Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Los Períodos Antiguos y Clásicos


Çatalhöyük fresco, circa 7500 a. C.
El arte del yesero es tan antigua como la civilización. De hecho, para declararlo enfáticamente, ¡Sin el yesero no hay civilización! La habilidad de la humanidad para salir de la cueva, para erigir un refugio de piedras o cañas, y para revestirlo con una mezcla de tierra le permitió crear la "cueva" donde quiera que se desee. La construcción de viviendas permanentes cerca de agua dulce, en una posición defendible o contiguo tierra cultivable les permitiría a las comunidades a unirse y las primeras ciudades a formarse.

Los primeros revestimientos fueron de tierra. Mezclas simples de arcilla, arena y paja no exigieron hornos para hacerlos. La mezcla se moldeó como ladrillos, después se secó con el sol. Más o menos, la misma fórmula se utilizó como el mortero y el revestimiento. Mezclas de tierra: como mazorca y barro, continuan como los más comúnmente utilizado en todo el mundo.

Los revestimientos en la base de calcio, tales como: yeso o cal fueron descubiertos probablemente a través del proceso de la alfarería. Por casualidad, se seleccionaron piedras de yeso o cal para formar un kiln sencillo para cocer objetos de arcilla. El calor del fuego se marchó el agua (yeso) o el dióxido de carbono (cal), rápidamente dejando piedras friables. El agua fue arrojada en las brasas para apagar el fuego. Pronto se descubrió que las piedra cayeron primero en polvo, luego transformandose en una masilla que se endurecía rápidamente.

El Mundo Antiguo

Uno de los ejemplos arqueológicos más antiguos, tanto de la civilización y el estuco es el de Çatalhöyük (circa 7500 a. C.), ubicado en la actual Turquía. Una ciudad densamente poblada, las viviendas de Catalhoyuk tuvieron paredes y pisos de ladrillo de barro, recubiertos con un estuco hecho de una marga arcillosa disponibles a nivel local. Lo poco que sabemos de esta antigua civilización sobrevive en los archivos de los frescos de cal, que representan variosas escenas de caza, volcanes y patrones geométricos puramente decorativos de expresión.

Nefertiti
Los ejemplos mejor conservados de yeserías en el período pre-clásico se encuentran en la arquitectura monumental del antiguo Egipto que data del 3 º milenio a. C. Usos prácticos incluyen la construcción de las pirámides de Giza, que contienen morteros de yeso y cal, También los exteriores de las cuales originariamente recibieron un estuco de cal brillante. Innumerables obras supervivientes de frescos, de ornamentación y de la escultura, como el famoso busto de yeso de Nefertiti, dan testimonio de la evolución artística de yeserías. De hecho, los estucos de cal y morteros de yeso fabricados en Egipto fueron en muchos casos de una calidad superior que los disponibles en el mercado hoy en día. Esto da testimonio del hecho de que el refinamiento empírico de la fabricación de cal y yeso tenía una historia aún más larga. 

La civilización minoica surgió en el segundo milenio a. C. en la isla mediterránea de Creta. Los minoicos fueron grandemente influenciados por la cultura egipcia todavía floreciente como lo demuestra la arquitectura de los palacios de Knossos y Festos. Sin embargo, los minoicos eran de distinguirse por el uso extensivo de estuco en sus interiores. En contraste con decoraciones egipcias muy formales normalmente llevadas a cabo en seco, los minoicos tuvieron una exuberancia de la decoración coloreada, que se produjo fresco. Aunque el mantenimiento de la vista de perfil y el contorno marcado típico del arte egipcio, las técnicas del fresco empleados por artesanos minoicos se obligó un ritmo más rápido y una improvisación que se tradujo en una estética fluido, vibrante.

El Período Clásico

Los micénicos reemplazarían los minoicos como la cultura dominante de Creta y el archipiélago griego, a mantener y perfeccionar el estilo arquitectónico minoica. Sin embargo, como Roma caería siglos más tarde a los bárbaros hundiendo a Europa en una edad oscura, un destino similar corrió Micenas principalmente a manos de las tribus conquistadoras dóricas y jónicas. Durante esta Edad Oscura griega gran parte del conocimiento de la construcción y la arquitectura se perdió por un período de siglos. Por último, en el siglo octavo a. C., los dos grupos rivales se unieron para formar los helenos y establecer una cultura que dejó una marca indeleble en la civilización humana.

