Discuss Alberti’s Argument That, ‘Grace of Form Could Never Be Separated or Divorced from Suitability for Use.’ Bk Vi, 2.

Topics: Gothic architecture, Vitruvius, Beauty Pages: 7 (2322 words) Published: April 29, 2013
Discuss Alberti’s argument that, ‘Grace of form could never be separated or divorced from suitability for use.’ Bk VI, 2. Abbot Suger believed that he existed ‘neither in the slime of the Earth nor the purity in heaven.’ Suger’s writings expose the contemporary medieval mind-set of Earth as foul, sinful and ‘slimy.’ Yet moving forward to the Renaissance era of the 14th Century, prolific archaeologist, humanist and aficionado of the ancient and modern arts- Leon Battista Alberti- characterises the new way of thinking. In his account of Florence Cathedral (Figure 1) he writes, ‘this temple in itself has grace and majesty.’ He uses ‘robust’ and ‘slender’ as optimum properties of gracefulness and stability, and associates architecture with its ability to conjure natural sensations; audio, oral, visual and nasal. Henceforth we see Alberti as a naturalist; one who experiences nature with delight, whereas two hundred years previously we see Suger who is a super naturalist; one who wants to escape the modern world. Alberti believed that we praise God implicitly by praising creation and the variety and abundance of it, and in the act of praising creation we are performing a religious act. His point was that the concord of things harmoniously- in other words, nature- was the definition of beauty. Thus we turn to Alberti’s argument that, ‘grace of form could never be separated or divorced from suitability for use.’ In short, it summarises his belief that what we construct should be appropriate to its use- and it is this that makes a building ‘graceful’ or beautiful. This is the underlying dispute that forms the basic foundations of Alberti’s De re aedificatoria (On the Art of Building), written around 1440 and arranged into ten books. Alberti’s treatise on architecture eventually became his most influential work in Latin, and it is believed to have begun as a commentary on Vitruvius’ De aedificatoria. It was also the assimilation of other writers' ideas since antiquity, in particular ‘Etymologies (c.623) of Isidore, Archbishop of Seville, written in admiration for Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (c.AD 70), and the mid-ninth-century encyclopaedia De Universo of Hrabanus Maurus.’ However, Alberti was interested in the theory and practice of the architecture of antiquity and echoes the Roman’s concern with creating a dignified act of creation. Alberti believed that the architect must consider three principles of architecture: lineaments (lineamente), materials (materia), and construction (constructio). These three rules, according to Alberti, constitute a building that is correct, and each of these elements helps form the argument that neither ‘grace of form’ nor utility could exist on its own. Through observation of nature and of the ancients, Alberti realised that every building must have a discernible shape (lineamente), much like a body, that should imitate the bodies of animals, because the ancient Roman’s ‘found that grace of form could never be separated or divorced from suitability of use.’ Similarly to the correlation of the structures of land animals and of land architecture, Alberti said that ships at sea should emulate the contours of the fish. His reasoning follows his antique precedents ‘(who) have instructed us that a building is very like an animal, and that Nature must be delineated when we imitate it.’ ‘Similarly roofs must be composed of ‘bones, muscles, in-fill panelling, skins;’ as for walls, the ‘physicians have noticed that nature was so thorough in forming the bodies of animals, that she left no bone separate of disjointed from the rest. Likewise we should link the bones and bind them fast with muscles and ligaments, so that their frame and structure is complete and rigid;’ ‘with every type of vault we should (…) bind together the bones and interweave flesh with nerves;’ and, taking ‘their example from nature, they (the ancients) never made the bones of the building, meaning the columns, angles, and so on, odd...
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