Rome

One thing you’ll notice when you visit Rome is that classical things got preserved – if they could be Christianized in some way. It is easy to get upset at Christians for such imperialism, but their faith was perhaps stronger than ours, and the choice, for them, was either Christianization, or obliteration. Let us be glad for such things as:

• Trajan’s column being topped with a statue of St. Peter.

As a student asked today, why didn’t they rename it the “Monotheon”? Or the “Panhagion!”, I replied.

• The Pantheon becoming the “Church of St. Mary and the Martyrs.”

          

• Egyptian obelisks being crowned with crosses

• Hadrian’s Mausoleum becoming the Castel Sant’Angelo, the medieval papal safe house. 

The Colosseum, alas, was not Christianized – thus its dilapidated state. Once Emperor Theodosius banned gladiatorial combat in the late fourth century, there was no use for this building, so it was used as a quarry in the Middle Ages, and you can find bits of the Colosseum in other buildings throughout Rome. It has been considered sacred by Christians as a site of martyrdom, but I’ve often felt it was a bit of a shame that there was no late antique Joel Osteen figure who would repurpose the Colosseum as a megachurch. 

By the way, the official name of the Colosseum is the Flavian Amphitheater, having been built during the Flavian dynasty in the late first century A.D. The second word, “amphitheater,” is also accurate, as the theater goes all the way around (amphi = Greek for “on both sides”). Most “amphitheaters” these days are actually just theaters. 

(All images Wikipedia.) 

Neo-Classical Style

From Archinet:

New executive order could make classical architecture “the preferred and default style” for America’s public buildings

Is neoclassicism about to make a big comeback? 

It looks likely, as a new executive order under consideration by President Donald Trump attempts to make classicism the “preferred and default style” for new and upgraded federal buildings. 

According to an exclusive report by Architectural Record, the predictably named “Making Federal Buildings Beautiful Again” executive order would seek to reposition classically inspired architecture as the country’s default public building style. The shift comes in opposition to the longstanding style agnosticism displayed by public buildings in recent decades following the creation of the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture directive crafted in 1962 by former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Moynihan’s directive—which states that “The development of an official style must be avoided” and that “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government and not vice versa”—has resulted in a wide ranging set of innovative public building projects that embrace contemporary design strategies and material approaches, including the SOM-designed New United States Court House in Los Angeles, Morphosis‘s San Francisco Federal Building, and the United States Courthouse in Austin, Texas designed by Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects.

This is interesting. Has there ever been an official architectural style for the United States? Styles come in and out of fashion, of course, and people like to maintain a uniform style for a given street or neighborhood (although even the National Mall in Washington, D.C. features a variety of styles). But has there every been an official pronunciamento about what styles are acceptable for government buildings? It seems… un-American, although the federal government is always finding some new thing to intrude itself upon, so I suppose it was only a matter of time before it promulgated an official style for official buildings.

The real debate is over the style itself. Why neoclassicism? You know who else favored neoclassicism?

Albert Speer’s design for the Volkshalle, the centerpiece for the planned city of Germania (never built). Wikipedia.

But I don’t think that the Nazi use of neoclassicism is enough to condemn it for all time. The style has a very strong history in the United States, too! And, I should think, it retains a great deal of appeal to ordinary Americans, who rather appreciate it how it confers dignity on public enterprise. Moynihan’s line about how “Design must flow from the architectural profession to the Government” represents modernism at its most elitist, a subject explored in Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House (1981). Heaven forbid that design should be subject to what actual people actually want. Boston City Hall might have won lots of the awards that the architectural profession bestows on itself, but it has been “subject to nearly universal public condemnation, and is often called one of the world’s ugliest buildings” (Wikipedia). 

Brutal, man. Wikipedia. 

