A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.5 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places...
Reading means approaching something that is just coming into being. --Italo Calvin (1979)
What is it exactly that the Christ child is doing in this painting (ca. 1435) by Rogier van der Weyden? I don't think he's reading, and there are some who seem in anti-reading--tearing out pages of the book, which is supposed to be the Old Testament, an allegory for pointing the way to the newness of the Bible in the New Testament.
To me he looks like just any other baby handling a book--not tearing, but just figuring out how the book functions, how to make it work, with fat-fisted baby hands. Perhaps the baby was looking into the past and the OT and not seeing the future in it in the NT. But even in an era of high symbolism and metaphor, perhaps this is just a baby playing with a book.
The revolutionary comic strip generator Winsor McCay had a great 12 months in 1904/1905. McCay may have been the Einstein of his field, and his
work I think may still be the standard bearer for high excellence and
creativity. It was in 1904 that he began his Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, which seems to have also launched the main character for the creation of his crowning masterpiece of the medium, Little Nemo in Slumberland, which would premier in 1905. (McCay's work was appearing in two different newspapers in New York in 19041, forcing him to contractually sign his work for Rarebit as "Silas").
Nothing had really quite been seen like that before, two newspaper
strips that were filled with vision and elegance and weirdness and the
bizarre, beautiful stories illustrated on one sheet of paper, of great
imagination and a wide stretch of subversiveness. They so captivated the
readers of the time that McCay went off on illustrative lecture
circuits, found movie (in their relative infancy) versions of his work,
and performed in vaudeville venues along with Charlie Chaplin and W.C. Fields.
What is different in Rarebit from McCay's other work seems to be its new material from strip to strip--there's no recurring characters--unlike Nemo, which has storylines that continue for periods of weeks--and there is a great reliance on message than in the usually-beautiful artwork that is found in Little Nemo. Rarebit tells a social story, and is capable of satirizing political and other issues; this is almost never the case in Little Nemo.
There's also the appearance of giants in --this one, in particular, we see a New York City stomper of varying heights. The giant seems tallest when standing on the New Jersey palisades; when he gets to Daniel Burnham's Beaux-Arts Flatiron/Fuller building--which had just been completed a few years before this strip--he rises above it by about 1/4, making him about 400' tall. When he gets to the Statue of Liberty, which is about 305' from ground to the base of the torch, making the giant somewhat shorter than earlier, tough he seems his mightiest when sitting on the center span of the Brooklyn Bridge, this portrayal making him seem considerably taller than the earlier 400', as the height of the bridge from tower to river is about 276'). I'm not altogether sure of how early NYC-attacking giants come in in the literature, though there are plenty of other appearances of giants in the history of myth and literature (including the Cyclops, Eoclesia, Paul Bunyan, Fatna/Fanolt, Gargantua, Goliath, Orin, the Kraken, Rukh, Zeus, and so on, all of whom come before our Wall-Street-Wrecking giant rarebit fiend. (I wrote earlier in this blog on an Alphabet of Giants, here). There is an 11-minute movie (The Pet, 1921) by McCay featuring a city-attacking giant, which may actually be the first movie featuring a gigantic-anything distributing mayhem on a city:
Its unclear to me why a person should have nightmares from the seasoned
cheese slathered toast that it is rarebit--it seems fairly innocuous,
unless of course it is weirdly seasoned or the cheese is bad. But this
is Cartoonlandia, which means anything is possible.
1. The strip ran from September 1904 to 1911; it appeared in different papers and under different title for a few years from 1911-1913, and then once again revived under a different name in bits and spurts from 1923 to 1925.
It is said that the smile of the Mona Lisa says everything to everyone, but in saying all of that so loudly in such a quiet way, is it possible that the smile is saying noting? That in the vast encyclopedia of emotion that this smile is said to contain, is there really no "there" there?
It has been pointed out by many that while the male figures in Leonardo's work have a great diversity, the female figures seem not to, that there is a definite overlapping consistency of charm and image from one figure to the next. The young Leonardo took his time with la Gioconda1, in a way making the painting his own in spite of the person for whom the work was painted. Perhaps he did more than that, perhaps he developed the Mona Lisa within an existing framework, and then continued that practice in his painting over the years.
