It has never been established when or where Batty Langley (1696-
The Masonic Symbolism in the frontispiece to The Builder’s Jewel (1741)
THE BUILDER’s JEWEL: OR, THE YOUTH’S INSTRUCTOR, AND WORKMAN’S REMEMBRANCER. EXPLAINING Short and Easy RULES, Made familiar to the meanest Capacity, FOR DRAWING AND WORKING ....etc was published by R.Ware in London on 26 May 1741 with an initial print run of 2000 copies. The frontispiece was designed by Batty Langley and engraved by his brother Thomas Langley (1702-
This date refers to the Masonic calendar which dated the creation of the Earth to 4000 BC. Freemasons often dated significant events by adding 4000 years onto the date, hence the date of the frontispiece of 5741. The letters ‘A’ and ‘L’ are short for the Latin words ‘Anno Lucis’ meaning ‘in the year of light’ referring to the year of creation (detail left).
The three columns (or pillars) illustrated on the frontispiece are in order (from left to right), the Roman Doric, Tuscan and Corinthian. On the dado of the pedestal of each column are inscribed the Roman numerals VII, V and III (detail below).
The numbers 3, 5 and 7 are most important in Freemasonry, the sum of which equals 15. In some depictions of the winding staircase that connected the ground floor to the inner chamber of King Solomon’s Temple, the staircase is shown as comprising of 15 steps (sometimes these steps are shown divided into groups of 3, 5 and 7 or illustrated individually). This concept is also illustrated on the frontispiece to The Builder's Jewel in the form of a hill situated in the background with the number 15 placed on its summit. The Doric column has the letter ‘W’ inscribed on the plinth of its pedestal denoting it as exemplifying the virtue of ‘Wisdom’; the Tuscan order with the letter ‘S’ signifying ‘Strength’, and the Corinthian column the letter ‘B’ illustrating the virtue of ‘Beauty’. In latter Masonic depictions of the columns (particularly with the influence of Neoclassicism) the arrangements of the columns changes from the Roman architectural hierarchy and reverts back to the use of the original three Greek orders with ‘Strength’ associated with the Doric, ‘Wisdom’ now associated with the Ionic, and ‘Beauty’ remaining with the Corinthian. Between the Doric and Tuscan columns is placed the letter ‘H’ and between the Tuscan and Corinthian the letter ‘G’. These letters refer to ‘Holy Ground’ as all Masonic lodges were believed to be representations of the Temple of Jerusalem and were symbolically positioned on consecrated ground.
Positioned towards at the centre of each column are further symbols associated with architecture and Freemasonry (detail right). On the Doric column are depictions of the furniture of the lodge, the Set-
Adorning the trunk of the Corinthian column are the moveable jewels of the lodge, the level, square and level with plumb. Located above is another panel containing various line drawings, representations of perpendiculars; together with a square and oblong square. On the abacus of the Doric column is positioned a sun; the Tuscan column, a moon, and the Corinthian column, a bust in a Grecian toga (detail right). Taken together the sun, moon and Master Mason (indicted by the initials ‘MM’, located beneath the bust) were known in the Wilkinson Manuscript of 1727 as the three ‘great lights’ of Freemasonry. It is possible that the identity of the bust is the Greek Polymath Pythagoras, often associated with Euclid, who could legitimately be associated with the Corinthian column through his theories on mathematical beauty (Langley also baptised one of his other fourteen children ‘Euclid’) In addition, the Golden Section and Euclid’s 47th Proposition were important mathematical and practical formulas for Freemasons, as illustrated by the presence of the symbol for Euclid’s 47th Proposition on the frontispiece engraved by John Pine to James Anderson’s Constitutions of the Free Masons of 1723.
It was often believed by a number of Renaissance architects that numbers possessed mystical characteristics and ‘number magic’ could be detected in the proportions and harmonics of many Renaissance buildings (for example, the Freemason and antiquarian William Stukeley and the natural philosopher Isaac Newton both believed that the proportions of Solomon’s Temple had divine properties)
The final and possibly most important piece of symbolism on the frontispiece of The Builder’s Jewel is also one of the most neglected or overlooked. On the summit of the hill in the background is discretely placed the number 15 with a sprig of spiky foliage. This is a subtle but direct reference to the newly created Hiramic legend which was first disclosed to the public in Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected in 1730. In this catechism it is described how the Master Architect, Hiram Abiff, was killed in the Temple in Jerusalem at midday by three Fellow-
Appendix of Masonic Symbols contained within the frontispiece.
