Saturday, December 14, 2019

David Hemsoll's "Emulating Antiquity"

David Hemsoll is senior lecturer in the Department of Art History, Curating, and Visual Studies at the University of Birmingham.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Emulating Antiquity: Renaissance Buildings from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo, and reported the following:
Page 99 comes towards the end of the book’s first chapter, which deals with the architecture of 15th-century Florence. It specifically concerns Giuliano da Sangallo’s Palazzo Gondi before continuing with his Palazzo Strozzi, explaining Palazzo Gondi’s place in Florentine palace architecture, noting its relationship to earlier palaces, and its new debts to classical antiquity. The page also includes illustrations of Giuliano’s drawing of an ancient cornice (for comparison with one of Palazzo Gondi on the previous page), and of the surviving model for Palazzo Strozzi and the palace as executed. The page provides a flavour of what the book deals with, but it does not provide much sense of its underlying argument and purpose.

The page is true to the book’s aims insofar as it deals directly with major works by one of the leading Renaissance architects that are covered and in that it assesses their dependency on the antique. It does not, however, provide much sense of any underlying philosophy and design method, which, for all the architects discussed (Brunelleschi, Giuliano da Sangallo, Bramante, Raphael, Michelangelo, etc.), is the book’s primary objective, and which in the case of Giuliano da Sangallo is set out in subsequent pages. The book, in fact, explores Renaissance architecture as a succession of distinct design approaches, underpinned by identifiable theoretical stances, which explain how and why antique-inspired architecture in one period differed from that in another, and how and why an architect working in Florence took a very different approach from one working in Rome. Fundamental to this argument are the Renaissance buildings themselves, and the ancient or more modern works that inspired them, which is why the book’s numerous illustrations are so important to its unfolding story.

The book, therefore, is intended to provide an evidence-based account that explains the evolution of ‘Renaissance’ architecture over the course of a century and a half. Along the way, it brings new clarity, hitherto lacking, to the ideology underpinning the schemes of Brunelleschi at the start of the fifteenth century and his Florentine followers, about the momentous adaptations to previous approaches made by Bramante, Raphael and younger practitioners from the start of the sixteenth century (chapter two) , and about the new outlook eventually instigated by Michelangelo (chapter three), which resulted in an irreconcilable division between those who rejected ancient authority, and those who continued to respect it.
Learn more about Emulating Antiquity at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue