Pin It

Architecture at Edward Worth Library

Just another WordPress site


The Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem

‘I intend, therefore, to build a temple for the Name of the Lord my God, as the Lord told my father David, when he said, ‘Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for my Name.’

King Solomon to Hiram, King of Tyre, I Kings v, 5.



Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, Entwurff Einer Historischen Architectur: in Abbildung unterschiedener berühmten Gebäude des Alterthums und fremder Völcker; umb aus den Geschicht-büchern, Gedächtnüß-münzen, Ruinen, und eingeholten wahrhafften Abrißen, vor Augen zu stellen (Leipzig, 1725), Book 1, plate 2 (Temple of Solomon).

This imaginary view of the Temple of Solomon at Jerusalem opens Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach’s massive Entwurff Einer Historischen Architectur (1725). Fischer von Erlach’s decision to place the Temple of Solomon in prime position was not based on chronological considerations but on the significance of the building for future generations of architects whose buildings would hark back in various ways to this iconic and symbolic building. Begun in 959 BC and destroyed in 585BC by the Babylonians, it was subsequently rebuilt by Zerubabel c 520 BC on a smaller scale. This in turn was replaced by the Third Temple, built by Herod and destroyed by the Romans in 70AD.

The Old Testament tells us something of the construction of the initial building (I King v, 13-18):

King Solomon conscripted laborers from all Israel—thirty thousand men. He sent them off to Lebanon in shifts of ten thousand a month, so that they spent one month in Lebanon and two months at home. Adoniram was in charge of the forced labor.  Solomon had seventy thousand carriers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hills, as well as thirty-three hundred foremen who supervised the project and directed the workers.  At the king’s command they removed from the quarry large blocks of high-grade stone to provide a foundation of dressed stone for the temple. The craftsmen of Solomon and Hiram and workers from Byblos cut and prepared the timber and stone for the building of the temple.

2 Chronicles iii, 3-17 provides further information about its dimensions and decoration:

These are Solomon’s measurements for building the house of God: the length, in cubits of the old standard, was sixty cubits, and the width twenty cubits. 4 The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, across the width of the house; and its height was one hundred twenty cubits. He overlaid it on the inside with pure gold. 5 The nave he lined with cypress, covered it with fine gold, and made palms and chains on it. 6 He adorned the house with settings of precious stones. The gold was gold from Parvaim. ³ So he lined the house with gold—its beams, its thresholds, its walls, and its doors; and he carved cherubim on the walls.
8 He made the most holy place; its length, corresponding to the width of the house, was twenty cubits, and its width was twenty cubits; he overlaid it with six hundred talents of fine gold. 9 The weight of the nails was fifty shekels of gold. He overlaid the upper chambers with gold.
10 In the most holy place he made two carved cherubim and overlaid them with gold. 11 The wings of the cherubim together extended twenty cubits: one wing of the one, five cubits long, touched the wall of the house, and its other wing, five cubits long, touched the wing of the other cherub; 12 and of this cherub, one wing, five cubits long, touched the wall of the house, and the other wing, also five cubits long, was joined to the wing of the first cherub. 13 The wings of these cherubim extended twenty cubits; the cherubim stood on their feet, facing the nave. 14 And Solomon made the curtain of blue and purple and crimson fabrics and fine linen, and worked cherubim into it.
15 In front of the house he made two pillars thirty-five cubits high, with a capital of five cubits on the top of each. 16 He made encircling chains and put them on the tops of the pillars; and he made one hundred pomegranates, and put them on the chains. 17 He set up the pillars in front of the temple, one on the right, the other on the left; the one on the right he called Jachin, and the one on the left, Boaz.

Fischer von Erlach would clearly have been well-aware of these descriptions but his chief source was Juan Bautista Villalpando’s De Postrema Ezechielis Prophetae Visione (Rome, 1605) which proved to be the most influential text on the subject during the early modern period. He derives much of his description from Villalpando and ancient authors such as Josephus. Indeed, the similarities between Fischer von Erlach’s image of the Temple of Solomon and that printed in Juan Bautista Villalpando’s commentary on Ezechiel are striking.

Fischer von Erlach’s accompanying description of the Temple of Solomon was lengthy, not just because he felt that ‘Designs are indeed but silent Descriptions, which sometimes want the Help of Words’, but also because, for him, it was the root of all subsequent architecture style: ‘a Discussion of every particular would require Volumes for the Temple of Solomon alone. It would be a Subject of a vast Extent, but might be prov’d, that the Roman Architecture, and the Corinthian Order, owe their Perfection to the excellent Structure of this Temple. The Phenicians having first discover’d the Beauty of it to the Greeks, & these to the Romans.’ In this too he was following a line of reasoning visible in Villalpando’s work which, as Morrison states, argued that God ‘used the norms of architecture to do his planning’ and that ‘these norms originated with the building of the God-given plan of the Temple of Solomon, but they were not codified until VitruviusDe Architectura.


Louis Maillet Les Figures du Temple et du Palais de Salomon (Paris, 1695), plate 2
(plan of Temple of Salomon).