It is intriguing, in its way, to think of her like this, a simple solution under the great enigma. But I think it is probably wrongheaded, and that at base those other folks writing about the sameness in the female figures are incorrect. Though there is something to be said about a continuing fascination in Leonardo with that smile.
So, I think thinking of Leonardo's women as more-or-less invariant and their smiles tending towards one another, establishing the Mona Lisa's smile as the apotheosis of the symbol of some sort of glorified, unified, aspect of women might make for an interesting sci-fi adventure, but I believe it doesn't exist in the real world--or in mine, anyway. That smile is not nothing.
1. Like many paintings, this one is known by a number of names: La Gioconda or La Joconde, or Portrait of Lisa Gherardini, wife of Francesco del Giocondo, or Mona Lisa, and so on.
Fire in the eyes unmask the smoke of the heart--not Ambrose Bierce
These interesting images of searing eyes, of stars in the eyes, solar eyes, of the universe in the head, come from Albrecht Durer (1471 - 1528) and maybe-Durer, respectively. The top image is very shocking and is attributed to Durer though it is not signed by him. Die Sonne der Gerechtigkeit (Sol Iustitiae) was printed in 1499 in Ulm (source here), and is part of a larger work; the floating moebius-like ribbon reads "Everything that goes
out now re-enters the source from which it flowed. I am Eternal
Providence." With eyes and a head like that, I can imagine the statement to approach the truth.
The copperplate engraving below (and this definitely by Durer) was printed between 1499-1501 and is known as Sol Justitiae; or The Judge; not necessary providential per se, but as a representative of truth or justice, it comes close to being the Great Determiner. In any event, they are very strong images. See HERE for a listing of Durer engravings.
In the long history of People Wanting Things, it has only been in the past few centuries where human beings were able to see the possibilities of their wants, or needs, displayed in print in the forms of advertisements in newspapers and magazines. For thousands of years previously the wants were visceral and obvious--certainly the physical part of stuff that wasn't exactly needed was not on display in any format, their descriptions passed by word of mouth--at least for the vast unwashed and working classes who could neither afford the newspapers or the goods for sale, as these were the times (in general that were BDI ("before disposable income). The "luxury" of catalogued needs really didn't begin until the mass circulation broadsheet or newspaper and the growth of the lower middle class, which in North America wasn't until the 19th century. Not only did this medium display the possibly variations of need, but also made suggestions of needs-not-yet-imagined, introducing the unknown for consideration in the "need" department. These are early advertisements that were also selling the possibilities of themselves, as well the dream that went with them.
It is interesting to look at advertisements from other eras--they seem to have an hypnotic effect, a small about of caffeinated want-lust is perhaps left over from those antique displays. In any event it is fascinating and revealing to see what the popular goods were that were being displayed. And by the time of the example that I'm using for today's post--American Agriculturist for the Farm, Garden, and Household (published in New York in 1871, this being volume XXX of the rock-of-Gibraltar journal for the small farmer)--the pages were teeming with material for sale. For this one issue (February, 1871) there were a scant forty pages to the issue--the format though was packed with info, the type was about 8-point and in triple columns, and the sheets were 13 inches tall. Pages 121-148 (of 160) is news and reports on all matters agricultural, from news on different seeds to newly manufactured sowers to discussions of fertilizers to a new type of cucumber; the rest of the issue, pages 149-160, were entirely dedicated to advertisement, the ads running cheek-to-jowl, some of which were 1/8-pagers, and the other tiny slugs of one square inch. There's about 250 ads on these twelve pages, many of which are illustrated. The woodcut images are occasionally fantastic.
"Where is abstract without solids, I ask you?" -- William Gaddis, on the solids in Uccello, The Recognitions, 1955
Actually, I think that there's plenty of abstract without solids, so long as you've seen solids before.
I've returned to a slightly recurrent theme in this blog dealing with the great Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) and his study of perspective--but most directly as he was observed by William Gaddis in his Great American Novel The Recognitions. (I am forever grateful to my brilliant Patti Digh for really hooking me into Gaddis so many years ago--Patti was long intrigued by Gaddis and wrote her UVa master dissertation on his Big Book. Gaddis' book can be found here.) Among other things Uccello is recognized as being one of the greatest and among the earliest artist to re-discover the science of perspective, and was throughout his life a passionate student and practioner.
