Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Grotteschi

The Grotteschi, c. 1747; published in 1750. Set of four prints whose style and iconography join Piranesi’s imagination with the classicism of ancient Rome. The image takes us within the ancient ruins on an adventure to find forms long gone, now partially covered with shrubbery. We are on a visual excavation to uncover the hidden objects beneath. As we gaze across the image we see parts of statuary, satyrs, bones, vases and signs of the zodiac.
The revival of ancient Rome was a theme that fascinated Piranesi. One motif in ancient Roman decoration was the grotesque. Many of the images delineated in this scene are what we would call grotesques, for example the satyr in the mid left of the picture. Piranesi’s use of ancient Roman motifs educates and gives new life to an area that so intrigued him. Through Piranesi the classisicm of ancient Rome is reborn (D. Selinger).

The Triumphal Arch, detail from the Grotteschi, c. 1748

Created when Piranesi returned to Rome after a stay in Venice, where he is said to have worked briefly with Tiepolo, the four etchings of the Grotteschi series reflect Piranesi's encounter with the remarkable prints of the famous Venetian painter. The light, sketchy strokes of varying lengths found in some areas of the prints recall Tiepolo's technique, while the combination of skulls, vegetation, and crumbling ruins, as well as the ambiguity of the subject, are characteristics shared with Tiepolo's Scherzi and Capricci series. A few direct quotations from Tiepolo are seen in the Grotteschi—the smiling herm who appears in The Triumphal Arch has its source in one of Tiepolo's Scherzi. Whether Piranesi worked for Tiepolo or merely became acquainted with him, it appears likely that the older artist introduced Piranesi to the work of his favorite seventeenth-century printmakers. The skeletons in these prints recall certain etchings by Stefano della Bella, while Salvator Rosa—who also depicted piles of bones, ruins, and smoking urns—provid[ing] a model for the scribbled lines and webs of crosshatching that first appear in this series (Metropolitan Museum, New York).

Tomb of Nero (Tomba di Nerone, from the Grotteschi), c. 1747. Etching, engraving and drypoint, 39.6 x 54.7 cm. The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

Piranesi's Grotteschi are architectural fantasies. A capriccio (pl. capricci, Eng. caprice) is an architectural fantasy that places together buildings, archaeological remains and other architectural elements in fictional, often fantastical combinations, with staffage of figures. Capriccio fits under the more general term of landscape painting and may also be used of other types of work with an element of fantasy. This genre was developed by Marco Ricci and its best-known proponent was the painter Giovanni Paolo Pannini. The style was extended in the 1740s by Canaletto in the Vedute ideale (panoramas) and Piranesi in his Grotteschi, both etched. The Capricci, an influential series of etchings by Gianbattista Tiepolo (c. 1730, published in 1743), reduce the architectural elements to chunks of classical statuary and ruins, among which small groups made up of a cast of exotic and elegant figures of soldiers, philosophers and beautiful young people who go about their enigmatic business. No individual titles help to explain these works, where mood and style are everything. A later series by Tiepolo is called Scherzi di fantasia (Fantastic Sketches). The son of this artist, Domenico Tiepolo, was among those who imitated this type of imagery, using often the term "Capriccio" in titles.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Grotteschi, 1720 to 1750
by Francesco Nevola
The suite of etchings called by Piranesi the Grotteschi, published in 1750 in the compilation volume Opere Varie, have for more than two-hundred and fifty years eluded interpretation. Long recognised by scholars as being ‘touched by the artist’s tragic imagination', more recent ‘attempts to reduce the Grotteschi collectively or individually, to a specific, hermetic philosophical system have met with little success…’ In this volume these four magnificent prints are viewed as pivotal works in Piranesi’s early output and a comprehensive narrative interpretation of their meaning is proposed adopting an approach, analogous to that applied by Wilton-Ely to explain the iconography of the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta, or that used by Gavuzzo-Stewart in her clear penetration of the Carceri. This study which follows step-by-step Piranesi’s youthful artistic and intellectual endeavours between the Venice of Scalfarotto and Tiepolo and the Rome of Gian Battista Nolli, Giovanni Gaetano Bottari and the enlightened Corsini court proposes the Grotteschi as both testament and culmination of his first decade’s experiences. For Piranesi the years up to 1750 were particularly fecund: they are marked by apprenticeships in Venice and Rome, by economic difficulties, by successes and failures, and incessant travels in search of vocational fulfilment. In following these important years we are able to trace how they contribute to Piranesi’s rapid intellectual development and to his evolution of an original, vital, graphic idiom that finds its first mature expression in the Grotteschi universally recognised as the artist’s most ‘venetian’ works. Considered through the viewing filter of the paragone the Grotteschi are presented as Piranesi’s expression of direct rivalry with the great etching masters of the past: from Mantegna, Durer and Rembrandt to Salvator Rosa, Castiglione, della Bella and Tiepolo, as well as his bid to establish his own place among their revered ranks. These works also represent the culmination and conclusion of a series of experiments, protracted over the course of a decade, in which Piranesi appears to have attempted to develop the picturesque capriccio of ruins into a type of image capable of bearing specific meaning, thereby giving visual form to his idea of ‘ruine parlanti’. In conclusion, following a close reading of the visual and textual sources that inform Piranesi’s Grotteschi, the impact of these etchings is assessed on the artist’s work of the 1760s, in particular on his only built edifice, the church of the Knights of Malta, Santa Maria del Priorato, which is the culmination of a second phase of intense creativity in the artist’s career.

The Triumphal Arch. Densely filled with arcane imagery, this print reflects the obscure literary allusions and poetic riddles devised by the esoteric society of the Arcadians in Rome, to which Piranesi belonged.

