DISPLEASURE OF RUINS
The sight of edifices crumbling also attracted Diderot, who, in his political writings of the 1770s, like Gibbon, uses architectural metaphors of a decaying vault or pyramid in order to describe the danger menacing badly ruled states. However, he had become interested in ruin imagery earlier, when reviewing pictures shown at the Salons by Servandoni, De Machy and Robert. His reflections on painted ruins focus on the idea of time as a destructive force. Diderot switched from the old topos of ‘Father Time’, edax rerum, to the Newtonian, quantitative perception of time as infinite duration, but of no less emotional impact. This is expressed most clearly in his account of Hubert Robert’s ruin pieces shown at the Salon of 1767. At the heart of Diderot’s discourse on the Grande galerie éclairée du fond is the idea of aligning the span of human history with that of nature. The absorption of history into the rhythm of nature had already led the encyclopaedists, in particular, to ground historical chronology on a new scientific basis, with the help of records of astronomical phenomena.11 Robert’s with infinity, which crushes rocks and smoothes valleys, human existence is but an ephemeral episode, a point between two endless durations – the past and the future.12 Diderot suggested that the artist should sharpen this idea, advising him to remove the plebeian figures populating the scene, which, he argued, distract the eye and the mind from meditative solitude. avanzi (‘remains’),
For Cicero, beauty is not an autonomous quality; it is so closely intertwined with the other two principles that it is pointless to try to disentangle them. In his discussion of architectural aesthetics, in the third book of De Oratore, he claims that when nature conceives forms, the principle of utility is foremost. Every element in natural creation is adjusted to its function, and fulfills its goal in constituting the whole. The first effect of such...
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