UPDATE: Theodore Dalrymple:

This [executive order], said the architects, establishes an official style and therefore authoritarian or totalitarian in spirit. But the architects are mistaken on several grounds. First, federal buildings are a small minority of all buildings, and the order says nothing about how the other buildings should or must be built. Second, classicism in architecture is capable of almost infinite variation, such that uniformity will not result (no one has any difficulty in distinguishing the Jefferson from the Lincoln Memorial, for example, or from the White House). Third, it ignores the fact that, as a result of Moynihan’s Guiding Principles, there has long existed de facto an official style, namely that which the architects impose on the government at any given time, all of it in the modern idiom with its desperate and egotistical search for originality as a virtue in itself. Fourth, it ignores the historical, and in my view aesthetic, connection between modernism and totalitarianism. Le Corbusier was a fascist, Philip Johnson a Nazi, and Oscar Niemeyer (the architect of Brasilia) a communist. The totalitarian sensibility of much modernist architecture is to me so obvious that I fail to understand how anyone could miss it. For lack of any other means to achieve grandeur, it deliberately employs sheer size and inhuman coldness of materials to achieve prepotency, in the process reducing the individual to insignificance, as mere intruders or bacteria in a Petri dish.

Paris and Chartres

Everyone knows the cathedral of the city of Paris as “Notre Dame,” but there are approximately sixty French cathedrals dedicated to some aspect of “Our Lady.” One of these is Chartres, probably the most famous French cathedral after Paris.

Chartres Cathedral from the southeast. Wikipedia.

My friend Mark Skocyzlas has just visited Chartres Cathedral, and tells me that it suffered, in 1836, a fire similar to that of Notre-Dame de Paris this past week. According to Wikipedia, “the old lead-covered roof, with its complex structure of timber supports (known as ‘the forest’) was destroyed by fire. It was replaced with a copper-clad roof supported by a network of cast iron ribs, known as the charpente de fer (‘iron frame’). At the time, the framework over the crossing had the largest span of any iron-framed construction in Europe.”

“Charpente de fer,” Chartres Cathedral. Wikipedia.

A view of the interior of the roof space, which looks like a twenty-first century airport concourse, but in fact dates from the early industrial age. Presumably it is also more fire resistant, and a model for what could be done with Notre-Dame de Paris.

I confess that I don’t much care for calls that the rebuilding of Notre Dame should “reflect today’s multicultural France.” It’s a medieval Gothic cathedral, and remains a locus of Christian worship! That it is also a tourist attraction is of distinctly secondary importance. Please, let’s save the starchitect glass pyramids and “crystals” for other, less significant buildings.

Church Buildings

I was as shocked as anyone by the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral on Monday. How could such a thing happen to such a famous building? You would think they would have taken better precautions to prevent it, and I really hope that no foul play was involved. But it is good to remember that over a long enough timespan the likelihood of such disasters happening approaches 1, and that all ancient buildings have been repeatedly damaged and renovated over the course of their existence – at its most extreme it’s like the hammer that has had three new handles and two new heads. And happily, Notre Dame’s roof might be gone, and the spire toppled, but the building retains its structural integrity, so rebuilding the lost parts should be easy enough.

Artist Daniel Mitsui said it well in a speech he made in 2017, an excerpt of which he posted yesterday to Facebook:

And earlier on this blog I wrote that:

As a historian I am interested in sacred space, but as a Christian I don’t care much for it. Christianity is wherever two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name. Christianity derives from the Bible and Church tradition, and you can have these anywhere. Whenever people designate a particular place or object as being essential to their faith, they are just asking for trouble – what happens when you lose control over it? Your entire life’s purpose then becomes getting it back, at the expense of everything else that matters.

Having said all that, I don’t believe in the gratuitous destruction of Christian monuments, and when I denigrate fighting over sacred space, I mean specific coordinates on the earth’s surface, e.g. the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, or the Temple Lot in Independence, Mo. I do believe that one’s built environment reflects something about one’s values. In the very early days Christians worshiped in people’s homes, and some sects continue this practice (e.g. the Amish – who have adopted plenty of other ways of publicly expressing themselves). But church buildings have been an integral part of Christian practice since before Constantine, and most religious universities have a chapel on campus somewhere for the use of the university community. Even if they don’t use it all that much, the fact that it exists at all is a statement: this university is affiliated with a Christian denomination.

