The Revd John Louis Petit FSA (1801–68): Artist and Leading Opponent of the Gothic Revival
Ordinary Meeting of Fellows (Fellows and Guests Only)
"The Revd John Louis Petit FSA (1801–68): Artist and Leading Opponent of the Gothic Revival", by Philip Modiano
Image: Iona Abbey, Iona, Rev J L Petit, 1857, 36x36, private collection. The abbey was destroyed following the Scottish Reformation and lay as a ruin until rebuilt in 1938.
2018 marked the 150th anniversary of the death of The Revd John Louis Petit FSA (1801–68). Petit was a scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge, and took holy orders, but worked for just eight years as a stipendiary curate before resigning in 1834 to devote the rest of his life to advocating preservation in old and originality in new church architecture. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1852 and was one of the most remarkable antiquarians of the time. Yet he has been forgotten or, worse, denigrated, since his death. His art was privately held until 20 years ago and only now the full range and quality can be appreciated.
For a period Petit was the leading voice opposing the neo-Gothic restoration of medieval church buildings, at a time when this fashion was sweeping all before it in the 1840s and 1850s, and he argued for conservation wherever possible, well before the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings came into existence.
Petit’s considerable output of books, articles and lectures on church architecture were unlike those of most antiquarians: for example, Remarks on Church Architecture , 2 vols, 1841, with over 250 illustrations by the author; Architectural Studies in France, 1854, including over 100 woodcuts as well as anastatic reproductions of drawings by the author. In his publications he engaged strongly in the debate as to what was best, as opposed merely to researching and publishing historical fact. As a result he was the focus of vitriolic criticism from the Gothic party, initially in the form of the Ecclesiologists and subsequently in the shape of single-minded architects such as Gilbert Scott.
After his death Petit was subtly but effectively denigrated by Gilbert Scott; mis-interpreted and scarcely read by Pevsner; and even recently his remarkable art has been confused with that of other family members. This lecture will lead the way in the rehabilitation of this brilliant and generous man.
For more information see www.revpetit.com.
Location: Burlington House