A Window into Architecture: The Gibbs Surround at the Hammond-Harwood House Museum

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A Window into Architecture:

The Gibbs Surround at the Hammond-Harwood House Museum

By: Rachel Lovett, Curator & Assistant Director

Have you ever noticed the elegant window that graces the stair hall of the Hammond-Harwood House? In this post you will learn where the design comes from and reasons why our architect included it in the house. (Fig. 1)

Figure 1 Gibbs Surround

The Design:

Known as a Gibbs Surround, windows and doorways in this style, contain protruding rectangular blocks that are either made of stone or wedges made to look like stone, and in both instances the surfaces are roughened through a process known as rustication. Typically, there is a pediment on top with a keystone below, and adjoining voussoirs to support (Fig.2)[i].

Figure-2-Parts of a Gibbs Surround

The style takes its name from Scottish-born architect James Gibbs (1682-1754) (Fig.3) who studied in Rome and primarily worked in England.  This style was based on ancient Roman antiquity, and was around centuries before James Gibbs; however, he was the one to popularize it in England and the colonies.  The benefit Gibbs had from his training abroad gave him an advantage over his competition. He was well versed in the Baroque style as well as the work of 16th century Italian architects Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) and Sebastiano Serlio (1475-1554).

Figure 3 James Gibbs, 1682 – 1754. Architect by Andrea Soldi 1703-1771

Many of his buildings contain a Gibbs Surround, and the design can be found his popular publication, A Book of Architecture published in 1728. Despite contemporaries copying the form, the style bears his name which attests to his influence. Most notably Gibbs work on the church St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, designed in 1720, contains a large quantity of Gibbs Surrounds. This building became a model for churches in Britain and America well into the 19th century.


But why is there a Gibbs Surround on the Hammond-Harwood House?

That question is answered in examining the life and times of the man who designed the house. The architect of the Hammond-Harwood House, William Buckland (1734-1774), grew up in the university city of Oxford, England, a place steeped in classical architecture. By the year of his birth in 1734 the city already had over 25 buildings modeled after classical structures from ancient Greece and Rome. The first classical building, the Sheldonian Theatre was built in 1664 and was soon followed by others. Great architects like Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor took commissions to build masterpieces for the university.

Growing up in Oxford Buckland witnessed the construction of notable buildings like the Radcliffe Camera (Fig. 4) which began in 1737 by architect James Gibbs who was well versed in the style of Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). Palladio went back to classical designs from ancient Greece and Rome to write his Four Books of Architecture or I quattro libri dell’architettura. This book has become the most widely distributed book on architecture in history.

Figure 4 Radcliffe Camera, viewed from the University Church. Photo by David Iliff. License CC-BY-SA 3.0

Unlike other college buildings at Oxford that have high walls, Gibbs’ Radcliffe Camera stands in the middle of one of the most public spaces in Oxford. It is visible at all angles by people passing through, so Buckland saw this building and may have even met architect James Gibbs as a youth. Though the Camera does not contain a Gibbs Surround this was likely one of the earliest instances Buckland saw of Gibbs work. Gibbs would continue to influence Buckland throughout his career.

From a young age Buckland likely saw the influence of Gibbs work permeate beyond the city of Oxford. It is impossible to say how much travel the Buckland family did in the formative years of William’s development; however, it is probable his parents took him to visit their hometown of Burford, England, just under 20 miles to the west of Oxford. In Burford, Buckland would have seen the home of lawyer John Jordan (Fig.5), completed in 1730 just four years before he was born. This structure, now the Burford Methodist Church, contains a rusticated doorway in the style of James Gibbs.

Figure 5 Burford, England Methodist Church

Despite other options available Buckland choose a life of a craftsman likely inspired by the architecture he saw in his youth. At age 14 in 1748 he signed a 7-year apprenticeship with a skilled joiner, his uncle James Buckland of London, where he saw a city rising from the ashes after the great fire of 1666. Neoclassical or new classical buildings on modeled on antiquity were being built in the city like Mansion House (1739-1752), Horse Guards in Whitehall (1750-1758), and James Gibb’s west block of St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (1743-1753). Buckland certainly saw these structures and may have even worked on them.

In August 1755, a 21- year old Buckland signed a 4-year indenture to serve Virginia politician George Mason as “a carpenter and joiner.” He received free passage, food, lodging, and an annual salary of 20 pounds. Mason was building a “substantial brick mansion on the Potomac River about ten miles south of Alexandria” called Gunston Hall (Fig. 6). At Gunston Hall Buckland incorporated British elements including a gothic porch from Batty Langley, a Palladian parlor, and Chinoiserie Chippendale dining room.[ii]

Figure 6 Gunston Hall

During his time at Gunston from 1755 to 1759 he became familiar with the surrounding area and his neighbors, as he married Mary Moore, the daughter of a nearby plantation owner. He almost certainly saw Aquia Church (Fig. 7), just under twenty-five miles to the south, that contains a doorway in the style of a Gibbs Surround. The church was begun in 1751 and completed 1755 by Virginia architect Mourning Richards. Unfortunately, it burned in March of 1755 and over the next two years Richards rebuilt the structure completing it in 1757. In colonial Virginia parishes were spread out so Aquia parish was considered a neighbor to Gunston Hall. The sandstone for the quoined exterior on Gunston Hall came from nearby Aquia Creek. Buckland’s employer George Mason had strong ties to Aquia Church as he grew up in that parish and he was very close friends with the minister John Moncure. It is probable that Mason visited the church during the construction and brought his young craftsman William Buckland newly arrived from London in the summer of 1755. Mason trusted Buckland’s expertise as seen in a 20th century restoration of Gunston Hall which revealed wooden boards with sketches for the courthouse at Dumfries, Virginia. Mason had been charged with designing the courthouse and asked for Buckland’s opinion. So, it is very likely Mason would have been curious to take Buckland to Aquia Church for his observations. At the construction site of Aquia Church Buckland would have witnessed the building of the Gibbs Surround door and would have spoken with architect Mourning Richards about this feature.

