Lessons Learned at the American Academy in Rome

I left Rome a few weeks ago and have now had a bit of time to absorb the three months I spent at the American Academy as part of the Rieger Graham Prize. Different from any travel or education in my past, this experience was so memorable, and I find it challenging to sum it up in a short blog. Instead, I’d like to reflect on a few themes that stayed with me throughout my time in the city.

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Observing the retraced route of the Possesso

Dinners in the courtyard under the soft glow of Roman twilight, the steady roar of water from the Acqua Paola on the walk down the Janiculum, and flocks of parakeets jumping through the umbrella pines all bring back memories, but my lasting impression of the American Academy is its diverse and engaging community. The people I encountered encouraged me to become more well-rounded and to stay curious. Often, I find it too easy to get overly engrossed in a topic (usually architecture) and to lose track of other interests—and to some extent, today’s world encourages such specialization. The American Academy however, filled with great minds and texts on subjects throughout the arts and humanities, challenged this habit and asked me to search for connections across disciplines as a means of sharpening my thoughts and making them more globally applicable. Learning about the methods that archeologists use to understand a site, listening to writers describe Rome, and discussing an artist’s approach to their creative process encouraged me to develop a broader understanding of the world.

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A view of Rome

This lesson tied perfectly into what is perhaps my strongest impression of Rome: the manifest presence of millennia of minds, hands, and bodies that shaped the city. In Rome, I was overwhelmed by the length of man’s impact on one place: basilicas lie buried under centuries of history, mausoleums have second and third lives as palaces and fortresses, and myths live on for generations, constantly updating to the times. To me, the city became the endorsement for our potential to create a beautiful culture through the synthesis of our experiences. In one place, I could see the impact of artists, writers, archeologists, architects, and more. I could see how their efforts worked in concert,whether intentionally or not, to make Rome the rich symphony that it is today.

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Looking into the courtyard at the American Academy

Three months ago, I stepped off a jetway into Rome, primed to begin my research of a very specific topic. Over the rest of my time in the city, I felt myself subtly pulled back and asked to place my work into a broader context. Before arriving, I imagined myself buried deep in the archives of a vast library. And while my work was certainly (and happily) filled with much time in the library, I also found myself called into the city and into conversations with my colleagues. Perhaps the most lasting lesson I learned from my time was to work to be more open, inclusive, and broad-reaching in my thought.

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Equestrian monument of Giuseppe Garibaldi on the Janiculum

It has been a formative and unique opportunity to be a part of such an invigorating community and to have the time to reflect while in a city as provoking as Rome. For this life-changing opportunity, I would like to thank the ICAA and the Rieger Graham Prize for their special gift.

Villa Doria Pamphili and gardens

Villa Doria Pamphili and gardens

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Classicism Abounds in the Architectural Digest 100

The buzz in the air surrounding contemporary classicism is undeniable. If Architectural Digest’s latest ranking of the top 100 architects and designers is an accurate bellwether of the industry, then classicism is not only alive and well — it’s thriving across all disciplines. More than 20 of AD‘s noteworthy selections are active members or supporters of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.

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A Dutchess County farmhouse designed by G.P. Schafer Architect with landscape design by Deborah Nevins (Image Source: Architectural Digest / Eric Piasecki)

Among the AD100 firms designated by the magazine as “Classicists” are traditional architectural stalwarts including ICAA member firms Ferguson & Shamamian Architects, G.P. Schafer Architect, Ike Kligerman Barkley, and Peter Pennoyer Architects. However, the ICAA even had representation among firms that AD designated as “Modernist” thanks to Sawyer | Berson, which received a Stanford White Award a couple weeks ago. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising as our members do after all engage in the contemporary practice of architecture and design, with varying degrees of classical influences.

sawyer-berson

Townhouse on East 80th Street designed by Sawyer | Berson Architecture & Landscape Architecture
(Image Source: Architectural Digest / Scott Frances)