Aunque la práctica de yeserías nunca cesó completamente, también experimentaría un renacimiento en la Grecia helénica. Gracias a los griegos tenemos la palabra española "yeso", derivada directamente de "gypsos" (γύψος) en griego. Del mismo modo, es fácil ver la correlación entre nuestra palabra "emplastar" con "emplastron" (εμπλαστρον) en griego, que significa "poner barro". Más allá de nuestra deuda de vocabulario, debemos el fundamento mismo de nuestro patrimonio arquitectónico occidental para los griegos. La expresión máxima de la ornamentación y la representación de los órdenes arquitectónicos griegos: los dórico, jónico y corintio, continúa a ser realizada en yeso.

Los griegos fueron conquistadas militarmente por los romanos en el año 146 a. C. Sin embargo, culturalmente los romanos fueron cautivados al mismo tiempo por la cultura griega mediante la adopción y la incorporación de su filosofía, la arquitectura y el arte. Los romanos continuaron la tradición de la arquitectura del templo; Sin embargo, extendieron su arquitectura monumental para incluir basílicas seculares, monumentos imperiales y villas palaciegas. Del Domus Aurea o "Casa de Oro" del emperador Nero y de descubrimientos similares en Pompeya y Herculano tenemos ejemplos bien conservados de cómo se ha llevado el estuco de cal a un cenit artístico para la élite romana.
Tales sitios ofrecen una visión de una época pasada de la opulencia, de lujosos interiores realizadas en fino estuco, habitaciones enteras pintadas al fresco y Bóvedas de cañón decoradas con suntuosa ornamentación en bajo relieve.

Pompeiian Thermae
Los romanos produjeron no sólo los grandes artistas y arquitectos, pero los ingenieros formidables. Un tesoro que nos queda es el tratado exhaustivo de arquitectura, De Architectura,  escrito por el ingeniero militar romano Marcus Polio Vitruvius en el siglo primero a. C. En este trabajo, comúnmente conocido como los Diez Libros de Arquitectura, Vitruvius dedicó tres capítulos del libro II a la selección de la arena, la cal y puzolanas para estuco y trabajos concretos. Dedica además la mayor parte del libro VII al estuco de cal adecuado, la preparación, la aplicación y el fresco.

La mayor civilización del mundo antiguo coincidió con el mayor desarrollo de revestimientos y morteros. Los romanos expandieron sobre un importante descubrimiento realizado por los griegos: la adición de puzolanas al cal crearían un mortero que se fija en el agua. Nació Concreto, ingeniería arquitectónica era ascendente y los romanos ahora podría construir fácilmente carreteras, acueductos y puertos que perduran hasta nuestros días. Valor de la ingeniería romana y el descubrimiento de concreto culminaron en su logro arquitectónico sin igual, el Panteón. Que tiene un diámetro interior de 142 metros a su base, el Panteón permanece la mayor cúpula de concreto no reforzado que se haya construido.

El Panteón, Roma

El tratado de Vitruvius comenzó a alcanzar la amplia publicación a principios del siglo 15. A finales del siglo 15 no hay evidencia escrita y arqueológica de las recetas de estuco hidráulicos de Vitruvius siendo utilizados en Venecia y Murano, a 300 años antes de la llegada de cemento moderna. Más tarde vamos a explorar cómo sus escritos así como los descubrimientos arqueológicos del Domus Aurea inspirarían genios creativos como Da Vinci, Michelangelo y Raffaello al alcanzar alturas vertiginosas de la expresión artística en fresco y estuco labrado durante el Renacimiento italiano. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Architectural Word of the Day; 91 - 100


NARTHEX

Placed at the western end of the basilica, the ‘narthex’ is a vestibule screened or walled off from the nave. A covered exterior portico might be considered an exonarthex. Historically, in church architecture the narthex was considered a public receiving area whilst the nave was reserved for baptized members of the congregation.

PINECONE, PINEAPPLE

The stylized forms of the pinecone or pineapple oft serve as decorative finials adorning gate-piers and are a symbol of hospitality. This lichen covered one looks ripe enough to eat!







SERLIANA, PALLADIAN or VENETIAN WINDOW

The use of a semicircular arch flanked by two narrower and lower rectangular openings was revived in practice by Renaissance architects Bramante and Rafael from ancient examples dating to the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian.

However, this motif would gain wide acceptance due to the treatises of Serlio and Palladio, featuring prominently in the later Georgian and Colonial architecture of Great Britain and subsequent Federal architecture of the United States.