Figure 7 Aquia Church

After four years at Gunston, Mason gave Buckland an admirable recommendation. Buckland started a furniture shop with William Bernard Sears, whom he had met while in the employ of George Mason. Sears later designed a chimney at George Washington’s Mount Vernon based on a design from British architect Abraham Swan.[iii]  In addition to making furniture Buckland also worked on Virginia country estate interiors like Colonel John Tayloe’s Mount Airy and public buildings like a courthouse for Prince William County. Though his public buildings do not survive, estates like Mount Airy, Sabine Hall (Fig. 8), and Menokin still exist and all have some original material including rusticated sandstone elements. Sabine hall contains a window in the style of a Gibbs Surround and the South Façade at Mount Airy is copied from Gibb’s Book of Architecture. It is difficult to say what role Buckland played in the development of each house; however, it is certain he recognized the connection to the work of James Gibbs whether it was his hand or not.

Figure 8 Sabine Hall

In 1771 Buckland came to Annapolis, Maryland to work for Edward Lloyd IV.  At Lloyd’s home in Annapolis Buckland oversaw the interiors and created two Palladian windows, blind niches, and elaborate carvings in the public spaces. Annapolis at the time was enjoying a prosperous “Golden Age” where architecture was used to advance status.[iv] In 1774 Maryland planter Matthias Hammond hired Buckland to design his entire house (Fig. 9) across the street from that of Edward Lloyd IV.

Figure 9 Front of Hammond-Harwood House

In the early 1770’s Buckland had one of the most extensive architectural libraries in the American colonies comprising of fourteen works including Gibb’s Book of Architecture with the design of the Gibbs Surrounds. [v] Buckland did not own Andrea Palladio’s I quattro libri dell’architettura, so he borrowed it from his client, Edward Lloyd IV to look at for inspiration. The design he choose for Hammond’s house is a five-part Anglo- Palladian villa, modeled after Palladio’s Villa Pisani at Montagnana. The term Anglo-Palladian means the English interpretation of Palladio’s work which began with English architect Indigo Jones in the 17th century. The Villa Pisani features blind niches, exactly like the Hammond house.

In the Hammond house Buckland pays homage to Gibbs, and includes several of his designs.

Most notably the Gibbs surround window in the stair hall which provides ample lighting. The oeil-de-boeuf windows in the pediment are also from the Gibbs’s 1728 A Book of Architecture.[vi] The Gibbs Surround on the Hammond-Harwood House is made from southern pine not stone; however, its rustication has tricked many casual viewers to think it looks like stone. Similarly, George Washington’s Mount Vernon is also made of southern pine, but great care was taken to coat the exterior with paint and Aquia sand to appear like stone.

During the construction of the Hammond-Harwood House in spring 1774, Buckland began to sit for a portrait (Fig. 10) by his friend, the noted Annapolis raised artist, Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827).Unfortunately, Buckland died in 1774 at age 40, before the completion of the Hammond house, when just the head of the portrait was complete. The portrait was not finished until 13 years later when Peale was back in Annapolis completing the portraits of Buckland’s daughter, Sarah Callahan and her family. Peale felt like the Callahan’s significantly overpaid him, so as a gift he finished the portrait of his deceased friend for the family. It is interesting to note in the background of the portrait Peale includes architect James Gibbs most celebrated work– St. Martins-in-the Fields in London (Fig. 11) with the iconic Gibbs Surround. It is unknown whether Buckland had requested the building to be in the background, or Peale choose to include the church based on conversations with Buckland. Regardless, it is clear that this edifice and its design had a profound effect on our architect, enough for it to be included in the only known likeness of him.

Figure 10 William Buckland Copy done in 1947 by Winifred Gordon. Original by Charles Willson Peale is at Yale.
Figure 11 St. Martins-in-the-Fields in London by James Gibbs



So why did Buckland include the Gibbs Surround window (Fig. 12) into the Hammond-Harwood House? I believe he was paying homage to the architect who first inspired his architectural career. This development began by witnessing the erection of Gibbs Radcliffe Camera during his youth in Oxford and by seeing the influence of Gibbs in his parent’s hometown of Burford, England, and by viewing Gibbs work in London. In the colonies his love for Gibbs grew by viewing the influence of Gibbs at Aquia Church and incorporating elements into his own designs. The work of James Gibbs and William Buckland are inextricably linked and have stood the test of time in stone, brick and mortar.

Figure 12 Gibbs Surround Interior

Recently conserved through our 2020 windows project this beautiful architectural element is one of the standout features of the beautiful Hammond-Harwood House.

[i] Calder Loth, “The Gibbs Surround,” Classicist.org, The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, January 31st, 2011, https://www.classicist.org/articles/classical-comments-the-gibbs-surround/.

[ii] Thomas Chippendale, The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (London 1st Edition, 1745), plate 26 and 34.

[iii] Cary Carson and Carl Lounsbury, eds. The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013) 82.

[iv] Jane Wilson McWilliams, Annapolis, City of the Severn: A History (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011) 72.

[v] James Gibbs, Gibbs’ Book of Architecture: An Eighteenth-Century Classic (New York: Dover Publications, 2008), 110.

[vi] James Gibbs, Gibbs’ Book of Architecture: An Eighteenth-Century Classic (New York: Dover Publications, 2008), 110.

Posted on Apr 1, 2020 in , , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve, for public education and enjoyment, the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts.
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