b. 1668 - d. 1743
With his rivals Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, Archer stands as one of the most important practitioners of English Baroque architecture. Archer was trained in classical style; after a sojourn at Oxford University, he spent four years studying classical architecture first hand in Italy and throughout the continent. The appreciation he gained for classical proportion and style was augmented by his appreciation for the more modern work of Italian Baroque architects Borromini and Bernini.
Archer’s reputation was made by his work on three British churches, each displaying an individuality of design and character that show Archer’s ability to adapt his style to the job at hand. The first is the Church of St Philip, Birmingham (1709-1715), later to become Birmingham Cathedral. Here, the chief attraction is the tower, rising in finely articulated steps to a beautifully proportioned cupola.
The second is St Paul’s, Deptford (1730), a clever mixture of classical and Baroque styles. Here, the staunchly solid base is fronted by a rounded Doric portico of surprising grace, and surmounted by a slender steeple in the style of Wren.
The third church is the Church of St John, Westminster. This four-square building evokes similar reactions to Vanbrugh’s Blenheim Palace; viewers generally either admire or despise it. The design is imposing, perhaps overbearing, with a mixture of Roman and Greek Baroque ornamentation. The church was badly damaged by bombing in the Second World War, and was not fully restored until the 1960s. Since that time it has been primarily used as a concert hall.
The final work for which Archer is remembered is the northern aspect of Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, where his long, broadly curved pilastered bow frontage survives largely unaltered.
To see in Britain:
St Paul’s, Deptford (Greater London)
Church of St John, Westminster (Greater London)
Chatsworth House, Derbyshire