Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Necessary inexactness

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Plan of the Church of the Gesu

The detail of the baroque style is rough. It is not finished with the loving care of the quattrocento, or even of the somewhat clumsy Gothic. It often makes no effort to represent anything in particular, or even to commit itself to any definite form. It makes shift with tumbled draperies which have no serious relation to the human structure; it delights in vague volutes that have no serious relation to the architectural structure. It is rapid and inexact. It reveals, therefore, a slovenly character and can only please a slovenly attention.

The facts are true, but the deduction is false. If the baroque builders had wished to save themselves trouble it would have been easy to refrain from decoration altogether, and acquire, it may be, moral approbation for “severity.” But they had a definite purpose in view, and the purpose was exact, though it required “inexact” architecture for its fulfillment. They wished to communicate, through architecture, a sense of exultant vigor and overflowing strength. So far, presumably, their purpose was not ignoble. An unequalled knowledge of the aesthetics of architecture determined the means which they adopted…A lack of individual distinctness in the parts…was thus not a negative neglect, but a positive demand. Their “inexactness” was a necessary invention.

Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism

Written by nevalalee

November 15, 2014 at 9:00 am

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