Within the AD100 is a subset of “American Beauties,” architects and designers that represent a “Classic American” style. ICAA members and supporters were well represented among this group, including: Culman & Kravis Inc., Jayne Design Studio Inc., Michael S. Smith Inc., Tucker & Marks Inc., Victoria Hagan Interiors, and of course Mark Hampton LLC. (I especially love Alexa Hampton’s family room, which is featured on architecturaldigest.com and is overflowing with classical references.) Also included on the AD100 is designer Brian McCarthy, who spoke recently during a panel discussion called “The Legacy of Parish-Hadley,” co-hosted by the ICAA and the New York School of Interior Design.

alexa-hampton

Alexa Hampton’s family room (Image Source: Architectural Digest / Scott Frances)

Earlier this month guests of the ICAA’s Private New York tour of spectacular apartments and townhouses were fortunate to visit the home of Frank de Biasi, another AD100 designer whose work also graces the cover of the magazine’s January issue. Frank recently joined the ICAA’s President’s Council, which focuses on creating scholarships to educate the next generation of classical architects and designers, among other important matters.

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An ICAA Private New York Tour guest surveys the cover of Architectural Digest’s January issue,
featuring the work of Frank de Biasi (Image Source: Frank de Biasi)

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Frank de Biasi welcomes guests of the ICAA’s Private New York Tour into his home
(Image Source: Frank de Biasi)

Steven Gambrel, an ICAA Board Member, also brings contemporary classical design to a new level. He understands the importance of proportion, but isn’t afraid to add a “daring splash of color” to any room. Also featured on the list is designer Suzanne Kasler, an active member and supporter of the ICAA’s Southeast Chapter.

Interior by S.R. Gambrel Inc. (Image Source: Architectural Digest / Eric Piasecki)

Interior by S.R. Gambrel Inc. (Image Source: Architectural Digest / Eric Piasecki)

Ben Pentreath, who also appears on the AD100, is at the forefront of the next generation. A few weeks ago, AD’s dynamic new Editor in Chief, Amy Astley, and I co-hosted a lecture with Ben followed by a special dinner. Ben’s talk, which I wrote about last month, was truly inspirational, illustrating how his transformative architectural and urban designs are bringing classicism to communities today. ICAA Board Member and AD100 “Hall of Famer” Bunny Williams said the talk was one of the most stimulating she’s ever attended.

Ben Pentreath with Bunny Williams and ICAA President Peter Lyden (Image Source: Sean Zanni/PMC)

Ben Pentreath with Bunny Williams and ICAA President Peter Lyden (Image Source: Sean Zanni/PMC)

Bunny is herself a legendary tastemaker who never rests on her laurels, continuously creating and executing successful designs. I sincerely admire Bunny, who has helped to sustain and rejuvenate the classical tradition in a truly profound way.

“Hall of Fame” member, Robert A.M. Stern Architects has unlike perhaps any other firm changed the cityscape, bringing beauty and proportion to buildings of all sizes. AD describes the philosophy behind the firm’s work: “Working from a centuries-spanning playbook, Robert A.M. Stern and his associates devise personable structures that possess a masterful air of aesthetic self-assuredness.” I agree wholeheartedly.

House designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects in East Quogue, NY

House designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects in East Quogue, NY
(Image Source: Architectural Digest / Eric Piasecki)

One of my personal passions is landscape design, and in this category the ICAA community is, again, well represented. Arne Maynard’s triumphant garden designs highlight the seamless integration between interior and exterior environment. The ICAA was honored to host a lecture with Arne last year.


A video featuring Arne Maynard at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, England
(Video Source: Bleak House Media / Vimeo)

New York-based landscape designer and ICAA member, Deborah Nevins, is also featured on the AD100 list. Deborah’s landscapes convey architectural elements that befit the surrounding natural environment. Look no further than  Gil Schafer’s Dutchess County home, Middlefield, whose beautiful landscapes were a collaboration between Gil and Deborah.

What at least 20 members of the AD100 list have in common is their dedication to the classical tradition. They serve as an inspiration to thousands of practitioners across the country who embrace proportion and beauty in their contemporary practice; they also dedicate enormous support toward the ICAA’s goal of educating more students, emerging professionals, and enthusiasts around the country who are increasingly passionate about classical architecture and design.

