Frame, Threshold, and Picture continued:

The Perennial City?

by Michael Djordjevitch

On June 17th we had closed the journal entry with a tantalizing image of  the sixteenth century persisting into the twentieth.

Now, looking out from within that portico, Pistoia's Loggia dei Mercanti, at the city around it, we take part in an urban experience that goes very far back, all the way to Ancient Rome and Greece.  

Sadly though, everything that we see here, thanks to this postcard image, is no more, having been ravaged first by the various “improvements” of modern so called urbanism in the 1930s, and then by bombs during the Second World war.

And yet, it is for the very experiences conjured by this haunting image that millions upon millions trek to Italy every year.

Should it, then, even raise an eyebrow, that this freestanding Loggia in Pistoia (seen below from without), following upon the tradition of works such as Florence’s Loggia dei Lanzi, and much before that, the Ancient Greek Stoa, is also a twentieth century building ?

As we also saw with Pistoia’s Ospedale (Post of July 17), here the early twentieth century architect employed a prominent sculpted frieze, the most striking feature of his monument and the embodyment of its particular story.  Then, to offset what would have been an otherwise top-heavy composition, and to help negotiate the site’s significant slope, he lifted his columns on compact pedestals, perhaps inspired by those gracing Assisi’s elegant first century B.C. Roman Temple:

The Loggia dei Mercanti’s round disks (tondi) between the arches are, however, more than just an occasion for heraldry and a supplement to the monument’s figural narrative.  They also overtly bring to mind the prototype of all these Loggias, Brunelleschi's Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, and the first all’ antica work of architecture of the emerging fifteenth century Renaissance.  

But, before we turn to the parent tondi by way of returning to Brunelleschi's loggia, let us pause at this miraculously well preserved ancient facade in Assisi to reflect on this puzzle.  When Brunelleschi's contemporaries looked at his loggia, they saw not just an allusion to, but a full manifestation of an Ancient Roman Portico, such as the one above.  Unlike us, they could see beyond the particulars of a historical style to the type-form of what would in the coming decades come to be called the Orders of Architecture.  

Today, the outer face of Brunelleschi's building is enlivened through a set of prominent sculpted ornaments, one above each column: those memorable ceramic infants in swaddling cloths against a blue ground, no two of which are alike.  Originally, each tondo had been left an empty concavity.  Then, around 1490 Andrea della Robbia (1435-1525) was asked by the Ospedale to fill them with relief sculptures of infants.



Did Brunelleschi originally intend such an embellishment of his building, these tondi ornamented with virtually monochrome ceramic sculptures in relief, but then after this --- nothing more?  Simply because we are so used to seeing the monument as it is today, this familiarity, in and of itself, offers no evidence for what might have been originally intended.  Our anachronistic assumptions are, to be blunt, a huge stumbling block.  

Fortunately, a considerable body of evidence survives concerning the building history of this work and who was in charge at each phase.  Through this, we learn that work on the building had begun in 1419, and that by 1427, when Brunelleschi left the project and Francesco della Luna took over, only the colonnade proper with its vaults had been built.  

The second story was constructed more than a decade later.  In the interim, the building was expanded by one bay to its left as a result its internal plan being modified.  The body of the Ospedale was largely complete by 1445 when it was formally inaugurated.  Brunelleschi died on April 15th, 1446.  The institution’s Chapel was finished and consecrated a few years later.  The elaborate central door and its balancing niches at either end of the colonnade were only added in the early 1660’s.  

The first image below shows the state of the building in 1424, the date Brunelleschi ceased supervising the construction on a regular basis.  The second shows the project in 1427, when Francesco della Luna took over.

Eugenio Battisti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Phaidon Press, 2002

Eugenio Battisti, Filippo Brunelleschi, Phaidon Press, 2002

On the face of it, this documentation would seem to indicate that we cannot really call this building Brunelleschi's, as, apart from the columns and their associated capitals, imposts, architraves, arches and vaults, the rest of the work, that is, the overall appearance of the monument as a whole, is the work of other hands, and minds.

And there things would remain, were it not for one rare piece of evidence, a biography by a contemporary, The Life of Brunelleschi, by Antonio Manetti (1423 - 1497).  A reasonable degree of confidence can be ascribed to this witness, as its author was personally acquainted with Brunelleschi, and also had direct access to documents, drawings and models which we no longer possess.  

Manetti describes having carefully studied a surviving drawing of the design for the facade of the Ospedale in Brunelleschi's hand.  He then observes that one of the several deficits of the facade as he knew it in the late fourteen hundreds was the absence of small pilasters between each of the windows, and the lack of double pilasters above the large ground story pilasters at each end of the colonnade.  

This brings us to the first of our final three images, and some reflections.  

Here, at eye level, on Ghiberti’s masterpiece, which Michelangelo would justly name “the Gates of Paradise,” we are confronted with a curvilinear image of Brunelleschi's great Loggia.  Though not immediately self-evident were one not aware of Manetti’s witness, nonetheless, this image strongly supports Manetti (as we see pilasters between the windows on the second story), and raises the larger question of, in what other ways was Ghiberti influenced by his rival.  

If we recall that Brunelleschi was recognised in his own time as the first person since antiquity to realize perspectival realism, that is, spatial coherence, in painting (which he then showed his contemporaries how to achieve themselves through his demonstration painting of Florence’s Baptistry, circa 1414), we might then take note, that what Ghiberti is giving us, here, starting in 1425, are spatially coherent paintings, albeit by way of  low relief sculpture in gilded bronze.   



Alberti in 1435 would document the geometric basis of Brunelleschi’s pioneering work in book one of  the first edition of his treatise on the art of painting, De Pictura.

Having now ranged over a number of works of art mainly of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries in these past months, what might we conclude regarding Brunelleschi's overall artistic intentions with respect to his Ospedale?  

First, as it is highly unlikely that the tondi were meant to be empty; Andrea della Robbia’s infants there are an inspired contribution to the ensemble, giving iconic/symbolic voice to the institution.  Recently, a number of polychrome glazed terracotta reliefs and statues have been identified as belonging to Brunelleschi's oeuvre, making it even more likely that Andrea was realising our architect’s intentions here.   

Second, with the windows on the attic story framed between pilasters (thanks to Manetti’s witness), a set of stable pictorial fields now become available.  We need only to look at another painter-architect’s work, that of Baldassare Peruzzi’s at the Farnesina in Rome, to see how these might have been filled.  Below is a sketch (now in the MET’s collection) of Peruzzi’s design for the interstices of the facade as Peruzzi himself had realised them.  Today's empty fields there are the product of much more recent times.  



Third, let us now turn our attention to the frieze register of the Ospedale of the Innocents. Here the Ospedale in Pistoia offers a promising parallel: a figural narrative, to be realised in Florence in either sgraffito, fresco, or glazed terracotta.  

However, given the present balance between the pietra serena elements and the stuccoed fields they frame, and, given that, as they stand these relations are very finely judged, a monochrome composition in sgraffito, or fresco is the likeliest.  

Our present open frieze in the context of this facade operates as both a frieze and also an attic/parapet; thus, it formally creates a nuanced transition between the upper and lower registers of our facade that combines aspects of each, through what is called ellison.  It is therefore highly unlikely that the frieze was intended to be solid, that is, executed throughout in pietra serena.  

Today, at either corner of this facade within the register of the frieze can be found a short stretch of  multiple strigils in pietra serena (this, a popular motif, which can be found on many Roman Sarcophagi).  It is most improbable that this strigilation was intended to stretch continuously across the facade, as it would have visually split the building in two, the opposite of elision.  Perhaps this strigilation was an idea of Francesco della Luna’s, or one of his successors, or, more likely, these short stretches were solely intended to punctuate and strengthen the ends of the frieze register.   

In the lower story we see (in the detail below) the upper part of the larger order corinthian pilaster which frames the building’s colonnades.  Above it, and above the frieze, in that empty space is where the paired second story pilasters would have been placed.

Let us now return to where we had begun a number of  essays ago (on July 10), and again bring to mind the interior of the Ospedale’s colonnade and those pendentive vaults colorfully realized.  Given how they presently operate, strengthening the experience of key thresholds, they are far from being in conflict with Brunelleschi’s overall design.  Being consonant with all that we have explored and discovered, they too should be added to Brunelleschi's possible palette.

It is important not to get too taken in by the presentation of our artist in popular books such as Ross King’s  Brunelleschi’s Dome.  Useful as this book is as an introduction to the project for the dome, also to the man and his times, in foregrounding the builder and the engineer, the book unfortunately also contributes to our collective overlooking of Brunelleschi the epoch-changing artist.  

Brunelleschi began as a sculptor, in metal, in ceramic and in marble, and in forms large and small.  He then became the painter who first achieved coherent spatial representation, perspective, and introduced his times to the charms and challenges of spatial realism.  Then, in middle age he became the architect who reintroduced the Ancient Roman Manner, the all’ antica, and the builder engineer who surpassed the Romans in that realm.  However, let us not, for all his significant later achievements, forget The Artist.  

Brunelleschi’s last documented work was a Pulpit for Santa Maria Novella, begun in 1443, and competed by Brunelleschi's adopted son, Andrea Cavalcanti, who was a sculptor, and had worked on a number of his father’s projects.  

As a rare surviving and uncontroversial complete work by Brunelleschi, the testimony of this pulpit should be carefully considered (see the posting of July 29 as well).  So, what then do we encounter here?: low relief figural scenes, pictures, framed by architectural elements, themselves supported by multiple architectural elements; a wealth of architectural ornament, and yet, the whole --- serenely balanced.  

Among the Florentine artists who followed him, Michelangelo stands out as being the most vocal in his admiration of Brunelleschi.  He also stands out, along with Alberti, as being the most attentive, and  deepest of his students (To be Continued ...).  

Frame, Threshold and Picture

Returning to Buildings Which Speak... Is this the key to Brunelleschi’s architecture?

by Michael Djordjevitch

Returning to the question of Brunelleschi’s architectural intentions (previously touched on in this Journal last July), could a key clue really be here, hidden in plain sight: staring at us (as it were) from deep within a seminal work of his greatest competitor and enemy ?

