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Notions of the Sublime, the Picturesque, Romanticism, Orientalism and the Gothic Revival

by: Tagbo Iloanusi

Notions of the Sublime, the Picturesque, Romanticism, Orientalism and the Gothic Revival ARCH 2304

Marketplace > University of Texas at Arlington > Architecture > ARCH 2304 > Notions of the Sublime the Picturesque Romanticism Orientalism and the Gothic Revival
Tagbo Iloanusi

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Professors note.
Architectural History 2
Douglas Khlar
Class Notes
Architecture, history
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This 41 page Class Notes was uploaded by Tagbo Iloanusi on Sunday January 31, 2016. The Class Notes belongs to ARCH 2304 at University of Texas at Arlington taught by Douglas Khlar in Spring 2016. Since its upload, it has received 26 views. For similar materials see Architectural History 2 in Architecture at University of Texas at Arlington.


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Date Created: 01/31/16
Some important 18 -century concepts Developments of the 18 century • At the end of the century (late 1700s), the Industrial Revolution produced new building types: – Public theaters, hospitals, hotels, houses of parliament, palaces of justice, and public libraries. These new building types spurred architects to question traditions. • In the mid-1700s, after several decades of Rococo architecture, a severe reaction occurred, not only in England, but also in France and other nations. There were several directions in which architects went: – Neoclassicism: a reappraisal of both ancient Greek and Roman architecture, as well as that of the Renaissance. This was a reaction to alter things radically through societal reform or revolution, with the old regimes characterized by Baroque and Rococo architecture. – Romanticism: another way to express dissatisfaction with mid-1700 society, except this was done by retreating into a world of fantasy, in which the heightened emotional or subjective experience was valued. This emphasis on emotion was different from the strictly Roman Catholic emotional theatricality that underscored Baroque architecture. Romantics viewed the Baroque church as corrupt and looked back further in history to the Gothic era., as well as other periods. Some important 18 -century concepts Two important concepts emerged that were used by both Neoclassicists and Romantics: the sublime and the picturesque. We already have briefly discussed these, but here is where we can examine them in greater depth. • The Sublime: the heightened emotion of feeling awe and terror from something that astonishes, surprises, or impresses you. “Objects exciting terror are in general sublime; for terror always implies astonishment, occupies the whole soul, and suspends all its motions.” A feeling of the sublime can be found in many different circumstances but what is crucial is that the feeling of awe or terror ultimately produces a feeling of pleasure. The most common example is riding a rollercoaster: you scream and are frightened…but in the end, the ride was fun, and you want to seek it out again. Some other examples: – A building whose size, grandeur, or use of materials puts you in awe but also frightens you somewhat by overwhelming you. Some examples might be a skyscraper, a cathedral, a factory. – An awe-inspiring scene from nature that has an undertone of terror, such as a violent thunderstorm, a deep gorge, a narrow passageway or road where the sides plunge deeply downward. • Weare using the term “sublime” in its 18 -century sense, not in the modern sense. In modern English, to say something is sublime is to say that it is great, superb, of the best quality: “That $350 French dinner was sublime!” We are NOT using the term in that sense • The Picturesque: the notion that beauty was not an absolute standard, but rather was in the eyes of the beholder. In particular, irregular shapes or grouping of objects was stressed. Part of this was the English reaction to the French formal garden (such as that at Versailles): English picturesque gardens stressed an irregular arrangement of plants, lawns, trees, and garden pavilions. In architecture the picturesque meant asymmetric massing – a sharp break from long-standing traditions of symmetry. Rococo architecture featured asymmetric ornament, but architecture that was picturesque featured asymmetric buildings. This is a substantial difference, so make certain that you understand it! When is something picturesque? • When we say that something is picturesque, we mean that it is attractive but not for the traditional reasons regarding “beauty”. Rather than defining those traditional standards, let’s compile a list of th things that people in the 18 century found picturesque: – A person or animal who has irregular features, blemishes, imperfections, or a weathered face – Gardens that don’t attempt to mold nature into something “perfect” and manicured • Here is how an example of something picturesque was used in 18 th-century painting. When painting a beautiful woman of the aristocracy, painters often painted her with a little pug seated next to her. Most people consider pugs cute and lovable…but not beautiful. In a sense, by placing the picturesque object of a pug next to a beautiful woman, the woman’s beauty was amplified by the contrast. To the right is a portrait of a Russian aristocrat, Catherina Golitsyna by Louis-Michel van Loo. So while the painting itself is not considered picturesque, the pug is. • A building that is picturesque can be a ruin, in a state of decay, or just ordinary (like an average person’s house of the 18 century). A picturesque