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Kunstgeschichte, 64. Bd., H. 4 (2001), pp. 537-546 Published by: Deutscher Kunstverlag GmbH Munchen Berlin Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3657236 . Accessed: 19/01/2012 10:41
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MISZELLEN MARI HVATTUM GottfriedSemper:Between Poetics and PracticalAesthetics Reprintedin IanJenkins. The Assyrian Central Saloon at the British Museum. In October I848. the British Museum received a remarkable shipment from Constantinople. 1800-1939. Barnett and A. A History of the British Museum. 213-220. Toronto 1978.2 The Assyri- I Genesis Io: 11-12 2 See e. London I992. D.Archaeologistsand Aesthetesin the SculptureGalleriesof the BritishMuseum. 64. and E. in fierce competition with the French archaeologist Paul Emile Botta. had started his Middle Eastern excavations in November I845. Lorenzini. Ohio I974. 20. R. Assyrian Sculpture in the British Museum. archaeologist and diplomat. the arrival of which caused both celebration and unease. That Noble Cabinet. I64 I.' In the ZEITSCHRIFT FUR KUNSTGESCHICHTE decade that followed. g. circa I854. Austen Henry Layard.Band / 200I 537 . British Museum PD I939-I-I6-I0. adventurer. Miller. Less than two months later he unearthed a monument last mentioned in the Old Testament: King Ashurnasirpal II's palace in Calah. an extraordinary collection was assembled in London. Athens.
. They sprang from a universal human desire to imitate the rhythms of nature. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines it as >a distinctive feature or element in a design or composition [.3 Layard's collection shook nineteenth-century art history to its foundations.Der Stil. Mit6 ibid. 383-387. For Semper. and had a profound effect upon the incredulous audience who witnessed its arrival to Bloomsbury. Jenkins. these textile motifs represented nothing less than the origin of art.4 He examined how the stool's stylised joints echo the motif of the seam. By representing man's >cosmic conditions< in a comprehensible manner.. Archaeologists & Aesthetes in the Sculpture Galleries of the British Museum I800-I939.] also. metalwork or masonry.Semper's use of the term. (i860).but does not exhaust . see I. and somewhere along the way expression in the stool. The event challenged the view of ancient Greece as the autochthonous >cradle of art<<. [. I.] a leading figure or short phrase. these rhythmic patterns were slowly translated into the domain of art and craft. Semper must have studied the new acquisitions of the British Museum carefully. Through a simple 3 For an account of the debate that ensued. London 1992. the changing of the tide and the seasons.< This definition fits .had its roots in the >barbarian<East. Der Stil.5 Over time. was considered one of the most important contributions to the theory of art and architecture in the nineteenth century. Years later. Among them was a German architect temporarily stranded in London: Gottfried Semper. joining and completing. GottfriedSemper. in his magnum opus Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Kiinsten oder praktische Asthetik (1860-1863). symbolically evoking acts of binding. Kiinstler und Kunstfreunde. 378 an treasure strengthened the status of the British Museum as a seat of ancient art. he traced the iconography of the stool back to its origin in the >>primordial motifs of art<. Motiv] is key in Semper's architectural thinking.Fig. 5 Der Stil in den technischenund tektonischenKiinsten oder praktische Asthetik.Band / 2001 tenwald I977.. 4 The notion of ?motif<< [Ger. but it also threatened the >>classical<< principles upon which both the institution itself and its recently inaugurated building were based. despite its tortuous prose. Ein Handbuch fir Techniker. the cycles of the sun. the dominant idea of a work. into the rhythmic movement of weaving and the symbolic gathering performed by the knot. the Assyrian collection provided a key example in his innovative theory of the origins and development of art. Such a representation was precisely what Semper located in the Assyrian stool and elaborated in his vivid description of the animal heads flanking its seat.Vol. metamorphosing into ceramics. 538 . for instance the reification of time and movement into dance and musical expression. vol. 2. This imitation would first take the form of rituals. ZEITSCHRIFT FUR KUNSTGESCHICHTE 64. A stool had particularly captured Semper's imagination.2 TheAsyrianStool. Semper explained. 38I and 383. and how the mouldings of the legs invoke the motifs of the wreath and the ribbon.6 finding their >>tectonic<< little excursus on Assyrian furniture Semper's reminds us of why Der Stil. ?Tectonic? in this context refers to wooden constructions. I51-I70. In time. the primordial motifs of art established a human domain amidst a threatening nature..>The Assyrian Stool<<. In an ingenious series of analyses. indicating that Greek classicism widely regarded a symbol of the dignity and superiority of Western culture . these motifs had been gradually translated from their origin in textile art. I. a subject or a theme.