Thanks to our supporters, in 2016 the ICAA helped amplify the buzz surrounding classical architecture and design. In 2017, we look forward to convincing more and more people that classicism is not an artifact of the past or a fleeting trend, but an enduring element of our future.

 

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Russell Windham Elected as Chairman of the ICAA Board of Directors with Andrew Cogar Vice Chair

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Russell Windham

The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA), the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the classical tradition in architecture, urbanism and the allied arts, is pleased to announce that Russell Windham has been elected Chairman of the ICAA Board of Directors. Russell serves as Co-Chair of the ICAA’s Strategic Planning Committee, and he has served as ICAA Treasurer, Chair of the organization’s Finance Committee, and President of the Texas Chapter.

Russell Windham is a founding partner of Curtis & Windham Architects, which was established in Houston in 1992 and received the ICAA’s Arthur Ross Award for its work in architecture in 1999. His firm’s monograph, A Vision of Place: The Work of Curtis & Windham Architects, was published in December 2016. A graduate of Texas Tech University, he is a member of the Board of Directors of the Memorial Park Conservancy.

Andrew Cogar has also been elected to the role of Vice Chair of the ICAA Board of Directors. He serves as Co-Chair of the ICAA’s Strategic Planning Committee, and he has served as Chair of the ICAA’s Governance Committee. Andrew was named Trustee Emeritus of the organization’s Southeast Chapter.

Andrew Cogar

Andrew Cogar is President of Historical Concepts, an Arthur Ross Award winning firm for its work in architecture. Andrew was a founding member of the Atlanta chapter of the Congress for the New Urbanism and is a member of the American Institute of Architects. He has also been recognized by the Atlanta design and business community, selected as one of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles “20 Under 40” and the Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “40 Under 40” program. He is an active member of the Design Leadership Network and is a sought after speaker on the topic of traditional architecture and design.

Russell Windham and Andrew Cogar will succeed Mark Ferguson (who currently serves as the ICAA Board Chairman) and Barbara Sallick (current ICAA Board Vice Chair). Mark and Barbara will both remain on the ICAA Board of Directors.

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The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art Celebrates the Classicist No. 13 with Classical American Homes Preservation Trust

The Classicist No. 13 at the George F. Baker Houses

On Wednesday evening, November 16, the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) co-hosted a cocktail party with Classical American Homes Preservation Trust (CAHPT) at the George F. Baker Houses in New York City. The event celebrated the launch of the 13th volume of the Classicist, the ICAA’s annual academic journal. This year, for the first time ever, the publication has a regional focus: the architecture and design of the American South. In honor of the Classicist No. 13, the theme of the party was Looking South: The Influence of American Southern Classical Architecture.  

Peter Kenny, Margize Howell, ICAA President Peter Lyden

Peter Kenny, Margize Howell, ICAA President Peter Lyden

More than 80 people were in attendance including ICAA President Peter Lyden and CAHPT Co-Presidents Margize Howell and Peter Kenny. ICAA Board Members Alexa Hampton, Bunny Williams, Gary Brewer, Mark Ferguson (Board Chairman), Suzanne R. Santry, and Kirk Henckels attended. Also present were leading practitioners and supporters of architecture, art and design, including Michael Franck, John Rosselli, Ralph and Clifford Harvard, Anthony Grant, and Karen Pascoe.

ICAA President Peter Lyden, Bunny Williams, Pieter Estersohn

ICAA President Peter Lyden, Bunny Williams, Pieter Estersohn

Mark Ferguson

Mark Ferguson

The George F. Baker Houses is a complex of historic homes on the corner of Park Avenue and East 93rd Street. Built in the 1920s, the complex is situated at the highest point in Manhattan and today includes the private residence of Richard H. Jenrette and the headquarters for CAHPT.

Drawing Room

Drawing Room

Library

Library

The party was the perfect occasion for the ICAA to engage practitioners, supporters, and enthusiasts of Southern classical design, whose influence can be felt across the country. Margize Howell — who along with CAHPT Co-President Peter Kenny authored an essay in the Classicist entitled “Architecture on a North-South Axis” — said: “The ICAA and CAHPT share a deep commitment to classical architecture and the related arts. We’re so proud to be doing joint programming and working on educational endeavors with the ICAA as we bring our love for classicism into the 21st Century.”