building also can be one that is designed by an architect to look either as though it had grown in different parts over a long period of time, or simple is an arrangement of parts that is interesting (meaning not symmetric) and even pleasing. Once again, such a building departed from the standards of building beauty (symmetry, expensive materials, perfect finish), which is what made it picturesque. The painting below is called “Old Buildings on the Darro, Granada”, and it was painted by David Roberts in 1834, demonstrating how long the idea of the picturesque remained in painting. None of the buildings in the foreground are conventionally “beautiful”, but the scene is still attractive, for it offers a wealth of interesting details and peculiarities. By comparison, if the painting had just been about the pristine tower in the background, it probably would not be considered picturesque. The influence of Piranesi • An Italian engineer and architect named Piranesi published views and reconstructions of real and imagined Roman ruins from the 1740s through the 1760s, in particular a series of fantasy prisons. The image at the right shows one of these, and illustrates the main features of Piranesi’s drawings: – Exaggerated scale – Theatrical angles and lighting effects – Elaborate detail – A mood of decaying grandeur • A drawing such as this by Piranesi perfectly illustrates the notion of the sublime: a feeling a terror and awe that ultimately gives us pleasure (as in “Wow! What a fantastic building!”). Even though the building in the drawing never existed, try to imagine how thought-stimulating and exciting such drawings were to people of the time: they had never seen anything remotely like this. • Piranesi’s drawings, which were widely published, also contributed to the notion of the picturesque, for they challenged long-standing ideas about beauty. In a sense, he was asking, “Isn’t there something beautiful in such a scene, even though it is of place of incarceration and torture? Isn’t there something beautiful – or at least impressive – in what man conceivably could construct, in the inventions that he can create, even if those serve to inflict pain?” The Basilica of Maxentius, by Piranesi • The ground-breaking influence of Piranesi further extended to his drawings of actual Roman ruins, as though he was saying: “Isn’t there something grand and beautiful in a ruin – perhaps an even greater beauty than that of a building then it is new?” Piranesi also produced many drawings of actual Roman ruins, again using dramatic lighting effects, such as the threatening sky, the sharp shadows within the coffered barrel vaults, and the dark, brooding foreground of deep shadows that is vaguely unsettling. The Baths of Diocletian, by Piranesi The centuries-long influence of Piranesi • Left: a Piranesi drawing of an imaginary prison th • Middle: a M. C. Escher drawing of an imaginary structure, mid-20 century • Right: the Denver Opera House, 2007 François Barbier, Désert de Retz, France, 1774 • One way to express the sublime can be seen in this unusual country house that was built to look like a ruin. As with any ruin, there is a melancholy feeling about a structure that has fallen into decay. The feeling of the sublime comes from the slightly sinister atmosphere of a ruin: it may fill one with fear and foreboding, but this also results in a feeling of pleasure. One gets pleasure by admiring and contemplating what remains of the workmanship and design, as well as the feeling of relief that one gets passing from the inside of a ruin out into the sunlight again. th • What makes the 18 -century architectural use of the sublime so interesting is that it was manufactured and created to produce such reactions. Remember: this house was built to look like a ruin! Notice how the entire design looks like a the ruin of a giant fluted column atop a base composed of a large torus. This was an indirect reference to ancient Rome. François Barbier, Désert de Retz, France, 1774 • In addition to being an unusual circular plan with a spiral staircase, the house also reveals its manufactured-ruin aspect in the section. At the top, a curved wall above the roof was deliberately created in a jagged, ruinous form. • 230 years after the house was built to look like a ruin, it truly has become a ruin today. Buildings – particularly in garden settings such as this one – were constructed in the 18 th century as ready-made ruins to provide both sublime and picturesque aspects. James Wyatt, Fonthill Abbey, England, 1795 • Another way to express the sublime was through a reappraisal of Gothic architecture, yet this time Gothic architecture was used not to build cathedrals but residences. Romantics – as in persons who followed Romanticism – found the dark, brooding stone architecture of Gothic buildings perfectly suited to their fantasies of worlds beyond that of sheer reason. Structures built in the 18 century that used Gothic motifs are referred to as Gothick. This differentiates them from both authentic Gothic buildings and the far more widespread 19 -century use of Gothic, which we call neo-Gothic. • A wealthy art collector, William Beckford, commissioned Wyatt to build him this most peculiar house, which is an excellent example of Gothick architecture. Even the etching below reflects the notion of the sublime: notice the dark, brooding hulk of the structure, the deep shadows, and the dramatic, threatening sky above. A 276-foot-high octagonal tower dominated the building, which also incorporated the notion of the picturesque: notice how the building is irregularly massed, throwing out any idea of symmetry in order to achieve what was regarded as a pleasing