Piranesi, I Grotteschi: Capricci, c. 1747

Capriccio 1, known as The Skeletons

Capriccio 2

Capriccio 3

Capriccio 4

PIRANESI, "Troppo pittore… per essere incisore."
by Francesco Nevola
Roma: Ugo Bozzi, 2010. Italian text. Expanded version of 2009 English edition.
In his biography of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) J.G. Legrand records the etcher Giuseppe Vasi's assessment of his Venetian pupil: 'Vous être trop peintre, mon ami, pour être graveur' - 'You are too much a painter, my friend, to be an etcher.' Recent studies of Piranesi have not explored the full implications of this statement. Vasi clearly refers to his knowledge of Piranesi's career as a painter prior to his apprenticeship as an etcher, referring to it as a hindrance in this purpose. No evidence remains today of any paintings Piranesi might have made, however his biographer Legrand refers that Piranesi studied with Piazzetta, Canaletto and Tiepolo and that he also painted in the manner of Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione and the Bamboccianti. This assertion suggests that a diverse but substantial body of paintings by the young Piranesi, although now lost without trace, once existed. The present work, spans the earliest years of Piranesi's career from his birth in 1720 through to the issue of his first works in a mature technique, the Grotteschi, published in the compilation volume Opere Varie of 1750. In the first part of the present study the chronology of this period is reviewed in detail, taking into consideration the various possible apprenticeships undertaken by Piranesi during these early years, assessing the significance of his contacts among the artists, connoisseurs and aristocrats with whom he had associations in Venice and Rome and documenting his rapid intellectual and artistic development during these tumultuous years spent between the lagoon city and the Eternal City. In the second part of this study the influence of painters and etchers of Piranesi's generation and earlier generations is examined in detail, particularly in relation to his production of ruin capricci - a small but important body of work in Piranesi's output which find their final culmination in his four masterful etchings the Grotteschi. Here points of comparison are drawn from among the greatest exponents of etching from Mantegna and Durer to Rembrandt, Castiglione and Salvator Rosa as well as to contemporary painters such as G.B. Tiepolo and G.P. Panini. The influence on the young Piranesi of artists such as these, is seen not only as part of his auto-didactic approach to the improvement of his own style, but as a means to rival directly and claim his own place among such luminaries' revered ranks. In this context a selection of Piranesi's early etched vedute are also compared directly with the works of earlier masters such as G.B. Falda and A. Specchi as well as his peers Canaletto and Bellotto alongside whom there is a substantial possibility that he worked. The third part of the present volume concerns interpretation. In view of the early eighteenth century taste for rovinismo in prints, paintings and architectural follies to complete landscaped gardens and Piranesi's rapidly increasing wealth of archaeological knowledge, the ruin capricci of his first published volume Prima Parte di Architettura e Prospettiva of 1743, are considered as direct expressions of his concept of 'parlanti ruine' or speaking ruins. Through the introduction of didactic captions, it is suggested that Piranesi transformed these early prints into 'readable' images, thereby introducing to his works evidence of the potent polemical content that would first distinguish his works from those of his peers and later become an integral feature of his productions. In this context, the Grotteschi, the meaning of which has eluded scholars since their first appearance in 1750, are considered as the culmination of this early development of polemical images and for the first time presented as representing a single coherent text based narrative expressing the ancient's creation myth. An elegiac subject entirely in keeping with Piranesi's objectives as an architect-archaeologist, etcher-publisher driven to renew contemporary taste in light of the surviving achievements of antiquity. A role that over the course of his brief fifty-eight years of life Piranesi was to successfully fill becoming the unrivalled father of Neo-classicism.

Piranesi, Plan of a Large and Magnificent College Building, from Opere Varie di Archittetura, Prospettive, Grotteschi, Antichità, 1750

European Ornamental Prints
Piranesi as Designer
Non solo arte


Such a Noise!

The art manifesto has been a recurrent feature associated with the avant-garde in Modernism. Art manifestos are mostly extreme in their rhetoric and intended for shock value to achieve a revolutionary effect. They often address wider issues, such as the political system. Typical themes are the need for revolution, freedom of expression and the implied or overtly stated superiority of the writers over the status quo.
Being a type of "communication made to the whole world" (Tristan Tzara), the manifesto gives a means of expressing, publicising and recording ideas for the artist or art group—even if only one or two people write the words, it is mostly still attributed to the group name.
Manifestos typically consist of a number of statements, which are numbered or in bullet points and which do not necessarily follow logically from one to the next.
The manifesto was initially a political document of state. The declaration of war in 1914 for instance was embodied in a document titled "Manifesto". This background is extremely important when assessing the positioning and impact of the manifesto as adopted by its early artistic users, who were challenging art and society.
The first art manifesto of the 20th century was introduced with the Futurists in Italy in 1909. The period up to World War II created what are still the best known manifestos.
Although it might be assumed that an art manifesto's primary purpose is to communicate the aesthetics of the group issuing it, this turns out not to be the case, nor is it an art form in its own right. The norm involves a hybrid form that combines a theatrical performance with political declamation.[1] Artists have not restricted themselves to their own genre, although they have often used their skills in the presentation of the text through graphics and type faces, resulting in a combination of "art, publicity, criticism, and advertising."[2]

