British, (1632-1723)
b. October 20, 1632, East Knoyle, Wiltshire
d. 1723

Art in Context - Projects:
Art in Context - Artist for the Day: October 20

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