On Recent Proposals for Rebuilding the Roof and Spire of Notre Dame

Within a month of the destruction by fire of the roof and flèche (crossing spire) of Notre Dame in Paris, proposals by architects for their replacement abound. Why are these designs so awful? The answer is simple: they lack respect. Architects, and Kevin McCloud, continue to trot out the tired idea that first had currency in about 1870: that architecture must express the nineteenth/twentieth/twenty-first century. So, the argument runs, Viollet-le-Duc’s flèche expresses the nineteenth century, so we need to get a cool modern architect to design one that expresses the twenty-first century. And why stop there? Why not do something cool where the roof used to be? In practice, this means the architect digs into their repertory and finds a way of applying this to the site.

This misses the crucial point: Viollet-le-Duc was trying to create a medieval flèche, not a nineteenth-century one. His argument ran rather differently. What did the medieval church have? Failing that, what might it have had? Failing that, what is the best design I can come up with in the medieval style. Is it beautiful in the way that comparable medieval structure are beautiful? And would this design evoke (rather than express) what I value in the Middle Ages? And Viollet-le-Duc, because he had devoted his life to such questions, came up with something that did all this. To be sure, because he was working in the nineteenth century, his structure is a nineteenth-century one. His Middle Ages was not, and could not be, the Middle Ages’ Middle Ages, but he did not set out to express the nineteenth century. He wanted to create a medieval structure, because the Middle Ages, and medieval buildings, were good. By being humble in relation to the Middle Ages, he succeeded in inscribing himself into Notre Dame. His work became part of it.

Compare this to the crassness of contemporary architects. The tenor was set by Pinault, the Bettencourt Meyers family, and Patrick Pouyanne, who immediately attempted to inscribe themselves into the building, and  so give themselves eternal life, by offering huge sums to rebuild it. They were followed by Macron, promising to rebuild within five years in order to inscribe himself into the rebuilding process: ‘it was rebuilt on my watch’. Architects quickly followed. Being all ego, they attempted to inscribe themselves into the monument and so appropriate to themselves its timeless importance, its holiness even. (The moment is perhaps ripe to redo Erwin Panofsky’s Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism as Notre Dame and Hyper-Capitalism.) It is the same way that artists operate, seeking to colonise historical art museums in order to boost their egos: people go to an art museum to see Rembrandt, because Rembrandt is a great artist: if I replace Rembrandt with myself people will go to the art museum and see me; therefore I am a great artist, as timelessly significant as Rembrandt.

It would be a different matter if architects were presenting designs that attempted to be to ‘truly’ medieval. That might be interesting.

© David R. Marshall 2019

Posted in All Posts, Architecture, Art, Comment, Construction, Design, Restoration and Conservation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Elusive Patronage of George Gordon, Lord Haddo: Giovanni Paolo Panini and Pompeo Batoni

A Panini with a Haddo provenance that comes up at Christie’s, New York,  in May prompts some reflections on the elusive patronage of George Gordon, Lord Haddo, who died in 1791 in a fall from a horse. He is generally agreed to be the subject of a portrait by Pompeo Batoni at Haddo House, and it is assumed that he is the member of his family who acquired two Paninis, the one at Christie’s and another now in the Liechtenstein collection in Vienna.

The Paninis

There were also two Paninis at Haddo House, an Interior of the Pantheon now in the Liechtenstein collection (Fig. 1),[1] and Capriccio View of the Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus and the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Colosseum, with an Obelisk, to be sold at Christie’s, New York in May 2019 (Fig. 2).[2]  There seems to be little written on the paintings at Haddo house,[3] mostly now nineteenth-century works, but the Pantheon is visible in one of the photos of Haddo Hall in the 1890s published by Eileen Harris in 1966 (Fig. 3).[4] The two paintings are unrelated commissions: the Pantheon is signed and dated 1735 and the Colosseum is signed and dated 1744. I can’t see the Colosseum in any of the photos published by Harris but presumably it was there somewhere. Harris makes various citations to ‘Haddo House Estate Muniments’ including ‘Inventory of Furnishings 1894’ so there is presumably some documentation of the collection at the end of the nineteenth century, if not earlier.