Is Ghiberti’s celebrated masterpiece, then, inadvertently revealing Brunelleschi’s artistic intentions?  To resolve this question, we must first step back for a bit and examine a few more Renaissance works.

Mercifully surviving the vicissitudes of the twentieth century is one other sixteenth century Loggia in Pistoia, now the face of the city's Library and Archives, the Domus Sapientiae (Il Palazzo della Sapienza e la Biblioteca Forteguerriana).  This monument was planned by Alessio d'Antonio, more widely known as Giovanni Unghero (1490-1546), in 1533 and completed by 1536.

The Loggia underwent a restoration between 1732 and 1743, giving us its current appearance.  

Here the building speaks, though not quite as directly as does Pistoia’s Ospedale.  There, as we have seen (post of July 17), it speaks through the figures of people in action.  Here it speaks through the complex conventions of heraldic imagery.  Further, and also unlike the Ospedale, it employs an ornamental and coloristic schema which creates an even middle ground against which the architectonic elements are disposed.  

At the facade's center there is arrestingly present an elaborate cartouche, floridly displaying our institution's patrons and content.  And through the art of trompe l'oeil it appears to emerge from that chromatic middle ground into the foreground of our attention.  

Within the archives of the Domus Sapientiae can be found the architect's original rendered elevation, documenting his absorbing design, one which through the the arts of symbolic ornament eloquently proclaims the House of Wisdom.

Contemporary with our building, and currently residing in the National Gallery, London, are a number of fascinating paintings of Loggias by an unknown painter who was active in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, now identified in the literature as the Master of the Griselda Legend.  These paintings unambiguously show what finished loggias of the time were ideally expected to look like (for further instances see the post of July 28).

What is immediately apparent is the rich range of coloristic and ornamental possibilities which were at hand to artistically complete these works of public architecture.

Returning to Florence, and Brunelleschi's Ospedale degli Innocenti, what should be clearer to us now as a result of our explorations is how austere Brunelleschi’s facade is when seen in its culturally proximate context.  Was the Ospedale then the work of a severe persona, and a pioneering proto-modernist work ?

To the contrary, when Brunelleschi took up the challenge of providing a design for the face of this new charitable institution, the Ospedale degli Innocenti, he did not propose a new architecture.  

An earlier, though still near contemporary, Florentine building with a Loggia, once belonging to a late medieval convent and now housing the Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze (today immediately adjacent to the much visited {thanks to Michelangelo's David} Galleria dell'Accademia), offers us an illuminating comparison.    

Much of the basic schema of Brunelleschi's facade, its type (its core design, as it were), is found here in this earlier loggia.  

Yet, how this design is realized is the radical difference between the two.  

That question of "how," is central, as it instantly becomes an issue of, from what, that is, from what elements is the design made from, or, in other words (Aristotle’s), the matter of its form.

This decisive difference in appearance, this change visible to all and sundry, this rejection of all that was then current in architecture, came to be expressed by Brunelleschi's contemporaries as his  “Ancient Roman Manner": that all'antica character becoming Brunelleschi’s startlingly new contribution.   

And yet, working with the elements of Ancient Roman architecture (and its associated arts), also brought with these a very particular set of relations, a new (to the late medieval) set of interrelationships between parts in terms of each other and the whole, and thus, a genuinely new Architecture.  

To be continued …

On the Private Apartments of Roman Emperors

Here are some in Milan--Ancient Mediolanum--or rather their remaining foundations:

Their plan:

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And an imagined reconstruction, by the talented and prolific Francesco Corni, with the remaining foundation walls shown in the foreground:

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Here is the suite in what’s left of its original context, at the top in red with the other archaeological remains of the palace:

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As in Rome the palace occupied its own special precinct, which like that on the Palatine Hill in Rome overlooked a racing circus, where the emperor could see and be seen by the Roman public:

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(this and other line drawings here also by Corni)

Likely the palace in Mediolanum was built for the Roman emperor Maximan in the late 3rd Century AD, when the city became one of four new capitals of the Tetrarchy inaugurated by Diocletian. All were located on the empire’s periphery near its northern and eastern boundaries which were increasingly vulnerable to barbarian incursion.

And how, given that so much of their immediate context is missing, do we know Maximian’s private apartments were the very scanty remains we see today? Their shape and configuration are familiar from earlier palace architecture, but what really tells is their character as a self-contained and highly ordered “world within the world” of the larger palace complex, just as this complex itself constituted a self-contained and idealized world within the real world of the city. In the emperor’s private suite this theme is restated in its most compact and elaborate form.

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We recognize the same theme at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli outside Rome. At one end of the so-called Piazza d’Oro were likely the private apartments of that emperor (at left above), and there we find the basic arrangement later repeated in Milan. A major domed space with a central fountain, likely beneath an oculus, was flanked by a pair of suites arranged around their own small open courtyards (shown roofed by mistake in the section drawing). These smaller suites reprised the larger arrangement, with a central salon or day room between a pair of two-room suites, each with a vestibulum preceding the cubiculum, or bedroom proper, which was also accessible by a separate service door. Lavatories were back on the other side of the private courtyard, tucked between it and the major domed room.

Hadrian’s private apartments like the villa they belong to likely represent the imperial palace--at least in its villa incarnation--on its most lavish scale, which is appropriate for the ruler of the Roman Empire at its height, himself an architect and the likely designer of his own villa as well as the Pantheon in Rome, that greatest domed space open to the sky.

Closer to Maximian’s time we find the same arrangements in a much better state of preservation at the villa in Piazza Armerina, Sicily, which may in fact have been the tetrarch’s country retreat from Mediolanum.

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Here at one end of a large peristyle courtyard we find a long transverse gallery (28) with a major hall beyond (43), flanked by two suites of private apartments. The more elaborate of these (37-41) were again the emperor’s or the imperial family’s private apartments, with again a pair of two-room sleeping suites on either side of a covered fountain court, this one semicircular. On axis beyond is an apsed day room, a smaller version of the audience hall down the corridor. Again the private suite reprises and repeats larger patterns in more compact, elaborated form.

Now we can return to the private apartments in Mediolanum, which we recognize as an expanded version of those at Piazza Armerina.

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We have the same transverse gallery, with the same fountain court and apsed hall beyond it on axis. Here the fully circular hall allows for three private suites, each with salons flanked by two cubicula, the largest of these, on axis with the fountain court and gallery presumably belonging to the emperor.

And what did it feel like to inhabit this centralized and idealized world within the world? For this even imaginative reconstructions like Sr. Corni’s or the French architects who reconstructed Hadrian’s Villa are not enough. We have to imagine those spaces not from above or outside but from the inside, as they were experienced, as settings for both ritual and routine. 



This painting of a Roman interior by the Italian artist Ettore Forti gives some idea of the experience of a private suite in a Roman palace. It's a long way indeed from what remains. How far, though, was that ancient reality from this one?

   --- Sam Roche


--- Sam Roche

Viking Apotheosis

Accident at sea?

by Michael Djordjevitch

By no means, an accident.  

Rather, this, an image from the finale of an 1958 Film, a cinematic epic called The Vikings, shows us a Norse hero setting out on his Final Journey.

A more visually charged depiction of the same event, The Funeral of a Viking, circa 1893, by Sir Francis Bernard Dicksee (1853 - 1928) :  

A funeral pyre on a Long Ship was a form of Viking funeral reserved for very high status individuals, such as some rulers or very great heroes.  There were a number of other forms of monumental farewell and commemoration available for high and low status Vikings in their liminal moments, as they faced an afterlife in one of their nine realms.  

The Icon of all these realms together, Uppsala’s Sacred Tree (quite likely of the species European Yew) was a manifestation in the here and now of the cosmic World Tree, Yggdrasil.   

Below is the The Llangernyw Yew, an ancient tree in Wales estimated to be anywhere between 1,500 and 5,000 years old.  

Two contrasting realms newly departed Vikings would face were Valhalla and Helheim, the first a destination for fallen heroes who had died bravely in combat, the second, a place of no honor for those who, without a life of achievement, merely died in bed, or by way of mundane accident or illness.  Helgafjell was the abode of those who had lived honorable lives, even though their ends were not heroic.  

The Vikings practiced both cremation and inhumation, though the first was much more dominant in their earlier history.  The goal of cremation was the total calcification of the body.  This required an extremely hot fire, thus the need for a substantial funeral pyre consuming a great amount of wood.   

The ashes would then be buried along with goods and belongings (including chattel) befitting the status of the interred individual.  While the Viking ideal was a burial at sea, those on land emphatically echoed that ideal.  

A number of burials on land within whole ships, even of the highest category, Long Ships, have been discovered and excavated this past century.  These are the primary source for our detailed knowledge of Viking ships.  

Henryk Hektor Siemiradzki (1843 - 1902), in his Funeral of a Varangian Chieftain (1883), with great panache presents us with the Ship Burial of a chieftain of the Volga Vikings, directly inspired by a surviving text from the tenth century by an Ahmad ibn Fadlan, an emissary of the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad to the Khan of the Volga Bulgars.

Ibn Fadlan said it was customary when a chieftain died for his family members to ask slave girls and boys, “Who among you will die with him?” If they volunteered, they were not allowed to back out. Usually, Ibn Fadlan wrote, slave girls made the offer. One girl volunteered for the spectacle Fadlan saw. “Every day the slave-girl would drink <alcohol> and would sing merrily and cheerfully,”

I was told that when their chieftains die, the least they do is to cremate them. I was very keen to verify this, when I learned of the death of one of their great men. They placed him in his grave (qabr) and erected a canopy over it for ten days, until they had finished making and sewing his <funeral garments>.

In the case of a poor man they build a small boat, place him inside and burn it. In the case of a rich man, they gather together his possessions and divide them into three, one third for his family, one third to use for <his funeral> garments, and one third with which they purchase alcohol which they drink on the day when his slave-girl kills herself and is cremated together with her master. (They are addicted to alcohol, which they drink night and day. Sometimes one of them dies with the cup still in his hand.)  . . .   