Little is known about the author, Louis Maillet, described on the title page of his Les Figures du Temple et du Palais de Salomon as a priest and canon of Troyes. The fact that he dedicated his work to Édouard Colbert (1628-1699), Marquis de Villacerf, a cousin of Jean Baptist Colbert, Louis XIV’s Finance Minister, suggests that Maillet was aiming high but is no indication that they were known to each other – indeed the vague nature of the dedication suggests otherwise. The Marquis de Villacerf was, however, Superintendant of Buildings and this may well have influenced Maillet’s choice.

In the accompanying ‘Advertissement’ Maillet states that he compiled his collection of plates ‘for the glory of the Church and the honour of Architecture’. He repeats the view that the Temple of Solomon was the first building to introduce the concept of proportion and orders of architecture. His analysis relies heavily on the scriptural passages from the Bible mentioned above, and, in addition, mentions the commentaries of biblical exegetes such as Alonso Tostado (1400-1455) and Cornelius a Lapide (1567-1637) on the subject. From these he derived his plan of the Temple, essentially a three room structure. As Herselle Krinshy (1970) points out, though the three Temples were different in scale they each shared some common features: ‘The Temples were oblong buildings divided into three rooms flanked by storage chambers around the sides and rear… and surrounded by courtyards.’

Composite image of Louis Maillet, Les Figures du Temple et du Palais de Salomon (Paris, 1695), plate 3 and the frontispiece of Leonhard Christoph Sturm’s Mathesis ad sacræ scripturæ interpretationem applicatæ specimen, quo Mare Æneum, sive Fons Saliens Salomonis Colosseus, ope arithmeticæ, geometriæ, … architecturæ (Nuremberg, 1710).

The Temple of Solomon has been a topic of debate for centuries, and as this composite image from Maillet and Leonhard Christoph Sturm’s work demonstrates, continued to be so. Leonhard Christoph Sturm (1669-1719) was a German mathematician and architect who, in common with both Villalpando and Maillet, viewed the Temple of Solomon as the starting point of architectural history. The strands of influence emanating from the Temple of Solomon were legion – in the first half of the seventeenth century in England we find echoes of it in plans drawn up by Inigo Jones for the Palace of Whitehall. The Temple of Solomon continued to be a topic of vital interest to scholars of the early eighteenth century. Worth, an aficionado of the works of Sir Isaac Newton, would have been well aware of Newton’s own preoccupations with the Temple and owned a copy of Newton’s Chronology, published posthumously in 1728, which included another plan of the Temple. It is likely that Worth purchased Maillet’s text as a companion his copy of Newton’s Chronology.


Louis Maillet, Les Figures du Temple et du Palais de Salomon (Paris, 1695), plate 1
(plan of Palace and Temple enclosure).

Maillet decided to not only provide plans and elevations of the Temple of Solomon but also to place it in its original context – the Palace enclave. Here we see his plan and front elevation showing the central role of the Temple in the palace enclosure Again he could appeal to the authority of scripture :


I Kings 7 :

It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of his palace. 2 He built the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon a hundred cubits long, fifty wide and thirty high, with four rows of cedar columns supporting trimmed cedar beams. 3 It was roofed with cedar above the beams that rested on the columns—forty-five beams, fifteen to a row. 4 Its windows were placed high in sets of three, facing each other. 5 All the doorways had rectangular frames; they were in the front part in sets of three, facing each other.
6 He made a colonnade fifty cubits long and thirty wide. In front of it was a portico, and in front of that were pillars and an overhanging roof.
7 He built the throne hall, the Hall of Justice, where he was to judge, and he covered it with cedar from floor to ceiling. 8 And the palace in which he was to live, set farther back, was similar in design. Solomon also made a palace like this hall for Pharaoh’s daughter, whom he had married.
9 All these structures, from the outside to the great courtyard and from foundation to eaves, were made of blocks of high-grade stone cut to size and smoothed on their inner and outer faces. 10 The foundations were laid with large stones of good quality, some measuring ten cubits] and some eight. 11 Above were high-grade stones, cut to size, and cedar beams. 12 The great courtyard was surrounded by a wall of three courses of dressed stone and one course of trimmed cedar beams, as was the inner courtyard of the temple of the Lord with its portico.

The similarities between Maillet’s conception of the Palace of Solomon and Louis XIV’s palace of Versailles were hardly coincidental.

Louis Maillet, Les Figures du Temple et du Palais de Salomon (Paris, 1695), plate 7
(Palace and Temple enclosure).


Calmet, Augustin, Dictionnaire Historique, Critique, Chronologique, Géographique et Littéral de La Bible (Toulouse, 1783), vol 6.

Gutmann, Joseph, The Temple of Solomon. Archaeological Fact and Medieval Tradition in Christian, Islamic and Jewish Art (Scholars Press, 1976).

Herselle Krinsky, Carol, ‘Representations of the Temple of Jerusalem before 1500’, Journal of the Warbury and Courtauld Institutes 33 (1970), 1-19.

Maillet, Louis, Les Figures du Temple et du Palais de Salomon (Paris, 1695).

Morrison, Tessa, ‘Solomon’s Temple, Stonehenge, and Divine Architecture in the English Enlightenment’, Patergon 29 no 1 (2012), 135-163.

Text : Elizabethanne Boran, Librarian of the Edward Worth Library.