Sheldonian Theater

Christopher Wren

Except for three images noted below (with MAS), all of these images were generously contributed to my site by my former student, Colleen Hill.

The south front

"Gilbert Sheldon, formerly Warden of All Souls College, but by now Bishop of London, had determined that University ceremonies, which till then had taken place in St. Mary's Church, would be more fittingly housed in a new secular building" (Whinney 19). The Sheldonian was Wren's first large building and was "the first building in Oxford, and one of the first in England, to be modelled directly on a structure dating from classical antiquity. The model was the U-shaped Theater of Marcellus in Rome, which had been illustrated in the third volume of Sebastiano Serlio's Architettura (1540), the most popular of all Renaissance architectural books" (Tyack 125). Ceremonies occurred on the stage at the flattened south end (also the main entrance) while the audience sat in a semicircular arrangement at the opposite end.

The south front

The huge pediment on the upper story and the reminder of a temple front may owe to Palladio's architecture. See, for example, San Giorgio Maggiore.

Details from the southwest and southeast


View from the east side

The building is 70 feet wide. Wren devised a clever truss system for the roof so as not to spoil the view by using internal supports from the floor.

The curved north end

The fence is comprised of herms--human heads on plinths. Some of the awkwardness in the bulding is the result of funding drying up, which necessitated revisions in Wren's original conception (Tyack 126-70).

Works Cited:
Geoffrey Tyack. Oxford: An Architectural Guide. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.
Margaret Whinney. Wren. London: Thames and Hudson, 1971.

See Index for additional works by Wren.

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© 2004 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.

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