. . .  They [mourners] advanced, going to and fro <around the boat> uttering words which I did not understand, while he was still in his grave and had not been exhumed.

Then they produced a couch and placed it on the ship, covering it with quilts <made of> Byzantine silk brocade and cushions <made of> Byzantine silk brocade. Then a crone arrived whom they called the “Angel of Death” and she spread on the couch the coverings we have mentioned. She is responsible for having his <garments> sewn up and putting him in order, and it is she who kills the slave-girls. I myself saw her: a gloomy, corpulent woman, neither young nor old.”

There is much more here :  

Charles Ernest Butler’s  (1864–1933) Death of a Viking Warrior (1909) gives us a more operatic vision of the moment before the  immolation of  a young Viking hero :       



The best known inhumation boat burial is from a place called Sutton Hoo, in Suffolk, England.  There, was found an undisturbed ship burial dating from the early 600’s A.D., likely, of the early East Anglian King, Rædwald, a Saxon Ruler from the period of the final takeover of Late Roman Britannia.   

Below we see a reconstruction, based on the excavated remains, of the funeral chamber (in the heart of his ship) of this ruler as it would have appeared just before he was buried under a very large mound of earth.  

In form and ornament, King Rædwald's Royal Helmet prefigures that of the future Vikings, who would soon move into the lands newly vacated by the Saxons, Angles and Jutes, displacing their remnant southwards.  Yet, though belonging to a distinct tribal and linguistic lineage, these most northern of the northerners, our Vikings, closely shared with the Germanic peoples just south of them a common material and religious culture.  This helmet type also bears witness to the sources of many of the elements of this entire cultural ecumene, as it is directly derived from Late Roman cavalry helmets of the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.

This Tradition of Leaders and Heroes being buried in ships would be carried forward by those who would soon occupy the Saxon Homeland, the Vikings.

Even but the mere outline of a ship alone quite often sufficed, as we can see from these two virtual ships from Badelunda, near Västerås, Sweden, within which were buried the cremated remains and funeral goods of their occupants.  

As for the ever hoped for destination of our Vikings, The Ride Of The Valkyrie, 1890, by the German painter, William T Maud (1865 - 1903) :

The Vikings & The Sacred

A Viking Temple?

by Michael Djordjevitch

Well, no, or at least, not exactly.  

The above is a photograph, circa 1900, of the best preserved of a number of the earliest surviving religious structures from the Viking world, conventionally known as Stave Churches.

This rare surviving monument from Norway’s early Christian period, the Borgund Stave Church, has been judged to have been built sometime after 1180 but before 1250 A.D.  The term “stave” refers to the type of construction of its walls, being fashioned of cheek by jowl vertical wooden boards.

Below we see the plan of this church.  It’s form is comprised of a tall (multi-story) inner core surrounded by an interior and an exterior ambulatory.  The more compact types of Stave Churches have only the inner ambulatory.   

This view shows a cutaway perspective of the Borgund Church's interior, revealing the fairly complex construction of an architecturally nuanced conception.     

The next engraving is an image of the original front portal of another very old Scandinavian building, the Hedal Stave Church, the oldest surviving of its type in Norway, and bearing direct witness to the Pre-Christian origins of this architecture.  

A drawing, circa 1853, by G. A. Bull of the Hedalen Portal :

Next, and now through digital means, we see an image of a reconstructed interior, and an archeological representation of the excavated plan remains, of a Viking-Age building recently found in Uppåkra, Sweden.  Its excavator, Lars Larsson, has stated that this is "the first Scandinavian building for which the term 'temple' can be justly claimed".  

The evidence for the construction of his building reveals that it too was of the Stave Type.  In the plan below the pink shows the location of trenches dug for the walls.  The brown shows the location of the central columns, and the red, the place of the hearth/altar.  

According to the archeological evidence, the building was situated on the remains of a third century A.D. longhouse, and from the sixth to the tenth centuries A.D. rebuilt six times in the same form as its final iteration seen below.  Among the remains associated with its walls were found around two hundred fragments of gold foil, incised with human figures.

Two possible reconstructions of the exterior form of this Viking Temple:  

Almost a century before this momentous discovery, Sweden's then-foremost painter, Carl Larsson (1853 - 1919), in the course of his commission to ornament the monumental entry hall and staircase of the National Museum in Stockholm with scenes from Swedish history, proposed to crown his work by depicting a semi-legendary moment from Swedish history, poetically preserved in the Sagas of Snorri Sturlusson, an Icelander.  This vast canvas would become the most controversial painting in Swedish history.  

The resulting monumental painting, entitled “Midvinterblot“ (Midwinter Sacrifice), shows the monarch, King Domalde offering himself for sacrifice.  This Viking ruler gave himself to the gods so as to appease them, after a prolonged period of drought and starvation, for whatever faults may have brought about this calamitous withholding of divine favour.  

Here we are presented with the very public spectacle of this exceptional mid-winter sacrifice before the most venerable of Viking Temples on the Holy Ground of Ancient Uppsala and its adjoining Sacred Tree.



Informing Carl Larsson’s representation of this lost-to-history Pagan Temple are, very reasonably, Stave Churches, Norse Epics, and the one surviving account of this place from Adam of Bremen, a chronicler from medieval Germany who lived in the second half of the eleventh century.  He has left us a priceless  description of the Pagan Great Midwinter Sacrifice in Viking Uppsala:

“In this temple, entirely decked out in gold, the people worship the statues of three gods in such wise that the mightiest of them, Thor, occupies a throne in the middle of the chamber; Odin and Freyr have places on either side. The significance of these gods is as follows: Thor, they say, presides over the air, which governs the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather crops. The other, Odin-that is, the Furious-carries on war and imparts to man strength against his enemies. The third is Freyr, who bestows peace and pleasure on mortals. His likeness they fashion with an immense phallus. But Odin they chisel armed, as our people are wont to represent Mars. Thor with his scepter apparently resembles Jove. The people also worship heroes made gods, whom they endow with immortality because of their remarkable exploits, as one reads in the Vita of Saint Ansgar they did in the case of King Eric.

A golden chain goes round the temple. It hangs over the gable of the building and sends its glitter far off to those who approach, because the shrine stands on level ground with mountains all about it like a theater. They solemnize in Uppsala, at nine-year intervals, a general feast of all the provinces of Sweden. From attendance at this festival no one is exempted.

The sacrifice is of this nature: of every living thing that is male, they offer nine heads, 4 with the blood of which it is customary to placate gods of this sort. The bodies they hang in the sacred grove that adjoins the temple. Now this grove is so sacred in the eyes of the heathen that each and every tree in it is believed divine because of the death or putrefaction of the victims. Even dogs and horses hang there with men. A Christian seventy-two years old told me that he had seen their bodies suspended promiscuously. Furthermore, the incantations customarily chanted in the ritual of a sacrifice of this kind are manifold and unseemly; therefore, it is better to keep silence about them.”

Norse Mythology: A Guide to Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, by John Lindow, 2002, is an accessible and judicious entry into this world.    

Carl Larsson third preparatory study for Midvinterblot (1915) :   

Somewhat closer to home, the Old-English Epic Poem, Beowulf, the oldest surviving major work of literature in our language, offers us an image of a monumental building in the Denmark of the sixth century A.D., then the home of those Saxons who were, along with their neighbours the Jutes and Angles in the process of conquering and colonising Celtic/Roman Britannia.


Then, as I have heard, the work of constructing a building

Was proclaimed to many a tribe throughout this middle earth.

In time—quickly, as such things happen among men—

It was all ready, the biggest of halls.

He whose word was law

Far and wide gave it the name "Heorot".


The men did not dally; they strode inland in a group

Until they were able to discern the timbered hall,

Splendid and ornamented with gold.

The building in which that powerful man held court

Was the foremost of halls under heaven;

Its radiance shone over many lands.


John Howe here gives us a plausible glimpse of this precursor to the monumental architecture of the Vikings.  



Apart from the Stave Churches, what survives of the Architecture of this World can still be readily encountered today in the substantial and captivating remains of its other monumental artifacts, its Long Ships.

A detail of the great portal from the Hedal Stave Church:

And what of the heirs to the Vikings of yesteryear?   

The twilight world between Viking Paganism and Christianity found its peerless chronicler and poet in the novels of  Sigrid Undset (1882 - 1949), most notably in Kristin Lavransdatter, the epic work for which she most deservedly received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.  

That was then.  

Today, almost a century later, if we were to seek out the remains of Uppsala’s once sacred ground, we would find this building, which now stands on and in some sense is intended to memorialize this still poorly understood and exceedingly mysterious place.

Agnes Slott-Møller  (1862–1937), Borgund Stave Church in Norway, 1915 (oil on canvas):   

For more on Viking buildings watch this clip from Michael's lecture on the Vikings

Operatic & Literary Vikings

Archetypal Vikings? 

by Michael Djordjevitch


Well, in point of fact, yes, they are indeed archetypal, Archetypal Northerners.  

This striking image by N.C. Wyeth (“Queen Astrid,” from The World Of Music - Song Programs for Youth, 1939) is composed of a conflation of surviving elements of the Celtic, Germanic and Scandinavian cultural iconography.  

The ship, though, is (of course) quintessential Viking.

Music is the key here.  Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) Music Drama’s were the artistic crucible for creating this imaginative synthesis and the main vehicle for propagating it.

Wagner’s goal was to re-create Ancient Greek Drama, in all its cultural fullness, for the modern era.  Interestingly, in this he returned to the original impetus for the creation of Opera, which also gave us the first masterpieces in that genre, the Operas of Monteverdi (1567-1643).

Wagner’s primordial Germans have much Viking and even some Celt in them.  The Winged Helmets come from the Celts.  But whether winged or horned, in their original context they belonged to the headgear of the Shaman/ Priests rather than to that of the warriors.

For a glimpse of the Wagnerian warrior-women of the skies at work, with their, here appropriately winged helmets, “The Ride of the Valkyrie,” by Cesare Viazzi (1857-1943):  

And for an image of an Operatic Warrior God from 19th century New York, Emil Fischer in the role of Wotan in Wagner's opera 'Das Rheingold' at its 1889 New York Premiere:    

Richard Wagner's Liturgy for a Disenchanted Age still speaks with considerable power and fascination.  Roger Scruton offers us an accessible and compelling introduction to its mysteries and abiding truths.  

