Places to visit in Cambridge: The Art within the Wren Library

Cambridge is renowned for its deep history, with the University itself over 800 years old it’s understandable the vast expanse of cultural richness that can be found within the city. If you are in any way interested in art or culture and are looking for the best places to visit in Cambridge, then look no further than the Wren Library.

A marvel of late Renaissance architecture, The Wren Library was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1675 and completed in 1695. At the time of opening, no other library in Britain could compare to its grandeur. It is 48m in length and 12m in both width and height. It cost £15,000 to build. The south window was added in 1775 and is enamel-painted glass, designed by Giovanni Battista Cipriani. The scene depicts Issac Newton being presented to King George III by fame (the muse of the colleges). Britannia stands behind King George and Frances Bacon, who is recording the event, is seated at the bottom right of the frame.

The library interior isn’t shy about its splendour, the room is adorned with spectacles from various impressive providences. The inside had been envisioned by Wren, however, it wasn’t until decades later that the project to ‘define and articulate Trinity’s intellectual affiliations and identity’ came into fruition. 

The paintings that hang on either end of the library are portraits of notable donors to the Wren Library collection. On the top of the bookcases stand plaster casts of both ancient and modern writers. Although most of these writers don’t have any connection to Trinity College. The marble busts at the end of the bookcases are mainly by the French sculptor, Louis-Francois Roubiliac. 

These sculptors are of the great men of Trinity of the 17th and 18th Centuries. These busts are of Polymath Issac Newton, Philosopher, and Statesmen Francis Bacon, Barrister and Judge Sir Edward Coke, Naturalist John Ray, and Politician Charles Whitworth. The sculpture at the end of the library is of Lord Byron, carved by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. Christopher Wren also designed the bookcases, he worked with Grinling Gibbons (a famous woodcarver) who designed the limewood carvings that hang on the ends of the bookcases, the pieces above the north and south doors, and the floral swags above the vestibules.

In late 2015 Trinity College library was bequeathed over 7,500 books by the Duchess of Roxburghe, Mary Innes-Kerr. Her father, Robert Crewe-Milnes, and grandfather, Richard Monkton Milnes were alumni of Trinity before commencing important political careers. The Crewe Collection includes major works of English and French literature, rare political pamphlets, trial transcripts, and first editions with inscriptions from Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, and Alfred Tennyson.

The collection also contains three volumes of etchings by Spanish painter, Francisco Goya. La Tauromaquia is a series of 33 prints, produced in 1815-1816 at the age of 69. They depict the various techniques of bullfighting, focussing on its more violent aspects. The prints were made for Goya in 1816, as well as 320 copies. Complete sets are now very rare.

Photography: © Copyright
Archivo Taller del Prado

A library would not be complete without its shelves being adorned with beautiful book spines. And this would not be possible without the very intricate process of bookbinding. Binding is a necessary step in the publishing process, it is an integral part of a book structure and provides protection to the pages. Certain books that were deemed special enough were given greater treatment during their binding, with silver, gold, and jewels being added to their covers. Those wealthy enough could commission luxurious bindings for their books. 

One of these opulent bindings is a book of Poems and Songs by Mary, Queen of Scots, designed by Alberto Sangorski (around 1925-26). The royal blue binding is inlaid with a border of Scottish thistles. The Scottish coat of arms in the centre is made from 18-carat gold set with pearls, rubies, and diamonds.

At Cambridge Punting our tours blend beauty, charm, history, and serendipity for those who are young and young at heart. Our chauffeured tours capture the truly unique essence of this historic city. You will glide past seven of the thirty-one colleges and nine bridges, both of which will leave you marveling in admiration at the architectural prowess these buildings and bridges hold.