[Much of Uccello's work can be found at Paolo Uccello Complete Works website, here.]
"Painting is exquisite as the punishment for the thinker."--William Gaddis, The Recognitions
The “solids’ recognized by Gaddis (and not really
discussed, and mentioned only twice in the book I believe) are incredible to me. Looking at his painting Battle of San Romano
(1457) we see Perspective in her place; but when we look at, say, the rumps
of the horses, we see almost no detail, just a mass of color, a solid,
with spectacular plainness. What in the world was he thinking? He could
certainly have painted the horse and the other solids with texture and
detail, but he didn’t, and to me it seems antithetical to the painting.
What in the name of all motherly things was he thinking? And who else
on earth was using such huge amounts of plain solids in their
paintings? I’m not aware that anyone else was, and I am relatively
clueless as to why he did it, abandoning detail in order to raise awareness of the surrounding parts of the painting, or perhaps heightening a sense of the not-yet-existent abstract, or drawing attention to the perspectival aspect of the work?
[A detail of the missing detail, above.]
But the solids are not just limited to Uccello, though they may have appeared there first, especially as the "exhibited" variety of this thinking. Jacopo Bellini (ca. 1400-ca. 1470) was a contemporary, living pretty much during the same period of time as Uccello, and who was responsible as much as anyone else for introducing oils in painting and establishing the Venetian style. He was a brilliant artist, the teacher of Mantegna, ran a fabulous studio, and was the father of two great artists. (One son, Giovanni, was a highly regarded artist who was also the teacher of Girgione and Titian.)
In looking through two volumes of Jacopo's drawings, I was struck by the number of times that horses and other objects appeared without detail, as solid solids, or mostly solid, quite outside the way in which these things were painted in the 15th century. Pacing though the books flipping through the open pages is like looking at a pop-up book in reverse--each set of pages opened are like looking into, looking through, the book, into space. They are collections of perspective. And they are populated by those other solids, which was surprising.
His horses appear very much like those in Uccello--except of course that these images were personal, workbooks for the artist, idea-machines and memory devices. There was plenty of detail in other aspects of these drawings, but the lack of the detail int he Uccellian manner really struck me.
Christiane L. Joost-Gaugier's "Jacopo Bellini's Interest in Perspective and its Iconographical Significance" found in Zeitschrift fuer Kunstgeschichte (1975)
makes a very learned and eloquent case for the overwhelming interest
that Belinni had in the study of perspective--not to the exclusion of
all other things, because there were still patrons to be satisfied and
religious and triumphal scenes that needed to be painted--and
concentrated on that interpretation focusing on Bellini's stylebooks.
(Most of Bellini's output has been lost, but there are two volumes of
manuscript studies that have survived.)
many of Jacopo Bellini's drawings are reminiscent of model-book notions
in that they illustrate a variety of suggestions for the representation
of traditional themes - for example Flagellations, Adorations, Davids,
and animals -they are, taken as a whole, entirely different from model
book drawings. Jacopo rarely concentrated on a subject for the sake of
its thematic content. Almost never does a bald statement of fact appear
to describe, for example, a biblical event. Rather than focusing on the
event itself, Jacopo's compositions characteristically are concerned
with other things. In the vast majority of cases the subject is set
within the context of a variety of architectural motifs or in that of an
extensive naturalistic world. It would appear that for Jacopo Bellini
biblical subject matter was a justification for his participation in a
variety of other new interests. Primary among these was the special
attention given to perspective..."
No mention of course of the Uccello horses. And perhaps they're really not there there, but it certainly looks like they are, at least to me. They might not have been there for Gaddis, either, as Bellini doesn't show up in the book, Gaddis thinking more about Uccello, and then even more so of Hieronymous Bosch, Hugo van der Goes, and Hans Memling.
And here it is, Bellini's solids, an example:
There are others as well, examples of what, I am not sure--fantastic visions into blankness and into the future of what painting would become 450 years hence.
Perhaps they were just place-keepers, to be filled-in as neededm just a shrt-hand expression of a horse rather than a transcendental imperative. After all, Bellini knew horse muscles, and decided in his workbooks that he just didn't need to draw them, or that in the sense of Bartleby the scrivener that he'd prefer not to.
