Tectonic Modalities in Baroque Architecture: An Alternative Historiography

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    Abstract

    Erwin Panofsky’s 1934 essay, entitled “What is Baroque?” provides an opening to discuss the state of the tectonic in Baroque architecture. His text raises a number of issues including: what was missing in the available literature on the art and architecture of Baroque that Panofsky wanted to bring to the reader’s attention? Should Panofsky’s take on Baroque be considered as part of a general problematic that sees Baroque as a unique state of mind and aesthetics, an understanding that has been revisited whenever the culture of Humanism faces its historical limits? To explore the broader theoretical connotations and implications of the questions raised here, this essay will investigate the position of two other major art historians on the subject, Heinrich Wölfflin and Alois Riegl. These historians will be discussed in connection to their discursive commonality with Gottfried Semper’s theory of tectonics. I will give particular attention to various interpretations of the tectonic of column and wall, if only to index the possibility of a different reading of Baroque architecture. These readings will make the following historiographic points: I will argue that neither rhetoric nor Jesuit propaganda was tooled enough to deconstruct the tectonic potentialities of a masonry construction system practised within the representational system of Humanism, Baroque architecture included. I will also discuss the singularity of Baroque architecture in its complex rapport with the culture of Humanism; I will consider its deviations from the Humanist ethos, and the possibility of opening a new chapter where the major concerns and principles of Humanism can continue to be relevant in a different historical circumstances. Finally, I will present the historicity of the 1930s, and the emergence of the thematic of critical historiography, as the missing point in most contemporary theorization of Baroque in general, and of Panofsky’s text in particular
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-12
    Number of pages12
    JournalAthens Journal of Architecture
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

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