1. Roman Doric column
2. Tuscan column
3. Corinthian column
4. Letter ‘H’ denoting ‘Holy’
5. Letter ‘G’ denoting ‘Ground’
6. Roman numeral VII (7)
7. Roman numeral V (5)
8. Roman numeral III (3) = together these number equal 15
9. Letter ‘W’ denoting ‘Wisdom’
10. Letter ‘S’ denoting ‘Strength’
11. Letter B’ denoting ‘Beauty’
12. Crest of a hill (symbolic ladder)
13. Number 15 on thee crest of the hill (Hiramic Legend).
14. Sprig of cassia
16. Set square
17. Book of Sacred Law
23. Lodge plan
24. East, west and south entrances to Temple
25. Mosaic pavement
26. Blazing star with comet tail?
27. The letter G
28. Letter ‘I’ denoting Iachin
29. Letter ‘B’ denoting Boaz
30. Clock face with hands pointing to Midday
31. Humanised face blowing winds of knowledge East and West
36. Symbol for square
37. Symbol for rectangle
38. Acute angle
39. Obtuse angle
40. 180° angle
41. 90° angle
42. ‘MM’ denoting ‘Master Mason’
43. Bust of philosopher (Pythagoras?)
Curl, James Stevens, Freemasonry & the Enlightenment. Architecture, Symbols, & Influences (London: Historical Publications, 2011).
Curl, James Stevens, Oxford Dictionary of Architecture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3rd edition, 2015).
Dyer, Colin, Symbolism in Craft Freemasonry (Shepperton: Lewis Masonic Ian Allan Regalia Ltd, 1983).
Harris, Eileen, ‘Batty Langley: A Tutor to Freemasons (1696-
Hersey, George, Pythagorean Palaces. Magic and Architecture in the Italian Renaissance (London: Cornell University Press, 1976).
Knoop, Douglas, & Jones, G. P, The Genesis of Freemasonry. An account of the Rise and Development of Freemasonry in its Operative, Accepted, and Early Speculative Phases (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1947
Langley, Batty, Langley, Thomas, The Builder’s Jewel; Or, The Youth’s Instructor And Workman’s Remembrancer: Explaining Short And Easy Rules Made Familiar To The Meanest Capacity For Drawing And Working (London, R.Ware, 1741).
Lovegrove, Henry, ‘Batty Langley on Geometry’ (Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 11 (18): pp. 134-
Macpherson, Jay, ‘Jachin and Boaz and the Freemasons’ in B. Scholz, M. Bath & D. Weston (eds.), The European Emblem: Selected Papers from the Glasgow Conference 11-
Pound, Ricky, ‘The Master Mason Slain: The Hiramic Legend in the Red Velvet Room at Chiswick House’ (Richard Hewlings (ed.), English Heritage Historical Review (Bristol, 2009, pp. 154-
Prichard, Samuel, Masonry Dissected: Being A Universal and Genuine DESCRIPTION of All its Branches from the Original to this Present Time. As it is deliver’d in the Constituted Regular Lodges Both in the CITY and Country, According to the Several Degrees of ADMISSION. (London, 1730).
Ress, Julian, Tracing Boards of Three Degrees in Craft Freemasonry Explained (London: Lewis Masonic, 2009), p. 82.
Rykwert, Joseph, The First Moderns: The Architects of the Eighteenth Century (London: The MIT Press, 1983), p. 185-
Snoek, Joannes, The Evolution of the Hiramic Legend in England and France (Heredom 11, 2003), pp. 11-
Stevenson, David, The Origins of Freemasonry. Scotland’s Century 1590-
Text by Ricky Pound copyright 2009. Revised 6th August 2017.
The Masonic Symbolism of Batty Langley’s Frontispiece to The Builder’s Jewel
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