Philippo Tommaso Marinetti, "Futurist Manifesto", Le Figaro, Paris, 1909.[3]
We have been up all night, my friends and I, beneath mosque lamps whose brass cupolas are bright as our souls, because like them they were illuminated by the internal glow of electric hearts. And trampling underfoot our native sloth on opulent Persian carpets, we have been discussing right up to the limits of logic and scrawling the paper with demented writing.
Our hearts were filled with an immense pride at feeling ourselves standing quite alone, like lighthouses or like the sentinels in an outpost, facing the army of enemy stars encamped in their celestial bivouacs. Alone with the engineers in the infernal stokeholes of great ships, alone with the black spirits which rage in the belly of rogue locomotives, alone with the drunkards beating their wings against the walls.
Then we were suddenly distracted by the rumbling of huge double decker trams that went leaping by, streaked with light like the villages celebrating their festivals, which the Po in flood suddenly knocks down and uproots, and, in the rapids and eddies of a deluge, drags down to the sea.
Then the silence increased. As we listened to the last faint prayer of the old canal and the crumbling of the bones of the moribund palaces with their green growth of beard, suddenly the hungry automobiles roared beneath our windows.
"Come, my friends!" I said. "Let us go! At last Mythology and the mystic cult of the ideal have been left behind. We are going to be present at the birth of the centaur and we shall soon see the first angels fly! We must break down the gates of life to test the bolts and the padlocks! Let us go! Here is they very first sunrise on earth! Nothing equals the splendor of its red sword which strikes for the first time in our millennial darkness."
We went up to the three snorting machines to caress their breasts. I lay along mine like a corpse on its bier, but I suddenly revived again beneath the steering wheel — a guillotine knife — which threatened my stomach. A great sweep of madness brought us sharply back to ourselves and drove us through the streets, steep and deep, like dried up torrents. Here and there unhappy lamps in the windows taught us to despise our mathematical eyes. "Smell," I exclaimed, "smell is good enough for wild beasts!"
And we hunted, like young lions, death with its black fur dappled with pale crosses, who ran before us in the vast violet sky, palpable and living.
And yet we had no ideal Mistress stretching her form up to the clouds, nor yet a cruel Queen to whom to offer our corpses twisted into the shape of Byzantine rings! No reason to die unless it is the desire to be rid of the too great weight of our courage!
We drove on, crushing beneath our burning wheels, like shirt-collars under the iron, the watch dogs on the steps of the houses.
Death, tamed, went in front of me at each corner offering me his hand nicely, and sometimes lay on the ground with a noise of creaking jaws giving me velvet glances from the bottom of puddles.
"Let us leave good sense behind like a hideous husk and let us hurl ourselves, like fruit spiced with pride, into the immense mouth and breast of the world! Let us feed the unknown, not from despair, but simply to enrich the unfathomable reservoirs of the Absurd!"
As soon as I had said these words, I turned sharply back on my tracks with the mad intoxication of puppies biting their tails, and suddenly there were two cyclists disapproving of me and tottering in front of me like two persuasive but contradictory reasons. Their stupid swaying got in my way. What a bore! Pouah! I stopped short, and in disgust hurled myself — vlan! — head over heels in a ditch.
Oh, maternal ditch, half full of muddy water! A factory gutter! I savored a mouthful of strengthening muck which recalled the black teat of my Sudanese nurse!
As I raised my body, mud-spattered and smelly, I felt the red hot poker of joy deliciously pierce my heart. A crowd of fishermen and gouty naturalists crowded terrified around this marvel. With patient and tentative care they raised high enormous grappling irons to fish up my car, like a vast shark that had run aground. It rose slowly leaving in the ditch, like scales, its heavy coachwork of good sense and its upholstery of comfort.
We thought it was dead, my good shark, but I woke it with a single caress of its powerful back, and it was revived running as fast as it could on its fins.
Then with my face covered in good factory mud, covered with metal scratches, useless sweat and celestial grime, amidst the complaint of staid fishermen and angry naturalists, we dictated our first will and testament to all the living men on earth.

1. We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness.
2.The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt.
3. Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber. We want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist.
4. We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
5. We want to sing the man at the wheel, the ideal axis of which crosses the earth, itself hurled along its orbit.
6. The poet must spend himself with warmth, glamour and prodigality to increase the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.
7. Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.
8. We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed.
9. We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
10. We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.
11. We will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons: the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds.
It is in Italy that we are issuing this manifesto of ruinous and incendiary violence, by which we today are founding Futurism, because we want to deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tourist guides and antiquaries.

Italy has been too long the great second-hand market. We want to get rid of the innumerable museums which cover it with innumerable cemeteries.
Museums, cemeteries! Truly identical in their sinister juxtaposition of bodies that do not know each other. Public dormitories where you sleep side by side for ever with beings you hate or do not know. Reciprocal ferocity of the painters and sculptors who murder each other in the same museum with blows of line and color. To make a visit once a year, as one goes to see the graves of our dead once a year, that we could allow! We can even imagine placing flowers once a year at the feet of the Gioconda! But to take our sadness, our fragile courage and our anxiety to the museum every day, that we cannot admit! Do you want to poison yourselves? Do you want to rot?
What can you find in an old picture except the painful contortions of the artist trying to break uncrossable barriers which obstruct the full expression of his dream?
To admire an old picture is to pour our sensibility into a funeral urn instead of casting it forward with violent spurts of creation and action. Do you want to waste the best part of your strength in a useless admiration of the past, from which you will emerge exhausted, diminished, trampled on?
Indeed daily visits to museums, libraries and academies (those cemeteries of wasted effort, calvaries of crucified dreams, registers of false starts!) is for artists what prolonged supervision by the parents is for intelligent young men, drunk with their own talent and ambition.
For the dying, for invalids and for prisoners it may be all right. It is, perhaps, some sort of balm for their wounds, the admirable past, at a moment when the future is denied them. But we will have none of it, we, the young, strong and living Futurists!
Let the good incendiaries with charred fingers come! Here they are! Heap up the fire to the shelves of the libraries! Divert the canals to flood the cellars of the museums! Let the glorious canvases swim ashore! Take the picks and hammers! Undermine the foundation of venerable towns!
The oldest among us are not yet thirty years old: we have therefore at least ten years to accomplish our task. When we are forty let younger and stronger men than we throw us in the waste paper basket like useless manuscripts! They will come against us from afar, leaping on the light cadence of their first poems, clutching the air with their predatory fingers and sniffing at the gates of the academies the good scent of our decaying spirits, already promised to the catacombs of the libraries.
But we shall not be there. They will find us at last one winter's night in the depths of the country in a sad hangar echoing with the notes of the monotonous rain, crouched near our trembling aeroplanes, warming our hands at the wretched fire which our books of today will make when they flame gaily beneath the glittering flight of their pictures.
They will crowd around us, panting with anguish and disappointment, and exasperated by our proud indefatigable courage, will hurl themselves forward to kill us, with all the more hatred as their hearts will be drunk with love and admiration for us. And strong healthy Injustice will shine radiantly from their eyes. For art can only be violence, cruelty, injustice.
The oldest among us are not yet thirty, and yet we have already wasted treasures, treasures of strength, love, courage and keen will, hastily, deliriously, without thinking, with all our might, till we are out of breath.
Look at us! We are not out of breath, our hearts are not in the least tired. For they are nourished by fire, hatred and speed! Does this surprise you? it is because you do not even remember being alive! Standing on the world's summit, we launch once more our challenge to the stars!
Your objections? All right! I know them! Of course! We know just what our beautiful false intelligence affirms: "We are only the sum and the prolongation of our ancestors," it says. Perhaps! All right! What does it matter? But we will not listen! Take care not to repeat those infamous words! Instead, lift up your head!
Standing on the world's summit we launch once again our insolent challenge to the stars!