Image courtesy of Domiane Forte
AARON'S ROD, CADUCEUS

The Latin term we use today really derives from the Greek karukeion (καρύκειον), meaning ‘herald’s staff’. You may recall it being held by the winged foot Hermes, Greek messenger of the gods. In the Olympic games the eternal flame is kept alive by the herald running with the caduceus, less the serpents and wings.

Of course the caduceus is also a symbol of medicine which may seem strange to us today. However, the association comes from ancient Egypt where before the general domestication of house cats, non-venomous snakes were maintained indoors to keep the rodent population in check and reduce pestilence.

SOFFIT

From the Italian ‘soffitto’ meaning something ‘affixed under’, soffits can refer to the underside of a variety of projecting or transversing features from arches to balconies.

The underneath of projecting cornices are ideal places to enrich mouldings as exemplified by this exterior soffit at the Breakers, Newport RI.

SYMMETRY

Derived from the ancient Greek ‘summetria’ (συμμετρία), meaning ‘of like measure’.

I think bilateral, axial symmetry is easy for us to identify, such as the symmetry we see everyday looking at our own face in the mirror (most of us anyway!) The Breakers in Newport displays this obvious symmetry as well. However, looking more carefully we can find many other subtle examples of symmetry manifest in the proportions of the façade, wing elevations, windows all the way down to the ornamentation.


Monday, July 7, 2014

The Lamp of Beauty – Part II, Monstrosities



Perseus and Medusa, Cellini
Perhaps it sounds odd to set aside a consideration of 'Monstrosities' as a focal point of a larger description of Beauty. Nevertheless, that is precisely what John Ruskin did and with good reason. Ruskin firmly held the position that the purest sources of beauty were "derived chiefly from the external appearances of organic nature." With its practically infinite degree of variety, nature remains an inexhaustible fountain of inspiration. Nevertheless, during the Renaissance there arose a growing tendency to instead conventionalize, to recycle previous forms of decoration as well as to imitate artificial, man-made forms.

By the 19th century the dearth of originality was palpable. Craftsmen were increasingly debased to skilled laborers, simply executing specifications received from architects, drawn from pattern books. Granted, to our 21st century eyes much of this ornamental work was of high quality, still being made from heritage materials, using traditional techniques, produced by the human hand. However, Ruskin and his contemporaries were very sensitive to the direction the Decorative Arts were heading as he expressed, "There are many forms of so called decoration in architecture...I have no hesitation in asserting to be not ornament at all, but to be ugly things, the expense of which ought to be in truth to be set down in the architect's contract, as 'For Monstrification.'"

I'll attempt to highlight some examples of what Ruskin saw as abuses of the period and in his spirit, temper the 'monstrosities' with some healthy examples.

The Meander

Bismuth
Also known as the Greek Key or Fret the Meander was an ubiquitous motif of the Greek Revival period, forged into ornamental iron gates or carved into large friezes and plinth blocks. Ruskin points out that the meander pattern is exceedingly rare in nature, only known to be occurring with the cooling of molten bismuth, itself a rare metal that must first be extracted from bismuth ore. Nature by and large abhors straight lines, particularly at the human scale. Perhaps fitting as a texture at the scale of coins or jewelry, in Ruskin's judgement the meander as architectural ornamentation was just ugly.



The Portcullis

Christ's College Gatehouse
Another contention of Ruskin was that our creation of beauty is owing to an imitative dependence on nature. This wasn't to say that everything a craftman created was a direct, faithful copy of what he saw. To the contrary it might instead be a coincidental resemblance, the incorporation of a particular curve or pattern from a leaf or web into the craftsman's design. Worse than the unimitative, abstract works like the aforementioned meander, Ruskin abhorred artificial imitation of man made objects. The regular grid of the portcullis he described as "unmitigatedly frightful" contrasting it with the worthy subject of a cobweb or wing of an insect.

Tiffany & Co.


Heraldry

Charlton House
Regarding coats of arms and escutcheons Ruskin acknowledged that heraldic decoration has its place, typically a prominent place above gates, entry doors etc. Also, some of the sculpted forms contained within such as animals or flowers might be in themselves quite beautiful. However, he likewise cautioned, "For the most part, heraldic similitudes and arrangements are so professedly and pointedly unnatural, that it would be difficult to invent anything uglier; and the use of them as a repeated decoration will utterly destroy both the power and beauty of any building...it is right to tell those who enter your doors that you are such a one, and of such a rank; but to tell them again and again, wherever they turn, becomes soon impertinence." 

