Throughout history, geometry has been employed symbolically in religious architecture to cause spiritual effect. Sacred Geometry, specifically the circle and the square, was used prevalently in Italian High Renaissance architecture to designate a house of God. Yet attempts by the architects of the era to build churches in pure sacred form were thwarted by the functional requirements of the church. What would have been the spiritual effect of these places of worship, and was the church intentionally curtailing the power a sacred geometrical space could wield?
Italian architect Donato Bramante (1444-1514), Papal Architect for Pope Julius II, is known to have shared many ideas about geometry and construction with Leonardo DaVinci while both were working in Milan at the end of the 15th century. Both men were highly influenced by ancient Greece and Rome, specifically the writer Vitruvius, prescriber of proportion, and the work of Leon Battista Alberti, a writer and architect who preceded Bramante and Leonardo.
Leonardo’s drawing of the Vitruvian Man demonstrates the Greek sacred mathematical influence while illustrating the Christian ideal of man created in the image of God. The Vitruvian Man was the diagram, instructing builders of religious architecture that the ideal sacred form was to be a circle or square. Thus through its architectural form, a building became the house of God. This diagram however, has no real mention of the experiential effect of a worshipper praying inside of that building.
Bramante’s buildings in Milan show Vitruvian influence, especially in plan. The use of sacred geometry is not pure; instead composites of circles and squares overlap to form the church plans. The spatial conglomeration of the composite creates its own effect, but it is surely not the same as it would be if it were pure sacred geometry.
The sacred diagram is exemplified in Bramante’s Tempietto, a commemorative martyrium in the courtyard of The Church of San Pietro in Montorio in Rome, from approximately 1502. The Tempietto is perfectly circular in plan and the proportions of the dome in elevation hold both the sacred square and circle. The Tempietto is the purest example of sacred geometry of the High Renaissance, even though it is only a small commemorative structure, not a church, diminishing the potential spiritual effect.
Bramante additionally designed a spiral connecting stair for the Pope on Vatican grounds in 1512. The stair plan is arranged in the same sacred circle as the Tempietto, but the elevation is pulled into a helix. Traveling that many stories alone via a tightly enclosed, spirally ramp would seemingly promote meditative contemplation. Could the circumambulatory journey cause a God connection for the user and how related to Bramante’s use of the pure sacred circular form is that effect?
Bramante and Julius II began to design the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica in sacred symmetry. The square plan considers how processions had become an integral part of Catholic worship at the time, the form of the Basilica divides into quadrants separated by four processional naves to form a Greek Cross in plan. The central meeting point of the naves forms a circle, where a dome would have enclosed and elevated the space. This plan is as egalitarian as it is sacred, yet the processional requirement of the church, like in the Basilica being replaced, demanded more focus on the Pope-led ceremony. With the addition of an axial nave to the design long after Bramante’s death in the end of the 16th century, the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica exists today as yet another composite.
Here the power of church’s influence, masked in the pragmatism of a ritual, conflicted with the Basilica becoming a veritable expression of God, according to the Vitruvian diagram. Had the Basilica been rebuilt with non-composite sacred geometry, the architecture could have focused less on the Papal ceremony and more on the individual God connection through the pure form. The final non-sacred arrangement of the Basilica surfaces deep questions about whether or not there is holistic energy embodied within pure geometry that would affect the individual spiritually. Yet this would mean an end to the requirement of the Pope’s leadership in order to spiritually connect to God, perhaps even questioning whether a Basilica, sacred in geometry or not, was even required for prayer.
List of Figures
Figure 01: Spatial organization and pilaster location according to Serlio’s Plan of the Tempietto. Brusci, Arnaldo. Bramante. Thames and Hudson, London 1973. Page 241.
Figure 02: The Circular Temple According to Vitruvius. + Temple of Tivoli. Vitruvius. Ten Books on Architecture.
Figure 03: Alberti, Leon Battista. San Sebastiano Church, Mantua. Plans. 1460.
Figure 04: MS 2037 folio 5. Leonardo da Vinci. Codex Ashburnham.
Figure 05: Bramante’s proposed site plans for the Tempietto. Brusci, Arnaldo. Bramante. Thames and Hudson, London 1973. Page 238.
Figure 06: Tempietto Plan and Elevation Diagram. Fletcher, Rachel. www.infinitemeasure.com.
Figure 07: Paul Marie Letarouilly: cross sections and plans of Bramante’s spiral staircase, in Le Vatican et la basilique de Saint-Pierre de Rome, Paris 1882, II.
Figure 08: Sketch for the urban planning of St. Peter’s, attributed to Bramante (Firenze, Uffizi, Arch. 104) and project development of the urban planning of St. Peters, attributed to perhaps Bramante and Peruzzi (Upperville, USA, coll. Mellon.).
Figure 09: Plan Drawing of four architect’s projects for St. Peter’s Basilica: (A) Bramante, 1506; (B) Peruzzi, ca. 1520; (C) Antonio da Sangallo the Younger; (D) Michaelangelo, 1546.
Figure 10: St. Peter’s Dome from Bramante’s design (S. Serlio, Lib. III, c. 66r-v).