The Colosseum is a somewhat unusual painting for Panini. It presents itself as a view from between the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine looking towards the Arch of Titus, the Palatine and the Temple of Venus and Rome, but is in fact an assemblage of discrete components with made from various viewpoints and heights that add up to a plausible topographical view. But I won’t go into that here.

The Batoni

The assumption that the Paninis were acquired by George Gordon, Lord Haddo, derives from the fact that the acquisition of a Panini implies antiquarian interests, which research (mainly by Francis Russell) has shown Haddo seems to have had.

Central to this issue is Haddo’s Batoni portrait (Fig. 4).[5] Initially the identity of the sitter was unclear,[6] but the only possibility, given that it is dated 1775 and  has always been at Haddo House, is George Gordon, Lord Haddo. The Haddo title was at this date reserved to the eldest son of the Earl of Aberdeen. George Gordon never succeeded, and so was Lord Haddo from his father’s death in 1745 until his own in 1791. His son was Lord Haddo from then until his grandfather’s death in 1801, when he became the 4th Earl.

Given that the Batoni is signed and dated 1775 it is significant that George Gordon, Lord Haddo is documented as being in Rome from 26 December 1774 to 9 April 1775, when he could have commissioned it in person. His Roman movements are known from the diaries of Roger Newdigate, as was first pointed out by Francis Russell,[7] who wrote that Newdigate saw Haddo

in Florence on 12th December 1774, drank tea with him and Mr Livingston at Siena on the 20th and visited them both in Rome on the 26th, two days after his own arrival. Thence- forward they met regularly until 9th April 1775, for dinner, for tea or for prayers on Sunday mornings. On at least three occasions James Byres was of the party, understandably in view of the cicerone’s own Aberdeenshire connexions. Haddo, … invited Newdigate to dine with him on his birthday, 6th February.[8]

The Batoni is known for its unusual choice of antique props: as Ingamells puts it, ‘the surrounding statuary suggests a serious interest in antiquity’.[9] Namely, the statue of a priestess carrying a vessel at the left ‘bought by Benedict XIV from the Villa d’Este, Tivoli, in 1753 for the Museo Capitolino … is unique in Batoni’s oeuvre’ (Clark and Bowron).[10] The relief is a detail in reverse of the right side of a sarcophagus of a child depicting the legend of Prometheus that entered the Museo Capitolino in 1733 from the collection of Cardinal Alessandro Albani. It had been published by Montfaucon, 1721, vol. 1, p. 4, fig. 4, but it is hard to find this online.[11] Does the reversal imply Batoni used an intermediary source that was reversed? Clark and Bowron do not say.

In addition, as Russell noted, Haddo was a subscriber to Clérisseau’s Monuments de Nismes, finally published in 1778 (Fig. 5).[12] The subscribers from ‘Angleterre’ are headed by Milord Dunmore and Milady Dunmore, followed by ‘Milord Haddo’ and ‘Milord Trentham’. Lord Dunmore (1730–1809) was the last colonial governor of Virginia and was responsible for the ‘Dunmore Pineapple’ of 1761.

The purchase of signed Paninis of the Colosseum/Arch of Constantine/Arch of Titus and the Interior of the Pantheon fits such interests well, so on this scenario, as in the case of Batoni, the purchase of his Paninis can be seen as the choice of someone well-informed about antiquities, rather than simple tourist mementoes.

