Friday, November 30, 2012

Joseph Reynolds Papers

During the last two weeks, I have been stealing moments from my busy days to hide in the microfilm room at the Shadek Fackenthal Library, where I have been browsing through the Joseph Reynolds Papers, borrowed from the Smithsonian Institute's Archive of American Art. The image on the left are just from my visual notes. I am stunned by the volume of archival data on Reynolds stained glass windows, which seems reversely proportional to the scholarship on such Arts-and-Craftsmen of Twenties America. Reynolds grew up in Rhode Island, went to RISDI and apprenticed with the founder of the medieval stained glass movement in America Charles Connick. Coalescing around a circle of Boston aesthetes, these craftsman have accumulated the reputation of traditionalists. This might explain the scholarly disinterest. Although working within a revivalist idiom, their reputation is misleading. Douglas Shand-Tucci's biography of Ralph Adams Cram illustrates how radical this circle actually was, spinning from the Ruskinian aestheticism of Harvard's fine art program. Shand-Tucci argues that the Gothic was simply a "Trojan horse" for a more radical agenda. Reynolds firm, Reynolds, Francis and Rohnstock, designed some of the most important stained glass windows in America from the National Cathedral in Washington to Princeton's Memorial Chapel.

In 1925, Reynolds designed the windows of the Lancaster Theological Seminary. The Seminary of the German Reformed Church had been part of Franklin and Marshall College. But in 1893, it crossed College Avenue to a new Romanesque Revival building. Just one generation later, however, the Seminary sought to Gothicize its Romanesque space by commissioning a set of stained glass windows. The renovation was intended to coincide with the Centennial Celebration of the seminary (1825-1925). When Charles Connick published his Adventures in Light and Color (1937) he listed Lancaster Seminary as one of the most noteworthy stained glass windows. Interestingly enough, he credits Zantzinger, Borie and Medary as the architects for the renovation. This in itself is a great discovery, as the architects for the renovation have been forgotten by the seminary. Zantzinger, Borie and Medary was one of the most notable architectural firms in Philadelphia. To have found an example of their work in Lancaster is truly sensational.

My dark journey in the archive of Reynolds has been acutely enjoyable, perhaps the highlight of my semester. I have discovered all kinds of historical evidence that I look forward to publishing in the near future. Here is a mind-blowing detail, for example. In the Martin Luther window, King Charles V holds a spectre that contains a bright red piece of glass. That red piece of glass is an original work of the 13th-century French Gothic. Reynolds notes that the piece of glass was actually taken directly from Rouen Cathedral. The seamless inclusion of a medieval relic in a medieval revival work begs all kinds of questions regarding reference and referent, the aura of the original and its relationship to the imitation in which it is encased.

A year after working on the Lancaster Seminary, Reynolds also designed the windows for Mercersburg Academy Chapel designed by Ralph Adam Cram. Mercersburg was the home of Marshall College from 1836 to 1853 before it merged with Franklin College to form Franklin and Marshall. Once the college left, Mersersburg became a preparatory school. The Mercersburg Theology is a famous theological movement associated with our college hence Reynolds commissions between the two places are critical. As a preparatory school, the Mercersburg Academy was the brainchild of William Mann Irvine. He was a professor at Franklin and Marshall that became the Academy's headmaster in 1893. The Mercersburg Chapel was dedicated in 1926 to honor the alumni that had died during World War I.

I am also very much interested in the stained glass windows that Reynolds, Francis and Rohnstock designed for the Princeton Chapel because they related to my research of Corinth architects and Princetonites like Richard Stillwell. Reynolds designed the Great Windows at the North and South Transept of the Princeton Chapel. The North Window, in particular, has "Scholarship" as its theme and it was paid by Robert Garrett who financed Howard Crosby Butler's archaeological expeditions to Syria, where Stillwell received his archaeological training. The South Window, whose theme is "The Triumph over Suffering" features an unexpected character, Cardinal Mercier, among Joan of Arc and Thomas Becket. Mercier was a Belgian cardinal made famous for his resistance against the German invasion in 1914. As has been noted by other scholars, the Gothic Revival of the 1920s, which is acutely Francophile, has much to do with the American experience in World War I. Faced by the horrors of an industrial war and massive death (37 million), the medieval past offered a return to chivalry and honor. There is another connection between Princeton and Mercersburg. William Mann Irvine received his PhD in political science from Princeton, where Woodrow Wilson had just joined the department of government. Irvine's vision for Mercersburg might have been, thus, flavored by a common Wilsonian vision of internationalism.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ruskin Mountain

This boot remembers the irregular surfaces of mountain that it has traversed. Once you leave the last cultivated contour, where even the thinnest accumulation of soil hosts some kermes oak, you ascend on pure rock. From the perspective of the hiker, the mountain is not a solid  pyramidal form but a surface of shattered chips, a scattering of unstable fragments that crunch under the boot and destabilize any expectation of shore footing. This most visceral experience of Greek mountains came to mind as I read Ruskin's introduction of the fifth chapter of The Stones of Venice, the Wall Veil. I have to quote the passage in full because I have never found the words to describe that sensation of stepping on a land-mass whose own ruin crumble under your feet.

