contributor.author: Megan Cassidy-Welch

title.none: Clarke and Crossley, eds., Architecture and Language (Megan Cassidy-Welch)

identifier.other: baj9928.0110.010 01.10.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Megan Cassidy-Welch, University of Melbourne, mecass@unimelb.edu.au

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Clarke, Georgia and Paul Crossley, eds. Architecture and Language: Constructing Identity in European Architecture, c.1000-c.1650. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 236. 75.00. ISBN: 0-521-65078-x.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.10.10

Clarke, Georgia and Paul Crossley, eds. Architecture and Language: Constructing Identity in European Architecture, c.1000-c.1650. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 236. 75.00. ISBN: 0-521-65078-x.

Reviewed by:

Megan Cassidy-Welch
University of Melbourne
mecass@unimelb.edu.au

Architecture and language have long been discursively complicit. Indeed, according to the editors of this very wide- ranging volume, the discipline of architecture itself can be historically evaluated as both the product of language and as a language sui generis. The tension between these concepts is apparent throughout this collection, in which eleven distinguished contributors seek to explore the ways in which medieval and early modern buildings created meaning as semiotic systems, and the ways in which language was used to talk about architecture. The historical construction of national identity, the nature of ekphrasis, the role of imitatio, the art of rhetorical invention--these themes appear throughout the collection, illuminating the theoretical questions posed in the introduction whilst revealing the problems of any easy equation of material culture and language. The unifying principle of this collection is historicism and together the essays chart a general historical shift from "medieval reluctance to formulate any independent aesthetic principles for architecture" (6) to post-humanist articulation of an architectural language. The editors are right to acknowledge that the collection asks more questions than it answers. Occasionally the connections between the essays and the introduction are tenuous. Nonetheless, this is a stimulating and provocative attempt to tackle the relationships between the visual and the verbal, between innovation and emulation and between words and things.

Peter Draper tackles the question of why the Gothic style in England was different to Gothic in France, arguing that we should understand the differences as a deliberate effort to create a "self-conscious regional identity". (24-5) There was a clear sense of decorum, or sense of what was appropriate, at work in English building, just as there was a sense of decorum in the language spoken in different contexts during the so- called Anglo-Norman period. The cultural juxtapositions that might be found in language during the later-twelfth century, were also found in the material culture of a building like Canterbury Cathedral, which, like the Eadwine Psalter produced there, expressed a number of stylistic and linguistic elements. The distinctive character of late twelfth-century/early thirteenth-century English architecture can be fruitfully considered, suggests Draper, as not 'anti-French', but as an insular variant in a mainly French culture. (35)

Draper raises interesting questions about hybridity in architecture and the extent to which we can confidently describe certain architectural forms in such simplistic terms as 'Gothic'. Caroline Bruzelius, too, deals with the statements that buildings make in her article on French Gothic in Italy during the thirteenth century. Bruzelius looks at the deliberate cultivation of the French Gothic style by Charles I of Anjou as part of his policy of colonisation, and suggests that Charles' successor, Charles II of Anjou, promoted an architecture of "adaption and accommodation" (45) in order to distance himself from the poor reputation of his father. The fusion of local styles and techniques with elements of a "mendicant character" (45) articulated particular political and historical messages. Messages are the central focus of Lindy Grant's essay, which considers "intentionally factual description" (48) of buildings during the high Middle Ages. Grant concentrates on a small group of texts (ecclesiastical lives), which have clear moral and literary functions, in order to show that although the vocabulary to describe actual structures was limited, an exegetical method of describing the pictorial was certainly present. The shift in the later twelfth century to a more flexible Latin syntax and the widening of vocabulary, argues Grant, allowed the first tentative moves towards a more systematic architectural language.

Literary descriptions of architecture are the subject of Achim Timmermann's essay on the German thirteenth-century secular narrative, Der Juengerer Titurel, and its lengthy and very beautiful description of the Grail Temple. This fascinating essay postulates a connection between the practices of the decorative arts, particularly metalwork, and the language used to describe the Grail Temple: both express "rhetorically elevated settings" (69) and the Grail Temple is less like a building than a reliquary. Architecture in language (rather than the language of architecture) is one of the themes in Caroline Van Eck's essay on Alberti's De Re Aedificatoria. Here Van Eck points out that although Alberti did not himself view architecture as text, he did see it as language. The way in which the De Re Aedificatoria mirrors the structure of classical (Aristotelian and Ciceronian) rhetorical treatises underpins Alberti's implicit understanding that buildings communicate meanings and use terms and concepts to impart those meanings. Architecture might not be syntactical, but it is nonetheless communicative.