a gathering of reality into a >plot<< to our actions and confers a certain >readability<< lives. the bead necklace. what is the material and subject matter of all artistic endeavour?< he asked. More than two thousand years earlier. Chicago 1983. 45-5 I 14 British Museum No I24564-6.'4 It is not simply a stool but a throne: that of King Ashurnasirpal himself. Semper overturned the Neo-classical notion of architectural origins as an actual or imaginary ?primitive hut<.).7 Rather than looking for the origin of architecture in architectural form. Semper seemed simultaneously to invoke the history of Middle Eastern civilisation. His meticulous analysis of the scrolls and mouldings of the Assyrian stool was intended to reveal this: the ritual ordering of reality and its slow reification into the motifs of art. most notably action as it is reified in the ritual. Basel 1976. Vogt. 269. to use Ernesto Grassi's words. vol. The king is seated on his throne. London I96I. It was an act of ordering. A poetics which allows us to understand architecture not as a formal or stylistic phenomenon but as a creative interpretation of human life and action. is found once more in the wreath. GottfriedSemperund die Mitte des I9. 196. the circular dance and the rhythmic tone that attends it. It is through this process of ordering. but a creative interpretation of reality as a whole. Parrot. This theory was nothing if not radical. and answered: 4I believe it is man in all his relations and connections to the world<<. Rykwert in >Gottfried Semperand the Conception of Styles. too. Mimesis in the Greek tradition was not a copying of something already there.13Embodied in Semper's musings on some seemingly insignificant chair legs.?< This is precisely the kind of mimesis that characterises the poetic work in the Aristotelian sense. primarily associated with the rhythmic movement of music and dance. 1869. surrounded by priests and officials and involved in a ritual of 7 This point is elaboratedby J. 9 Poetics.8 The Poetics of Architecture Semper rejected the Neo-classical doctrine of imitation for whom architecture was the imitation of a real or ideal architecturalmodel. in: H. Semper located it in human action. Reble and M. This definition rings familiar. in a bas-relief from the North West Palace of Calah. 36f. analysis of the relief. Frolich (eds. to present a tale of the origin and development of art. joining and weaving. C. craft and architecture.12 It is. Time and Narrative. Golden. I3 Kunst und Mythos. Paul Ricoeur calls it a kind of ?emplotthat ment<. Nineveh and 539 . M.. Practical Aesthetics Semper's Assyrian stool can still be seen in the British Museum. art was an ordering activity. I45oa.Jahrhunderts. Semper told his readers. he stated this quite explicitly: ?In a most general way. [. Mallgrave and W.. 8 ?On ArchitecturalStyles<. ZEITSCHRIFT FUR KUNSTGESCHICHTE 64. is a poetics of architecture. Georgia 1992. Aristotle on Tragicand I Prolegomenon to Der Stil. The Four Elements of Architectureand Other Writings. Hamburg 1957. For an iconographical Babylon. Zurich lecture.'? For Semper. the scroll. 12 Comic Mimesis. These are the beginnings out of which music and architecture grew. Yet.9Semper's rethinking of the origins of architecture had in fact much in common with Aristotle. and to put forward a theory of symbolic form. an act of >ordering reality into a world<. he still considered architecture and art as a kind of imitation. 115. In one of his late essays.].Cambridge 1989. in: Mallgrave/Herrmann (as note 8). the beat of an oar.description of some chair legs. I. see A. in: A. Herrmann (eds. Aristotle had proclaimed precisely this kind of imitation as the end and means of the tragedy: >For tragedy is not an imitation of men but of actions and of life<. that man captures the creative law of nature >as it gleams through reality in the rhythmical sequence of space and time movements. Locating the origins of architecture in the ritual acts of binding.Band/ 2001 io See for example L. thus. F. An imitation not of things or forms but of human action. Atlanta.).