The fantastic Jesuit Andrea Pozzo published results of his researches on perspective in his Perspectiva pictorum et architectoru (1693),
explaining how he was able to compellingly, unbelievably represent
three-dimensional images on two-dimensional spaces, this image showing
plan and projection and profile, effectively giving you a
three-dimensional cross section of the architectural element...and having them seemingly float in space. His work is just absolutely gorgeous.
I stumbled upon these very inventive, peep-into-the-future of imagination images by Theodor Hosemann in journal Exlibris Buchkunst (for the year 1910). Hosemann's (1807-1875) name came into a blurry recognition as a leading genre painter and very busy illustrator in mid-century Germany, but certainly not for these images, which remind me very much of J.J. Grandville, one of the leading imagist illustrators of the 19th century. (Grandville has been a subject in this blog quite often; for example, see here.)
The originals were completed in 1847 and depict some of the trials demanded of future vision, looking into the year 1947. I particularly like the steam-driven horse-mobiles and the steaming-hatted Mercury laughingly outrunning a grimaced Time.
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph
And out of the caverns of rain.. Percy B. Shelley, "The Cloud", 1820
[John Ruskin, Cloud Perspectival, 1860. Source for all Ruskin images: "Cloud Studies: The Visible Invisible",
by Mary Jacobus, here.]
John Ruskin (1819-1900) was still a very young man when he published the start of a series of works in art criticism, Modern Painters, in 18431. To refer to it as a great work in critical theory is painting the work with a narrow brush, though--it had a very sweeping overall effect, and addressed all manner of issues integral to art, and was a developing vision of what art was looking at in the 19th century. Ostensibly it began as a defense of the work of J.M.W. Turner and the way in which that man represented nature in his pre-Impressionist, pre-Expressionist work. Ruskin makes the case that the works that were so grating part of the art world i the 1830's were highly consistent with centuries of representing nature in art--and not only that, but presenting evidence that turner did so like no other artist in history. Ruskin would weave further volumes of Modern Painters through the body of his other work for the next 17 years, publishing the last installment in a fifth volume in 1860.
Turner (1775-1851) was a great Romantic and a lot of that work tends towards a very full and very early expression of Impressionism and Expressionism, something that not everyone was ready for in the first quarter of the 19th century. This is particularly so in his paintings of clouds, and even more so in cloud/ocean interaction. They are sweeping and breath-taking and very emotional works, in some ways like the late string quartets of Beethoven--powerful, provocative, internal dialogs of the deep power of nature. He must stand with John Constable as the Cloud Man of the 19th Century, or perhaps Constable stands with him. They both in a way stand with Luke Howard, the scientist who was really the first classifier of clouds--an undertaking which in some impossible way escaped the recognition of the greatest classifiers it he history of science--and who did so in a paper in 1802, written at a time when Constable and Turner were both young artists.
Turner and Constable both painted clouds like perhaps no others before them; and Ruskin, in his deep appreciation for the importance of the representation of nature int he art, also made a contribution to the understanding of clouds that was of an extraordinary nature. In the fifth volume of his Modern Painters Ruskin attempts a perspective study of clouds, and may have been about the first to do so. The illustrations of this effort I think are incredible, and remind me very much of installing a sort of rigidity to clouds, a cloud geometry, veritable studies of stones and blocks in the sky. The imaging part of this exercise must have been an enormous thing back there in 1860, to think of clouds in a perspectival way, floating very large geometric objects in the sky. The astonishing results are seen (above) and following:
In a way the first image reminds me of Andrea Pozzo's work in his monumental Rules and
examples of perspective proper for painters and architects (1693):
but really more in the way that Pozzo's work seems to be elevated and floating in a heavy perspectivist space, bigger and blockier sky-borne marble than with ruskin. But still, the disembodied floatiness of the Pozzo work is ethereal.
