Who Brought Neoclassical Romance To St. Louis

This week has been difficult for St. Louis’ homegrown institutions. I thought this would be a great opportunity to remind them that there have been many indelible and enduring contributions made by the city over the past quarter of a century. As a little follow-up to my article The beauty of vernacular craftsman-based Architecture in St. Louis, it seemed interesting to highlight the man who brought professional, humanities-based architecture to the Gateway City. George Ingham Barnett is the name of this architect. His legacy in St. Louis goes beyond the famous buildings that are still standing.

Before we discuss Barnett’s life, and his work, it is important to consider the concept of an architect as he saw himself. This is different from the craftsman who builds buildings from blueprints. Suetonius, an ancient Roman author, mentions professional architects like Severus and Celer or Apollodorus from Damascus. However, by the Middle Ages, the great Gothic cathedrals in Europe didn’t list architects as their designers. Instead, they were listed as master masons. In the case of Cologne Cathedral, for example, it is only Master Gerhard who is listed as the original architect. It is possible to assume that he was a mason.

We see “paper architects”, painters and sculptors, who return to architecture after the Renaissance. Michelangelo and Filippo Brunelleschi are excellent examples of the emerging role of architecture as an independent field, in which a building’s architect rarely touches wet mortar. A new idea emerged in the early modern era: an architect who focuses solely on buildings. Andrea Palladio is an example of this, and his style would influence many American architects. Masons received their orders from architects, at least theoretically.

Enter Barnett, an English-American architect. He was born in Nottingham in 1815. He studied under Thomas Chambers Hine. England was, as much of northern Europe was, at the peak of the Grand Tour’s popularity. Gentlemen completed their education by traveling south through the Alps to see the great monuments in ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy. It is not surprising that Palladianism, a Neoclassical style of architecture, was inspired by the many architects who visited the villas of the Venetians from the Veneto at Barbaro, and Capra in the sixteenth century. Barnett would have learned all the lessons from Italy even if it was only vicariously. The Grand Tour’s influence on his countrymen would have been felt in St. Louis when he arrived there around 1839-40.

Barnett’s most well-known and instantly recognizable works were Henry Shaw’s Italianate villas and his new botanical park and garden, which are located in the country outside of the city. Barnett’s love of the country villa is evident in the 1849 Tower Grove House, which still has thousands. Unfortunately, many of these have been lost due to urban expansion. Barnett’s Tower Grove designs, which include colossal order Tuscan pilasters and half-moon pedimented or pedimented windows with lintel windows, evoke a romantic, idyllic image of a perfect country lifestyle. His villas have towers or cupolas that were used as ventilators in summer. They are also open to taking advantage of the cool breezes from the Petit Prairie.

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