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase

John Rosselli, Margize Howell, Albert Simons, Bunny Williams

John Rosselli, Margize Howell, Albert Simons, Bunny Williams

According to ICAA President, Peter Lyden, “The ICAA is very proud of its affiliation with CAHPT and working together as we bring education in classical architecture, design, and the related fields across the country. The historical significance of the George F. Baker Houses, alongside other Classical American Preservation Trust homes, made it the perfect setting to celebrate the Classicist No. 13.”

Adrian Taylor, Alexa Hampton

Adrian Taylor, Alexa Hampton

Michael Franck

Michael Franck

Anthony Grant, Jonathan Hogg

Anthony Grant, Jonathan Hogg

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase

 

Images: Sean Zanni / Patrick McMullan

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16th Annual McKim Lecture with John Simpson

Cocktail Reception at 6:15 pm, Lecture at 6:45 pm,
Optional Dinner to Follow

The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) is proud to partner with the University Club and the One West 54th Street Foundation to present the Annual McKim Lecture – named in honor of renowned architect, Charles McKim. John Simpson will deliver the 2017 lecture, entitled “TheTimeless Language of Classicism,” on Wednesday, March 1 at the University Club. In this lecture, Mr. Simpson will consider how we, in the 21st Century, have come to admire, adopt, and develop the classical language of architecture and its varied ornament and decoration as practiced for over two millennia. The revival of classical design, its application and adaptation to create new types of buildings since the Renaissance, has endowed us with a rich legacy of buildings and public spaces.

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John Simpson is at the forefront of a growing movement and is one of the practitioners who designs and builds the widest range of building types, many of which are of a public or semi-public nature. With buildings across the world responding to this tradition, including recent work in New York, examples of Simpson’s work can be seen at Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, The Defence and National Rehabilitation Centre, various Cambridge and Oxford colleges, Eton College, and the new School of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. Simpson’s work also includes masterplans, chapels, pavilions, concert halls and museums.

Mr. Simpson ESQ. C.V.O. BSC (HONS) DIP ARCH RIBA is the founding partner of John Simpson Architects. The firm’s work revolves around the notion that architecture is a public art where each and every building façade forms the character and shape of the public realm – the streets, the squares and the major civic spaces that we all use. Since 1990, the firm has shown how a sustainable urban alternative to the conventional suburban housing estate can work and is featured in government guidance on best practice in urban design in the UK. Simpson’s architecture can be explained as a language of building that is recognizable and by necessity, draws on our collective cultural experience—the inherited language that each and every one of us can relate to, enjoy, and understand. Whether incorporating sustainable technology or acoustic engineering solutions, he creates buildings that function well and are, without a doubt, timeless.

The Architecture of John Simpson: The Timeless Language of Classicism, by Dr. David Watkin, (Rizzoli) was released October, 2016. Some of Mr. Simpson’s more recent awards include the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Award for Building Conservation 2013; Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Award for a building providing a major Community Benefit 2013; Georgian Group Award for the Restoration of a Georgian Garden/Landscape 2012; Georgian Award for Best New Classical Building 2010; Philippe Rotthier European Prize for Architecture 2008; Award of Excellence from the Society of American Registered Architects 2008; and the Arthur Ross Award from the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art in 2008.

The McKim Lecture will be held in College Hall at the University Club, One West 54th Street, New York, NY 10019. The cost of attendance is $85 per person for the cocktail reception and lecture only, and $175 for the cocktail reception, lecture, and dinner. To make a reservation, call (212) 730-9646 ext. 109, or register online.

The Annual McKim Lecture is a collaboration between the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) and the One West 54th Street Foundation. The One West 54th Street Foundation is a not-for-profit organization established to preserve the architectural integrity and design of the University Club, a New York Historic Landmark building. The Foundation also provides scholarship to students, including those at the ICAA enrolled in its full array of programmatic offerings. The ICAA is the leading national nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the practice and appreciation of the classical tradition in architecture and the allied arts through education, publications, awards, and advocacy.

