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7. The Beauty of Architecture at the End of the Seventeenth Century in Paris, Greece, and Rome
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170 c h a p t e r 7 The Beauty of Architecture at the End of the Seventeenth Century in Paris, Greece, and Rome Maarten Delbeke The emergence of the notion of beauty in French architectural discourse in the second half of the seventeenth century invigorated a debate about a set of closely related topics, such as the place of architecture among the arts of imitation, the authority of models provided by antiquity and nature, and the legitimacy of aesthetic judgments. This essay looks at a number of related contributions to this debate and distinguishes two approaches: one that sought to identify an “idea” of beauty, governing all the arts and based on the imitation of nature, and the other that approached beauty as a matter of pleasure and taste. This essay argues that the brothers Perrault recognized problems inherent in the first view and formulated an alternative by adopting ideas that issued from the ongoing debate about literary style and ornament. In so doing, they made available for architectural theory a rich body of proto-aesthetic reflection that dealt with matters of appropriateness , of clarity of meaning, of the social embeddedness of culture, and of the legitimacy of aesthetic judgments. If this approach to architectural theory was not picked up by the budding institutions of architectural education , Giambattista Piranesi’s response to the Perraults, nearly a century later, shows how it would open up the possibility of thinking about archi- Architecture of the Seventeenth Century in Paris, Greece, and Rome 171 tecture as an art form with its own peculiar beauty, distinct from the other arts yet equally rooted in nature. The “Idea” of Beauty in Architecture, 1650–72 In 1650 the French homme de lettres Roland Fréart de Chambray published the Parallèle de l’architecture antique avec la moderne, a comparison, modeled on Plutarch’s parallel Lives, of the five architectural orders retrieved from a select sample of ancient buildings and ten modern Italian and French architectural treatises.1 The preface of the work explained how the comparison should help undo the errors and misunderstandings about the proportions and ornaments of the orders that had accrued over time and retrieve an idea of beautiful architecture from the purest sources, the three Greek orders.2 The Parallèle was meant to contribute to a French doctrine of the visual arts, an effort supported by Fréart’s translations of Andrea Palladio’s Quattro libri dell’architettura (first Italian edition 1570) published in the same year, and Leonardo da Vinci’s treatise on painting (1651).3 In 1662 Fréart would publish his Idée de la perfection de la peinture. As the preface of the Parallèle attests, the project to formulate a coherent artistic doctrine took root in Rome in the 1630–40s, when Fréart de Chambray and his brother Chantelou visited the city under the auspices of Richelieu and his superintendent Sublet de Noyers. There they frequented the circles where the notion of the “idea del bello” was developed, around Cassiano dal Pozzo, François Duquesnoy, and Nicolas Poussin.4 This doctrine would find its most influential expression in the text Idea by the Roman art critic Gianpietro Bellori, first read to the Accademia di San Luca in Rome in 1664 and published as the preface to his Vite of 1672.5 Bellori argues that the three visual arts—painting, sculpture, and architecture—pursue beauty by means of a perfected imitation of nature, guided by the idea. The idea is not a Platonic ideal but the perfection of the models found in nature according to the sound principles of art.6 These principles restore the defects that time and contingency inflict on nature and impede the flourishing of beauty. With regard to architecture, Bellori hews closely to Fréart. In the Parall èle the latter author mobilized the “idée” as an invective against ornamental excess in general and “Roman” license in particular, manifest in the unwarranted invention of the Tuscan and composite order, vulgar expansions of the Greek canon.7 Fréart further expanded the condemnation of improper and excessive ornament already formulated in the twentieth 172 Maarten Delbeke chapter of the first book of Palladio’s treatise. There, Palladio dismissed scrollwork and other ornaments that do not represent elements of the wood construction on which stone architecture was said to be modeled or do not refer to natural models, as when columns are not tapered and monolithic, like...