Haddo’s dates

There is a fly in the ointment, however. Haddo’s date of birth has traditionally been given as 1764, which makes him impossibly young for his Grand Tour (only 10 or 11 years old). Francis Russell in 1973 published a reference to him in 1777 when he is described as a ‘young man’, and Batoni’s sitter is certainly this.[13] Russell at this point concluded from this that the Batoni was actually dated 1785, but this has not been accepted as the date on the painting is clear enough and fits the references on Newdigate’s diaries. Consequently Clark and Bowron in 1985 concluded that the birthdate is wrong and gave Haddo’s dates in their entry on the Batoni simply as ‘died 1791’).[14] That the 1764 birthdate is in error is generally accepted. Francis Russell  in 1991 revised it specifically to 1754, although as far as I can tell there is no hard data for this, and is presumably based on the assumption that at some point a ‘5’ has been misread for a ‘6’.[15] The revised edition of Clark and Bowron (2016) accepts the 1754 birthdate.

It would, however, be good to have some hard data on Haddo’s date of birth. Wikipedia and genealogical sites give the day and month as well as the year: ‘28 January 1764’; his date of death, with is uncontested, is ‘2 October 1791’. These dates go back at least to Burke’s peerage in 1845 and Lodge’s Peerage of 1843 (under Aberdeen, Earl of) (Fig. 6). It is likely that the ultimate source is Haddo’s grave in the churchyard cemetery at Methlick, Aberdeenshire. The churchyard website publishes a picture of the grave but all you can see is a coat of arms (Fig. 7); there is nothing claiming to be a transcription of writing on the grave that might give the date of birth.[16]  The Wikitree genealogical website, however, publishes what looks like a gravestone inscription:

GEORGE Lord Haddo b.28 Jan. 1764 Grand Master Mason of Scotland d.suddenly 2 Apr.179l aged 27 & was buried here & of his wife CHARLES (sic) BAIRD Lady Haddo dau. of WILLIAM BAIRD of New Byth d. Clifton 8 Oct.1795 aged 38 & buried here 7 Nov.l795. [17]

The source is not very clear; it is given as ‘[MI Methlick]’ which seems to refer to the churchyard.

If this is what this is, it is interesting that the age at death, 27, correspond to the 1764 birthdate, not 1754. This suggests that the gravestone has not been simply misread; that if there is an error, the error was in the information given to the composer or carver of the inscription.

In addition, the DNB entry on his son, the Fourth Lord Aberdeen, gives the date of his parent’s wedding as 1762: ‘The third earl was a colourful character. In 1762 he had married Catherine Elizabeth Hanson, the daughter of a Yorkshire blacksmith, in a literally shotgun marriage [citing J. W. Walker, Wakefield, its history and people, 2nd ed., 2 vols, 1939, 2.530–31, and W. Yorks. AS, Leeds, correspondence with Lord Canning; papers relating to Hanson family].[18] This again seems to be very specific and fits the 1764 birthdate not the 1754 one. It is dismissed in Clark and Bowron, 2016.

On the other hand, according to the presumed grave inscription, Lord Haddo’s wife was seven years older that he, being born in 1757. (Their marriage took place on 18 June 1782). This is unusual for an aristocratic marriage at the period, but not impossible. Since the fourth Earl was born on 28 January 1784, this would make her 27 at the time, when Lord Haddo was either 20 or 30, depending on the preferred date of birth; and age of 30 derived from a 1754 birthdate sounds more plausible.

To conclude: while it makes sense to follow the Batoni literature a revise Haddo’s birthdate back a decade, it is a little worrying that there is a cluster of data pointing to the later date. It would be good of research from the Haddo end in Scotland could turn up more about George Gordon, Lord Haddo; it seems hard to believe that there is not more about him somewhere.

Who acquired the Paninis?

As I have indicated, the case for the Paninis having been acquired by Haddo is largely circumstantial, being based on the assumption that they are the sort of pictures that would have interested a patron with antiquarian interests, the evidence for which is the company he kept in Rome, the relatively unusual background antiquities in the Batoni, and the fact that he subscribed to Clerisseau’s book on Nimes.