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Classical Comments: THE COMPLEX GREEK MEANDER

Calder Loth, 3 B&W1-3

BY CALDER LOTH

 

Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and Member of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art Council of Advisors.

 

 

THE COMPLEX GREEK MEANDER

 

Figure 1: The Complex Greek Meander: Abraham Swan, The British Architect, (1758), Plate LV (detail).

Figure 1: The Complex Greek Meander: Abraham Swan, The British Architect, (1758), Plate LV (detail).

The terms Greek key, fret, and meander are all names for a decorative device employed on buildings and objects beginning in ancient Greece and continuing to modern times.[i] The device comes in a variety of forms. At its most basic, it is a band consisting of short horizontal and vertical fillets connected to each other at right angles. It has been called a Greek key because an individual section vaguely resembles a primitive key. The labeling of it as a meander results from its continuous back and forth progression, recalling the winding course of the Meander River in Asia Minor, now present-day Turkey. The unbroken, interlocking pattern made it a symbol of both unity and infinity. What I define as the complex Greek Meander consists of two parallel strips of meandering fillets crossing one another at continuous intervals. The designation is my own since I can find no specific definition for this distinctive form of Greek fret. This illustrated essay is intended to show the early origins of the complex Greek meander and to offer examples of its use as an embellishment for more than two millennia. I hope it might encourage the application of this timeless, visually engaging detail as an ornamental accent for contemporary classical architecture.

Figure 2: Detail of the conjectural color reconstruction of the Parthenon Panathenaic frieze and fascia (StudyBlue).

Figure 2: Detail of the conjectural color reconstruction of the Parthenon Panathenaic frieze and fascia (StudyBlue).

One of the oldest examples of the complex Greek meander as architectural ornamentation survives as faded painted decoration on the fascia above the Parthenon’s famous sculptural frieze depicting the Panathenaic festival.[ii] The motif has been expanded vertically and horizontally with the insertion of decorated squares at regular intervals. Scientific examination has shown that the band was originally richly colored as were all the sculptured figures in the frieze and those located elsewhere on the temple. The illustration of a short section, shown here, offers a conjectural reconstruction of the original color scheme for both the sculptures and the painted band and is contrasted with the present condition.

 

Figure 3: Detail of gold and ivory ceremonial shield of Philip II of Macedon. (Pinterest).

Figure 3: Detail of gold and ivory ceremonial shield of Philip II of Macedon. (Pinterest).

A very early depiction of the complex Greek meander is found not in a work of architecture but in a recently discovered object. In 1977, archaeologists working in northern Greece unearthed what is believed to be the tomb of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great (died 354 B.C).[iii] Among the numerous artifacts found in the tomb was an elaborate ceremonial shield, richly decorated with figures and motifs in gold and ivory. A close look at the border shows a complex Greek meander worked into the pattern with ivory inlay. While the shield is an exceptional artifact, we should note that the meander was commonly used as a decorative band on Greek pottery, although the complex version is found infrequently on these ceramics.

Figure 4: Detail of the Ara Pacis exterior frieze (ArS Artistic Adventure of Mankind).

Figure 4: Detail of the Ara Pacis exterior frieze (ArS Artistic Adventure of Mankind).

The complex Greek meander received elevated status through incorporation in the band separating the upper figural panels from the lower panels of stylized acanthus ornaments on Rome’s Altar of Augustan Peace. Known more commonly as the Ara Pacis, the altar was consecrated in 9 B.C. to celebrate the abundance and peace brought to the Roman world by the emperor Augustus. Executed in pure white luna marble, the altar reveals the artistry of Roman sculpture at its most exquisite. It was wrecked and ultimately vanished from sight following the barbarian invasions of Rome. Fragments were discovered in 1568 and many of the panels were unearthed in late 19th Century archaeological investigations. The pieces were assembled into an anastylosis recreation of the altar in 1938, marking the 2000th anniversary of the birth Augustus. The Ara Pacis is currently housed in a protective pavilion designed by Richard Meier, completed in 2006 adjacent to the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome. Shown is a detail of the east wall panel displaying members of the imperial household with a complex Greek meander band beneath.