?.--w~~-?~" J~-~--" u . The relief formed part of a frieze adorning the walls of Ashurnasirpal's throne room. Der Stil.Wreaths.4- llflWz til 3. GottfriedSemper. I4-20 purification. Semper remained silent about the situation of which it was a part. it becomes clear that the most remarkable feature of Semper's analysis is not so much what it includes as what it leaves out. Contemplating the eloquent visual narrative of these panels. He was obsessed with the 540 ZEITSCHRIFT FUR KUNSTGESCHICHTE 64. vol. Band / 200I . i. an elaborate symbolic structure presenting the role of the king in a cosmic and political context.weavingand rhythmic ornaments. Patiently examining the Assyrian stool in minute detail.
Yet this symbolism remained strangely immanent. Decline in taste as well as morals had made architecture and art a display of shameless imitation and mindless invention. King Ashurnasirpal symbolic meaning of the furniture and tried to identify its religious. presupposes certain things. the wreath . modelled on the great successes of comparative linguistics and anatomy. and its future invention.North West Palaceof Calah. I995. its transmission through time. for Semper. I25-I65. as he repeatedly told his readers. His aim. of course. but also to establish a >method of invention< based on strictly scientific criteria. In fact. an Archaeology of the Human Sciences.London I992. i. was not only to identify the origin of art.the knot. There were good reasons. as a true nineteenth century man and a contemporary of Comte. 5 The comparative method. as Foucault has pointed out.Band / 200I . why Semper resorted to such aesthetic immanence. see my article >Gottfried Semper: Towards a Comparati- ResearchQuarterlyno i. beyond which the work has ossified into a purely formal existence. And Semper. Architectural ZEITSCHRIFT FUR KUNSTGESCHICHTE 64. It is as if.Bas relief. the bead. While the primordial motifs of art . The Order of Things. not to its role in the context of Assyrian kingship. It was a project made necessary by what Semper saw as a deep crisis haunting the nineteenth century. social and structural significance. I6 Jacques Foucault. More specifically he wanted to elevate it into a comparative science. attributed to the chair qua formal composition. Semper called this science his Practical Aesthetics. the poetic imitation performed by art has been >frozen< at a particular point in time.are indeed mimetic representations of ritual acts. 541 ve Science of Architecture<<. vol. firmly believed that the only way to save architecture from its present confusion was to elevate it into a science proper. his project was to provide nothing less than a complete science of architecture and art.'6 It pre- I5 For a more thorough discussion of the implications of the comparative method for Semper's project. unravelling the secrets of its conception.II on his throne. the artwork as a whole has retreated into an autonomous sphere in which it can become the object of formal analyses by the scientist-cum-art historian. in: ARQ.BritishMuseum I24564-6 4.