Ruskin does round out his blocky and beautiful geometry, which definitely reminds me of work w=that would appear 90 years later: Ruskin, again:
And Georgia O'Keefe's Clouds III (1963), though her clouds tend towards a more rigid geometry in Clouds IV (1965, following):
O'Keefe, Clouds Above the Sky III, 1963
O'Keefe, Clouds Above the Sky IV, 1965
Ms. Georgia is definitely seeing her clouds with different eyes than Ruskin, and they are entirely different creatures--but still, the two come together in my head as relatives. The clouds, I mean.
I started looking around for early hard-line cloud geometries and thus far I haven't found very much, though there is a tremendous example by Henry Van de Velde's (1863-1957) "Sun at Ocean (Rhythmic Synthesis”) which I found in Werner Hoffman’s Turning Points in Twentieth century Art, 1890-1917 and which was executed in 1888/9, looks to me to be absolutely incredible for its time, a nearly non-representational, proto-abstract something, done three decades before these genres came into being.
I don;t know where the designer Van de Velde fits in the early history of non-representational art, but his effort in the second to last decade of the 19th century certainly seems to be very unusual for its time, and a good example of creative cloud representation.
Non-standard cloud imagery is much easier to finding the 20th century, like those of Georges Braque in his La Ciotat Harbor (1906):
Even this starts to have the look of something earlier, particularly if you turned the clouds-in-art clock way back, say, into the Renaissance. For example Martin Schoengauer's spectacular The Temptation of St. Anthony, which was printed in 1470/5, has
a beautiful, fluid circularity to it, full of an earthy roundness even
as the saint is pursued by demons. But the sky in the background is
populated with nothing but dashes to suggest clouds, and which also starts to look something like the Fauvist and Expressionist works to come, 400/500 years later.
(There are many examples of the sky being simply not represented at all, particularly in woodblock,
like this image from Ovid (Accipe Studiose Lector P. Ouidij Metamorphosin...printed in Venice in 1509:
"You could not see a cloud, because No cloud was in the sky: No birds were flying overhead -- There were no birds to fly".--Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass.
There are many non-sky images like this.
Another interesting modern example is this Paul Klee (though it comes fairly late in that career, in 1940):
And an example from the ubiquitous Picasso, still later, in 1962:
But earlier images are harder to locate. The obvious early-ish source (though still much later in the century) would be Van Gogh (say, with Starry Night) and Monet, though the fractalesque Van Gogh gets much closer to the re-interperative power of the Ruskin images than the reflected impressionist beauty of the Monet.
On a cursory look around the antiquarian painterly sky-world, it is becoming obvious that the cloud geometries of Ruskin are very uncommon.
Just two days ago there appeared in this blog a bit on an image I had never seen before--dogs acting as biological book reviewers, doing with books one of the things dogs do best. And then, this, ("Kudgello collecting materials to improve our morals") printed around 1766 and another scatological review of books, this based on morals and highly scented books of a sexual nature, all seemingly removed with fire tongs from the wastebucket of an outdoor privy.
The verse at bottom includes: "Thou Grub street author, fit for Bawds to
quote / If Bawds themselves with Honor safe may do't / Disgrace to
libels! Foil to very shame / Whom 'tis a Scandal to vouchsafe to name." Also: "M. Midnight * her mark ; Publish'd as the Act directs, Price 6d."
Of course the principal interest here is what the semi-smug Kudgello is hoisting from the pit, Essay on Woman, which was written by Thomas Potter in about 1755 with the assistance of John Wilkes This was a take-off of Alexander Pope's Essay on Man, though without the intelligence, art, insight or writing ability. I've included this image in the blog because it is so unexpected--and that it comes fast on the heals of a similarly-unexpected scatological book review found only 48 hours earlier.
Having a go at Pinterest I came across a very interesting image--a satirical, and very biting, portrayal of a woman as a scholar (here, with thanks to Whitney Trettien). The artist gives the woman a very monkey-ish feeling, a trained animal aspect, sitting there trying to figure our the words in a book with a right angle and a compass, and sporting monstrous glasses.
The work is by Gregorio Leti (1630-1701), Critique historique, politique, morale, economique et comique sur les lotteries, which was published in 1693. (Available at the Folger Shakespeare Library, here.) Leti was a critic of many things, but most particularly of the Catholic Church and of the Pope, a collection of efforts which earned a place for all of his works on theIndex Librorum Prohibitorum.