This is Blanche Hagan Chapel at Reinhardt University, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. When I first arrived at Reinhardt, the college chaplain was directly responsible to the president, and she presided over a weekly chapel service on Thursday at 12:30. This was a dedicated time: no classes or meetings were scheduled against it, and all members of the college community were welcome to attend. This situation is very much in accord with my view of things – Christian practice at a college should include all its members: students, faculty, staff, and friends. Alas, this situation was not to last – the chaplain is now under the Dean of Students, and weekly chapel is now “Tuesday Night Fellowship” which takes place in the Student Center. TNF is an informal affair with lots of guitars and not much liturgy, aimed primarily at the students, for whom the chaplain serves as a sort of youth pastor.

I don’t have anything against this sort of thing but I don’t see why we can’t have both a weekly student service and a weekly corporate service, for all the other members of the Reinhardt community.

Not to worry, Hagan Chapel still gets used on Sundays. The local UMC congregation gathers for worship there… for now. Two years of negotiations between the congregation and the university over cost-sharing have apparently broken down, and this week the university has told the congregation that it must agree to a new set of terms, or face eviction. Rumors flew that Reinhardt was hoping to take the steeple off the chapel and use the building for some other purpose, although today these were vigorously denied.

So that’s a relief. Whatever happens to the Waleska UMC, we will still have a proper chapel on campus for use on those formal occasions when we need one, and for expressing our Christian identity at all other times.

Addendum. I am a big fan of Daniel Mitsui, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in 2013. Check out his home page, or his Facebook presence

Ayasofya Camii

Thomas D. Williams on Breitbart:

Erdogan Floats Reverting Hagia Sophia to a Mosque

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan floated the idea of turning Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia back into a mosque in an interview Sunday.

“It is not an abnormal proposal. It is not something impossible, it could be done easily. We could even name it as the Hagia Sophia Mosque instead of a museum so that everybody can visit it without charge,” Mr. Erdoğan replied to the question whether the museum could be opened free of charge for Turkish citizens.

“Its status of museum could be stripped off. Actually that status was given by a step taken with the mentality of the [Republican People’s Party] CHP. We can take that step taken by the CHP mentality back,” he added.

Built as a Christian church in 537 AD, Hagia Sophia served as the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church after the Great Schism of 1054 and became a mosque in 1453 after the Muslim conquest of Constantinople — modern-day Istanbul. The building was later converted into a museum in 1935 as part of the secularization project of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder and first president of the Republic of Turkey, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1985.

Erdoğan began allowing the recitation of verses from the Qur’an in the Hagia Sophia in 2015, at which time, the government of Greece protested, saying that Islamic prayers in the basilica were “not compatible with modern, democratic, and secular societies.”

“Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO world heritage site. The attempt to convert it into a mosque—through reading of the Koran, holding of prayers, and a number of other actions—is an affront to the international community, which needs to be duly mobilized and to react,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said.

Earlier this month, several hundred Muslim demonstrators protested the New Zealand mosque shootings outside Hagia Sophia, calling for the edifice to be reconverted into a mosque. The demand came in response to a taunt by the Christchurch gunman in his “manifesto,” in which he reportedly said “Hagia Sophia will be free of minarets.”

Speaking of minarets, I noticed last year that Hagia Sophia’s minarets don’t really match.

Wikipedia.

OK, the two on the left do, but the two on the right are differently shaped, and the one in the foreground is even a different color. Apparently it wasn’t always a four-minaret mosque, and the number was increased over the years, in different styles.

Bauhaus

Bauhaus Building, Dessau, Germany. Wikipedia.

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, an influential school of architecture and design that was located first in Weimar, then in Dessau, and finally in Bernau, a suburb of Berlin. It became a byword for the experimentation (or decadence) of the Weimar Republic, and was accordingly shuttered by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933 – which meant that their faculty, some of them quite famous, spread throughout the world, preaching the Bauhaus message of form following function.

Sotheby’s Magazine has a short article on museums hosting centennial exhibitions this year, including at Munich, Rotterdam, Weimar, and Dessau. Click the link to see some interesting images.

I wrote a paper on the Bauhaus in college that I’m proud of, and the only time I was in Berlin I made sure to see the Bauhaus Archive (currently closed for renovation). I certainly enjoyed walking around the White City, a neighborhood of some 4000 Bauhaus and Bauhaus-inspired buildings in Tel Aviv, built by Jewish architects who migrated to British Palestine after the rise of the Nazis.

Goths

A laff from Facebook:

I’ve always found the evolution of the word “Gothic” to be most interesting. It originally meant what the second paragraph in the graphic refers to: an eastern Germanic language spoken by a large group of people who invaded the Western Roman Empire in the fourth century, eventually carving out kingdoms for themselves in Spain and Italy (like the names of most languages, it came to describe the people who spoke it, thus the Gothic people or simply “Goths”). Renaissance humanists resurrected the name to describe the style of ecclesiastical architecture prevalent in the thirteenth century, characterized by pointed arches, flying buttresses, and rose windows. To them, of course, such architecture was just awful, given that the Romans would never have built buildings that looked like that, most importantly because such buildings lacked all sense of proportion. Even though they were quite sophisticated in their way, and quite beyond the capabilities of the actual Goths to build, the humanists denigrated them as “gothic,” a name that has stuck.

The name got a third life in the eighteenth century when it was used as an adjective to describe literature that “combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance.” Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Ortranto (1764), originated the genre, which perhaps derived its name from Walpole’s revival of gothic architecture at Strawberry Hill, a house he had built for himself. From this Romantic, melancholic association, “gothic” then came to designate the subculture it’s identified with today, which:

began in England during the early 1980s, where it developed from the audience of gothic rock, an offshoot of the post-punk genre. The name, goth subculture, derived directly from the music genre. Seminal post-punk and gothic rock artists that helped develop and shape the subculture include Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Joy Division, and Bauhaus. The goth subculture has survived much longer than others of the same era, and has continued to diversify and spread throughout the world…

Gothic fashion is marked by conspicuously dark, antiquated and homogeneous features. It is stereotyped as eerie, mysterious, complex and exotic. A dark, sometimes morbid fashion and style of dress, typical gothic fashion includes a pale complexion with colored black hair and black period-styled clothing. Both male and female goths can wear dark eyeliner and dark fingernail polish, most especially black. Styles are often borrowed from punk fashion and − more currently − from the Victorian and Elizabethan periods. It also frequently expresses pagan, occult or other religious imagery. Gothic fashion and styling may also feature silver jewelry and piercings.

Goths!

Irish Discoveries

A couple of interesting finds on Wikipedia:

Conolly’s Folly is an obelisk structure and National Monument located near MaynoothCounty KildareIreland. The folly was built within Castletown Estate (containing Castletown House), which contains two follies, both commissioned by Katherine Conolly, the philanthropic widow of Speaker William Conolly, to provide employment for hundreds of the poor of Celbridge when the famine of 1740–41 was at its worst.”

The Wonderful Barn is a corkscrew-shaped building on the edge of Castletown House Estate, formerly of the Conolly family, in CelbridgeCounty KildareIreland. The barn itself is formally in neighbouring Leixlip. Flanked by two smaller dovecote towers, the barn was built with the stairs ascending around the exterior of the building. The barn was built in 1743 on the Leixlip side of the Castletown Estate.

“Several purposes are suggested for the unique structure:

“One theory is based on the custom in Georgian times of using doves as a delicacy when other game or animals were not in season, and suggest its use as a dovecote.

“The height of the structure would also lend itself to sport shooting, supporting another theory of its use as a shooting or gamekeepers tower.

“The tower is seen from the east windows of Castletown House, so it filled that vista, possibly as a folly.

