Radcliffe Camera - the main reading room of the Bodleian Library
The circular dome of the Radcliffe Camera is one of the most distinctive landmarks in Oxford - a city full of distinctive buildings. The camera (the word 'camera' in Latin means "chamber") was built 1737-1749 with £40,000 bequeathed by Dr John Radcliffe, the royal physician.
The Radcliffe Camera was intended to house a new library, and designs were called for from several leading architects, including Nicholas Hawksmoor (responsible for much of All Soul's College) and James Gibbs.
It was Gibbs who won the competition, with his elegant Palladian design, though his final plans drew heavily on earlier work by Hawksmoor. James Gibbs (23 December 1682 – 5 August 1754) was one of Britain's most influential architects. Born in Scotland, he trained as an architect in Rome, and practised mainly in England. His most important works are St Martin-in-the-Fields, in London, and the cylindrical, domed Radcliffe Camera. He was also responsible for the design of the stables at Compton Verney, remodelling of north front elevation of Badminton House and interiors to Ragley Hall.
Originally the library in the Radcliffe Camera held both scientific and general books, but those collections were gradually moved to other University libraries, so that today the Camera functions as the main reading room of the Bodleian Library. The finished building holds some 600,000 books in underground rooms beneath Radcliffe Square.
Sadly, the Radcliffe Camera building is not open to the public.
Easiest access is from High Street, beside St Mary the Virgin church, or from Brasenose College Lane or Catte Street.
The building, the earliest example in England of a circular library, consists of three main stages and of two stories internally, the upper one containing a gallery. It is built of Headington stone (village 4.5 miles away) and Burford limestone, ashlar faced, and is finished with a lead-covered dome and cupola.
The ground-stage is rusticated and has a series of eight pedimented projections, the cornices of which are carried round the building. The main stage is divided into bays by coupled Corinthian columns supporting the main structure above. This, in turn, is surmounted by a balustraded parapet with vases. All the decoration up to the uppermost cornice is carved in stone. The decorative work of the dome is of plaster.
Both stories of the library are now used as reading rooms of the Bodleian Library, the interior of the upper reading-room is graced by Rysbrack's 1.8 metre statue of Dr. Radcliffe in marble.
John Radcliffe (1652–1714) was an English physician. Several landmark buildings in Oxford, including the Radcliffe Camera, the Radcliffe Infirmary, and the Radcliffe Observatory were named after him.
He was a scholarship pupil and graduated from the University of Oxford, where he was at University College tutored by Obadiah Walker, to become a Fellow of Lincoln College. He obtained his Doctorate of Medicine in 1682 and moved to London shortly afterwards. There he enjoyed much popularity and became royal physician to King William III and Queen Mary II.
On his death in the following year, his property was bequeathed to various charitable causes, including St Bartholomew's Hospital and University College, Oxford, where the Radcliffe Quadrangle is named after him. The charitable trust founded by his will of 13 September 1714 still operates as a registered charity. As previously mentioned he bequeathed the money for the building of Radcliffe Camera.