1. Martin Puchner: "A substantial part of avant-garde art, guided by the genre of the manifesto, was not meant to be contemplated in private ... its screeching voice upsets our close-reading sensibilities" ("Screeching Voices: Avant-Garde Manifestos in the Cabaret," in European Avant-Garde: New Perspectives, ed. Dietrich Scheunemann, Amsterdam and Atlanta, 2000).
2. Stephen B. Petersen: "As public declarations of intention, printed manifestos offered a critical outlet for artists' ideas in the 20th century, serving as both rhetorical and visual statements of position in the art world and in society. As a genre, manifestos involve text, graphic design, and the rhetorical presentation of artistic ideas in a social context, thereby intersecting with art, publicity, criticism, and advertising" ("Looking at Artists' Manifestos, 1945–1965," Penn Humanities Forum, 2005-6).
3. Original text in French; English tranlation by James Joll (University of Michigan).


Loos, Ornament and Crime, 1908

Loos, a vigorous denouncer of ornament and the great cultural moralist in the history of European architecture and design was a revolutionary against the revolutionaries. With his assault on Viennese arts and crafts and his conflict with bourgeois morality, he managed to offend a whole country. He launched his controversial views in 1897 through a series of published essays, which addressed the excesses of traditional Viennese design, particularly as exercised by the Jugendstil movement (Vienna Secession, led by Olbrich and Hoffmann). These theories culminated in 1908 with the publication of a short essay entitled "Ornament and Crime." To Loos, the lack of ornament on architecture was a sign of spiritual strength, an aesthetic beauty that only those who lived on a higher level of culture would appreciate. According to him, "The urge to ornament oneself and everything within reach is the ancestor of pictorial art. It is the baby talk of painting... the evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects."

Joseph Rykwert, Adolf Loos: The New Vision, Studio International, vol. 186, # 957, 1973

Adolf Loos (1870-1933) was not the finest architect of the century. But amongst twentieth-century architects, he was probably the only one (with the possible exception of Le Corbusier) to be a major writer.

His family was unremarkable, though his background was a strong influence. He was the son of a prosperous craftsman: a monumental mason who had been very conscious of the dignity of his trade. He had practised this trade of his and lived in Brno, on the border of the Czech and German-speaking Habsburg lands. Adolf Loos was born there in 1870; he was therefore 48 when the Habsburg Empire fell. He died in 1933, the year of the Nazi rise to power, a deaf, broken man in spite of his relatively young age. His writings were marked by the feeling their titles summed up: Ins Leere Gesprochen and Trotzdem (Spoken into the Void, and Nonetheless). The sense of contradiction is inherent from the outset. Loos had been – surely more than his father even – aware of the nobility and worth of the paternal calling. But his father had died when Loos was just over ten years old, and his veneration for his father's memory contrasted sharply with his distaste for his mother's ways, her drudging insistence on security and achievement. The army, the art-school and finally the American journey liberated him, severed the family ties and formulated his resolve to become an architect. Already, when he was a student at the Dresden Gewerbeschule, he showed his mettle. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he rejected the servitude of the fraternities and the brand of a duelling scar that went with it. It was not only his distaste for the philistine ways of most of his student contemporaries, but also a fastidious care for personal propriety and integrity which motivated him. And his civil courage was already firm.

The fastidiousness was already in evidence when he first went to do his military service in Vienna. Leather and silver objects of high quality became his passion. The designers of that time regarded surface as a free field for the ornamental inventor. Curves, lines, inlays of varied materials covered all available plane surfaces. Instinctively, Loos already sought the smooth, the barely chamfered or edged. A passion for smooth and precious surfaces was an instinctive preference – which, as I will try to show, he later rationalized. His period at arts-and-crafts schools had left him with an interest in ornament – as he recognizes in one or two autobiographical pieces; but when he returned to Austria, his taste had been cleared by the sharp, clear Anglo-Saxon air he had breathed. And he rejoiced that the sensible Viennese bourgeoisie had rejected the fancy ornament which had become so popular in Germany and France. He was, of course, a mythomane. His idea that ‘the American kitchen never smells of onion, that the American woman can prepare the most exquisite meal in a quarter of an hour; she twitters like a bird and always smiles ...’ could not be the product of much direct experience; in spite of the visits to Philadelphia cousins, his stay in America seems to have been taken up with nights washing-up in restaurants, living in the YMCA and poor lodgings, some journalism and occasional recourse to the breadline. But those three years in the United States did form Loos's view of what he was about decisively. He was to be an architect, and in that sense a builder like his father. But he was also to bring to Vienna the inestimable gift of western culture; his little magazine (of which only two numbers appeared) Das Andere (The Other) had as its subtitle ‘a paper for the introduction of Western culture to Austria’. This Western culture had a curious physiognomy. Its structure could not be described; it was made up of surface details, which together gave the outline of a fabled and highly desirable state of affairs. Look at the matters with which Das Andere dealt: clothes, manners, table manners in particular; begging; sexual mores among the very young; the overdecoration of Wagner's Tristan in the Vienna Opera; the ill manners of the very great (the Emperor Wilhelm II is named); street decorations for state visits and so on.

All the time, the manners of the Anglo-Saxon countries are assumed as a model, as a standard of reference. The right way to do things is the way they are done at the heart of civilization, and that was either in London or in New York. By comparison with their ways, Austrian manners are found wanting at every point.

Much attention is paid, for instance, to the lack of spoons for the salt-cellars of Viennese restaurants. And, sometimes, this insistence is taken to extreme lengths: Loos rediscovers the aubergine, familiar in Europe since the sixteenth century, as the American egg-plant; and arranges to have American-type aubergine fritters served daily for a week in a named vegetarian restaurant in the hope of inspiring Viennese housewives and restaurateurs into emulation.

It may all seem very remote from Loos's central business of architecture. And yet for him it was not. Whenever he worked, he was always almost obsessively interested in how a building would be occupied. His great hostility to the Secession, the group of anti-academic Viennese artists who were the Austrian branch of Art Nouveau, turned on this point also. Art Nouveau architects and designers thought that a new style could be created for their own time in terms of an ornamental vocabulary, which would have no relation to historical ornament, but would be drawn entirely and directly from nature. Some went even further. They thought that this ornamental surface could be applied not only to walls, windows, floors, and pieces of furniture, but also to clothes and even to jewellery in a scientific fashion, so as to stimulate or reflect emotional states.

In some ways, this attitude to ornament had its source in the psychology (and later the aesthetics) of empathy, a teaching still not wholly dispensable, according to which we ‘read’ our state of being into the objects which surround us, and in a particularly heightened form when these objects present the pressing claim to our attention which works of art inevitably do. While this idea stimulated the particular researches of certain designers such as Henry van de Velde, for whom Loos reserves his most withering scorn, the notion of style which can be summed up in terms of its ornamental patterns is an idea formulated — among others — by the great German historian and architect, Gottfried Semper. Clothing, he believed, was the primary stimulus for all figuration. Clothing understood not only as protection, but also as the adorning of the human body. Semper was perhaps the first to consider tattooing among the arts of mankind.

Tattooing obviously fascinated Loos. In the most famous of his essays, the one on ornament and crime, he holds the Papuan up as an example of man who has not evolved to the moral and civilized circumstances of modern man, and who will therefore kill and consume his enemies without committing a crime. Had a modern — meaning a Western man — done the same thing, he would either be considered a criminal or a degenerate. By the same token, the Papuan may tattoo his skin, his boat, his oar or anything he may lay his hands on ... He is no criminal. But a modern man who tattos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate. Tattooed men who are not imprisoned are either latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats. If a tattooed man dies free, this is because he has died prematurely, before committing his murder.

Horror vacui is the origin of all figuration. ‘All art is erotic’. But man has evolved. And Loos proposes the axiom that the evolution of culture is equivalent to the entfernen of ornament from everyday things. Writing this essay as he did in 1908, it was easy to dismiss the elaborate confections of Van de Velde and Otto Eckmann, or even Joseph Olbrich, as worthless. Art Nouveau was already a thing of the past. Loos's contempt for their efforts had proved justified, while art schools, ministries and professional bodies were still intent on the study of ornament. But even in Loos's triumph, there is an element of inconsistency. His shoes, he admits, are covered with ornaments. English-style brogues, one must suppose. Loos imagines offering his shoemaker a premium price for the shoes: a quarter more than usual, and the delight of the shoemaker at having such an extremely appreciative client. But were he to ask the shoemaker to make the shoes quite smooth, without any ornament, he would topple his shoemaker from the heaven he had raised him to by his offer into the deepest hell.

The creation of ornament is the shoemaker's pleasure. And that, Loos thinks, is what makes it acceptable. ‘I can put up with ornament on my own body even, if it is a witness to the pleasure of my fellow-man’. Brogue shoes, Balkan Kelims, all that is tolerable, even welcome. But, says Loos, I preach to patricians. And patricians are those who — unlike his shoemaker — go after a day's work to relax listening to Tristram or to Beethoven. And a man who goes to listen to the ninth symphony and then sits down to draw a carpet pattern is either a confidence trickster or a degenerate.

The particular hate for the ornamental patterns of the Art Nouveau designers had a further motivation. Loos wrote the moral tale of the Poor Rich Man, who had his house, which he had hitherto inhabited so peacefully and contentedly, made into a work of art, since he had become discontented living without art. And the architect had designed every detail of the Rich Man's home, covered every surface with elaborate ornament; he anticipated everything, even the pattern on the Rich Man's slippers. The day came when the Poor Rich Man's family offered him birthday presents, which they had bought at the most approved arts-and-crafts establishments. The architect, summoned to find correct places for them in his composition, was furious that a client had dared to accept presents about which he, the architect, had not been consulted. For the house was altogether finished, as was his client: he was complete. The Poor Rich Man was written in 1900, at the height of the Art Nouveau phase. Loos's was then an unpopular, minority view among the cultivated; he seemed to take up cudgels for the philistines who still preferred their saddlework and their silver smooth and unadorned. By 1908, the year in which Ornament and Crime appeared, the climate of opinion had changed. Even the Viennese leaders of the Secession, like Joseph Olbrich, were working in a sober, ornament caste-shorn classical manner. Olbrich's last houses (he died in 1910) and Hoffmann's buildings — such as his pavilion at the Werkbund Exhibition of 1914 — align them with the more 'progressive' among the German architects: with Peter Behrens, Bruno Paul, Hermann Muthesius, Heinrich Tessenov.

But the ‘shorn’ classicism which they practised was not for Loos. They were the architects of — at that time at any rate — a confident bourgeoisie, which seemed to believe that the problems of Germany (and by extension of the rest of the world) would be solved in a reasonable way. That the Werkbund ideals of educated taste and good design would favour the expanding markets; and that all these good things would be fostered by the improving of art education on the English arts-and-crafts-school model.

