Writers' Workshop for ARCH 531 / McGill University / School of Architecture / Fall 2012

Archive for October, 2012

Week Eight: Art, Architecture, and Forms of Cognition






Still from Roberto Rossellini’s The Age of Cosimo de Medici (1973)


In the fifteenth century, two sides of the artistic world were coming together: craft-related artistry and scholastic mathematics.  The joining of these two remains of crucial importance to understanding writers on art from the period.

Leon Battista Alberti, in his work On Painting (Della Pittura) from 1435 tells us that he wishes to borrow from the mathematician yet to be considered a painter: “I will take first from the mathematicians those things with which my subject is concerned.”[1]  He opposes sensate wisdom to pure mathematics when he states that “mathematicians measure with their minds alone the forms of things separated from all matter.”[2]  What matters for Alberti appears to be the appropriate application of material to the task at hand.

Additionally, a division between “real” and apparent properties becomes significant to the theoretician.  The painter should only be involved with apparent properties we are told: “the painter is concerned solely with representing what can be seen.”[3]  This position has its own logic however and is not arbitrary.  It allows us in particular to have something like a science of appearances.

Looking further into his writing please take a stance on his separation between form and matter.  What are the consequences of this division?  Can art become a form of knowledge?

[1] Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting, trans. John R. Spencer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), 43.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.


Individual Discussions of Paper Outlines

I would like to talk with you about your paper outlines next Tuesday, October 23rd, between 9:30am and 12:30pm.

Please leave a comment with the time you wish to meet.  Available times are: 9:30, 9:45, 10:00, 10:15, 10:30, 10:45, 11:00, 11:15, 11:30, 11:45, 12:00, and 12:15.  The sign-up is first-come first-served so please look at the previous entries.  We will meet in room 215F.

Until Tuesday.

Week Seven: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili










Dr. Tracey Eve Winton gave a lecture at McGill this April on the Hypnerotomachia. During her talk she spoke of the importance of understanding the activities in this erotic novel through the relation between the human temperaments and the four elements: sanguine>air; phlegmatic>water; melancholic>earth; choleric>fire.  Choosing any passage from the book, please explain how this concept might provide a greater comprehension of the reading.

Paper Outline Announcement

This is a reminder that your paper outline is due as a printed document in class next week, Thursday, 18 October, 2012.

While the paper topic is of your choosing it should be generally aligned with the architectural ideas or treatises discussed in class.  Topics may also relate to the material covered in future weeks.

For this outline you should briefly define your question/s and outline your approach in several paragraphs.  You must identify a preliminary bibliography of primary sources, preferably of works available to you in Montréal, and of secondary sources.  Please use a standard format.

At the end of this document please list the time and days of the week that you will be in class during Week 8 (22-26 October) so that I can schedule office hours when everyone is available for individual discussions of these outlines.

Week Six: Luca Pacioli








Jacopo de’ Barbari’s symbolically charged painting Portrait of Fra Luca Pacioli (1495) remains a powerful lens through which to understand the significance of Pacioli’s thinking and writing.  Taking only one symbolic element within the painting, please elaborate on what the component means in relation to the thinking of Luca Pacioli.  Kindly do not choose an element that has been discussed by a previous blogger.

Special Lecture Announcement

Please plan to attend the last 2012 History & Theory of Architecture Lecture Series talk tomorrow, October 11th, at 4:30pm in Rare Books & Special Collections.  Dr. Lily Chi is a graduate of McGill, a former student of Alberto’s, and the Graduate Director of Cornell’s Department of Architecture.  She will lecture on Perrault, Blondel, and Boffrand – topics that will be covered in next term’s course.

Week Five: Gold










Alberto read a passage today from Abbot Suger’s writings on the abbey church of St. Denis which pertained to the church’s main doors.  Of importance in these verses, among other things, is the relationship between gold and what the abbot refers to as the “True Light.”  How would you describe Suger’s stance on the use of gold?  Furthermore, what would St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a contemporary abbot who addressed similar concerns in a work called Apologia, make of Suger’s understanding of gilded or golden ornaments?