A few decades after Wagner astonished and captivated the world, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame), published a short story, "The First Cargo," (Scribner's Magazine, 1910) of a more straightforward historical bent.  Here we meet an earlier set of historical actors, Saxons (proto-Germans), who prefigure, on the Late Roman stage (the fifth century A.D.), the role that the Future Vikings would play in the Carolingian World in the ninth and tenth centuries.  

For the story's first, publication, N.C. Wyeth conjured up an illustration strait off the operatic stage, of the soon-to-be new rulers of late-antique England, where once again a perennial drama was playing out, when a people who are very good at one thing encounter a people who were good at many things (Lectures on Roman History, Henry Paolucci (channeling Hegel), page one, 1962/2004).  

Many decades earlier, by 1825 a Swedish poet, Esaias Tegnér (1782 - 1846), would achieve for his Scandinavian countrymen what Goethe (1749 - 1832) and Alessandro Manzoni (1785 - 1873) would realize for their respective peoples, forging a contemporary literary common language out of the multiplicity of their linguistic/cultural inheritance.  

Tegnér’s vehicle would become the Swedish National Epic, Frithiof's Saga, which emerged out of the translation, expansion and elaboration of an old Icelandic Epic, The Saga of Thorstein Víkingsson.  

In 1888, Johan August Malmström (1829 - 1901) published a series of paintings for a late nineteenth century edition of Tegnér’s Epic Poem.

In these haunting images we encounter a convergence between the prevailing freewheeling operatic approach to our Norsemen and the desire to see this elusive world, on the edge of history, as it might have been, mediated by the artistry of a very fine artist, where each illustration is conceived of and composed as a fully realized painting.   

Elements such as stele, wooden statues, carved columns, and runic inscriptions in these paintings stand out to those familiar with the material evidence for this world.  In our next posting we shall look more closely at some of these ancient elements and their survival into the High Middle Ages.   


For a few more images from this set, visit this blog.

And, for more on the art of painting apropos the above, watch:

The Return

An incongruous image here? 

by Michael Djordjevitch

The Chicago Exhibition of 1893, in celebrating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of the Americas, also commemorated, through the arrival of this ship, The Viking, seen above and below, Leif Eriksson’s discovery of North America five hundred years earlier.  

The Viking, was a replica of a then very recently discovered Viking ship, now known as the Gokstad, which had begun to be excavated in 1880.  This was the very first well preserved Viking Longship known through archeology, and through its replica became one of the earliest instances of experimental archeology.  A seasoned seaman, Captain Magnus Andersen, sailed the replica across the Atlantic, from Norway to New York, up the Hudson, through the Erie Canal and across the Great Lakes to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.   



Below we encounter a contemporary Viking ship, the Draken Harald Hårfagre, currently the world's largest, built as the recreation of a standard 50-oar ocean-capable Viking battleship: an exercise in experimental archaeology bringing together knowledge gained through a century of scholarly excavation, along with the near two thousand year old Norwegian shipbuilding tradition and the Norse Sagas.   

“Summer in the Greenland Coast Circa Year 1000,” by the tragically fated Jens Erik Carl Rasmussen (1841–1893).

That the Vikings could do this, sail the treacherous North Atlantic, has been actively demonstrated through these captivating reenactments.  That they did do it has been shown by the discovery of the remains of a Viking settlement in Eastern Canada, confirming the witness of the Icelandic Sagas.  However, how they did it, that is, navigate the North Atlantic, remains an abiding mystery, still open to much speculation and further discovery.  Was it by a highly developed knowledge of the stars together with the sun and moon?  Likely, but much remains to be discovered and demonstrated.  

“Leif Eriksson Discovers America,” by Christian Krohg (1893).   

The Draken Harald Hårfagre setting out to confront the challenges of the North Atlantic.

A 1925 US 5c Postage Stamp featuring the Viking, for the Norse-American Centennial.

For more on Viking ships and economy see here:

Our Complacent Present & Elusive Past

What is wrong with this picture?  

by Michael Djordjevitch

Well, yes, it does seem they’ve left their helmets behind --- but, would they?  

Of course not.  

But then, with their helmets firmly in place, we would not be able to notice the remarkably up-to-date appearance of these Television Vikings with their hipster haircuts and tattoos.

Those missing helmets :

The following image the History Channel Vikings is even more arresting in its absurdity: charging into battle with the upper body fully exposed to harm !?!  And THIS in times when even minor wounds could easily become fatally infected.

For all their unceasing and unforgettable contacts over several centuries with Western Europe as well as the East Roman World (when the anguished prayer, “God save us from the fury of the Northmen” was ceaselessly intoned from the remote Irish and Scottish Isles to the distant Urals), not a single source refers to tattoos (the one mention in arabic is likely nothing more than a figure of speech indicating infidels, that is, savages by definition).  

The currently very popular television series on the History Channel, Vikings purports to tell the tale of the bloody eruption of the historical Vikings into Western Europe during the Carolingian Age through the life of a known historical character, Ragnar Lothbrok.  Of course, this dramatized presentation is primarily meant to entertain, but what it also signals is that our attention today tends to be engaged, and held, almost exclusively by the comfortably familiar, and that we assiduously resist the genuinely unfamiliar.  Whatever aura of the exotic, the distant, the other, that remains in these films is nothing more than an unreflective and thinly veiled pretense.  

Setting aside the deeper issues of story and characterization, even the simple reality of clothing (where just enough of this period is knowable) falls all too predictably in these films into today’s hipster default of dark ragged hues and black leather.  However, surviving evidence clearly points to a Viking enjoyment of bright colors, especially vivid blues and reds, realized in skillfully woven fabrics of wool, linen and silk.  Similarly, Viking armor had little in common with what our film presentations depict.  In the Viking Age their armored panoply belonged to the Late Roman/Early Medieval types which were common throughout the European World.  

Chain-Mail, for example, was very hard to manufacture, largely an imported high-status possession, and only worn in full-blown pitched battles, rather than in raids.  Leather too was prohibitively expensive, thus also high-status.  Armor made in the Carolingian domains was assiduously sought out, either through gift-exchange, trade, or plunder.  The attire of the average warrior was probably mostly his everyday clothing supplemented by a homemade wooden shield and a helmet acquired in battle from the defeated.  His leaders, on the other hand, looked a lot like the very people they were sacking, pillaging, or extorting.  

It should be sobering to discover that an illustration for a popular mid-nineteenth century book gives us a far more authentic glimpse into this distant world.  Needless to say, beyond foreign-made armor, highly ornamented and color-filled imported fabrics were another manifestation of status.  

Here we see the rebel and champion of the old religion, Thorir Hund, in a reindeer-hide tunic, mortally wounding the vividly attired and soon to be canonised King Olaf II Haraldsson (995 - 1030), St. Olave, at the Battle of Stiklestad (a watercolor by Peter Arbo for the 1860 book, Billeder af Norges Historie).

Below is a photograph taken at a large scale reenactment in Poland commemorating a pitched battle late in the Viking Age between Vikings and Wends, an image strikingly consonant with the painting above.  

It is noteworthy that those ambitious European amateurs in Eastern Europe aspire to realising a greater fidelity to the surviving historical evidence than that extremely well funded and shamelessly hyped American enterprise, the so-called History Channel.

Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831 - 1892), below, offers us yet another image of Vikings engaged in a full-scale armed encounter towards the close of the tumultuous Viking Age, with his well known painting of the Battle of Stamford Bridge, where Harald Hardrada (1015 - 1066), the much storied King of Norway (and sometime Varangian guardsman at the Imperial Court of Constantinople)  met his surprising end. 

Albert Pierre René Maignan (1845 - 1908) in 1874, in his superb painting in the Musée d'Orsay called “Start of the Norman fleet for the conquest of England in 1066,”  offers us insight into another reality, that of those left behind.  This poignant tableau reminds us that there was much more to the life of a Viking than the bloody melee of raids and pitched battles.  

In subsequent posts we shall turn to this wider perspective.

You can explore more on this topic in the video below:

A Unique Room

Not to be missed! A major exhibition entitled, Orchestrating Elegance: Alma-Tadema and Design is presently underway at the Clark Museum in Williamstown, Massachusetts, but only until September 4th.

by Michael Djordjevitch

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: Preparation for Festivities (1866)   &nbsp;  Source

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema: Preparation for Festivities (1866)  Source

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912) is justly celebrated for his peerless painterly evocations of the Ancient and Medieval Worlds.  

Alongside the above exhibit on our shores, another exhibition, Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, which includes more than one hundred works, has recently opened in London, at the Leighton House Museum, and will remain open until the 29th of October 2017.

Together these two exhibitions reintroduce Alma-Tadema the serious artist to the contemporary scholarly art world.  As evidenced by countless calendars and posters, Alma-Tadema has long been popular with the general public.  It is only recently, with the developing interest in the works that the artistic avant-garde of the early to mid-twentieth century rejected, that mainstream nineteenth-century art has again become an object of academic interest and study.

The exhibit in Massachusetts is unique because it focuses on works that are all related to one another. Originally they belonged to a music room in a fifth-avenue mansion, commissioned in 1884 by New York magnate and philanthropist Henry Gurdon Marquand (1819–1902).



Marquand’s Music Room had two foci.  

The one that is far more familiar to us today is a painting by Alma-Tadema, A Reading from Homer.  It is now part of the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is presently on loan to the Clark for this exhibit.  This was the work of art around which the Music Room for Henry Marquand was envisioned and designed.  

The second is sui generis, a Steinway Grand Piano the Furniture Gazette in 1887 called, "one of the most superb specimens of elaborately artistic workmanship it has ever been our good fortune to see."  This work too is Alma-Tadema’s artistic achievement.  



The music room of a great house was both the heart of family musical life and a stage for public musical events.  And the heart of such a room in the nineteenth century was its grand piano.   

Alma-Tadema turned his grand piano into the quintessential grand.  Through his art he made it appear what it was meant to be, the instrument of instruments.  This piano would come to be played by celebrated pianists and composers and would accompany many famous performers.

