Thursday, September 27, 2007

Review - Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism

Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism. Rudolf Wittkower, Academy Editions: 1973.

Humanism centres itself not on a transcendent source, but on the human. Not to disregard the transcendent centre, but instead add an additional centre whereby, “Man is in the church no longer pressing forward to reach a transcendental goal but enjoying the beauty that surrounds him and the glorious sensation of being the centre of this beauty”, and that architects created the central plan for churches “to eternalize the present”. Humanism sought increased autonomy of the parts, yet did not undermine the balance of the whole; 'subject to object' or 'God to man.'

Wittkower summarizes for the reader: “The conviction that architecture is a science, and that each part of a building, inside as well as outside, has to be integrated into one and the same system of mathematical ratios, may be called the basic axiom of renaissance architects.” Mathematical ratios were thought to be a science in that they disclosed a cosmic order and consequently are tied with Plato’s cosmology. The being of the cosmos, it should be noted, is no less than a disclosure of God’s being.

It follows that for the humanist era, without that organic geometrical equilibrium where all the parts are harmonically related like the members of a body, divinity cannot reveal itself. Thus the architecture of the Renaissance sought unity through Alberti’s centrally planned churches and Palladio’s harmonically proportioned villas.

The definition of Mysticism as either a religious tendency and desire of the human soul towards an intimate union with the Divinity, or a system growing out of such a tendency and desire, puts architecture well within the scope of the mystical. Not only is a desire for a disclosure of God’s being present during the age of architectural humanism, but it is present at other times in history as well.