The question of imitation is also a central theme in Cammy Brothers' essay dealing with late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth century Rome. Brothers understands that principles of literary composition were "generalised" to encompass the visual arts and that in Rome during this period, literary circles were preoccupied with imitation and emulation of ancient models. In architecture, this preoccupation may also be found. The Cancellaria in Rome acquired, according to Brothers, the status of an authoritative model for other palazzi in the city on the basis of its visual references to ancient sources. Imitation was less of a concern in Venice during the 1520s and 1530s, in the view of Paul Davies and David Hemsoll, whose essay on Sanmicheli's architecture shows that despite the all'antica style of sixteenth-century Italian building, the architect's concern was more to create a universal and modern style. Again, the relationship established by the authors between architecture and language is expressed through the relationship between literary theorists and architects in a particular cultural and historical milieu. While literary theorists during the sixteenth century were interested to establish a universal and modern Italian language, so architects shared the same desire to create theoretical totalities. Alina Payne extends the discussion of imitation in the literary debates of the mid sixteenth century. In Payne's essay on architectural theories of imitatio, she explores the textual mescolanze (mixing) of style and vocabulary of Serlio, Vasari and other writers on architecture, finding that it was an academic environment which provided "the catalytic ingredients" (127) for the transference of literary theory and building. Imitatio was, therefore, only one of a number of words and concepts that crossed disciplinary boundaries.

In sixteenth-century France, according to Yves Pauwels, rhetoric also played its part in the creation of a classical language of architecture. The notion of the "commonplace", the locus communis in which ancient models could be rethought, reordered (in modern parlance, deconstructed?) and reused for modern purposes, was important. For architects like Philibert De L'Orme who were not interested in copying old buildings but in plundering the orders for reuse in a modern context, the location of those orders in a culture of the commonplace allowed them to view such ancient forms as the triumphal arch in a creative and new fashion. Such innovations were criticised in England during the seventeenth century by, among others, Inigo Jones, who rejected the "mongrel composition" of Elizabethan architecture in favour of neo- classicist forms. Christy Anderson's essay explores the relationship between Inigo Jones and George Chapman: the latter condemned English culture as "barbarous and illiterate" (153), while the former designed buildings which referred to antiquity and the continent, rather than to any "indigenous" English vernacular, and which claimed intellectual affiliations. Buildings were now discussed in terms of literacy and learned culture and it was language which enabled architects like Jones to assert, as Anderson argues, "power and authority" (161) in a new political environment.

The final essay in the collection (by Deborah Howard) draws together some of the main themes and provides an excellent summary of some of the problems the reader will have found in the collection. For Howard, language is intimately related to audience, and architectural language is no exception. In the case of Scotland during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the audience to which architecture was directed was extremely diverse. Different languages were spoken and visual/material culture read and experienced in a number of difference ways. To claim that a "shared system of communication" existed is difficult. The cultural and linguistic complexity of Scotland during this period is replicated in its buildings: we find French influences at Falkland palace, English influences at Holyrood palace, Danish touches at Linlithgow. The communicative value of these buildings depended on the subjective experience of the viewer, whose own "range of associations stored in the memory" (172) facilitated critical interpretation of the architecture at hand.

The brief resume of the essays I have sketched should alert the reader to some of the problems within this collection. The enormous range of approaches taken to the title of the collection (and indeed, its subtitle) means that some of the themes and ideas sketched out in the introduction are left only partially explored. The use of the word 'language' might be teased out further. As is, it is sometimes synonymous with 'style', sometimes 'communication', sometimes 'form'. Likewise, the reader is left wanting to know more about identity. It is clear that all the essays are interested in the complexities of influence and stylistic choices in particular and local contexts, but it is not always apparent how such choices go to create identity, in architecture or anything else. There are some minor irritations: the endnotes refer to the bibliography rather than provide full citations in themselves, which means that the reader must look at two reference tools at once. Some of the photographs are not quite as clear as one would like, and although I understand the prohibitive cost of colour photographs in a volume with 65 illustrations, it does require some imagination to see the black and white interior of Prague Cathedral as the jewel-like interior claimed by Achim Timmermann. Overall, however, this is a thought-provoking volume which offers the architectural and cultural historian much on which to ponder, and which provides an excellent starting point for what must surely be an ongoing conversation about (and between) architecture and language.