Within the same book is another double page image, the top showing a writer besieged by his demons, and the bottom, well, the bottom shows the work of dog reviewers of the written word. It is the only antiquarian print that I have seen of such behavior.
[A photo of the place on the wall in the Louvre where the Mona Lisa lived until stolen in 1911.]
I bumped into a Google search page that was filled with entries for designers and jewelers with business names invoking the Mona Lisa--Mona Lisa Jewelry and so on. This coupling could well be found in the crushed metaphor jar in the back of the refrigerator. One thing is for certain: no doubt the real Mona Lisa had plenty of money (probably the wife of a successful merchant named Francesco de Giocondo) and privilege to afford jewelry, but in the Leonardo's painting she is pictured quite plainly, wearing none. Her hair is also very simply portrayed. This was a rare thing to do in portrait--as a real people who portraits were being made usually wore as much jewelry as they could or in some sensical variation of that. The hair too was a big deal--all you have to do is take a quick survey of hairstyles of Renaissance women in paintings and it will become instantly clear hairstyles were complex and involved. Mona Lisa's dress, too, is very simple--plain even--and in understated, muted color.
All of this was exceptionally unusual for the time.
There's not a speck of jewelry on the Mona Lisa, and her hair is simply parted, falling to her shoulders. Maybe Leonardo didn't want anything in the painting to fix it at any specific point in time, as the whole entity seems to be in a state of suspended completion, or complete but not quite there, still becoming something. Perhaps highly defined hair and jewelry on her fingers would have been unacceptable anchors, giving places for the eyes to land and move away from the lush layers of light and tone that give the painting some of its enormous "motion".
It is hard to imagine the hands of Mona Lisa like those seen in the portrait by Raphael of Maddalena Strozzi Doni. Painted at about the same time as the Mona Lisa, the 22-year-old master Raphael achieved a great image of course, but one very much in opposition to Leonardo's. (The next year Raphael would paint St. Catherine, who would have no jewelry and simple hair, but of course she was also a saint--but he did give her some pretty fancy and involved clothing, in spite of the wheel she was leaning against. Depictions of saints and religious icons are different from secular portraits--but even here it is difficult to break away from imaging luxurious cloth and clothing.)
[The hands of Raphael's Maddalena Strozzi Doni, 1506.]
So in the history of missing things, or of missing jewelry and finery, the Mona Lisa must rank pretty high. It was just unusual to think of a business name invoking the antithesis of what the business is about.
The Mona Lisa of course became one of the most famous missing things in the history of missing things when she was stolen by the not-very-bright Vincenzo Peruggia in 1911, but that's another story (and one which I talk a little about in the post The Most Famous Missing Doorknob in the History of Art).
Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) published this God's-eye-view of creation a few years after his death in the fourth volume (Astronomica) of his six-volume Opera Omina. His friends and supporters of course saw to the publication of this mathematician/philosopher/logician's work1 back there in 1658, so Gassendi--a very prominent thinker from a long-line of thinkers nearly on the verge of great discovery here and there and certainly a witness to it--made his greatest adventure in publishing only in death.
Imaging a physical god is a tricky business in the history of the printed book. Bits of the creator of the universe turn up in book illustrations over hundreds of years, though I am not sure when the very first picture of a part of god appears. The hand of the creator (generally seen as the Primum Mobile) is not terribly uncommon in images of a scientific nature in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is perhaps best exemplified by Robert Fludd's famous Monochord:
Of course there are many instance of the full-bodied god being seen through a break in the clouds, though in all the instances of this that I have seen the tantalizing peak into whatever region it is that this god exists is left entirely blank, a small white space. As so:
(Title page is for the narrative poem Le Metamorfosi, Ovid’s Metamorphoses,
translated into Italian by Gioseppe Horologgi, and published in Venice in 1563. See an earlier post on this blog, A History of Blank and Empty Things: God in a Hole in the Sky, here.)
The eye of god is also not very uncommon, and is represented by an eye and also in a sacred triangle. Less common though are images like Gassendi's, which in a way, in an odd and almost offhand way, give the reader a sense of what it is that god might be seeing in agodly-lineof-sight Perhaps this is incorrect--but in judging his image with others in my experience it seems to me that the representation is a little more "personalized" here than just about anywhere else.
