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28 August 2016

Where Do Ideas Come From II

Archaeology and Architecture

On Saturday 10 September I’ll be speaking at a conference about the via Appia, on the via Appia. Reconsidering Architecture and Archaeology is the end of a weeklong summer school looking at the archaeological landscape. My talk will be “The Archaeology of Invention: Excavating Ideas,” and will interpret the nature and purpose of archaeology in light of older notions of their relationship. For Piranesi, “They’ve filled my spirit these speaking ruins, in ways that drawings could never have been able to do, even very accurate ones, likes those made by the immortal Palladio, which I have still kept before of my eyes.” As the historian John Pinto says in his book Speaking Ruins: Piranesi, Architects, and Antiquity in Eighteenth Century Rome, “In the eighteenth century there was a reciprocal relationship between the act of archaeological reconstruction and the practice of modern architecture.” [p. 42] And, “In fact, Piranesi encouraged what he called ‘ragionevole congettura,’ or responsible [reasonable?] conjecture. In the introduction to the Antichità romane, Piranesi expressed the hope that his prints would stimulate ‘una nuova architettura antica.’” [Pinto, p. 8]

I’ve been posting on my blog Plein Air Italy some of the work I’ve done on site in Rome over the summer, and this most recent post deals with the place I will focus on in my talk: the tomb of Cecilia Metella as seen from the Circus of Maxentius. I’ll be interpreting the archaeological landscape as both a real place and an intellectual construct. I’ll look at the ways that landscape has inspired in the past (from plein air painting to capricci to the making of architecture), and how it might do so for us today. For that to happen we need, if not a literal connection with the forms of the past, at the very least a sympathy for their beauty and intention, for their construction and articulation, in order to build in a way that is sympathetic and equally inspiring. This obtains also for the landscape within which the ruins find themselves. Too often today those fragments in the landscape have been laid out “like a patient etherized upon a table,” to quote T. S. Elliot. They are dissected and desiccated, displayed rather than discovered. The old notion of invention as discovery is partly predicated on the power of ruins to inspire in no small way because of how they are situated in the landscape, including the landscape of our minds.

The image shown here is a capriccio I did to show, in an allegorical way, how one might rethink the landscape of the via Appia. I’ll have more to say about it after the conference…

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