The architects who held such ideas appealed to an architecture of reason for their precedent. The architecture of the age of reason, of the age of taste. Classicism, the brand of classicism which had evolved in Germany and Austria in the wake of the French masters, and culminated in the work of Schinkel, was the favoured model. But the apparently arbitrary slavery of neo-classical architects to an historical past was rejected. A model, yes, but to emulate, not to copy. Ornament, in any case, was considered something abstract; the ideas of the 80s and 90s, the notion that ornament and line could convey a mood or even a message, were alien to them. To Behrens as to Hoffmann, ornament was a modenature which might accentuate the play of light over the surface, at the most an anodyne echo of a generalized melancholy for the past, a garnish for the essential geometrics which — so it seemed to them — reason had always dictated.

Loos, like many of the architects of the pre-1914 period, was self-consciously modern. I have already noted this. And he had other things in common with them. His generous, if sometimes misguided, enthusiasm for all things English, for instance. But he was untouched by the generalized Werkbund optimism. It was not through the reformation of untutored mechanics in art schools, however excellent, that good design would be achieved throughout society. In so far as good design was available, it was those very rude mechanics, the saddler, the silversmith, the upholsterer, even the plumber — but above all the tailor and the shoemaker — who already provided a repertory of excellent objects for everyday use. This was the early intuition of the perfection, of the superiority, of unadorned objects, as they had come from the ‘unspoilt’ craftsman's hands. Loos remained consistent in this: if you look through his interiors, whether private or commercial (he never designed a public building) you will find that he never used ‘modern’ designed furniture. His preference was for English style, for Chippendale or Hepplewhite chairs; or else the cheaper canework. Occasionally he uses the standard Thonet chairs in bentwood, familiar from cheap cafes all over Europe. The armchairs are the usual cosy, sub-Biedermeier upholstery, even including the occasional Chesterfield. The floors were, for preference, covered with Oriental rugs.

I suppose that is why there are so few photographs of the house which Loos designed for the most famous of his clients, Tristan Tzara, in the Avenue Junot, on Montmartre. To the street the house would have shown — had the projected top storey been built — a great white square set over a rubble stone base. The base contained the garage and fuel store, as well as the main entrance on the ground floor, and the main windows of a flat for letting above. This flat was entered from behind the building. The main apartment consisted of hall and kitchen looking through the windows which overhung the string course, more important rooms in the huge niche, about half the height of the square and a third of its width, which cut sharply into the great white surface, a negative of the shape which he would later perfect in the Muller home at Brno. It was set in the middle, so that a swathe of white, a third of the square's width, went round it on three sides.

The inner complexity of the plan was a topical Loosian solution for a difficult site. The complexity had its wit, as did the strangely highly-abstracted anthropomorphism of the facade, or the use of the commonplace Parisian industrial detailing in the lower floors, the shape of the lower niche, again the inversion of his favourite English bay-window. It is a configuration not unlike Le Corbusier's exactly contemporary villa at Garches for Leo Stein: a blank facade, sparsely pierced to the street, and an open, glazed frame towards the terraces and gardens at the back. But Loos's complexity always remains hard, the spaces are never moulded, never the plastic, shaped interiors which Corbusier made them.

Repeatedly Loos asserted that the architect's business is with the immeuble, the craftsman's with the meuble. The architect saw to the inert volume, to the walls and ceilings and floors, to the fixed details such as chimneys and fireplaces (beaten copper was one of Loos's favourite materials). And here his haptic reading of buildings was most important.

Wherever he could, Loos used semi-precious materials on walls and ceilings: metal plaques, leather, veined marbles or highly veneered woods, even facing built-in pieces of furniture. But unlike his contemporaries, Loos never used these materials as pieces to be framed, but always as integral, continuous surfaces, always as plain as possible, always displaying their proper texture: almost as if they were a kind of ornament, an ornament which showed the pleasure providence took in making them, as the more obvious type of ornament would display the pleasure experienced by his fellow-men.

Curious then, this feeling for the decorative effect of figuring in the arch-enemy of all ornament. Even more curious is his persistent use of the classical columns and mouldings. The crassest of these was his project for the Chicago Tribune, an unplaced competition project; it was an extraordinary scheme which consisted of a vast Doric column, (the shaft alone 21 storeys high) on a high parallelepiped base. To Loos, however, the project seemed wholly serious. The building was to be a pure classic form, classic and therefore outside the reach of fashion, so that it would fulfil the programme of the competition promoters to 'erect the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world'.

A naughty extravaganza you might say. Of course. But Loos was convinced, secure enough, to allow himself that also. He had imagined a way of life in the house. The felicities of the plan all exult in the way the house was to be occupied, to be lived in. And does everything to ennoble it formally by a quiet unassertive wit. It is at this scale that Loos was at his happiest. The private houses are his masterpieces: they, the bars, the clothes shops, all buildings on a small scale, for the greater dimensions of public urban building he could not quite master. Though perhaps this is not entirely fair to him. In 1920 he was appointed chief architect for the Siedlungen of the post-abdication, the newly Republican Vienna. It was the nearest he came to giving positive expression to the western civilization he spoke of in architecture. But he was consumed by one or two detailed ideas which he never fully worked out: the terrace house with weight-bearing party-walls, and light construction cross-wall (what he called ‘the house with one wall’); the use of stepped terraces, so that the roof of one house could serve as garden to the next; the provision of access at every other floor, so that the terrace became in fact an immeuble villa, to adapt Corbusier's phrase. But his appointment did not and could not last. Only one of his Siedlungen was actually built, only partly following his plans before he retired, disappointed and embittered, to Paris. It is too easy to say that it was fated, that he should have remained the architect of the individual villa. Although all his projects for great public buildings show him at his worst, the low income housing absorbed his ingenious talent, drew the egalitarian and the moralist in him to a full engagement.