Figure 5: Soffit detail, Temple of Mars Ultor, Rome (www.JeffBondono.com).

Figure 5: Soffit detail, Temple of Mars Ultor, Rome (www.JeffBondono.com)

The Temple of Mars Ultor (Mars the Avenger) was the centerpiece of Rome’s Forum of Augustus, one of the main projects carried out by Emperor Augustus. Built of luna marble and completed in 2 B.C., the temple was where the Roman Senate met to discuss waging war, and where the trophies of victory were brought as tributes to Mars. The temple was plundered for its materials beginning in the 5th century. The principal surviving elements are three columns of the south elevation. They support an intact section of architrave, the soffit of which is decorated with panels enriched with bands of the complex Greek meander. Because of its location in the heart of Rome, this example of the motif was the principal one known to the Renaissance architects.

Figure 6: Soffit, Temple of Mars Ultor: Andrea Palladio, I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, Book IV, Chapter VII, p. 21 (detail)

Figure 6: Soffit, Temple of Mars Ultor: Andrea Palladio, I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura, Book IV, Chapter VII, p. 21 (detail)

We may credit Andrea Palladio for making the complex Greek meander known to future generations. His indefatigable recording of Roman ruins and the subsequent publication of his findings, along with conjectural restorations in Book IV of Quattro Libri, provided design resources for architects henceforth. His illustrations included not only elevations, plans, and sections of ancient works, but many details. This material, which includes conjectural restorations as well as descriptive text, stands as a pioneering example of above-ground archaeological recordation and interpretation. Among his seven plates of woodcuts devoted to the Temple of Mars Ultor is a section of the portico soffit showing its panels enriched with the complex Greek meander. While this may not be the first published image of this detail, Palladio’s famous treatise certainly was the vehicle for introducing it to the broadest audience. Palladio doesn’t mention the meander specifically, but his text on the temple states: These porticoes have beautiful soffits, or, as I prefer to say, coffering, and I have drawn them in profile and projected them in plan.” [iv]

Figure 7: Cornice fragment, Temple of Jupiter; Baalbek, Lebanon (Loth).

Figure 7: Cornice fragment, Temple of Jupiter; Baalbek, Lebanon (Loth).

The use of the complex Greek meander spread throughout the Roman world, particularly during the empire period. One of the empire’s more distant cities, Baalbek, in present-day Lebanon, saw the construction of some of the most impressive edifices in Rome’s domain. Among them was the colossal Temple of Jupiter, the scale of which exceeded that of anything built in the city of Rome. Completed ca. 60 A.D. on the site of an earlier temple, it was largely pilfered for its materials around 397. In the 530s, the Emperor Justinian disassembled eight of the peristyle columns for reuse in Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia. Today, six of the enormous Corinthian columns, together with their entablature, remain in situ. At the base of its podium is a fallen section of the cornice with its fascia decorated with the complex Greek meander as well as one of the temple’s famous lion’s head gargoyles.

Figure 8: Detail of School of Athens fresco mural; Vatican Museums, Rome (WikiArt.org).

Figure 8: Detail of School of Athens fresco mural; Vatican Museums, Rome (WikiArt.org).

Awareness of the complex Greek meander enables us to note its presence in unsuspected places. Hence, in viewing Raphael’s famous Vatican fresco, School of Athens, we can spot the meander decorating the soffit of the arch framing the composition. This was one of the set of Stanze della Signatura murals executed by Raphael in 1509-11, decades before the meander was published by Palladio. Thus we ask, what was Raphael’s source for the motif? He may have seen it in some obscure early architectural treatise. We should remember that Raphael was an accomplished architect as well as a painter, however. His skill as an architect led him to serve as one of the architects for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica.[v] In 1515 he was named “Prefect” of all antiquities in Rome and vicinity. Thus we can appreciate that Raphael was well informed in classical design and classical details, and can assume that he early learned that the complex Greek meander was an effective and appropriate decorative device. Moreover, as a resident of Rome, Raphael was no doubt familiar with the ruins of the Temple of Mars Ultor.

Figure 9: Roland Fréart, Sieur de Chambray, A Parallel of the Antient Architecture with the Modern (John Evelyn translation, 1664), p. 111.

