Art, Architecture and Visual Culture

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Space, time and the embodied description of the past
Author: Dana Arnold

This book examines how eighteenth-century prints and drawings of the architecture of antiquity operated as potent representations of thought with their own syntactical, linguistic and cultural qualities.

Original archival material is interrogated using the trope of ekphrasis to pinpoint debates about verbal and visual descriptions that continue to influence semiotics and critical theory. This novel approach makes a timely intervention in current debates about how we interpret the visual.

Beginning with the notion that the spatial world of the image and the temporal world of the text share common ground as embodiments of human thought, this study questions how these are brought to bear on the spatial and temporal aspects of the architecture of antiquity as evident in prints and drawings made of it. The book considers the idea of the past in the period, especially how it was discovered and described, and investigates the ways in which space and time inform the visual ekphrasis of architecture. The idea of embodiment is used to explore the various methods of describing architecture – including graphic techniques, measurement and perspective, all of which demonstrate choices about, and the gendered implications of, different modes of description or ekphrasis.

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Dana Arnold

This chapter analyses the approach taken and offers some conclusions, as well as pointing to the broader implications of the book as a means of thinking about other periods and media. The neutrality of visual ekphrases is called into question through the assumed norm of the masculinist language, whether verbal of visual. Using Derrida, the perceived oppositional nature of space and time is questioned. The female absence and implicit presence is emphasised in the phenomenological experience of space; the proportional system or syntax used in architectural drawing; in the line that creates images; and in the bodily processes through which prints and drawings are produced. In this way, the actions (i.e. gestures and marks) that create visual ekphrases, and in the spaces and surfaces that these images inhabit show the way to a reading of categories of production and historical analysis that differs from canonical norms.

in Architecture and ekphrasis
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Dana Arnold

This chapter looks at the ways in which the past was encountered and recorded in texts and through travel. The eighteenth-century experience of Rome is revisited using Freud. It establishes the masculinist, linguistic predicates of verbal and visual descriptions. The work of Stuart and Revett, and Piranesi are used as case studies to explore the implications of visual ekphrases of the past.

in Architecture and ekphrasis
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Dana Arnold

This chapter establishes the principal themes and the modes of enquiry used to explore how the architecture of the past is described. It begins with a discussion of the concept of ekphrasis and goes on to consider the relationship between text and image. Key figures including Winckelmann, Lessing, de Piles and Berkeley are introduced. Using Walter Benjamin, the particular qualities of prints are explored.

in Architecture and ekphrasis
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Dana Arnold

This chapter begins by thinking about the spaces of the page and the bodily experience of reading. The relationship between seeing and knowing is explored using the eighteenth-century ideas of Bishop Berkeley articulated through more recent thinking by Derrida and Merleau-Ponty. Theories of space and its representation through the illusion of perspective are traced from antiquity in relation to their influence on artistic practice. The chapter goes on to question what happens when theories of perspective and architectural practice collide, as evident in the work of Borromini, Pozzo and Robert Adam. The distinctive theories and practice of perspective in the long eighteenth century, especially the work of Dr Brook Taylor and Thomas Malton are examined in their contemporary context, including the parallel developments in literature, where the physio-psychological experience of space emerges as a popular preoccupation. The final section considers the historiographic implications for the perceived gap between the representation of space in architectural and artistic practice. It concludes with a consideration of J. M. W. Turner’s Royal Academy lecture diagrams as inheritors of a rich tradition of spatial thinking and perspective theory.

in Architecture and ekphrasis
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Dana Arnold

Using the trope of the line, this chapter considers the relationship between prints and drawings and the embodied processes in their production. The ways in which the line operates as a means of verbal and visual ekphrasis is explored through the anachronistic juxtaposition of renaissance and eighteenth-century theories of drawing and Deleuzian–Bergsonian and Benjaminian theories of lines and images. The feminine trace is revealed in Hogarth’s ‘line of beauty’ and this gendered notion of recording the past is extended into the case study of the rediscovery of the Villa of the Papyri, which remains underground and unseen. Here the Derridean idea of drawings as being an act of blindness is combined with the bodily experience of space.

in Architecture and ekphrasis
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