03 May 2009

Flesh and Stone

After a recent visit to the Schloss Sanssouci’s complex and his gardens in Potsdam I wanted to post a comment sans-souci as well, carefree.

While admiring the gardens’ composition and design, by Peter Joseph Lenné, (and having some rest in the sun on the grass) I focused on the various buildings in a rather naive way, a bit overwhelmed by the extreme, grand ornamentation of the facades, result of Frederick the Great’s taste, turned into stone mainly by G. W. von Knobelsdorff and by the Dutch architect J. Bouman. This peculiar style is therefore known as “frederician rococo”. Starting from the Schloss Sanssouci and ending with the Neues Palais, I concentrated especially on the theme of human body integrated into the design of a building, in the form of sculpture and ornamentation, the classical prototype of which is, as backwards as I can remember now, the caryatid in ancient Greece: if Vitruvius wrote that this figure might symbolize a mythological punishment, I like to think that the caryatids are the main historical source upon which we can state the intimate relationship between architecture and the human body (Atlas of Emotions by Giuliana Bruno is a wonderful text to explore this territory).

Image via Wikipedia. By Harrieta171

The five codified Orders in architecture (Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite) were intended, at least as I perceive it, to give the impression of a kind of newtonian third-law, a feeling of action-reaction of the construction and of materials. So, the entablature has its own weight, and the capital gives the impressions as to have been “suffering” from the compression above, squeezing (in the Doric) or generating two volutes (Ionic). Reduction of diameter towards the top etc. seem to me optical devices to suggest the idea that the column is reacting to the wight above and slightly deforming. In some sense, this “system” could be called an aesthetic of compression, since with stone this was the only force allowed. Maybe in a couple of hundred years we will have an aesthetic of tension as well... For some "serious" explanation and history there is The Classical Language of Architecture by John Summerson.

Here caryatid and atlas (the male counterpart) of the Schloss Sanssouci: the pilaster is not a metaphor anymore; we can see the couple suffering. Maybe they are just pretending, kind of a game, and they wait for the moment to leave the entablature and fall in each other’s arms.

The Chinesische Teehaus: since fake is the code, here you find groups of three people sitting around a palm-column, not giving a damn that the entablature-roof might fall on their heads; the kind of angel with feathers is not so good as an actor instead, and we can feel that he is pretending no to be worried and tired.

And here we come to the Neues Palais: more seriousness, the figures seem concentrated on their task and the do not look being too comfortable. I guess they are always about to say: “Want to get my place?”.

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