His early life is somewhat murky, but he seems to have gotten his start in the theatre, where he’s credited with introducing movable scenery and the proscenium arch to England. He collaborated with Ben Jonson for years and staged over 500 performances; more than 450 of his drawings for scenery and costumes survive, showing a continental influence Jones picked up on at least one trip he took to Italy. During that same trip, he was also exposed to the ancient Roman writer Vitruvius.
Jones started showing up as an architect in the early 17th century, creating a monument to Lady Cotton and being listed as an architectural consultant at Hatfield House. In 1610, he was appointed surveyor to Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales. Three years later, he was promoted to Surveyor of the King’s Works and made another trip to Italy, where he explored the architecture of Rome, Padua, Florence, Vicenza, Genoa, and Venice.
Back in England, he was named Surveyor-General of the King’s Works and soon started building some of his most notable works throughout London. Work on the Queen’s House, Greenwich began in 1616; followed by the Banqueting House in the Palace of Whitehall; The Queen’s Chapel, St James’s Palace; and Covent Garden Square. Many of the buildings were influenced by Palladio, and the square was meant to evoke an Italian piazza.
Jones’s career continued apace until the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642. He died on 21 June 1652. A monument dedicated to him was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666, but many of his works still remain throughout London, and his influence on a number of 18th century architects was notable.