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What is classical? August 11, 2014

Posted by anagasto in art, history.
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1 — Classical: the Greeks

If you enlarge this photo you will probably get a better idea of how irresistible Greek culture has been all along these 2500 years. The revelation was not just in their art.

They discovered the use of reason that sets man apart from the animals.

They wanted reason to direct  all things.

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Athens, Greece: The Acropolis. Greece, its art and architecture and its philosophy represent one of the beginnings of Western culture. The other one is the Bible. —

A larger version of this picture is at http://en.wikivisual.com/index.php/Acropolis available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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2 — Classical: the Romans

photographed by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT and published under CC Attribution 3.0 Unported license published at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:0_Pantheon_-_Piazza_della_Rotonda_-_Rome_%281a%29.JPG

The Pantheon, Rome, Italy.

It isn’t for everybody  to see the difference between what is Greek, what is Roman, what is Neo, and what is Kitsch. And  those who do understand, don’t all agree, because the issue is one of ideas, and these are always personal, though some more relevant than others.

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The Coliseum, Rome, Italy.

This picture is based on the essay on classical architecture published by Charles Siegel at http://www.preservenet.com/archtime/ArchTime.html#ch1

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Coliseum Rome by Reyes Murillo

The Coliseum in Rome by José Antonio Reyes Murillo.

Published with permission under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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3 — Classical: the Western World

From about the 14th century on, it spread all over in public buildings and private mansions, first in Europe, next in the United States, Canada, Latin America, Australia, omnipresent everywhere.

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800px-Konzerthaus by Schinkel
Königliches Schauspielhaus, the royal theater, and below a museum, both designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Konzerths_3a.jpg. The photo is published under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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Altes Museum Berlin by Avda published under CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Altes_Museum,_Berlin_2012.jpg

Finally, it was called

4 — Neo-Classical

The White House designed by Irish-born James Hoban and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia sandstone in Neoclassical style. —

Photo showing the South fassade of the White House as published by Magnus Manske under a CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:WhiteHouseSouthFacade.JPG.

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Sports stadium by Hitler’s star architect, Albert Speer

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Backside of the Reichskanzlei designed by Speer.

This latest revival is called neo as if it were basically different from former versions.

All along the centuries the imitation became more and more superficial  trying to get the looks, but without looking for the soul of this style.

Technological advance also greatly reduced the challenge and the cost. It became cheaper to do “the Greek thing”, and so it ended up looking slick.

In his “Secret Diaries” Speer said that  he was maybe the last architect trying for the classical approach regardless of technological changes.

But then again, this is certainly not for everyone to see.

It is more a question of philosophy than of taste.

See the essay published by architect Charles Siegel on the meaning and the persistence of the classical tradition in world architecture http://www.preservenet.com/archtime/ArchTime.html#ch1

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5 — So what is NOT classical?

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saint basile on Finnish web

The cathedral of  Saint Basile: doesn’t it look like straight out of a fairy tale? The original is at http://www.vaihtoehto.org/?id=moskau&cat=photos.

It is a Finnish website, lots of pretty photos, and there is some English text, but as far as I can tell no terms of use!

The cathedral  is 450 years old, as a contemporary of Europe’s baroque churches that were just as ornate, though in a very different way.

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6 — Baroque anti-classical or rebellious

Here are Michelangelo’s and Bernini’s David, the shepherd boy about to kill the giant Goliath with his sling:

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The restraint of reason versus the exuberance of power in sculpted marble: Michelangelo represents the classical ideal, Bernini the Baroque backlash.

It seems that American readers largely prefer that Baroque slinger :-(
They say it is “more expressive”.  Yes, it is. And infinitely more wasteful.

As a Baroque building, Vienna’s Belvedere palace is considered iconic:

However, none of those terms can ever be stable or binding.

Two connoisseurs, both well informed, may get into a furious argument about Michelangelo versus Bernini or Goethe versus Heine or Greek versus Roman.

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7 — Modern anti-classical or rebellious

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Frank Gehry’s Hotel Marqués de Riscal, (in the Rioja region where the famous wines come from). “Marqués de Riscal” is a great, but expensive wine. — This roof suggests a a flamenco skirt. It is in fact assembled like a flamenco skirt :-D

Photo seen at http://www.xiongdudu.com/photo/MarqusdeRiscal

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A residential building by Gaudí in Barcelona, Spain
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The  Chapel by Le Corbusier in Ronchamp, France.

Ronchamp is so small, you can’t see it on a map, but the chapel is so famous that Ronchamp became a referent for all modern architecture. That church tower spoils the picture. It suggests a silo rather than a tower.

For the famous roof of the chapel Le Corbusier had looked into the engineering of an airfoil***.
***An airfoil is the shape of a wing or a blade of a propeller, rotor or turbine or of a sail:. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airfoil

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What do these three modern buildings have in common?

>>> They evoke a feeling or even a melody rather than a decision;

>>> they suggest movement rather than stillness;

>>> they represent individuality rather than law.

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