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Oriel was founded in 1326, and is the fifth oldest of the University of Oxford’s constituent colleges. However, it has the distinction of being the oldest royal foundation in Oxford, having been set up by Adam de Brome under the patronage of Edward II. Its buildings incorporate four medieval halls, but date mainly from the seventeenth century. George Pyne’s view, of 1851, shows the exterior of the first quadrangle, with the main gate onto Oriel Square, which was built in the artisan mannerist style during the period 1620-42. He returned to the subject at least twice, producing further, though smaller watercolours, one of which is dated 1870. (These both appeared in auction in 1985.)
During Pyne’s lifetime, Oriel gained notoriety as the breeding ground of the Oxford Movement, the founders of which included the Oriel fellows, John Keble, John Henry Newman and Edward Pusey. From the 1830s, they sought to renew the Church of England by instilling it with the spirit of early Christianity, and developed the high church strand of Anglo-Catholicism. Newman went further and, in 1845, converted to Roman Catholicism.