Our zone, with works produced with Ahmed Abdelrahman, Brute, Char Alfonzo, Joachim de Callatay, Cottweiler, Zachary Krevitt, Rein Vollenga, Telfar and Zana Bayne.
Show curated by Felix Burrichter, at the Haus der Kunst till 27.10.13.
All pictures by Maximilian Geuter.
For three months, at the Haus Der Kunst in Münich, come and notice that even distaste and distrust for the publishing or museum establishments can be matched by entrepreneurial spirit and sheer positivity and optimism for new forms!
We’re there upon invitation of Felix Burrichter -enthusiastic and articulate proponent of new ideas and developments in publishing and various/deviant art worlds- and a delicate selection of other publications.
Always a pleasure to work with people who are very much putting the practices they advocate into action.
The quickest route to a win is to appear relaxed. Slack your jaw and slouch a little. Tense only the unseen muscles. Limit your attention. Don’t listen to the opposition too well, or you will often accidentally agree with it.
Friday, February 1st, 6.30pm
Palais de l’Athénée
2, rue de l’Athénée
1205 Genève, Switzerland.
Tél: +41 22 310 41 02
Architectural Theories of the environment: Posthuman Territory is the brand new book edited by Sang Bleu friend and future collaborator Ariane Louise Harrison. Through a collection of essays about architects, theorists, and sustainable designers the book provides a framework for a posthuman understanding of the design environment. Harrison explains and shows examples of how as designers and architects, we struggle to reconcile our ever increasing environmental, humanitarian, and technological demands placed on our projects.
Nine fully illustrated case studies of buildings from around the globe demonstrate how issues raised in posthuman theory provide rich terrain for contemporary architecture, making theory concrete. By assembling a range of voices across different fields, from urban geography to critical theory to design practitioners, this anthology offers a resource for design professionals, educators, and students seeking to grapple the ecological mandate of our current period.
Case studies include work by Arakawa and Gins, Arons en Gelauff, Casagrande, The Living, Minifie van Schaik, R & Sie (n), SCAPE, Studio Gang, and xDesign.
Essayists include Gilles Clément, Matthew Gandy, Francesco Gonzáles de Canales, Elizabeth Grosz, Simon Guy, Seth Harrison, N. Katherine Hayles, Ursula Heise, Catherine Ingraham, Bruno Latour, William J. Mitchell, Matteo Pasquinelli, Erik Swyngedouw, Sarah Whatmore, Jennifer Wolch, Cary Wolfe, and Albena Yaneva
Goltzius and the Pelican Company, Peter Greenaway, 2012.
The 70-year-old director has come to the Rome Film Festival for the first time with an erotic romp set in the 17th Century called “Goltzius and the Pelican Company.”
For many moviegoers, Peter Greenaway’s films are an acquired taste. That’s again the case for Goltzius and the Pelican Company, Greenaway’s latest project, which screened Monday in the CinemaXXI sidebar at the International Rome Film Festival. The film is an ambitious, erotic, and visually stimulating drama based on the life of Hendrik Goltzius. Goltzius, who died in 1617, was a Baroque-era Dutch engraver and painter who tried to persuade the Margrave of Alsace into providing financial backing for a major printing initiative created to produce erotic etchings based on stories from the Bible.
Like Greenaway’s 2007 film Nightwatching, based on the life ofRembrandt, Goltzius and the Pelican Company is a romp that shows Greenaway’s love of Flemish art and aesthetic sensibilities. Greenaway was born in Wales but he lives in Amsterdam and has strong ties to The Netherlands that date back to childhood. He talked to The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Monday’s international launch — not officially its world premiere after it screened five weeks ago at the Nederlands Film Festival in Utrecht – discussing the connection between art and cinema, religion and sex, and his first appearance at the seven-year-old Rome festival.
The Hollywood Reporter: Well, I know Goltzius and the Pelican Company is the second film in a trilogy that started with Nightwatching and will conclude with a film about Hieronymus Bosch –.
Peter Greenaway: No, actually, that’s not true. The idea of this trilogy is probably producer’s propaganda. I was trained as a painter, so I’ll put it this way: if I can discuss both painting and cinema and their correspondences, it tends to make me a very happy man. I never look at these films as a trilogy, but for journalistic purposes, certainly, that could be a useful approach.
THR: I understand the attraction to art, but why specifically Baroque and Flemish art? In the art world, the era is a little out of fashion at the moment. But it seems to have a real hold on you and your work.
PG: To say it’s out of fashion at least from the point of view of the film world really depends on who your heroes are. If you’re a fan of Éric Rohmer, he’s very stripped back and economic, so then I’d agree. Or maybe you prefer Federico Fellini, who is very Baroque in his own way. But I am personally drawn to this era, let’s say between 1600 and 1700, because it is really the start of modern history. Before that is the Renaissance, where people started to recognize what is going on. But starting in about 1600 it is the first time we talk about democracy, atheism, or capitalism seriously, it’s the beginnings all of emancipation about things like slavery or colonialism. We’re still working things out, but it started in the 17th Century. I’m a great reader of history and these beginnings of beginnings are very important and need to be talked about.