Figure 9: Roland Fréart, Sieur de Chambray, A Parallel of the Antient Architecture with the Modern (John Evelyn translation, 1664), p. 111.

The French scholar, Roland Fréart, sieur de Chambray, undoubtedly became acquainted with the complex Greek meander during his 1630s sojourn in Rome, during which he studied architecture. Direct familiarity, however, was achieved when he translated Palladio’s Quattro Libri into French, published in 1650. That same year, Fréart published his famous Parallèle de l’Architecture antique et de la moderne in which he illustrated the page of frets shown here. The fret from the Temple of Mars Ultor soffit is seen in the center left. John Evelyn published an English translation of the Parallèle in 1664 from which Fréart’s commentary on the frets is here quoted: I have made a very curious and rare Collection of a certain Ornament which they call Fret, and of which the Antients [sic] made great use. . . . The Ornament consists in a certain interlacing of two Lists or small Fillets, which run always in parallel distances equal to their breadth, with this necessary condition, that at every return and intersection they do always fall into right angles; this is so indispensable that they have no grace without it.[vi]

Figure 10: James Gibbs, Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture, Plate LIX, (detail)

Figure 10: James Gibbs, Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture, Plate LIX, (detail)

James Gibbs (1682-1754) was a leading architect in Britain’s Anglo-Palladian movement and is remembered for such works as the Fellows’ Building at King’s College, Cambridge and the Radcliffe Library at Oxford. His fame rests not only with his buildings, but with his two highly influential publications: A Book of Architecture (1728) and Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (1732). The latter work, with his simplified method for drawing the orders and its numerous illustrations of architectural details, became a standard textbook for British Architects well into the 20th century. It also was an important reference for builders in colonial America. Among the many details Gibbs illustrated was the complex Greek meander, which he likely derived from either Palladio’s or Fréart’s publications. Gibbs described the meander as . . . a Fret-border of eleven different divisions done in two ways, the distances of the sinking and the rising being equal.[vii]

Figure 11: Hall chimneypiece detail, Drayton Hall; near Charleston, South Carolina (Loth).

Figure 11: Hall chimneypiece detail, Drayton Hall; near Charleston, South Carolina (Loth).

The complex Greek meander found its way onto the hall chimneypiece of Drayton Hall, the famous South Carolina Anglo-Palladian plantation house built for John Drayton in the 1750s. The overall design of the chimneypiece follows one published in The Designs of Inigo Jones (London, 1727) by William Kent.[viii] While the overmantel is a close copy of the published image, the mantel itself is a more straightforward scheme. Instead of swags in the mantel frieze, as shown by Kent, we find the complex Greek meander. Interestingly, an inventory of the Drayton Hall library, prepared by John Drayton’s son, Charles Drayton (died 1820), lists both Andrea Palladio’s The Four Books (Isaac Ware edition, 1738) and the John Evelyn 1664 English edition of Fréart’s Parallèle.[ix] As noted above, both books illustrate the complex Greek meander. We may safely speculate that these books were originally owned by John Drayton and were referred to in crafting many of Drayton Hall’s architectural details.

Figure 12: Frieze detail, Shirley Plantation House; Charles City County, Virginia (Loth).

Figure 12: Frieze detail, Shirley Plantation House; Charles City County, Virginia (Loth).

Illustrations of the complex Greek meander in such widely circulated treatises as those by Palladio, Fréart, and Gibbs, led to the inclusion of the detail in many 18th Century British architectural pattern books and builders’ manuals. These spread awareness of the motif ever wider, particularly in the English-speaking world. A partial list of publications having plates showing the meander include Edward Hoppus’ The Gentlemen’s and Builder’s Repository (1737), William Salmon’s Palladio Londinensis (second edition, 1738), Batty Langley’s The City and Country Builder’s and Workman’s Treasury of Designs (1740), Langley’s The Builder’s Director or Bench-Mate (1751), Abraham Swan’s The British Architect (1758), and William Pain’s The Builder’s Companion (1758). All of these books were available in the American colonies, hence without specific documentation it can be difficult to determine which might have been the source for the details in such prominent colonial mansions as Shirley in Virginia. The complex Greek meander decorates the frieze in the first-floor bedroom.