However, although the failure was primarily political, there is in the projects a kind of naivete, a concentration on the passage from one material to another, the lack of a sense of urban context for them, the absence for want of a better word, of a sense of structure. After all, the pleasures of his architecture are the pleasures of touch. And yet he was dimly aware of a mystery beyond, a mystery which he could not quite name. ‘All art is erotic’, he had written in Ornament and Crime. The erotic element in art had to be sublimated, however. The man who scrawls explicit erotic signs on walls is, again, a criminal or a degenerate, like all tattooers of surface. And yet, ornament cannot be dismissed altogether, for in the end the business of architecture is evocative. In attempting to get closer to this idea, he fell into a strange figure. ‘When, in a wood we come on a mound, six foot long, three foot wide, heaped up into a pyramid with a spade, then we become serious and something says inside us: someone lies buried here. That is architecture’.

Obsessionally almost (and in his later years ever more despairingly), Loos followed the ideal of an architecture which could communicate; communicate about this perfect way of life which seemed to him realized in the Anglo-Saxon lands, in his paradise. He never attempted a systematic view, a coherent theory of architecture, or of anything else for that matter. He was obsessed with immediate sensations as ingredients of a perfect way of life. The quality of smell and of touch, the juxtaposition of textures, the passage of an inhabitant from one volume to another, all these he observed with a sharp and loving eye.

Beyond this, and more gropingly, he sought for an architecture which could communicate and reconcile man to his fate. Though again it was not man in general with whom he concerned himself, but the same inhabitant of his buildings whose senses he wanted to stimulate and soothe. And beyond him, the passer-by: every building of his is not a maze which traps a way of life, but a presence which communicates with its inanimate neighbours.

It is these two passions which make him so fascinating a figure: since he tried to capture and celebrate things which his contemporaries had taken for granted, and were discarding in the name of progress. And which — now that they are lost — we miss in a way our fathers, his contemporaries, would never have imagined.

Ornament Returns. Exactly 100 years after Adolf Loos wrote Ornament and Crime, a manifesto that effectively relegated ornament in architecture to the peripheries of the discourse, "Re-sampling Ornament" takes a first step towards tracing its re-emergence. For decades the language of architectural ornament has remained largely unspoken, but for a few memorable post-modern architectural experiments. Yet from Owen Jones 'Grammar of Ornament' to John Ruskin, Gottfried Semper, Louis Sullivan and William Hogarth – and contemporaries such as Kent Bloomer, a rich vocabulary of opposing and often contradictory theories exists to be readapted, re-sampled, and once again applied at the heart of architectural practice.
Oliver Domeisen's research at his unit at London’s Architectural Association into the history and contemporary application of ornament in architecture has made it possible to embellish and enrich a mutual selection of new architectural projects with terminology drawn from many dictionaries; allowing for associations and groupings that can identify vital traces of ornament in current practice and at the same time rethink its boundaries, creating a new context within which contemporary projects can be redefined and rethought.
Whilst the ideological rigor of Modernism once rejected the supposed decadence and wastefulness associated with the mass production of ornament, it is undeniable that over the past 10 years entirely new construction and manufacturing processes have made the return of ornament economically viable. 3D computer modelling can now steer mass-customisation processes from CNC milling to laser cutting.
Ornament is the home of metamorphosis uniting and transforming conflicting worldly elements. It is an image of combination and a spectacle of transformation. Ornament is a method to subsume almost anything into the architectural idiom: human bodies, plants, militaria, microscopic patterns, fantastical beasts – it is the realm of monsters and hybrids. Ornament is transgressive. It sits comfortably between realism and abstraction, antiquity and modernity, mechanical objectivity and artistic subjectivity, convention and expression, and the real and the ideal.
Crucial to a new reading of ornament in architecture is its enduring relationship to nature. “Re-sampling Ornament” reasserts the right to enjoy the intelligent conceptual play with beauty and to rediscover sensuality in current manifestations of ornament in architecture. According to the architectural historian Kent Bloomer, there are malleable and erotic 'Bio-Keys' that span cultures and histories, as though there were some deeply rooted genetic code of ornament. Ruskin's "Curves of Temperance and Intemperance" sought the geometry of virtue in ornament, one that William Hogarth traces with scientific exactitude in the curvature of bones and the lines of a woman's pelvis. Today, computer-aided design can bring forth organic forms in architecture as well as stretching artifice to its extremes.

In our age of conspicuous consumption, brand culture also becomes a welcome resource for the architecture of ornament in all its opulence. The icons of our age are perhaps the logos that define the corporate world that surrounds us; the manufacturers of desire. The architects featured as defining new styles and languages to accommodate this iconography are distinguished by the elegance with which they resolve the dilemma of representation in unique ways – uniting ornament with a pertinent commentary on contemporary visual culture.
“Re-sampling Ornament” reinstates ornament in contemporary architecture with an abundance of new conceptual and aesthetic possibilities. Ornament operates trans-historically and trans-culturally. It is constant dynamic movement and expansion. Ornament is not truth – it is mimesis, material transubstantiation, deception, artifice, pleasure and beauty that render utility acceptable (SAM-Basel, 2008).

Johannes Esaias Nilson (1721-1788), Neues Caffehaus (New Coffee House), colored copper engraving, Augsburg, Germany, 1756.


Louis I. Kahn: "Order Is," 1960

Design is form-making in order
Form emerges out of a system of construction
Growth is a construction – In order is creative force
In design is the means – where with what when with how much

The nature of space reflects what it wants to be
Is the auditorium a Stradivarius
or an ear
Is the auditorium a creative instrument
keyed to Bach or Bartók
played by the conductor
or is it a conventional hall

In the nature of space is the spirit and the will to exist in a certain way
Design must follow closely that will
Therefore a stripe-painted horse is not a zebra
Before a railroad station is a building
it wants to be a street
it grows out of the needs of the street
out of the order of movement
A meeting of contours englazed.