Scrolls and Inscriptions

Perugino's Angels
Similar to heraldry there should be purpose and meaning when writing is introduced into a composition. Neither the writing itself nor the scroll it is written on are natural or inherently beautiful things. This point was lost on many artists who treated the scroll and text ornamentally, often to the point of illegibility as Ruskin elucidates: "All letters are frightful things, and to be endured only upon occasion; that is to say, in places where the sense of the inscription is of more importance than the external ornament. Inscriptions in churches, in rooms, and on pictures are often desirable, but they are not to be considered architectural or pictorial ornaments: they are, on the contrary, obstinate offences to the eye, not to be suffered except when their intellectual office introduces them."

Ribands

Tapeworm
Till now we've considered the scale, appropriateness, in general terms the judicious use of decoration that is not inherently beautiful. Subsequently I'll declare to an outright condemnation. I share Ruskin's view that ribbons, sometimes referred to in an architectural context as ribands, are irredeemably monstrous. They are the flattest, limpest most dead thing introduced into ornament. The closest resemblance to a decorative ribbon in nature is the tapeworm. I have a colleague, an ornamental carver of significant talent, who has produced a number of beautiful works. He also sculpts a lot of ribands. He should stop. They are a sallow stain on an otherwise vibrant portfolio. Honestly, if he receives a commission featuring ribands from an architect he would be better to politely decline or at the very least insist that he be in no way credited or associated with the work.


Stylized Tapeworm
Ruskin's critique is as follows, "Is there anything like ribands in nature? It might be thought that grass and seaweed afforded apologetic types. They do not. There is a wide difference between their structure and that of a riband. They have a skeleton, an anatomy, a central rib, or fibre, or framework of some kind or another, which has a beginning and an end, a root and head, and whose make and strength affect every direction of their motion, and every line of their form. The loosest weed that drifts and waves under the types. heaving of the sea, or hangs heavily on the brown and slippery shore, has a marked strength, structure, elasticity, gradation of substance; its extremities are more finely fibred than its centre, its centre than its root: every fork of its ramification is measured and proportioned; every wave of its languid lines is lovely. It has its allotted size, and place, and function; it is a specific creature. What is there like this in a riband? It has no structure: it is a succession of cut threads all alike; it has no skeleton, no make, no form, no size, no will of its own. You cut it and crush it into what you will. It has no strength, no languor. It cannot fall into a single graceful form. It cannot wave, in the true sense, but only flutter: it cannot bend, in the true sense, but only turn and be wrinkled. It is a vile thing; it spoils all that is near its wretched film of an existence."

Drapery

Apollo and Daphne, Bernini
Like the riband, used in isolation drapery is always ignoble. Unfortunately, it is all too often encountered unceremoniously glued on a blank wall as a decorative swag or littering the urns of every cemetery, desecrating the deceased with a daub of ugliness. However, unlike the riband, drapery finds redemption. Upon the human form it wields the power to convey dynamic forces in motion as well as the static exercise of gravity in repose. Bernini was a master of the former, utilizing drapery to animate his work, Michelangelo the latter heightening the heavy weight of repose. What it lacks in beauty it is capable of conveying in sublimity.



Moses, Michelangelo


The Festoon

The festoon is such a strange, oft displaced creature. Perhaps the gathering of flowers in stone to lay across a sepulchrum in perpetuity bestows both beauty and merit. The question though is really one of architectural appropriateness. It usually appears in the severest of architecture, at a high elevation unable to be truly appreciated, a lopsided crescent gathering soot. I personally feel this at one of my favourite buildings in Paris, Le Panthéon. As Ruskin observed in a similar instance at St. Paul's in London, the awkward "displaced abundance" of the festoon results in the bare wall appearing "poverty stricken", undermining its sublimity.

In Conclusion

I could go on and bore everyone with Ruskin's view of dripstones employed in the Gothic Revival but I'm sure you've had enough. I'll just conclude by saying that I feel Cellini's Perseus and Medusa shown at the outset is one of the greatest nude statues ever conceived. Perhaps you have guessed the monster by now. No, not the head of the gorgon. Rather the true monster is the strap across Perseus' otherwise bare body with the inscription of the sculptor and the date of his work. Oooh Cellini, how could you?

Thankfully he next post in the series will return to a decidedly more positive topic: The Lamp of Life

Contributed by Patrick Webb