whether it be nature. he had to presuppose that nature could in its entirety be accounted for by scientific explanation. in: E. Up until the late eighteenth century. a shift expressed for instance in Kant's notion of organic systems. November II. London lecture. This was quite a radical assertion. fully available to the explanations and predictions of the natural scientist. as long as it always included an idea of a final cause. For the first time. New Haven 1950. Cuvier. Cassirer. In order for to be possible he had Cuvier's >science of life<< to break with an ancient tradition for thinking about nature. History and Styles<. The Problem of 18 ?Outline for a System of Comparative Style-Theory<. as it is 17 G. nature had not been considered accessible for such explanation. language or architecture . Cuvier's radical assertion depended on a philosophical shift that had taken place in the late I8th century. Knowledge. I853. Nature. Autumn I983. Galeriesd'Anatomiecompareeeet de paleontologie. ? 8.Paris supposes that the object of study . Unpublished manuscriptin the Victoria & Albert MuseFUR KUNSTGESCHICHTE ZEITSCHRIFT 64. Edition du MuseumNational d'HistoireNaturelle. Discourse sur les revolutions de la surface du globe. 17.Journal of Anthropologyand Aesthetics 6. I3of.is completely and entirely accessible to the scientist.Band / 200 S42 . when the French anatomist Georges Cuvier formulated his comparative anatomy in the hope of establishing natural history as a science proper.Paris. in: RES. I9 >PracticalArt in Metals and hard Materials. fol. Introduction. Paris 1828. MS 122. He had to reject the idea that nature had a purpose outside itself and presume that it could be understood as an immanent system.its Tech- nology. as Foucault reminds us.! 5. For example. the meaning of nature resides in nature itself.Jardindes Plantes. most notably in the guise of God.
From >Practical Art in Metals and hard Materials.andcompublished mented on in my articlein the same issue: ?The ZEITSCHRIFT FUR KUNSTGESCHICHTE Order of History: Gottfried Semper and the Great London Exhibition<. the overall purpose of the animal is >presentin its bones<<. wrote this text in English. including its highest spiritual and cultural meaning. had to be seen as a property of the work qua work.encountered in Kant's Critiques. Semper's Practical Aesthetics was based on remarkably similar presuppositions.and Semper I have left his erraticuse of capitalletters intact. GlasgowI999.Band / 200I 543 . Extracts from the introduction to this manuscript is in MacJournal 4. 64. as he made clear in his London leccoefficient< of the tures.<<19 6. its Technology. is no longer an emblem of God's creation but a self-sufficient system. the longitudinal Sectionthe transverse Section and the plan of the entire Science of Culture. had become an >>internal work of art. Semper had to assume that the work of art was in its entirety accessible for scientific explanation. it must show how things were done in all times. available for man's understanding. unpublished manuscript at the Victoria & Albert Museum Semper outlined the organisation of such a collection in some detail. History and Styles<.'7 Such an immanent significance was precisely what Semper attempted to locate in the structural-symbolic >organism< of the Assyrian stool. This meant that all its aspects. would begin with the simplest wickerwork. the structure of which anticipates the organisation of Der Stil. the ethnography and the philosophy of Culture. Gottfried Semper: diagrammatic sketch for an ideal museum. It would not be simply another museum but a complete encyclopaedia of human culture: >A Complete and Universal Collection must give.I8 The Transparencyof History: Semper's >Idealand Universal Collection< Nowhere is the curious >immanentisation? that takes place in Semper's Practical Aesthetics better expressed than in his plan for an >Idealand Universal Collection<. >Purpose?. The section comprising textile art. and why they were done in one or the other Way. it must give the history. so to speak. Cuvier had concluded that for modern comparative anatomy. how they are done at present in all the Countries of the Earth. In order to establish a >science of invention<. according to circumstances. This fictitious collection became in Semper's mind a vehicle by which one could understand the principles governing human creativity. expand to more refined textile products and culminate in the metamorphosed motif of Bekleidung um Library. for instance. The collection< would form a great com>>universal matrix in which artefacts were arranged parative to the four primordial techniques of according making and their corresponding >elements<.