It is noteworthy that our artist, who through his assiduous studies had achieved a peerless command of the ornamental repertoire of the ancients, from the smallest objects to paintings, sculptures, furniture and architecture, chose not to conjure up an ancient-looking instrument.  Rather, Alma-Tadema employed that ancient ornamental repertoire to both embellish and transform the monarch of nineteenth century instruments into a monumental entity, while allowing it to also remain recognisable as a delightfully performable grand piano.    

For more images of this piano :  images

For hearing and seeing the piano in performance :  in performance.

Another indispensable element of a great nineteenth-century room was its deployment of fabric.  Below is an image from the MET collection of one of Alma-Tadema’s  surviving fabrics from this room.  Note the masterly use of the classic Acanthus Scroll motif which the artist appropriates and magically makes his own.    

Alma-Tadema invited a number of his fellow artists to collaborate on this music room.  While the ensemble is the fruit of this vital collaboration, Alma-Tadema remains very much its designer, and thus the architect of the whole.

Alexis Goodin’s and Kathleen M. Morris’s Orchestrating Elegance: Alma-Tadema and the Marquand Music Room is a comprehensive and authoritative study of the room he made.

In New York the Metropolitan Museum remains one of the lasting beneficiaries of Henry Marquand’s philanthropy, as he was one of its original founders. Throughout his life Marquand gave many works of art to our continent’s foremost museum.       

Henry Marquand’s music room was not Alma Tadema’s sole interior, nor was it his only work of architecture.  Each of his two London town houses were made to his designs.  Mary Eliza Haweis, in her Beautiful Houses of 1882, observed of the Townshend House: “It is essentially individual, essentially an Alma-Tadema house, in fact, a Tadema picture that one is able to walk through.”  

Now, return to the two paintings depicted above; Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's painted works are indeed also architectural works, ones that we move through, inhabit with our mind’s eye.  

Below is a painting by Alma-Tadema’s daughter, Anna (1865–1943), who would become an accomplished painter in her own right, depicting one of the rooms in her father’s house.

See more on Alma-Tadema as a witness to history here:

What Paintings Tell

by Michael Djordjevitch

The above is a late fifteenth century painting in the National Gallery, London, one of a set by an unknown painter now called the Master of the Griselda Legend.  Here we see a fully realized Public Loggia set in an idealized urban landscape, something which is far more easily achieved through painting than building.  

Further along these lines, Sandro Botticelli in his Calumny of Apelles (c. 1494–95), offers us a detailed look inside one completely imagined Loggia.  Though nearly monochrome in coloring, this monumental room is filled with figural sculpture, both freestanding and in relief, framed and bounded by architectural elements.   

That these paintings are consistent with a longstanding tradition, and one which applies to artistic production at all scales, can be seen in this next work, Giotto's freestanding Baroncelli Polyptych, painted around 1334 for a family chapel in the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, and partially reframed a century later.

Below we see this retable in context, placed upon its altar and set beneath the chapel’s stained-glass liturgically east-facing (ad orientem) window, mediating between the setting of the chapel and the celebrant and offering a focus for the worshipers.   Before us a colonnade frames a vision of Heaven, making present a threshold between us and the transcendent.  And this colonnade is itself bounded, set within its own frame, which provides for it a fitting place upon its Altar.

Giotto's (1267 - 1337) oeuvre has come to be seen as straddling the late Medieval and early Renaissance worlds, working within the Iconic and Liturgical/Theological conventions of the High Middle Ages and bringing a new artistic approach to the figures inhabiting it.  By contrast Dante (1265 – 1321) is usually presented as representing the culmination of the Middle Ages.  And yet, Dante’s realism concerning the depth and breadth of the human condition in the light of the Divine had its direct artistic corollary in Giotto’s naturalism, depicting fully rounded human beings playing out their destiny in the space of a here and now that is bounded by the divine and a setting for the eruption of the transcendent into the everyday.

The work which authoritatively preserves for us the image of a complete artistic whole by Giotto is his Capella degli Scrovegni, a Church constructed immediately adjacent to the Scrovegni Family Palazzo, and both built within the remains of the Ancient Roman Arena in Padua (thus, known more widely as the Arena Chapel).  

Here we are presented with Painting and Architecture working together, through architectural frames; fictive architectural frames structure the entire interior and operate as thresholds into a multiplicity of worlds.  From Giotto’s Arena Chapel to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel is a clear artistic  continuum and a short and direct path.  It would be surprising and unusual if Brunelleschi’s work, occurring as it did at the midpoint of this path, did not directly participate in this cultural trajectory and within its cultural/theological matrix.



Encountering Brunelleschi's final work in the light of Giotto's then --- is quite bracing.  

Nor need we merely speculate that Brunelleschi worked in a similar way.  We can see it clearly in the pulpit he designed for Santa Maria Novella, commissioned in 1443 by the Rucellai family and finished by the sculptor Andrea Calvalcanti, Brunelleschi's adopted son.

Before us are a set of sacred scenes framed within an architectural ensemble which obeys the typological and design conventions of an early Christian church pulpit.  That the elements are in that all’ antica manner, which Brunelleschi was at the time being celebrated for reintroducing, should not distract us from what this work has in common with that of Giotto’s: through architecture, creating a threshold between the here and now --- and representations of the Divine interacting with our world.  

What we have been surveying, then, has been that deeper personal, artistic and cultural/theological context for our pioneering architect, who, suddenly in middle age, had been given the commission in 1419 for his first architectural work, a new institution in Florence called the Ospedale degli Innocenti.  Can we be faulted for striving to visualise that work within its originating living context?  None of this takes anything away from the Ospedale’s also revolutionary character.  But, we should not forget that the pioneering journey Brunelleschi was on was the very one which triggered the Renaissance and led to its mature culmination, the Baroque.  It did not trigger the 1920’s avant garde and all that that movement has wrought.  Nor was it the (much) before-the-fact harbinger of that movement.  For the true harbingers see Kenneth Frampton’s, Studies in Tectonic Culture: The Poetics of Construction in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Architecture.  

For more on Giotto’s frescoes at the Arena Chapel see below:

Buildings Which Speak

Could this colorful, image-laden portico from the late fifteenth century today give us an insight into what Brunelleschi might have intended for his own first major architectural work, the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence?

by Michael Djordjevitch

This wonderfully vital building is the Loggia of the Ospedale del Ceppo, a Renaissance monument in the once-independent Tuscan city of Pistoia, northwest of Florence.

Well off the well-beaten tourist path, our Ospedale is easily recognized as a version of Brunelleschi's better-known Ospedale in Florence, and like that building this one too was once the public face of a charitable institution. 

Founded in 1277 by a confraternityThe Companions of Santa Maria, the Ospedale del Ceppo was dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the poor.  "Ceppo" (Latin cippus) refers to the hollowed-out tree trunk where, in times past, offerings intended for the poverty-stricken were left and collected.  This Ospedale would become Pistoia's principal hospital following the onslaught of the Black Death in 1348.

Pistoia lost its status as an independent polity in 1401 when it was conquered by the hugely successful and rapidly expanding neighboring Republic of Florence.  In 1456 the Ospedale del Ceppo invited one of Florence's most prolific and versatile architects, Michelozzo di Bartolomeo (1396 - 1472), to restore and expand its buildings. (For more on Michelozzo, see the entry from June 29, 2017) When in 1501 the Pistoian hospital was placed under the direct administration of the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence, its new directors commissioned a new facade whose arcaded loggia was intentionally modeled after Brunelleschi's for the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence. 

The portico's prominent polychrome frieze, made of glazed ceramic, was created from 1525 onward by the Florentine sculptor Giovanni della Robbia (1469 - 1529), and his student Santi Buglioni (1494 - 1576), together with other members of their atelier.  The frieze depicts the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy, which are visually separated by figurative representations of five of the Cardinal and Theological Virtues.



The artistic style of these works is the fruit of the pioneering efforts of the brothers Andrea (1435 - 1525) and Luca (1399 - 1482) della Robbia, who famously developed and promoted the use of glazed terracotta for sculpture, and whose artistic impact can still be seen throughout Tuscany and beyond.  Their vibrant and colorful glazes made their artistic products more durable and more expressive.  By its third generation their atelier had committed itself to exploring a wider polychromic palette.

The Tondi below the frieze were sculpted at the same time by Giovanni della Robbia, here working alone.  They depict the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Glory of the Virgin, along with a number of coats of arms, that of the Medici unsurprisingly being the most prominent . 

And thus this arcade speaks.  Through the language of the figural arts it speaks symbolically, within the conventions of a cultural shorthand, but also directly, as even today we can see right before us charitable actions unfolding, such as people feeding the hungry or clothing the poor.  These scenes are then separated by individual figures, allegories of the virtues, who through the specific objects they hold, and through their dress, signal their allegorically embodied meaning.

And do we not also see, when we look through the eyes of our two-and-a-half-thousand-year artistic tradition, something akin to the Triglyph-and-Metope frieze of the Ancient Greek Doric temple?

Also in Pistoia, there once stood, though only for a fleeting quarter century, another jewel of a building, the Loggia dei Mercanti, which took up and further explored the basic composition of the Ospedale loggia.  The Loggia dei Mercanti, designed by Raffaello Brizzi (1883 - 1946), was begun in 1908 and finished in 1913, on the eve of the Great War, and it graced the city until its gratuitous destruction in 1939. 

Here we again see, though more compactly, the syntax of our High Renaissance Pistoian Loggia with its division into framed and sculpted panels, and the same fruitful union of sculpture and architecture.  Here then is an example of the long-lived momentum of a vital artistic culture stretching back to the Renaissance, and though we are separated from it by decades of modernist design practice, this artistic culture still remains intelligible to us to a considerable degree.

In later postings we will briefly return to this recent Pistoian Loggia, and also turn to the one other surviving Renaissance Loggia in this Florentine colony with extensive ornament.  But next week we'll take a look at a number of paintings to illuminate Brunelleschi's likely intentions for his revolutionary Loggia in Florence.  