The slope of the rocks is covered two feet deep with their ruins, a mass of loose and slaty shale, or a dull brick-red colour, which yields beneath the foot like ashes, so that, in running down, you step one yard, and slide three. The rock is indeed hard beneath, but still disposed in thin courses of these cloven shales, so finely laid that they look in places more like a heap of unmitigated surprise, as if the mountain were upheld by miracle; but surprise becomes more intelligent reverence for the great Builder, when we find, in the middle of the mass of these dead leaves, a course of living rock, of quartz as white as the snow that encircles it, and harder than a bed of steel.

Ruskin is describing the north-west slopes of Matterhorn in the Alps, where he developed an early theory of place and geological stratigraphy, of principal lines and striation. Here, in the borders between Switzerland and Italy, between pure landscape and pure culture, Ruskin became a premier mountain theorists. In my search for Ruskin's influence in Greece, I have found the earliest translation in the avant-garde journal To Trito Mati (1935), three essays from Ruskin's Modern Painters including "The Mountain." An earlier conversation between the Alps and the Greek mountains took place in 1907, when Swiss photographer Fred Boissonans came to Greece to climb Mount Olympus and staid to produce the most eloquent record of rural Greek culture.

Ruskin's passage from The Stones of Venice reminded me of another representation of  the mountain's tactile fragmentation, the Dream Garden mosaic of Maxfield Parrish commissioned by the Edward Bok of the Curtis Publishing Company in 1916. Parrish's mountain in fragmented by the virtue of the pieces manufactured by the Tiffany Studios. My photo above is from a recent visit with fellow art historian Michael Clapper and Parrish expert.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Furness Steel Beam Drawing

Frank Furness is one of the first architects to push the steel beam out of the invisible interiors of engineering and into the public exteriors of architectural expression. In earlier posts, I had began tracing a steel-beam vernacular as it developed in the Philadelphia area, courtesy of Furness's wider influence during the 1870s.

This Thanksgiving, I am incredibly thankful for having seen the earliest graphic manifestation of the marriage between traditional masonry and steel construction. This is a drawing by Frank Furness and George Hewitt of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts building showing a section through the antique galleries. The drawing (no. 1876.6.26) is currently on view at PaFA. It is the Mother Drawing of steel beam vernacular.

My sketch here copies the relevant juncture. Furness used violet to mark the poche of a section, following a Beaux-Arts convention. His choice to demarcate the steel in blue ink, however, is new. One can only speculate on Furness's reasons for blue, but I cannot help to consider the synesthetic connotations of temperature and cold neutrality.

As my collaborators in Greece know, I have also been tracing the emergence of a steel-beam vernacular in the "traditional" architecture of Greece, which I hope to argue was wonderfully receptive of modernity before academic Modernism. There is no causal connection between steel beam vernacular in Philadelphia and rural Greece, but both represent a fascinating and undocumented phenomenon of unofficial integration.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Violet Furness

While looking for architectural manifestations of John Ruskin, most typically turn to William Butterfield's All Saints Margaret Street or Dean and Woodward's Oxford University Museum of Natural Science. But I turn a little closer to home in the work of Frank Furness. Thanks to his intellectual and geographical distance, Furness captures a most vivid Ruskinian aesthetics. The same can be said of a few H. H. Richardson buildings, like Trinity Church at Copley Square.

The year 2012 has been the year of Frank Furness, as many Philadelphia institutions commemorate his genius. For a complete list of "Furness: Inventing Modern," see here. I have been doing the rounds in Furnessiana relishing in all the original drawings from Furness and Hewitt's office and have taken some notes.

VIOLET. The Beaux Arts tradition (from Richard Morris Hunt's atelier) is evident in the use of violet ink to demarcate the poche in plans and sections. In the tradition of the Analytique, we also have plans overlapping elevations, the former differentiated by violet. My sketch replicates a detail from the granite double-shafts in the exterior of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (No. 1876.6.20). Overlapping the column cylinder, you see the column plan. Between the black lines of the elevation and the violet lines of the plan, we can reconstruct the three-dimensional column.

