Thursday, September 3, 2015

Why should we care about construction? Part 5 - Conclusion

Hey All, this is the last entry for my brief investigation into the historical practices of construction. I think this is the last kind of historical survey I'll do for a while. Hopefully you found something of interest or thought provoking in it. Comments and thoughts are appreciated as always.

To provide one final example, I will consider a few of Michelangelo's sketches. Specifically, I'll be looking for examples of this transformative form language (discussed in prior posts) acting as a conduit between ideas of architecture and anatomy. 
Michelangelo’s relationship to anatomy stood in contrast to Da Vinci’s, being much more focused on the external anatomy or surface anatomy. While Michelangelo was involved and participated in anatomical dissections (some sources indicate three separate locations that Michelangelo practiced human dissections), his interest was more the design and variation of the surface anatomy, as well as its potential for movement.[1] In other words, Michelangelo may not have studied the internal muscles, organs, and deep tissue that Da Vinci was clearly preoccupied with. Michelangelo, while not making his thoughts widely available/clear on the subject, did write in a letter circa 1560 that "there is no question but that architectural members reflect the members of Man and that those who do not know the human body cannot be good architects."[2] This quote gives us another consistent view on the subject of the study of man and its benefit to the architect. Further, consistent themes from above are present, primarily the idea that architecture and anatomy are the result of the same learned process or form language. The achievement of this skill and/or artistic vision is what leads one to a superior sense of composition or design in architecture. This design is one which balances ideal forms or proportions while attempting to align the audience with a highly rational frame of mind. We might also be understand Michelangelo’s criticism of Antonio da Sangallo as one who may not have understood these design principles of the antique manner. As Sangallo was primarily an architect, and without the anatomical knowledge that Michelangelo possessed, may have lacked this greater sensitivity to design and too literally or didactically applied Vitruvian principles for Michelangelo’s tastes.

Fig. 1 Michelangelo, Design for Laurentian library door, c. 1526, pen and brown ink over stylus, 28.4x20.9cm, The British Museum.

Fig. 2 Michelangelo, Male Nude

Fig. 3 - Detail Comparison

To provide as example, I have paired Michelangelo’s Sketch of Doorway into Library (fig. 1), a study for the doorway/entrance into the Laurentian library (at San Lorenzo) next to that of an anatomical study of the front view of a male figure. The front view of the figure (fig. 2), specifically the torso, shows a striking similarity in shape, proportion, and design to that of Michelangelo’s doorway. The doorway almost mimics the proportion and design of the anatomy of the torso part for part (fig. 3). The curving arch above the doorway may be thought to mimic that of the trapezius, the proportion beneath and straight bar under, the design of the clavicle and pectoralis. On either side of the doorway stand columns that in size and proportion closely resemble the surface anatomy of the midsection, primarily that of the external obliques and serratus anterior. Lastly, the central opening in the doorway itself clearly reflects the proportion and overall shape design of abdominal wall (fig. 3). Like da Vinci’s rib cage transforming into a dome, Michelangelo has here used the abstracted proportion and design of the surface anatomy to inform his design of a doorway.

Fig. 4 - Michelangelo, bases of pillars for the New Sacristy, red chalk,1519-20.

My final example is a drawing of the bases of pillars for the New Sacristy (fig. 4). In this sketch, Michelangelo shows three columns at the base in profile. The last of the three deserves special interest as it appears to have an eye, nose, and mouth shown in profile. It appears as if Michelangelo has used a scream or dramatic expression in order to resolve his silhouette. In this final example, there is no extended transformation as both architectural motif and figure exist as one thing and seem to embody or be the other directly.  Once again, this speaks to his ability to have synthesized principles central to philosophies of antiquity with a geometric order through which those principles are made manifest. As the human figure continues to read as central to the architect's practice, it follows that this was the subject on which these principles are exercised and/or developed.
In conclusion, the study of anatomy stands as central concern to the practice of the Renaissance architecture. This is not exclusively the study of functional or even surface anatomy, but rather that of the design and proportion from which most everything else will be assessed and measured. It is my belief that the Renaissance artist/architect studied the figure primarily for this abstract exercise which when understood and distilled into a universal language of form, would then be applied as a compositional logic to that of architecture. I have shown anthropomorphic examples of large (domes/floor plans) to the smallest occurrences (doorways/colums), to highlight the point that what mattered most was the ability to see and think this abstraction and to not project a standardized plan or method. 

[1] Laurenza, 17.
[2] Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism: A study in the History of Taste (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914), 155.

1 comment:

Ayumi Sophia said...

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