“However, a central hole through each of the floors supports the generally accepted theory of its use as a granary. The barn was built in the years immediately following the famine of 1740-41, as there was a need for new grain stores in case of another famine. The Conollys owned Kilmacredock and rented it out, so the barn was also useful for their tenants.”

Medieval Porn

From El Pais:

Deciphering the sex scenes in Spain’s medieval churches

Experts meet to discuss the meaning of highly explicit sculptures made 1,000 years ago

Why is that man showing off his enormous phallus, which seems to be pointing straight at us? What about that other bearded fellow who is apparently masturbating? And what is the meaning of that woman who is exhibiting her vulva? And is that couple really in the middle of intercourse?

These figures have all been there for nearly 1,000 years, sculpted into churches in northern Spain. They are in plain view on the façades, on the corbels that hold up the cornices, on the capitals crowning the columns, and even on the baptismal fonts.

But why did the stonemasons of the Middle Ages craft this cheeky iconography? What was the Roman Catholic Church trying to convey? A group of experts gathered inside the monastery of Santa María la Real in Aguilar de Campoo (Palencia) tried to answer that question last weekend at a seminar called “Art and sexuality in the Romanesque centuries.”

Unfortunately, there seem to be no clear answers….

You’ll have to click the link to see any images.

Saint Louie

We’ve been to and from St. Louis many times, and we always try to see something new en route or while we’re there (along with McKay’s in Nashville, of course – that is a staple!).

This time we stopped at the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee. I had visited the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland and was keen to learn how American whiskey was different from Irish. (Answers: the composition of the mash, the state of the aging barrels, and in Tennessee, the Lincoln County Process.)

In St. Louis itself we got to see the refurbished and newly-reopened Museum at the Gateway Arch. It’s larger than the previous one, and deals with westward expansion in more detail and from a greater variety of perspectives. There’s also some good background on the arch itself, and no longer an animatronic Red Cloud.

The City Museum is like nothing you’ve ever seen. It occupies the former International Shoe Company building and is constantly colonizing new areas of it. The “museum” aspect consists largely of architectural detailing (I was pleased to discover the St. George pictured above), recovered nineteenth-century trash, a large insect collection, and other found objects; these are interspersed throughout an artificial cave system, a ten-story spiral slide, a ferris wheel on the roof, giant ball pits, skateboard ramps, a miniature train for people to ride, a space for circus performers, welded creations to climb on, and much, much more, all eccentrically decorated. As you can probably surmise, the museum appeals mostly to children, although it is fun for anyone to visit; what I like about it is that it’s dark and mysterious, even slightly sinister, an exciting contrast to much of the pabulum served up to kids these days.

Our event took place at the Contemporary Art Center, which we had never before seen. It’s what you’d expect: a brutalist building, with installation art like that depicted above (Jacob Stanley, TIME). It’s worth a visit, and it’s free.

At the St. Louis Science Center we saw a traveling Smithsonian exhibition entitled “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.” The showpiece is the actual Columbia capsule that took Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins to the Moon and back; this was accompanied by Aldrin’s helmet, a part of one of the Saturn V engines that Jeff Bezos fished out of the Atlantic, and other such objects. I especially liked all the Space Race newspaper headlines, videos of Kennedy speaking to Congress and giving his “We choose to go to the Moon” speech at Rice, and the midcentury-modern living room that you entered through (although I doubt that the television depicted above was all that common in middle America!).

On our way back, we stopped at something called the Arant Confederate Memorial Park, an SCV project situated beside I-24 just outside Paducah, Kentucky. This has appeared recently, and advertises itself, like a car dealership, with a massive flag. But the Battle Flag is not the only one on display: as you can see in the photo above, there are other ones, including all three national flags of the CSA, and the Bonnie Blue Flag.

The flag I was most curious about (as I had never seen it before): the flag of the Orphan Brigade, a Confederate brigade recruited in Kentucky (so-called as Kentucky was not really a member state of the Confederacy).

The flea market next door was festooned with American flags, and I can’t help but think this was some sort of a riposte to Arant Park.