Another discovery in the Furness/Hewitt drawings was the interplay between drafting and free hand. All horizontal and vertical lines are drafted, but all curvilinear lines are done free-hand and this is not limited to the ornate sculptural capital but to every piece of moulding. This is noticeable only if you study the actual drawing, but the line thickness of free hand is evident in the variation of the inked line.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ruskin: The Virtue of Creativity (Genesis)

Following a global ecology in The Quarry (ch. 1), Ruskin defines some criteria in The Virtues of Architecture (ch. 2) in The Stones in Venice. If order for the evaluation of architecture to be universal, "of all the world and of all time," Ruskin needs to articulate some criteria, a "plumb-line" according to which we can pronounce whether a building is perpendicular. He calls them Virtues and they are three. Architecture must 1. Act well, 2. Speak well, and 3. Look well. The first virtue refers to the buildings structural integrity and economy that can be rationally evaluated. Interestingly enough, it aligns perfectly with Viollet-le-Duck structural rationalism, one of Ruskin's French foils. The second virtue is about the communicative message that the building contains that can only be evaluated by fully understanding the expectations, assumption and world-view of the civilization that produced it. In other words, the second virtue defines the job of the Panofskian positivist art history, the discipline of reconstructing historical intentions. Ruskin flat out rejects this as an evaluative principle. In a rather postmodern turn, Ruskin argues that it is impossible to enter the subjectivity of the original builder or user. The social historian might as well give up before starting. If the first virtue can be assessed technocratically and the the second virtue is inaccessible, Ruskin makes the third virtue as the most important plumb-line, which is a pure unmitigated enjoyment by the viewer. A good building can, thus, be aesthetically evaluated purely by the pleasure it give the viewer and requires no historical referentiality.

Ruskin, of course, has something a lot more specific in mind for his most important evaluative principle of aesthetic pleasure. At surface value, Ruskin's notion of beauty is steeped in Christian theology, "the right thing to be liked is God's work, which He made for our delight and contentment in this world. And all noble ornamentation is the expression of man's delight in God's work." For Ruskin, art is a human inquiry into genesis. The craftsman creates and in the process shares in the contemplation of universal creation. Once we remove the theological language, however, we find an even more profound conception of aesthetics. Ruskin's ecology implies that beauty resides in the natural landscape (whether created by God or not). Nature teaches us the fundamentals of aesthetic experience. Here Ruskin depends on Enlightenment aesthetic theory, such as Edmund Burke's contrast of the sublime and the beautiful, where aesthetic principals are rooted in natural principles. But this makes sense even without explicit Enlightenment theories, cognitive development depends on the ordering of natural elements (light, space, duration, extent, series, number, infinity, etc.) Thus, we do not need artifacts for beauty. It is not constructed by culture, but perceived or oriented through natural experience.

If beauty resides in the state of nature, then the architects job is to articulate the inherent difficulty of shaping nature (Genesis in capital letter) into an object (genesis in small letter). A good work of architecture exhibits the process of production, the process of making, the process of genesis. Aesthetic beauty is not the copying of conventions, but the articulation of struggle. This performative overcoming of nature becomes the basis of expressing our relationship with nature. Ruskin says it a lot better than me:

"I wish the reader to note this especially; we take pleasure, or should take pleasure, in architectural construction altogether as the manifestation of an admirable human intelligence; it is not the strength, not the size, not the finish of the work which we are to venerate : rocks are always stronger, mountains always larger, all natural objects more finished ; but it is the intelligence and resolution of man in overcoming physical difficulty which are to be the source of our pleasure and subject of our praise."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ruskin: Global Ecology

John Ruskin's conception of architectural agency is wonderfully global and, thus, just as relevant for the 21st as for the 19th century. In order to eradicate "the pestilence of the Renaissance" and the monopoly of "Classicalism" in western culture, Ruskin develops a global ecology of influence. Architecture becomes the total synthesis of multi-regional influences that are both cultural and environmental. When Ruskin published The Stones of Venice, scholars knew almost nothing about the chronology of medieval buildings. As a result, many of Ruskin's premises have been discounted by 20th-century scholarship. When positivist art history (Panofsky, Wittkower, Krautheimer, etc.) migrated from Germany to America after World War II, it managed to fully banish the Ruskinian world-view that had dominated for a century, since Charles Eliot Norton's establishment of a Ruskinian art program at Harvard. The Germanic tradition (via Panofskian iconology) reduced art history into social history. It is interesting to note that, within his lifetime, Ruskin resisted this development in his encounters of early positivists rampaging through Europe's archives. For Ruskin, the positivists spent too much time studying social documents and less time studying the works of art. To a certain extent, I am trying to reconstruct the Ruskinian world-view if only to reconstruct a lost century in American cultural history. So, I would like to focus on Ruskin's globalist paradigm.