arrangement of elements. • The plan further illustrates the picturesque aspect of Fonthill Abbey. Another way to describe picturesque architecture is to say that it is accretive: a collection of parts added together, often presented to appear as though they had gradually accreted over time. • On the plan, notice the two long corridors that spin off the central octagonal space: they are only 25 feet wide but together form a 300-foot length! This added to the notion of the sublime: imagine being in a corridor that is only 25 feet wide but 150 long. The length would seem a lot longer, adding to your uncertainty as to where all this was leading. After walking 150 feet , you would suddenly enter into the vast central octagonal space and look up into a tower that would appear to disappear into the night. James Wyatt, Fonthill Abbey, England, 1795 • The feeling of the sublime – fear produced by something that inspires awe – ironically had a basis in reality. Because the tower was built so tall and narrow to satisfy the client’s demands, it was not stable structurally. • Historian Rictor Norton: “Beckford hired a dwarf to open the 38-foot-high front doors so as to startle the infrequent visitor by increasing the illusion of their height. A true medieval cathedral cannot be built in less than a century, so the architect met the rigorous timetable by cheating on materials and methods. As a result, the tower collapsed six times, each time being rebuilt with even more fantastic awkwardness. Beckford's only real grief was that he was never at the scene to witness the awesome spectacle of each tumble…In 1823 Beckford sold the Abbey for £300,000 and moved to Bath. There he bought No. 20 Lansdown Crescent.” • Two years later – in 1825 – the tower collapsed for the last time, taking most of the building with it. Imagine how the recent buyer felt – and how luck Beckford must have felt! • Lansdown Crescent in Bath, which was modeled after the Royal Crescent, is where William Beckford moved after selling Fonthill Abbey. It is intriguing that Beckford so dramatically shifted his tastes from this Romantic style – Gothick – to the ultra-Neoclassical style of Lansdown Crescent! In a sense, what he did was very modern: selecting and changing one’s style of living as one saw fit. Horace Walpole, Strawberry Hill, England, 1750 • Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill was a sunnier version of Gothick architecture and perfectly exemplifies the notion of the picturesque. Notice how the building below is composed of different parts that suggest as though they had accreted over many years. The circular, fortress-like tower in the center suggests that it is the oldest piece, and the different heights and facades of the other pieces imply that they were added over a long period of time. At first, Walpole did not intend for it to look this way, but within a short span of time it did. He unintentionally therefore contributed to the notion of the picturesque! • Walpole thus was more interested in the picturesque than the sublime aspect of Gothic architecture, and his Gothick building placed its greatest emphasis upon authenticity by quoting several actual Gothic structures. • In the library, sources for the Gothic woodwork surrounding the bookcases came from a tomb in Westminster Abbey in London, as well Old St. Paul’s Cathedral. • The elaborate fan vaults in another room were based upon the fan vaults of King’ College Chapel in Cambridge, shown in the image to the right. John Nash, Cronkhill, England, 1802 • Cronkhill is an excellent example of picturesque architecture – this time rendered in a vaguely Italian style that is called Italianate. Nash has carefully assembled each different shape: the ground floor loggia, the rectangular tower to the left, and the round tower to the right. Remember the definition of picturesque that we use for architecture: asymmetric massing, which implies irregularity and variety. • Another view of Cronkhill. Even though this house was built in the 19 century, we include in the chapter on the 18 century, for it has more with the 18 than the 19 century. The same is true of John Nash’s next work that we will study: the Royal Pavilion at Brighton John Nash, Royal Pavilion at Brighton, 1815 • In the Royal Pavilion, Nash combined three styles to produce a unique work of architecture. There are Gothic windows, vaguely Indian domes, and Chinese-inspired interiors. Designed as an entertainment pavilion for King George IV, Brighton represents the fascination with what was regarded as “exotic” styles. Even though it is symmetrical, it is still labeled picturesque, for it is clear that Nash’s primary goal was to assemble a pleasing combination of shapes. It also can be considered an example of Orientalism, taking architectural motifs from Asian nations – considered the “Orient” – and using them. • Right: the north gate to the grounds of the pavilion uses elements of Indian architecture, such as the arch, the small towers, and the shape of the dome. • Below: the main entrance, which uses similar elements • Nash’s peculiar mixing of styles is seen in the enlarged portions to the right, where the crenellations of the round tower are vaguely Gothic. • Another example is seen in this window, which looks like a Gothic double lancet + ocular window. Yet the shape is somewhat modified and then placed behind a screen of Indian design. • A reception room takes Chinese motifs to create a room that would not have been seen in China at that period in time. This is one of the major criticisms about Western architects of the 18 and 19 centuries who indulged in Orientalism: they took motifs with little regard to how they were used in their