John Louis Petit

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John Louis Petit (1801 – 2 December 1868) was an English clergyman and architectural artist.


He was born on 31 May 1801 at Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, the son of Rev John Hayes Petit and his wife Harriet Astley of Dukinfield Lodge, Lancashire, the eldest child of three boys and seven girls. He was educated at Eton College, and contributed to the Etonian. He was elected to a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1822,[1] graduated B.A. in 1823 and M.A. in 1826, and on 21 June 1850 was admitted ad eundem at Oxford. He was ordained deacon in 1825, priest in 1826 and served as the stipendiary curate in the parishes of Bradfield and Mistley from 1826 until 1834<CCEd>.

Petit was one of the founders of the British Archæological Institute at Cambridge in 1844. He was also Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, an honorary member of the Institute of British Architects, and a governor of Christ's Hospital. A learned writer and speaker on ecclesiastical architecture, he profusely illustrated his writings with drawings based on his own watercolours. Although he never tried to sell any watercolours they were highly regarded and the Architectural Exhibition Society turned over the 1869 annual meeting to a posthumous exhibition of 339 examples of his work<DNB>.

He died at Lichfield, Staffordshire, on 2 December 1868, and was buried in St. Michael's churchyard, where there was a monument with a Latin inscription to his memory.


Petit spent much time visiting and sketching churches all over Europe, starting in the early 1830s. His first publication was ‘Remarks on Church Architecture’ (1841, 2 vols.), with over 250 illustrations. This lauded the beauty of different styles of church architecture, abroad as well as in the UK, while arguing for architects to develop original work instead of copying one or other historical style. This was anaethma to the gothic revivalists, grouped around the Ecclesiologist, who advocated using only 14th Century Gothic. This debate was to continue for the rest of Petit's life and permeated all his future writing.

The Archaeological Institute favoured his approach to preserving the old while developing new styles and he contributed over 15 articles to their journal, as well as speeches to their annual meetings, including on Tewkesbury Abbey, Wimbourne Minster, Southwell Minster, and many others. Three articles were published by the journal after he had died, the last in 1887.

In 1846 he published ‘Remarks on Architectural Character;’ a lecture delivered to the Lichfield Architectural Society, and in the same year a lecture delivered on 24 February 1846 to the Oxford Society for promoting the study of Gothic architecture, under the title ‘Remarks on the Principles of Gothic Architecture as applied to ordinary Parish Churches.’ In 1861 a paper on the ‘Architectural History of Boxgrove Priory’ was published in a volume with papers by Professor Willis and Edmund Sharp.

1867 watercolour of St Albans Abbey.

In 1854 appeared Petit's second major work, ‘Architectural Studies in France’. It was illustrated with over 100 woodcuts and facsimiles of anastatic drawings by the author and some 45 additionally by Philip Henry Delamotte. It aimed to study the round-arched pre-Gothic styles in three regions of France. A new edition, revised by Edward Bell, F.S.A., with introduction, notes and index, appeared in 1890 (text unaltered) but the illustrations were reduced in size, and a few added from Petit's unused woodcuts.

In the 1850s and early 1860s Petit delivered papers three times to the RIBA and lectured 5 times at their Architectural Exhibition Society annual meetings. In 1857 he travelled to Constantinople, and in 1865 more extensively through Syria, Palestine and Egypt. Although he exhibited many at his lectures, he never sold work, and most, several thousand, were left to his surviving sisters. A poem by Petit, entitled ‘The Lesser and the Greater Light,’ was printed for the first time by his sister in 1869. His watercolours were practically unknown until the 1990s when thousands appeared at auction, mixed with many from his sisters, who used to travel and paint with him, and attribution in later years can be an issue as none signed their work. Petit's early work was influenced by that of Samuel Prout, including the dramatic viewpoint and limited palette, and the two were acquainted.

The Staffordshire Museums and Art Gallery at Shire Hall now have 25 of his works. A collection of 60 watercolours are in the National Library of Wales mainly covering the building of the Chapel at Caerdeon in 1861/2, the only church which Rev Petit designed. The V&A has a book of the illustrations used in his first book, and two additional watercolours.



  1. ^ "Petit, John Louis (or Lewis) (PTT819JL)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Petit, John Louis". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

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