For Ruskin, classical and Renaissance architecture should be abolished for being developmentally static, formulaic and easily reproducible by technological media. As a style of grand perfection, the classical vocabularly disguises the process of manufacture. If Ruskin were to use a contemporary situation, he would criticize a mass-produced classical molding from Home Depot because it disguises the oppressed Chinese factory worker that manufactured it, as well as the Hispanic day-laborer who will install it in a suburban home. A global view of architecture allows both China and Mexico to participate in the production of architectural meaning (although Ruskin felt that Chinese and Mesoamerican architecture were as static as modern European classicism, and he preferred Islamic and medieval paradigms).

Ruskin makes a pretty interesting argument in "The Quarry," ch. 1 of The Stones of Venice. Modern architecture begins with the Roman inheritance that gets transformed by the influences of two climatic and cultural extremes from the north and the south. A "glacier stream" from the north (Lombard, Norman) hardens it, while and a "lava stream" from the south (Arab, Byzantine) heats it. Ruskin chooses Venice as his ideal because it illustrates the process of cooling and thawing as it meets between the geographic extremes. In Venice, three global cultures come together to produce a processual synthesis. The classical inheritance of Rome, the frigid barbarian north and the luscious global south all come together in Venetian Gothic to produce the single most important lesson for the architectural future.

Ruskin's subjective theory of architecture is globally compelling, although problematic from a variety of view points. For instance, Postcolonial discourse has criticized Ruskin for asserting Venice as a colonialist prototype. Ruskin's Venice is compelling because it resembles the processes of hybridization that the British Empire must execute in India and Africa, in order to dominate. See, for instance, Daryl Ogden "The Architecture of Empire: 'Oriental' Gothic and the Problem of British Identity in Ruskin's Venice," Victorian Literature and Culture 25 (1997), pp. 109-120. Ruskin's architectural chronologies and real geographies are difficult to sustain. For instance, he sees Byzantine and Romanesque architecture as part of a unity, which informed both Byzantine and Romanesque Revival movements in the 19th century. It is difficult to distinguish Byzantine and Romanesque elements in the style of H. H. Richardson, for example. Even if it's not possible to adhere to all the details of Ruskin's schema, we must admit that we still use his concepts of influence and cultural hybridization.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ruskin: Beautiful but not Pretty

I begin a series of postings that one might call "Ruskin in Greece," although Ruskin (like Goethe) never crossed the Adriatic. Had he traveled to Greece, the prevalent Neoclassicism of the nascent nation-state would have crushed him. Greece's aspirations were so diametrically opposed to Ruskin's philosophy of art that any cross-fertilization between Ruskin and Greece seems ridiculous, Hence the names Ruskin and Hellas have never been put next to each other in scholarship. Nevertheless, I would argue that Ruskin cast a long shadow over Greece. It's the contours of this shadow that I will be tracing.

The earliest manifestation of Ruskin's theory of culture were articulated on a work devoted to domestic architecture. Ruskin wrote "The Poetry of Architecture" under the pseudonym Kata Phuysin ("According to Nature"), humorously tackling the classicist status quo. Mr. According to Nature studies the interplay between "national scenery and national character" in Europe's vernacular architecture. The book was serialized in 1837-38 and is the first book in Ruskin's 39-volume Collected Works (ed. E. T. Cook, London, 1912)

Had Ruskin visited Greece, he would have included a chapter on its mountain villages. His observations here would have been similar to his observations on the highlands of England and Wales, the mountain cottages of Westmoreland and Cumberland. I sketch Ruskin's illustrations of a window and his eloquent language of description. "It may be observed of the whole of the cottage," he concludes, "that, though all is beautiful, nothing is pretty." Thus, in 1837, sets up a new aesthetic discourse on vernacular architecture.

I tackle "The Poetry of Architecture"while researching an episode of Byzantine archaeology in Greece, when Ruskin's own students brought Ruskinian notions to Greece while documenting Byzantine monuments. Ruskin had placed Byzantium in a paradigmatic position for western culture, but Venice was the closest he got to it. It is natural that his students would take his mission further east through the Byzantine Research Fund at the British School at Athens. The group of Ruskin students in Greece include W. S. George, Robert Schultz, Sidney Barnsley and Ramsay Traquair. I had the great pleasure to study the drawing collection of these architects this summer. Many thanks to BSA archivist Amalia Kakissis for all her help. Moreover, the British School is organizing a conference on Byzantium and the Arts and Crafts movement in London, where I hope to present "Ruskin's Greek Shadow: The British School in Athens and the Byzantine House." The project hopes to untangle W. S. George's unpublished house drawings of Mystras, a topic related to my forthcoming essay on the houses of Mystras

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States