What About Those Frames?

What are those splashes of intense color doing here, other than harshly intruding onto the clean, pristine surfaces and crisp architectural framing of Brunelleschi's Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence?  Aren't these clean, crisp lines and surfaces the very elements we most celebrate in Brunelleschi's architecture?  And aren't they compromised by the animated frescoes we see here under these vaults?  

by Michael Djordjevitch

In reviewing these familiar images, however, we are compelled to notice where exactly those intrusive splashes of color are found: above doorways---thresholds---where they consistently fill up the whole field of the lunettes above them.    

Stepping back, we see, however, that the outer surfaces of the building are not much affected by the various contingencies within the colonnade. 

It is here that we might recall that much of the writing on this monument focuses on its proportions.  Indeed, these are strikingly straightforward, a simple composition in C Major, as it were. 

But is this proportional system what we actually see when we visit or view the Ospedale?  Certainly, to a degree, but demonstrably---not only.  What we see, more directly and insistently than its proportions, are the various relations between the pietra serena architectural elements.  It is true that these elements relentlessly frame spaces and surfaces, from the vaults beyond the colonnade to the walls above and behind it.   

Did Brunelleschi then anticipate that these surfaces and spaces throughout would remain neutral fields, empty and un-ornamented? 

The frescoes we see on the ospedale's walls and vaults quietly suggest, perhaps not.  

The most striking of the vividly colorful frescoes in the portico is found above the central entry.  It is  the work of Bernardino Poccetti (1548-1612), a notable Florentine painter, who painted them around 1600.

Poccetti's fresco, in its captivating charm, is immediately recognizable as indebted to Michelangelo's work at the Sistine Chapel, which, through its mesmerizing and comprehensive authority had already formed the artistic horizons of Poccetti's immediate artistic predecessors, the likes of Pontormo (1494 – 1557), Parmigianino (1503 – 1540) and Annibale Carracci (1560 – 1609).

As in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, we have here at the Ospedale a painted composition of sculptural and architectural and human figures, framing painted scenes.  These architectural figures, virtual doors and windows, while providing perches for virtual sculptures and human figures, offer glimpses into worlds beyond.

By way of the mediating art of fresco painting we have the intrinsically related arts of architecture and sculpture working all-together, and conjuring up a mesmerizing Threshold, a window onto a Transcendent World. 

Is this, then, how Brunelleschi intended the framed fields of his architecture, here and elsewhere, to be filled? 

While he was certainly the most celebrated engineer builder of his time---witness his achievement at the Duomo---Brunelleschi was also celebrated in his time as a painter, the inventor of pictorially coherent perspective, a stage designer for festivals, a sculptor, considered equal to Ghiberti, a builder of fortifications, a hydraulic engineer, and an architect of many works, including his crowning achievement at the Duomo, the Lantern to his Dome.   

Looking beyond this painting, and discovering through recent careful scholarship that every one of Brunelleschi's architectural works, other that his very last, the Lantern, is significantly incomplete, we are compelled to re-consider the whole of his architecture in the light of what is demonstrably complete and whole.

Where Brunelleschi's artistic works are complete, they consistently integrate sculpture and painting with architecture.  Brunelleschi's one surviving painting, his Holy Trinity, in Florence's Santa Maria Novella, was a collaboration between himself and Masaccio (1401–1428) where Brunelleschi composed the whole and Masaccio contributed the figures.  This painting presents many of the familiar elements of Brunelleschi's architecture, both planar and volumetric.  Here, along with the human figures, the architectural elements work to frame a vaulted space filled with the Very Icon of the Transcendent.  Human and Divine figures and architectural elements are intimately related: cannot, in fact, be considered separately from one another.

From the evidence of a complete Brunelleschian work, then, we might imagine that the pietra serena elements at his Ospedale constitute not only frames, but also frames for figures and scenes, such as we see in Poccetti's fresco and in Brunelleschi's own Holy Trinity.  As in the Holy Trinity painting, these figured frames are also thresholds, portals into imagined, and transcendent realms.  

Thus, these painted idealized visions, of worlds beyond our everyday-own, present an architecture that is radically at odds with contemporary notions about the meaning and significance of Brunelleschi's architecture.  These contemporary notions anachronistically assert that his architecture was in some sense proto-modern, that its "clean lines" and "pure surfaces" were indicative of a "functional approach", much ahead of its time; or, as the foremost Brunelleschi authority, Howard Saalman put it, Mies van der Rohe "avant la lettre" (Filippo Brunelleschi: The Buildings, Penn State Press, 1993).  

It is highly unlikely that Brunelleschi's famous frame-works throughout his oeuvre were intended everywhere to be empty.  How he himself might have filled them is the subject of our next essay.

For More on The HOLY TRINITY, See Here: 

The Pazzi, their Chapel, & the Architect

by Michael Djordjevitch

Pazzi Chapel, Florence, 1920: by Sidney Tushingham (Syracuse University Art Collection)

Pazzi Chapel, Florence, 1920: by Sidney Tushingham (Syracuse University Art Collection)

Having recently encountered and contemplated a few painted and photographed views of this famous work of Renaissance architecture, let's now take a closer look at the building itself.  

First, the patrons: the Pazzi family were rivals to the Medici for much of the fifteenth century; theirs is a most astonishing, and sobering, tale of a powerful family's rise and fall.  

A short introduction: The Pazzi conspiracy: The Scholar, the Prince and the Priest. And a bit more on the Pazzi Conspiracy and its aftermath: Part 1 ; Part 2 ; Part 3.

And here, a book on the story:April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici, by Lauro MartinezOxford University Press, 2003



While some may be drawn to visit the Pazzi Chapel by the lurid history of its patrons, today most visitors come here for its architect.  Innumerable Art History classes present this monument as the culminating work of the pioneering Renaissance master Brunelleschi, best known for realizing the dome of Florence's Cathedral, the Duomo.  

A typical encomium to Brunelleschi's achievement at the Pazzi Chapel

A number of scholars, however, have begun to seriously question Brunelleschi's involvement here.  New ideas were triggered when a thorough exploration of the fabric of the chapel, undertaken in the late 1950's and very early1960's, discovered a number of dated mason's inscriptions embedded in its mortar, giving us fixed dates for when the various phases of the building were built.  These inscriptions date most of the core construction of the building to well after Brunelleschi's death in 1446. 

The body of the building seems to have been begun at foundation level in 1442, when the chapel was consecrated on the fourth of July of that year.  The plurality of the fabric was finished sometime after 1461, when building its dome began.  The monument's ornament, what presents itself to our eyes today, was only being completed in the very year of the Pazzi conspiracy, in 1478!  Also contributing to the mystery, an earlier facade was found hidden behind the present one, revealing that the familiar face of our building represents a substantial change of design in the final phases of the chapel's construction. 

The most accessible scholarly book in English on Brunelleschi, by Eugenio Battisti, "Filippo Brunelleschi: The Complete Work", Rizzoli, 1981 republished in 2012), takes these discoveries into account.  Thus, Mr. Battisti comes to the reasonable conclusion that, while Brunelleschi may have had a hand in the initial design of the work, the architects responsible for completing it were guided by Brunelleschi's already complete Sacristy for San Lorenzo, which the Pazzi Chapel closely resembles in many respects.   

However, the new and indisputable evidence that the Pazzi Chapel was completed long after Brunelleschi's death opened the way for even more radical questions. The historian Marvin Trachtenberg took Battisti's conclusions to the next logical step when, in scrupulously studying the Pazzi Chapel through the lens of Brunelleschi's Sacristy, he concluded that the Chapel was a creative pastiche of the Sacristy by a distinctly different hand and mind: thus, not by Brunelleschi at all.  

What these two buildings have in common is the motif of paired columns framing an arch.  What had made the Sacristy for San Lorenzo radically new, however, in the context of its Late Medieval World, was foregrounding the Ancient Roman Corinthian Order as its primary architectural framework, and through this, ordering linked volumes that derive from the sphere (in other words, Roman vaulting).  In the Sacristy there is a focused clarity of purpose and expression.  This clarity is missing in the Chapel, where for example the columns-arch-motif (later popularized by Palladio) is applied indiscriminatelyconfusing rather than clarifying its complex intersection of volumes.

Trachtenberg made his case that the chapel is not by Brunelleschi in two articles, published in Casabella, a widely recognized Italian journal:

1. "Why the Pazzi Chapel is not by Brunelleschi", Casabella, June 1996

2. "Michelozzo and the Pazzi Chapel", Casabella, February 1997 (Free registration is required!)

Brunelleschi's late work does not revisit his earlier manner, as those who ascribe the Pazzi Chapel to him would have it. For Brunelleschi there are no "repeat performances".  His Tribunes and Lantern for the Dome of Florence's Duomo are radically new, further forays deep into the world of the Ancient Romans, what his contemporaries called "all' antica", the "ancient manner".  In this, and through their specific forms--scrolling volutes, layered elements, elisions, a sculptural three-dimensionality---Brunelleschi's late works prefigure the Baroque of two centuries later.

Here in the lantern, then, we encounter a work so surprising, and so "ahead" of Brunelleschi's own earlier Renaissance style, that it abruptly falls off the radar of pretty much everyone who studies Brunelleschi or the early Renaissance.

More on Brunelleschi's design for the lantern here:

So, why then did the Pazzi, these ruthless competitors of the Medici, ask their architect, Michelozzo, to conjure up a family monument so reminiscent of the Medici family monument?  Perhaps, here is where our modern expectations deceive us.  Perhaps it is the very differences between these two monuments, rather their similarities which were decisive?  Perhaps it was not that the new monument was seen as reminiscent of the older one, but rather, that it was seen as better.  At the very least, it was far more more complete, and certainly full of many more columns.  Perhaps, then, it was that the Pazzi were announcing that they were far better at whatever the Medici were ostensibly good at.

What a photo shows & and a painting reveals

by Michael Djordjevitch

This photograph offers us a characteristic contemporary view of the Pazzi Chapel in Florence, seen here at the end of a long axis next to the Church of Santa Croce.  This is a view we can appreciate through wrought-iron gates even when as here the church grounds are closed.  

