Maarten Delbeke: Beauty, corruption and lies. Architecture and its uses between Perrault and Piranesi

Evening lecture

22.02.2016, 18:00 h
Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz – Max-Planck-Institut
Palazzo Grifoni Budini Gattai, Via dei Servi 51, 50122 Firenze

Organized by the “Ethics and Architecture” project

In his last publication of vedute, the Différentes vues de quelques restes de trois grands édifices qui subsistent encore dans le milieu de l’ancienne ville de Pesto (1778) Giambattista Piranesi turned his attention to the three buildings at Paestum, the ancient Greek settlement south of Naples that had attracted increasing attention of architects, antiquarians and travelers from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. As a vociferous participant in the European debates about the origins of architecture, the architecture of Antiquity, and the relative merits of Greek and Roman architecture, Piranesi was stimulated to examine these very ancient classical buildings on Italian soil.

Piranesi’s interpretation of Paestum is founded on a reflection about the historical relationship between the beauty and use of architecture. Benchmarking his suppositions about the character of Paestum’s builders against his architectural judgment about the design of the buildings, Piranesi defines architectural beauty as a function of decorum. As such, Piranesi’s reflections on Paestum not only mark the logical conclusion of his earlier architectural theoretical writings, but also apply to particular buildings ideas about judging architecture that were developed one century earlier by the brothers Perrault, in the 1673 translation of Vitruvius, the Ordonnance des cinq espèces des colonnes and the Parallèle des anciens et des modernes. There, in a reflection based on the closing paragraphs of Vitruvius’ Book VI, the Perraults attempt to identify the different competences and authorities that are involved in judging the quality of buildings. Precisely because these different factors ultimately lead to one, single judgment of value, issues pertaining to beauty (such a ornament and proportion) become closely intertwined with matters of use, custom and tradition. It is this intertwinement that ultimately inscribes beauty in human history, and makes it a potential matter of corruption and lies.

Maarten Delbeke is Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture at the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at Ghent University.

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