 

Figure 13: Mantel, Temple of the Winds; Mount Stewart, County Down, Northern Ireland (Loth).

Figure 13: Mantel, Temple of the Winds; Mount Stewart, County Down, Northern Ireland (Loth).

James Stuart and Nicholas Revett introduced us to the subtle beauties of ancient Greek architecture with their profusely illustrated three volumes of The Antiquities of Athens (published respectively in 1762, 1789 & 1795). Among the ruins they covered was the Tower of the Winds, a small octagonal structure in Athens’ Roman Agora. The tower served as the inspiration for the 1785 Temple of the Winds, a jewel-like banqueting house designed by Stuart for Mount Stewart, the Northern Ireland estate of John Stewart, future Marquess of Londonderry. The mantel in the temple’s main room is richly decorated with neoclassical ornaments, including a complex Greek meander band below the frieze. The mantel is attributed to the London carver and frame maker William Adair, who, with his brother John (died 1771), provided architectural details for both Stuart and Robert Adam. The complex Greek meander is not illustrated in either The Antiquities of Athens or Adam’s Works in Architecture. Nevertheless, the meander was a standard motif in the 18th-century architectural repertoire.

Figure 14: Frieze; Fifth Avenue and West 39th Street, New York City (Loth)

Figure 14: Frieze; Fifth Avenue and West 39th Street, New York City (Loth)

A familiarity with various classical motifs makes strolling city streets an unavoidable scavenger hunt. Most cities of any age hold buildings and structures expressed in the classical language. New York’s Fifth Avenue is no exception, although its famed collection of Gilded Age mansions has long been supplanted with commercial structures. A prominent example of the latter is the 1914 flagship store of Lord &Taylor, designed by Starrett & van Vleck, a firm known for its department stores. Attached to the landmark structure, at the corner of W 39th Street, is an anonymous earlier Beaux-Arts commercial building, now part of the Lord & Taylor establishment. The unidentified architect of this work decided to entertain the millions of passersby with an entablature at its main level displaying a properly fashioned complex Greek meander.[x] Regrettably, the fine detail is noticed by almost nobody, so we can only hope this ICAA blog will help bring it to peoples’ attention and make ambling Fifth Avenue a more enriching experience.

While I had hoped to offer a 21st Century example of the complex Greek meander, I have yet to find one, although one might indeed exist. Nevertheless, as a design of pure, straightforward geometry, its use would be compatible with architectural works of almost any style, particularly contemporary classicism.

 

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[i] Versions of the Greek key are also found on Chinese and Indian structures and objects, but they are another subject.

[ii] Most of the frieze was removed by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and is now displayed in the British Museum, London. Sections of the faded fascia decorations remain in situ.

[iii] Some scholars have claimed that the tomb is not that of Philip II but rather Philip III, Alexander the Great’s half-brother, but forensic evidence derived from the human remains there make a better case that the tomb is that of Philip II.

[iv] Andrea Palladio, The Four Books on Architecture (1570), Book IV, Chapter VII, p 225. Translated by Robert Tavenor and Richard Schofield (MIT Press, 1997).

[v] What work Raphael was able to achieve for St. Peter’s was later removed for Michelangelo’s revised design.

[vi] Roland Fréart, Sieur de Chambray (John Evelyn translation), A Parallel of the Antient Architecture with the Modern (London, 1664), p. 108.

[vii] James Gibbs, Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture (London, 1732), p. 38.

[viii] Despite the title of this pattern book, the chimneypiece design was not by Inigo Jones, but rather by William Kent for a chimneypiece in Houghton Hall, Norfolk, England. The house was designed by Kent for Robert Walpole.

[ix] Patricia Ann Lowe, Volumes that Speak: The Architectural Books of the Drayton Hall Library Catalog and the Design of Drayton Hall. Graduate Thesis Project for the Graduate Schools of Clemson University and the College of Charleston (Charleston, S.C., 2010).

[x] The entablature’s cornice has unfortunately lost its crown molding.

 

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