While a popular station on the touristic pilgrimage trail because of its association with Filippo Brunelleschi, the architect of the Dome of Florence's Duomo, this building turns out to be something of a mystery

Here we see the chapel from another angle, in a painting from 1885 by Odoardo Borrani (1833-1905) , "La Cappella dei Pazzi; Il chiostro di Santa Croce a Firenze".  The painting shows another characteristic view of the chapel, this one particular to the 19th and earlier centuries. 

This view reflects the fact that our chapel was once also a chapter house, a place for meetings of the governing body of the Franciscan Monks to whom the church of Santa Croce once belonged.  In this capacity the chapel was closed to the outside world, accessible only though its cloister. 

The courtyard and the columns of its cloister were therefore once the primary frames for viewing and experiencing the Pazzi chapel, a fact reflected in this painting, where we see the chapel simultaneously framed by the columns of the cloister and an intrinsic part of its contemplative courtyard. 


We see how this original context can be dramatized through the artistry of the artist in this second painting, from 1858, by Carl Georg Anton Graeb.  When we compare the two paintings the immediate difference that presents itself is that of the foreground.  Carl Graeb includes so much more of the cloister, envelops us in it. 

We also look in vain for the campanile which towers over the chapel in Orlando Borrani's painting; Graeb eliminates it to fix our attention on the chapel. Though securely in the middle ground of his view, Graeb pulls the chapel into the foreground of our experience through its framing and placement in the image, the play of light and shade, and the suppression of potentially competing elements such as the bell tower. 

Fine as Borrani's painting is, it is Graeb's which more fully makes use of painting's artistic possibilities, and takes fuller advantage of compositional technique to dramatise its subject while pulling the viewer into its orbit. Paradoxically, there is a compelling realism to Graeb's painting despite its clear distortions of angle and form. 

Contrast this sense of heightened and dramatised reality with what a photograph taken from a similar angle shows us. Here it is not just that the vegetation and glare obscure the Pazzi Chapel.  In the photograph the cloister does not soar.  It appears smaller, it is not monumental, entirely everyday.  The cloister in the painting, on the other hand, not only frames an exceptional building but also parakes of its special qualities, acting as both frame and extension.

The original context for the Pazzi chapel, seen here in a painting of 1718, was fundamentally changed when the smaller adjacent courtyard was demolished, opening the chapel to a direct view from the street.  This new, direct, and uninterrupted view tends to dis-enchant the chapel in a similar way to the photograph above.  No longer a personal discovery, a surprise, the chapel is now a public exhibit, competing for prominence with the adjacent church. Now foregrounded, the chapel takes pride of place in the new world of tourism, a changed reality that seems flat and de-natured indeed when one considers the Pazzi chapel's original role within its local Franciscan world. Further, there are real-world connections between presenting the world in a disenchanted way and creating new, unenchanting realities. 

You can find more on the dramatizing artistic possibilities of painting, and the pitfalls of the one-point realistic perspective we see in photography, here:



What Are These Kids Doing Here?

by Michael Djordjevitch

In Albany a pair of sculptures frame the entrance to the New York State Education Building, designed by Henry Hornbostel and completed in 1912.  The bronze sculptures were created by Charles Keck (1875-1951) and dedicated in 1913. 

These sculptures serve a more than merely picturesque purpose.  By their size, the precious bronze they're made of, and their high level of enrichment and ornamentation, the sculptures are full participants in the architecture of the Education Building and an essential part of its decor. They are major focal points in themselves as well as the main framing elements for the building's entrance.  For all these reasons the sculptures belong to a special category of sculpture, that of architectural sculpture.

This means they play a major role in conveying the purpose and character of this building, which is concerned with education and specifically the education of the young.  The major figures in these two sculptures are therefore children, engaged in the process of learning.  A closer look, however reveals a larger vision for educating the young, where the sustained focus of learning is balanced by play.  Thus, we are offered a diptych, and between the two sets of sculptures we are given a meditation on the whole of childhood.  Above the children  we also find a flock of roosting owls.  As attributes of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, the owls also represent wisdom.  Here they preside over youngsters who, through various activities embodying the dynamic of learning, are growing towards wisdom.

There is also more to these sculptures than the figures of just children and owls. The other parts of this ensemble--indeed the larger part of the whole---are made up entirely of architectural elements.  The children are perched on A highly enriched classical columnar base, itself set upon lion-headed feet.  Above the children rises the form of an urn crowned by owls which carry a set of linking wreaths in their beaks. The entire urn is made up of the Acanthus 'leaf' in its various forms, from compact to fully-manifest, a form we recognize as belonging to the capital of the Corinthian column. For the same reason we might think of the whole urn as Corinthian, that is, expressing organic sculptural form through the representative curves and contours of the leaf. The inclusion of all these architectural elements--along with their specifically architectural character that in this case is Corinthian, is also part of what makes these examples of architectural sculptures.


Furthermore, the sculptural and architectural elements are working together to create EVEN LARGER architectural elements, in the form of giant lamp standards that frame the building's main entrance.  These lamps light the threshold of this institution in a metaphorical sense as well as a literal one.  The bulbs of the lamp at the top of the sculpture, for example, also represent the wisdom already identified with the owls supporting them, the light of learning.  The children, the owls, even the light-bulb lamps are all Iconic Figures, speaking to the purpose of the institution in the cultural shorthand of recognizable symbols and motifs. 

This cultural shorthand extends to the entire composition, which we can recognize as a giant candelabrum, itself an element of classical furniture on a monumental, architectural scale.  Such candelabra are well known from many Ancient Roman examples, and they have their origins in the Greek Classical Period. 

In all these varied ways the Arts of Architecture and Sculpture can work together to make a greater, even a magical, whole. This is what sculptor Charles Keck created here.

For more Images of the Candelabra


An Ancient Greek Painting on Fifth Avenue?

Until June 24th, you can see a rare example of an Ancient Greek painting: in New York, at the Onassis Cultural Centre.   

by Michael Djordjevitch

This ancient painting from Pompeii, which once graced the peristyle of the House of the Tragic Poet, depicts Agamemnon about to sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, a disturbing story first told by Homer in the Iliad, Book II. This painting, however, follows the version performed in Athens in the late fifth century B.C., the finale of Euripides's play IPHIGENIA IN AULIS.  

Nor is this just any painting, but rather a Roman copy of a lost Ancient Greek masterpiece, The Sacrifice of Iphigenia, by a late fifth Century B.C. master, Timanthes.  This painting in a middle-class Roman context is akin to us framing a poster of a world-famous painting bought at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In a world without photography, moreover, the Pompeiian painting cannot have been a direct replica of the Greek original.  Rather, it is a copy of a copy of copies, where each step in the chain of transmission is mediated through the talent and knowledge of the individual copyist working from copybooks. Very few of these artisans would have been able to work from the original. 

And so we have here an echo of a lost Ancient Greek work that is also known to us through descriptions in Cicero and Quintilian.  Nonetheless, this Roman painting of a Greek painting probably does preserve for us something of the composition and the palette of Timanthes' work. 

As to the quality of the original, this reflection of Rubens has something to tell us:

"Who amongst us, if he were to attempt in reality to represent a celebrated work of Apelles or Timanthus, such as Pliny describes them, but would produce something absurd, or perfectly foreign to the exalted greatness of the ancients? 

Each one, relying on his own powers, would produce some wretched, crude, unfermented stuff, instead of an exquisite old wine, uniting strength and mellowness, outraging those great spirits whom I endeavor reverently to follow, satisfied, however, to honor the marks of their footsteps, instead of supposing—I acknowledge it candidly—that I can ever attain to their eminence even in mere conception,"

How central the Greek original was to the European artistic imagination can be readily studied in books and in articles such as this one: '"The Sacrifice of Iphigenia" in French and German Art Criticism, 1755-1757', H. Fullenwider, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 52. Bd., H. 4 (1989), pp. 539-549.

How central the Greek original was to the European artistic imagination can be readily studied in books and in articles such as this one: '"The Sacrifice of Iphigenia" in French and German Art Criticism, 1755-1757', H. Fullenwider, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 52. Bd., H. 4 (1989), pp. 539-549.

We also stumble onto Timanthes’s masterpiece in Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema's charming (and riveting) painting, "A Collection Of Pictures At The Time Of Augustus", of 1867.  Here, while it clearly dominates the 19th century painter's composition, curiously, it does not hold the attention of the depicted Roman audience, where even the person closest to the painting is but absorbed by the ornament of its golden frame, not the painting itself. How much like museum-goers today, at the Metropolitan Museum, for instance, where the visitor is too often overwhelmed by a plethora of competing masterpieces accumulated over time.

You can watch an excerpt of one of Michael's discussing our painting context below: 



Hidden in plain site

by Michael Djordjevitch


Our sole surviving Ancient Roman writer on Architecture, Vitruvius, condemned the prevailing style of Wall Painting as it depicted buildings which could not exist in the actual three dimensional world:  

"because similar forms never did, do, nor can exist in nature. These new fashions have so much prevailed, that for want of competent judges, true art is little esteemed. How is it possible for a reed to support a roof, or a candelabrum to bear a house with the ornaments on its roof, or a small and pliant stalk to carry a sitting figure; or, that half figures and flowers at the same time should spring out of roots and stalks? And yet the public, so far from discouraging these falsehoods, are delighted with them, not for a moment considering whether such things could exist." - Book VII, Chapter 5, Section 4 

And yet, these paintings of an apparently fanciful architecture were scrupulous reproductions of ancient paintings documenting the wooden stage sets of the fifth-century B.C. Athenian Dramas, such as those of  of Sophocles and Euripides. 

Calyx-Krater Fragment

Calyx-Krater Fragment

Here we see the left wing of a stage, in form derived from Temple architecture, but realized in wood, and attenuated in form, thus distancing itself from the "real".  And here we also see the characteristic ornaments of the Doric and Ionic manners together, enclosing a volume three dimensionally rendered within which the actors are depicted: all this easily imagined as also rendered in contemporary low relief.  

Thus a sanctuary architecture evokes the setting of the principal places of these ancient dramas, shrines and palaces.  