There seem to be few designs for Very Tall Buildings in the Renaissance that weren't churches or towers--I mean, structures with storys, and ninth floors, and small glazes, and so on.
That is why this design for an eleven story building by the architect Jacques Perret de Chambery (in his book Architectura et perspectiva des fortifications et artifices, which was printed in Paris in 1601) bursts into the brain as being so remarkable.
Describing this building and quoting the bookseller site Martayan Lan, Inc. "One extraordinary pavilion would seem to have its
ultimate source in the fifteenth-century Temple of Virtue and Vice
designed by Filarete. It is eleven stories in height, with huge expanses
of glazed openings. Its site plan, the last plate in the publication,
is a beautiful ornamental geometrical design in the manner of du
Cerceau, composed of such elements as gardens, moats, and fortifications
that frame the square, towering pavilion."
The "Temple/House of Virtue and Vice" referred to above is the work of Antonio di Pietro Averlino (c. 1400 - c. 1469), and also known as"Averulino"and "Filarete" (Greek for "lover of excellence"), a Florentine architect and designer, who produced real and imagined works, a highly-skilled thinker engineer, and who is also remembered for his contributions to the development of urbanism and ideal communities, seen here in his design for the city of Sforzinda, below:
(It is interesting to note that "sforzinda" is awfully close to "sforzado", a musical term meaning "sudden" or "sharp", which this design must have seemed to be, back there in the high Renaissance.) [Text and illustrations: Gallica .] The House of Virtue and Vice was a nine story building to be located in Sforzinda, a structure with the highest floors devoted to learning, and the lowest to a house of prostitution. Perhaps the floor placement was reversed.
This gorgeous, near-pre-Dadist image belongs to Niccola Zabaglia, who published the engraving in his book Castelli, e ponti di maestro Niccola Zabaglia con alcune ingegnose practice, e con la descriziojne del trasporto dell’obelsico Vaticano, e di altri del cav. Domenico Fontana, in Rome, in 1743. This is the literal and absolute height of pre-modern, pre-mechanized building construction in the soaring Roman Baroque, ordained by “maestro”, the master, Zabaglia (1664-1750), a spectacular (and necessary) proponent of practical mechanics as applied to the building trades. Among the “Castles” and churches and bridges alluded to in the title of his book, Zabaglia was responsible for affecting the maintenance and repair of St. Peter’s (more particularly to the basilica and the vault)—specifically, he had to figure out how to get the workmen and materials into place, and into very difficult and very high places, without damaging or destroying any of the existing decoration, artwork, sculpture, frescoes, and so on. This was no easy feat to perform back there in the dim, 265+ years-ago pre-electric pre-power past, with enormous technical and operational difficulties, and Zabaglia accomplished this was superior affect, devising complex and elegant moving and stationary scaffolds, hoisting and holding mechanisms for the ladders, and much else. He did just beautiful work, and he is a patron saint in the history of repair.
Ladders and scaffolds were important of course but were among the least of Zabaglia’s numerous accomplishments and inventions—they were so plentiful and useful that two Pope Benedicts ago (Pope Benedict the 14th) ordered their publication with actual teams of artists and engravers performing specific tasks.
It cannot be left unsaid that Zabaglia's portrait as the frontispiece to his work presents almost without a doubt the most approachable, humane and amused representations of a major engineer/artist/artisan published in almost any work of the 18th century--I mean, the man just looks so happy in his work. There he is, surrounded by the tools of his trade, in work clothing and a scruffy hat, and needing a shave, and just looking as pleased as can be. No?
But to the ladders: the examples in the engraving above are certainly massive. The ladder in the middle I would say must be 70' tall (judging that it has 60-odd rungs and that there are 5 rungs to the men who are stabilizing it at bottom), and since they're made of a good hardwood (to prevent bowing that must occur in a lesser material), the things must've weighed a good amount. And offhand I'm not exactly sure how they raised them. I can't see the tops of the building, but I would assume that there was a pulley up there. I hope. In any event, the ladders and their found geometries are gorgeous things. Also, I would guess that in the very long histories of ladders (a ladder appears in a cave painting from 10,000 BCE and also appears in one of the very first photographic experiments) that these must've been among the high points in ladder construction.