THR: Your interest in history is evident. But I am curious to know more about your interest in art. How old were you when you started painting?
PG: I was around 13 or 14, very young to make a decision like that and most sensible parents would say no, no don’t go there. You’ll never make a living and it won’t make you happy. I come from a family of people who were fascinated by the English landscape. They weren’t farmers, but my father was an ornithologist, my grandfather was a rose grower, and his father was a woodcutter. They all had an association with the natural world. I remember a critic who, way back in the late 1970s, when I started making films, said, “Greenaway makes films like an entomologist collects butterflies. He collects beautiful extraordinary specimens and he kills them and sticks them down on paper with a drawing pin.” I guess there’s something to that.
THR: The influence of art on your films is also obvious. But have films had an influence on your art? How do they impact each other?
PG: Yes, they do impact each other, very much so. But it’s also a cause of great anxiety because there are 8,000 years of European painting and 117 years of cinema. It’s an unfair comparison: there is a great deal more known about painting. Just think about how many more people have worked on painting to try to get it right.
THR: You have said you feel a connection to creators in history. But can you speak about your connection to Hendrik Goltzius? You are both men of multiple talents, with a taste for a certain aesthetic and for the erotic. From a certain perspective, you are both salesmen.
PG: Yes, yes, that’s true. We’re both practical and pragmatic. There’s no use making a painting or a film if nobody will see it. I have found Goltzius compelling for a long time. It’s been said that all culture is about sex and death, and I suppose we both recognize that.
THR: Was your connection to Goltzius something that made you put a lot of thought into the selection of who would play him in the film?
PG: You are referring to Ramsey Nasr, who played Goltzius. Did you know he is The Netherlands’ Poet Laureate? He is a great wordsmith, and I write very word conscious scripts. So maybe he was the ideal person to bring that to life.
THR: What has changed since Goltzius’ time?
PG: Well, a lot has changed. But a lot hasn’t. There is a still a debate between religion and humanism. Religion has always been anti-sex, but why? Religion should be about birth and passion and resurgence and procreation and hope, but it isn’t.
THR: It seems Goltzius was purposefully provocative and scandalous, and you could say the same thing about your work.
PG: You could say that about Holland as well. You can talk about homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia, even pedophilia now in Holland, whereas the rest of the world runs for the hills when you bring up these topics. They are terribly taboo, even now.
THR: The setting in the film was interesting: it was a Baroque setting, dialogue, and costumes. But it seemed to be taking place in a modern warehouse. How did you make that decision?
PG: Our budget was very small for a film with this kind of production value: the budget was around €2 million ($2.65 million) and one way we did that was my filming in Zagreb, Croatia, where we were sparred a tax bill and had help with some technical jobs and costumes. But when we were scouting for locations, I couldn’t find many 16th century palaces. Or if there were some, they were too clean or they were destroyed by the Soviets. But then we came across an abandoned railway yard and I said we would do it there and I thought that if we do it well enough people would accept it.
THR: You are known for doing many things at once, films and other projects. What’s coming up next?
PG: I like the juggling act: I have an art exhibition in Barcelona, and another project in Moscow, many things. And there’s a great 21st century phenomenon, that you can make a play and turn it into a web site, and then web site can become a book, and I enjoy that shifting around. But there are probably around five films in different states of development. There’s the one on Hieronymus Bosch and another project on a more contemporary artist, Oskar Kokoschka, and one on [Russian director]Sergei Eisenstein. I’m also excited about a film idea that is sort of a remake of Death in Venice, probably year after next, called Food of Love. The name is from a William Shakespeare quote: “If music be the food of love, play on.” I can’t say all these ideas are fully financed. But there are people working on them out there to build them up.
THR: Death in Venice was a wonderful film. Tell me more about that project.
PG: I suppose the film is not really a remake. You must remember in the Luchino Visconti film, theDirk Bogarde character falls in love with a young boy on the beach [played by Björn Andresen]. Well, I have written that young boy later on, when he’s 50 years old. I’ll also replace the music of Gustav Mahler with Antonio Vivaldi, so it’ll be about Vivaldi and Venice.
THR: Your bringing Goltzius and the Pelican Company to Rome continues your relationship with Marco Mueller, Rome’s artistic director who had been in Venice before coming to Rome. I know Nightwatching screened in competition in Venice. Might Goltzius and the Pelican Company have screened in competition in Rome if it had been a world premiere?
PG: We wanted the film to premiere at a small festival in The Netherlands because of its subject matter and because it was made with a lot of Dutch financing. I have known Marco Mueller for many years, from when he was artistic director of the Rotterdam Film Festival [in 1990-91]. He actually asked if we wanted to be in competition and I thought, well, I have been in competition in most of the film festivals in the world and have never really won a major prize. People said my films are too uncomfortable. Anyway, Marco actually advised us, because of the nature of the film, that this spot in the CinemaXXI sidebar [which focuses on experimental cinema] and my producer maybe even more than me thought it was probably a good fit. We’re happy with the choice.