original societal and cultural contexts. Yet these architects also created new syntheses of motifs, creating spaces that often were undeniably spectacular. The Royal Dining Hall • Even the kitchen was designed to appear somewhat “exotic” by having support columns camouflaged as palm trees. Picturesque Landscapes: English Garden Design • The English pioneered the notion of gardens deliberately designed to look picturesque, and was partially a reaction to the dominance of formal French garden design in Europe at the time. Yet ironically, English garden design looked to the paintings of a French Classicist painter a century earlier (the mid-1600s) for two important elements: a so-called “natural” look of a landscape, and a landscape containing different small pavilions, such as the temples seen below. The image below is by Claude Lorrain, the French Classicist painter whose images English garden designers used for inspiration. Picturesque Landscapes: English Garden Design • The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture discusses what occurred: “It was essentially an anti-urban aesthetic concerned with sensibility, linked to notions of pleasing the eye with compositions reminiscent of those in paintings…Picturesque scenes were full of variety, interesting detail, and elements drawn from any sources.” The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture offers the best summary of how something picturesque was distinctive, stating that it was “an aesthetic quality between the Sublime and the Beautiful, characterized in the landscape garden by wild ruggedness (Chasms, dark impenetrable woods, rushing streams, etc.), and in architecture by interesting asymmetrical dispositions of forms and variety of texture…The notion of the ‘picturesque’ was the most important English aesthetic idea to have influenced architecture in Europe.” • Think of the pug dog that we discussed earlier: it is neither conventionally beautiful nor sublime (pugs usually don’t produced a feeling of awe or terror in human beings). Rather it, like the painting of Granada earlier in this lecture, are picturesque. In this last part of the course, we are going to take the notion of the picturesque and see how it applied to English garden design of the 18 century. Looking again at one of Claude Lorrain’s paintings • Lorrain's pulls us into the scene by juxtaposing gently diagonal elements of light and shadow that lead the eye in a sort of zig-zag manner. This underscores the asymmetry of the landscape, which he then punctuates with buildings that suggest both ancient Rome and/or the Italian Renaissance, as well as the round towers of medieval fortresses in the distance. There are moments of mysterious darkness yet moments of clear, sharp sunshine, and the overall composition is very pleasing to the eye. Flitcroft & Hoare, Stourhead Park, England, 1744-65 • In this important English picturesque garden, the designers took inspiration from Lorrain’s paintings – of which there were many - to create a landscape that looks very “natural” but that in reality required as much construction as a French formal garden. They carefully placed pavilions and bridges within the landscape to provide pleasant views and to suggest that these structures always were a part of the landscape, which they were not: all of the structures, as well as the contours of the bodies of water, were carefully designed. • So even though such gardens were a reaction against French Classicist gardens, such as those at Versailles, they were as carefully constructed and controlled as those of the French! Flitcroft & Hoare, Stourhead Park, England, 1744-65 • A close-up of one of the pavilions. The reference to Lorrain’s painting is clear, and of course the pavilion ultimately refers back to the Pantheon in Rome. It is important to remember that almost everything in an English garden was created: where grass grows, where trees are placed, where water flows, where bridges are, and where pavilions occur.. Stourhead versus Versailles • When compared with Versailles (right), it is clear what a strong reaction Stourhead was to the French formal garden design. The English viewed their garden design as more “natural” and less emblematic of the rigid court protocol and way of life that characterized Versailles. English garden design was used to praise the beauty of the English countryside, and the political message was clear: such was the beauty of England that one did not need to control and manicure it. Of course, what went unsaid was the reality that gardens such as Stourhead were deliberate constructions, just French formal gardens were! • If we walk away from the “Pantheon” pavilion at Stourhead, we come to what is called the Bristol Cross. Unlike the “Pantheon” pavilion, which was constructed for the garden, Bristol High Cross was erected in in 1373 in the city of Bristol. It was moved several times over the centuries until the Dean of Bristol Cathedral gave it to Henry Hoare for his gardens. This adds to the picturesque quality of the garden, especially when we remember that variety is one of the quality of a picturesque garden. • English picturesque garden design has an enduring influence upon European and American gardens. Part of its charm is that although such gardens often look quite “natural”, that natural quality is the work of carefully planning, planting, and maintenance. The picturesque garden shown below on the left requires almost as much work maintaining it as the formal French garden design on the right. Both offer intriguing visions of what a garden should look like, yet they represent very different approaches!


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