capturing the full meaning and manifold of human creativity in one. London lecture.the style that unites the individualworks into a coherent culturalphenomenon. displaying human culture and history as an immanent system whose laws are available for explanation and prediction.). >Universal< collections and >general<< histories were favourite of pursuits nineteenth-century scholarship. By means of this matrix.24 Semper never attempted to implement his formula for style directly.Band/ 544 2001 .. >a sort of Index to the History of Culture< that would enable >the Student to see the things in their mutual relations. F Mallgrave. are the ma- For a discussion of the various interpretationsof the formula. but by the methodological arrangement itself. November ii. Its significance was to be guaranteed...where U stands for the -result-.its Tech21 22 nology. With this device Semper could. upon which all these mutual positive and negative relations depend.>Commentaryon Semper's November Lecture-.y. however. <23 The formula for style attempted to deand to account for fine all these >coefficients<< their interrelation.In Search of Architecture. Sem>ideal and universal collection<.spiritualand formal coefficients influencingthe thropology and Aesthetics 6. >x. ZEITSCHRIFT FUR KUNSTGESCHCIHTE 64. I853. per's was not only supposed to display everything but to explain it. an idealised expression for the complex reality of art. the work of art.<20 Semper's >universal collection? was to allow human culture in all its aspects to be captured and displayed in the simultaneity of the comparative matrix. CambridgeMassachusettsI984.<in: W.w. the formula reveals an ambitious dream: that of capturing the history of art as a system in which all components are fully accessible to the historian.. not by the particular meaning of the artefacts displayed. in order to determine the >correct< or >>incorrect<< correspondence between an art-work and its conditions of becoming. >Outline for a System of Comparative Style-Theory". Semper had produced a kind of ultimate test for rating the truth-content of architecture. they had failed to >finalresult. the laws of artistic making were to be revealed and a Practical Aesthetics formulated. to observe their mutual affinities and Dissimilarities. Herrmann (ed. Autumn I983. History and Styles<. Semper hoped to establish >a good Comparative System of Arrangement<<. in: RES.in its different guises. Within the laboratory of the comparative matrix the riddles of art and history were to be solved once and for all. Semper proclaimed.).21What is extraordinary about Semper's ambition is not so much its >breadth< as its >depth?.. 24I. 23 -The Attributes of Formal Beauty. in: RES. cultural praxis and architectural representation as a mathematical function. ? 7-I0. fol. In this way. which would grant art >a clear insight over its whole province<. would be traced from their simplest origins to their most sublimated expressions and presented in their development through time and place. however.22 Any work of art. MS 122. This quasi-mathematical formula presented the relation between formal laws. material and spiritual conditions.25Even on an analogical level.whileC is themathematical expresproduction sion of the relationship betweenthese coefficients.. The other elements of architecture. terial. The idea of a comparative display of human culture got its theoretical counterpart in Semper's infamous formula for style.y. The formulawas written U=C(x.<< let architectural style be the outcome of contemporary social. in which art is understood as a product of a functional relation between verifiable coefficients. among other things. Journal of An- of art. This dream presupposes a transparency of his- 20 >Practical Art in Metals and hard Materials. >prove<the inadequacy of contemporary eclectics.t. Gottfried Semper. He saw it as a >crutch<.z.Introduction.v. or more correctly. Journal of Anthropologyand Aesthetics 6. and to find out the Laws and Premises. 23-3 I. because they had failed to let the change in the >variables?produce a change in the In other words. see H.. Fall 1983.z. could be seen as >the uniform result or function of several variable values that unite in certain combinations and form the coefficients of a general equation. 5. and was indeed approaching the >fundamentalprinciple for invention< that he had sought for so long. universal overview. similarly.