Through the nature – why
Through the order – what
Through the design – how

A form emerges from the structural elements inherent in the form.
A dome is not conceived when questions arise how to build it.
Nervi grows an arch
Fuller grows a dome

Mozart’s compositions are designs
They are exercises of order – intuitive
Design encourages more designs
Designs derive their imagery from order
Imagery is the memory – the form
Style is an adopted order

The same order created the elephant and created man
They are different designs
Begun from different aspirations
Shaped from different circumstances

Order does not imply Beauty
The same order created the dwarf and Adonis

Design is not making beauty
Beauty emerges from selection

Art is a form-making life in order – psychic

Order is intangible
It is a level of creative consciousness
forever becoming higher in level
The higher the order the more diversity in design

Order supports integration
From what the space wants to be the unfamiliar way may be revealed to the architect.
From order he will derive creative force and power of self-criticism to give form to this unfamiliar.
Beauty will evolve.

Image. Louis Kahn’s unbuilt Hurva Synagogue, as rendered by Kent Larson for the book Unbuilt Masterworks, a collection of digital constructions of Kahn’s proposals (Amazon).

American architect Louis I. Kahn left behind a legacy of great buildings: the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California; the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; and the Indian Institute for Management in Ahmedabad. Yet he also left behind an equally important legacy of designs that were never realized. This exceptional volume unites those unbuilt projects with the most advanced computer-graphics technology—the first fundamentally new tool for studying space since the development of perspective in the Renaissance—to create a beautiful and poignant vision of what might have been.

Author Kent Larson has delved deep into Kahn's extensive archives to construct faithful computer models of a series of proposals the architect was not able to build: the U.S. Consulate in Luanda, Angola; the Meeting House of the Salk Institute in La Jolla; the Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia; the Memorial to Six Million Jewish Martyrs in New York City; three proposals for the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem; and the Palazzo dei Congressi in Venice. The resulting computer-generated images present striking views of real buildings in real sites. Each detail is exquisitely rendered, from complex concrete textures to subtle interreflections and patterns of sunlight and shadow.

Kahn's famous statement—"I thought of wrapping ruins around buildings"—is borne out by the views of his unbuilt works; his rigorous exploration of tactility and sensation, light and form, is equally evident. Complementing the new computer images is extensive archival material—rough preliminary drawings, finely delineated plans, and beautiful travel sketches. Larson also presents fascinating documentation of each project, often including correspondence with the clients that shows not only the deep respect accorded the architect but the complicated circumstances that sometimes made it impossible to bring a design to fruition. Not only a historical study of Kahn's unbuilt works, this volume is in itself an intriguing alternative history of architecture.

A stunning act of digital cyber-architecture by architect Larson. Uncannily realistic. —Time Magazine.

Kent Larson used virtual reality to produce strikingly lifelike ... pictures. The product is a luminous representation of daylight. —The Chicago Tribune

Of applications to which the computer has been put in architecture, none is more intriguing. Startlingly convincing. —The New York Times Book Review

Rigorous scholarship, ... an important contribution to the history of architecture in general, and a deeper understanding of Louis Kahn's genius. —Architectural Record, December 2000

The Hurva simulations are astonishing and utterly convincing. —The New York Times, A Spiritual Quest Realized, but Not in Stone, Paul Goldberger, Sunday, Arts and Leisure.

The poetry in Larson’s images comes from his artistic interpretation of Kahn. —OPEN: The Electronic Magazine, Redefining Creativity in the Digital Age, Inside Virtual Walls.

See also: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Louis Kahn
Kahn's Hurva Plans
Rova Yehudi
Unbuilt Ruins
Unbuilt Masterworks
Hurva Synagogue, 2000-10

"So therefore I thought of the beauty of ruins... of things which nothing lives behind... and so I thought of wrapping ruins around buildings; you might say encasing a building in a ruin so that you look through the wall which has its apertures as if by accident... I felt this would be an answer to the glare problem." -Kahn, interview, Perspecta 7, 1961, 9-18.

Louis Kahn was born in Saarama, Estonia in 1901. His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1905. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a thorough grounding the the Beaux Art school of architecture. During the 1920s and 1930s he worked as a draughtsman and, later, as a head designer for several Philadelphia-based firms.
In 1925-26 Kahn acted as the Chief of Design for the Sesquincettennial Exhibition. During the Depression, he was active in the design of public assisted housing. Beginning in 1935 Kahn worked with a series of partners, but from 1948 until his death in 1974, Kahn worked alone. From 1947 to 1957 he was Design Critic and Professor of Architecture at Yale University, after which he was Dean at the University of Pennsylvania.
Among his many notable buildings are the Salk Institute (La Jolla, CA), the Phillips Exeter Academy Library, the Yale Center for British Art, the Kimbell Art Museum, Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India, and the National Capital of Bangladesh. Two of his unbuilt designs have also garnered considerable praise: the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem, Israel.
Kahn's architecture is notable for its simple, platonic forms and compositions. Through the use of brick and poured-in place concrete masonry, he developed a contemporary and monumental architecture that maintained a sympathy for the site. While rooted in the International Style, Kahn's architecture was an amalgam of his Beaux Arts education and a personal aesthetic impulse to develop his own architectural forms. Kahn wrote an essay entitled "Monumentality" already in 1944.
Considered one of the foremost architects of the late twentieth century, Kahn received the AIA Gold Medal in 1971 and the RIBA Gold Medal in 1972. He was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1971.

Reinventing [?] Jerusalem, Documenta, 14.7.11
Hurva Synagogue: Kahn vs Meltzer?, Documenta, 21.7.2011
Tradition and Innovation
The Nature and Evolution of Art and Architecture as Structures of Consciousness, by Mariano Akerman

Counterpoint. For a series of remarkable images relating to memory poetically, while conveying notions such as ruin and reconstruction, see:

Painter of Opportune Questions

Why? Because "A good question is greater that the most brilliant answer." —Kahn, while teaching.
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