We see all this fully realized in the Painting found in the House of Augustus.  The stage frames a central painting, depicting an outdoor sanctuary.  The foreground can be read as a tripartite Stoa, opening out, in its centre, toward a sacred grove, its out of the everyday world aspect signaled by elongated proportions, with ornamental Theatrical Masks on the parapets. And the doors, on stage-left and right stand, ready to reveal the actors of our play, perhaps Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus.  

Painting from the Room of the Masks in the House of Augustus, on the Palatine in Rome.

Painting from the Room of the Masks in the House of Augustus, on the Palatine in Rome.

The primary life experiences of our Roman writer, Vitruvius, is illuminating.  He spent the better part of his life as an artillery engineer in the Legions of Julius Caesar and Augustus, working with wood, metal and rope to construct machines: catapults and wall shattering crossbows.  He was thus predisposed to construction, to what woks, to the real of a practical man.  The Real of the Iconic, the Symbolic, which most of his everyday contemporaries delighted in, was sadly closed to him. 

Roman ornamental Wall Painting reveals but one artistic expression of Ancient Greek Drama.   It also informed Greek Pedimental Sculpture - see below for an excerpt exploring these ideas, or you can listen to the full lecture here.  

The Art of Architecture : A history of exhibitions

by Richard Cameron

Join us for the opening reception of 'Art of Architecture' - A Celebration of the Traditional Approach to Architecture. 


March 2-April 7;  Opening: March 2, 6-9PM

Eleventh Street Arts  - 46-06 11th St (at 46th Ave), Long Island City, NY 11101


Artists & Architects Included: 
Atelier & Co. | Steve Bass | Anthony Baus | Patrick Connors | Niki Covington | Andrew Dodson | Ferguson and Shamamian Architects | Fairfax and Sammons Architects | David Genther | Michael G Imber Architects | Peter Pennoyer Architects | Corey Strange | Abigail Tulis | Charlotte Worthy Architects | and more...

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   Section Rendering of the portico of a villa by Irina Shumitskaya, Atelier &amp; Co.&nbsp; Irina is a graduate of the Repin Academy in St. Petersburg. The Repin is, as far as we know, the only school in the world to have maintained a continuous practice of teaching the art of academic architectural drawing.

Section Rendering of the portico of a villa by Irina Shumitskaya, Atelier & Co. Irina is a graduate of the Repin Academy in St. Petersburg. The Repin is, as far as we know, the only school in the world to have maintained a continuous practice of teaching the art of academic architectural drawing.

Atelier & Co. is dedicated to continuing the practice of hand drawing and rendering in architectural design. Since the Renaissance, architects were trained first and foremost as painters and sculptors. The art of architectural drawing grew out of the artistic practice of the studios of the 15th and 16th centuries. Though architectural practice evolved into an independent profession, the training of architects continued to emphasize painting and drafting in the schools.

This tradition - which reached its apex in the late nineteenth century at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris - was carried into the 20th century by graduates of the École in the United States. With the arrival of the European modernists at the start of the second World War the teaching and practice of academic architectural painting declined until it had all but disappeared by the 1970’s.

Since that time a number of key exhibitions and publications helped generate a revival of interest in the subject. Many of us who have carried this on today, got our inspiration from these shows and books. Included here are some highlights: 

1.     The Museum of Modern Art is not the first place you would think of crediting with the revival of interest in the art of traditional architectural painting. But from October 29 1975-January 4, 1976 MoMA put on a small but remarkably influential show entitled ‘The Architecture of the École des Beaux Arts’. Curated by Arthur Drexler, it introduced to the public and to many in the architecture world the amazing achievements of the architects­ –French and American­–who had been trained at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris.


2.     I was too young to see the MoMA show (anyone who did, please write in and leave us your impressions in the comments section) but in 1983 the IBM Gallery in New York put on the first of several important shows organized by the École de Beaux-Arts in Paris of the work of the Grand Prix laureates at the Villa Medici in Rome. A group of us drove down from Toronto to see it. It was the most inspiring and influential exhibition I saw during my time as an architecture student.


3.     This was followed by another exhibition in 1986. Drawings made of the major archeological sites in Rome and their restorations were equally astonishing and inspiring, giving me a lifelong passion for the antiquities of Rome and the great work done throughout the nineteenth and early 20th by the best architects of the École.


4.     In 1986 Leon Krier published an edition of the Archives d’Architecture Moderne (AAM) on the work of John Blatteau. This was the first time I had seen the work of a contemporary architect consciously reviving the techniques of watercolor wash rendering practiced by the École. When I was a graduate student at Princeton I wrote to John and had the privilege of working for him in his office. John had fallen in love with the École while he was a student at Penn and had taught himself the rendering techniques form some of the key books. As far as we can find out there is no online record of this publication nor does it seem to be available from any of the book dealers. (If anyone knows of a source for this book please let us know!)


5.     Classical America made it a central part of their mission to publish important books from the École. First republished in a Norton edition with an introduction by John Blatteau and Christiane Sears, this student edition of the volumes published by Hector D’Espouy of the Grand Prix drawings from the École is an indispensable and affordable introduction to the greatest drawings by the Prix de Rome winners.


6.     Of the many great books that were published on the École drawings, this is one of our favorites! The quality of the reproductions is very high. It shows a range of renderings in full color from large scale details to building complexes in plan, elevation and section, and covers much of the history of the École. It is beautifully hardbound (unlike the exhibition catalogues whose bindings tend to come apart over time).


7.     One of the most recent books on the subject is Jean Paul Carlihan and Margot Ellis’s great book on the many Americans who went to the École at the end of the nineteenth century and through the middle of the twentieth. The book has superb illustrations of the work of the American students-from sketch problems through finely finished architectural wash renderings. The tradition of attending the École that began with Richard Morris Hunt and H.H. Richardson helped transform American architects into artists of international stature–and American architecture went from a parochial eclecticism to the splendor of the White City when cities large and small across the country were given their most beautiful buildings.


Reading List : Single Family Homes in the 1920s & 30s

by Richard Cameron

We've been working hard on a new collaboration to make good architectural design accessible for small-scale, high-end residences in the Western States of the U.S. (more on that soon!)

Michael Djordjevitch, our in-house historian, has been deep in research and emerged with a solid reading list. First up, a selection of great inspiration classics on single family homes in the 1920s and 30s: 

500 Small Houses of the Twenties  , Henry Atterbury Smith (Dover Architecture)&nbsp;

500 Small Houses of the Twenties, Henry Atterbury Smith (Dover Architecture) 

Flagg's Small Houses: Their Economic Design &amp; Construction  ,  1922 , Ernest Flagg (Dover Architecture)

Flagg's Small Houses: Their Economic Design & Construction, 1922, Ernest Flagg (Dover Architecture)

Smaller Houses of the 1920s: 55 Examples  , Ethel B. Power (Dover Architecture)

Smaller Houses of the 1920s: 55 Examples, Ethel B. Power (Dover Architecture)

Elegant Country and Suburban Houses of the Twenties  , Charles S. Keefe (Dover Architecture)

Elegant Country and Suburban Houses of the Twenties, Charles S. Keefe (Dover Architecture)

American Country Houses of the Thirties  , Lewis A. Coffin (Dover Architecture)

American Country Houses of the Thirties, Lewis A. Coffin (Dover Architecture)



Time Travelers

by Michael Djordjevitch

This painting: by Gustave-Clarence Boulanger, called, The Rehearsal of 'The Flute Player' and 'The Wife of Diomedes'; completed in 1861, represents an event in the atrium of Prince Napoleon’s Pompeian house in Paris.  The painting, on exhibit at the Musee D'Orsay, is now part of the collections of the Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon.

Prince Napoleon, Napoleon-Joseph Bonaparte, a cousin to the Emperor Napoleon III, had built a house in the Pompeian manner at 18 Avenue Montaine in Paris.  This residence was a creation of the Architect, and Grand Prix de Rome winner, Alfred-Nicolas Normand, along with the celebrated painter Jean-Leon Gerome, and contained an Atrium with Impluvium, seen here, a Triclinium, and a Xystos, along with other elements inspired by Roman and Greek Antiquity.  

This Scene captures a rehearsal, on a night in 1860, for the upcoming inauguration of the Villa, bringing together, among others, the critic and poet Theophile Gautier and the playwright Emile Augier, along with several actresses from the Theatre-Francais.  The subsequent gala event, on the 14th of February, 1860, attended by the Emperor and his Court, would include several plays by Emile Augier and Alexandre Dumas.  According to the published program for the performance, the venue "had been closed for repairs for 1800 years." 

Boulanger was then asked by Prince Napoleon to copy his painting directly onto the wall of his home.  Sadly, this lovely ensemble only survives through this painting, a number of renderings and drawings, and a few photographs.  Vandalized during the Commune of 1871 the building was then demolished in its entirety in 1891.  

Presiding over the Scene is a Statue, which, at a glance, could very much be that of the Emperor Augustus.  However, a much closer look at the image, and the documentation, reveals it to be that of Napoleon I as Legislator, sculpted by Eugene Guillaume, and realized in 1859.  

All the figures in this painting are clad in Roman clothing, and thus contribute to the sense that we are looking at a scene from Antiquity.  However, the grouping of figures introduces a discordant note.  

The two figures on the far left seem to be very much set apart, peering into our scene as if they had suddenly stumbled into an unexpected world.  And, the two principal groups in the scene's center and right seem not to be aware of these two men.  

Could it be that our two puzzled and agitated gentlemen, while sharing the same space of our rehearsing actors and their supporting friends do not, in fact, share the same time?  It seems rather, that they are two actual Romans, time travelers, who, having stumbled into the mid-nineteenth century, are now puzzled by encountering so familiar a world.  

This rendering by Normand represents the mosaic floor and Impluvium of the Atrium. 

This, and the following two images by Normand record the Antechamber to our Atrium. 

Our closing image is that of a watercolor by the Italian Painter Luigi Bazzani, entitled 'Maidens in a Classical Interior."  It offers a reconstruction of a partially surviving Atrium revealed through the 19th century excavations of Pompeii.