The compression occurred. Spring I985. CambridgeMassachusettsI996. The Ethical Function of Architecture. fol. And vice versa: from a given style one can deduce the cultural conditions that produced it. Art. tumn I854. however. I believe. 6. like the fossile shells and the coral trees give us an account of the low organisations. Semper saw art as an inscrutable source and symbol of meaning. Harries.2 As Karsten Harries puts it: >like a poem. one can >>calculate? its artistic expression.tory and culture.<<2 This poetic potential was precisely what Semper recognised in his reflections on the origins of architecture as the mimetic interpretation of human action. Gottfried Semper. 28 K. and more self-consciously architecture. I. in: Mallgrave/Herrmann (as note 8). Rather.London lecture. Semper's Practical Aesthetics was to save architecture by articulating its immutable laws. participates in this work. then. no way of life is given so transparently that it unambiguously declares its meaning.au- 24 H. no longer the horizon conditioning our understanding but itself fully available for scientific knowledge. the Practical Aesthetics requires a complete transparency of history and culture before the act of making can even begin.Berlin I88o. in which its poetic potential resides. Yet he achieved such a >science of invention< only at the cost of abandoning his insights into the poetic capacity of art. 3 and Prospectus to VergleichendeBaulehre. 2. 2. The particular historicity of art. society. becomes a document of cultural history. supposedly transparent to rea- 26 >OnArchitectural Symbols<. in interpretation.ein Bild seines Lebens und Wirkens. fol.Band / 200oo in: Mallgrave/Herrmann(as note 8). 25 ?Outline for a System of Comparative Style-Theory<.see for instance 64. This paper began with a desire to understand the curious compression of meaning observed in Semper's analysis of the Assyrian >stool<. 27 I am relying here on a phenomenological interpretation of poetics. 545 ZEITSCHRIFT FiR KUNSTGESCHICHTE . While the poetics takes the opacity of the world as its necessary point of departure. Journal of Anthropology and Aesthetics9.< 26 Between Poetics and PracticalAesthetics This brief encounter with Semper's rich and idiosyncratic musings on the meaning of human making should be enough to show the deep tension inherent in his work. 268. that its meaning depends on itself alone. All building. 212 and 406. it is the work itself that allows for a partial articulation of the concealed horizon of a human world. Responding to an acute sense of crisis in contemporary art and society alike. can never be rendered transparent for a methodical explanation. which once inhabited them. I2. Further on Semper's vol. much indebted to Paul Ricoeur and Hans Georg Gadamer. Building is a response interpreting a way of life. The ?immanentisation< of meaning. in response to particular problems involved in modern thinking on art. This articulation is never complete. notion of architecture as a >Lapidargeschichte' of Der Stil vol. a flattening in which ontology is reduced to epistemology and then to a matter of method. In his Practical Aesthetics. 149. in: RES. See also Semper'slate criticism of the potential determinism implied in this view. may thus be understood as a response to a problem haunting not only Semper but modern thinking in general. Habermas describes it as a >flattening< of the realm of reflection. Zurich lecture. implying that if one only >understands? society well enough. ?an account< as the state of civilisation and of Semper wrote >>of the character of bygone generations. imitation became calculation and praxis adhered to practice: a verifiable entity. I869. so conspicuous in Semper's analysis. ever anew and precariously. MS 124. I7of. Such an operation presupposed that the work of art is fully autonomous. in ?On Architectural Styles<. yet at the same time he tried to render this source into a transparent and accessible object for the scientist-historian. it must be established. There can be no definitive statement of that meaning. Semper. the work of art is not simply a >result< of certain pre-defined coefficients. From the point of view of his poetics.
While he started from a concern for the ontological significance of art .2. . Paris. . vol. London. A reappraisal of Semper can perhaps shed light on both these aspects.Knowledge and Human Interests. alerting us to the depth of his poetics of architecture as well as to the necessary incompletion of his ?science of inventiont. London I972. 3 Der Stil.4 British Museum.he ended with a purely epistemological construct in which the question of the meaning of art is overshadowed 29 by a question of how to gain scientifically legitimate knowledge of its production.Band / 2001 . . 546 FORKUNSTGESCHICHTE ZEITSCHRIFT 64.son. 3.the meaning of art for human existence .29 Semper's Practical Aesthetics testified to this flattening. . 1800-1939. Photo credits: I Ian Jenkins. London I992.6 Victoria & Albert Museum. London. Archaeologists and Aesthetes in the Sculpture Galleries of the British Museum. JiirgenHabermaas. .5 Musee National d'Histoire Naturelle.
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