But we need to explore the other possibilities. Haddo’s eldest son, George Hamilton-Gordon, also Lord Haddo from his father’s death until 1801, when he became Earl of Aberdeen on the death of his grandfather, the 3rd Earl, travelled in Europe from 1802–04 , including Rome from some point in 1802 to before April 1803, and was a Member of the Society of Dilettanti. As befits a man of his generation, he was more interested in Greece than Rome, and spent time in Greece as Asia Minor. He left diaries (not yet consulted) which might throw more light on this.[19]

The 3rd Earl can also not be ruled out. In the Haddo collection there is a painting of David and Goliath (Fig. 8), formerly given to Domenichino but downgraded by Spear to possibly a Tuscan artist, that was purchased from Christie’s, 14 June 1794, lot 55 (£4.4), by the 3rd Earl. (The sale catalogue annotations simply say ‘Aberdeen’ (Figs. 9, 10).)[20] A search of the Getty Provenance index throws up only a few transactions by him from 1781 (none earlier) to 1801, all at Christie’s. These were mostly sales of Dutch paintings (but one Pellegrini), either mythological scenes or farmyard scenes, in 1781, 1782, and 1786.[21] His purchases were a Luca Giordano Mars and Venus in 1782, the Domenichino in 1794, and a Peter Lely full-length portrait of the Duke of Monmouth in 1796 which was sold for a third of the price in 1797.[22] None of these paintings were particularly important or valuable (the maximum price was £4.4). The 4th Earl’s purchases were likewise few but much more significant. They included a Portrait of Lorenzo de’ Medici by Sebastiano del Piombo after a Michelangelo drawing, which cost £525 in 1805 (sold by Robert Heatchcote or others and now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas), and a Tintoretto The Doge and the Court of Venice Returning from the Ceremony of Wedding the Adriatic for £105 in 1813 (sold by Richard Westall). He also acquired a Murillo in 1805 from one of the first sales of Spanish paintings imported from Spain,[23] and an anonymous Interior of the Inquisition bought in Dublin that supposedly had belonged to the 4th Earl of Bristol.

A search in the Getty Provenance Index does not return anything for ‘Haddo’, but a few items for ‘Gordon’ are interesting. These, of course, could refer to any number of people by this name, but in a Christie’s sale of 9–10 May 1785 several drawing consigned by the dealer Noel Joseph Desenfans (1744-1807) (whose paintings would form the basis of the Dulwich collection) were purchased by ‘Gordon’.[24] What is interesting in this context is that these included a Clérisseau and two Paninis. A ‘Gordon’, presumably the same one, also consigned two Paul Sandby drawings that were bought in.[25]  (As an aside to an aside, for two paintings at a Christie’s sale a month later on 9-13 June 1785 the buyer was ‘ Lrd W Gordon’, which must be Lord William Gordon (1744–1823), the last colonial governor or Virginia.)[26]

Another ‘Panini’ at Haddo House

At Haddo House there is another painting that is currently attributed to ‘circle of Panini’, a Prison Interior (Fig. 11).[27] This has nothing to do with Panini. The left half is a fairly exact copy of Piranesi’s  Carcere Oscura from the Prima Parte (1743) (Fig. 12).[28] It is enlarged (less than 2X) and proportionally close but not exact. The interesting thing is that the composition has been doubled to create a two-arch design, using the same elements. It is almost as it if was a exercise in mastering Piranesi’s perspective.


Bowron, 2016: Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni: a complete catalogue of his paintings, New Haven and London: Yale University Press in association with The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2016.

Chamberlain, 2004: Muriel E. Chamberlain, ‘Gordon, George Hamilton, fourth earl of Aberdeen (1784–1860)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/11044.

Clark and Bowron, 1985: Anthony M. Clark and Edgar Peters Bowron, Pompeo Batoni : a complete catalogue of his works, Oxford: Phaidon, 1985.

Harris, 1996: Eileen Harris, ‘Adams in the family: Wright and Mansfield at Haddo, Guisachan, Brookhouse and Grosvenor Square’, Furniture History, vol. 32, 1996, pp. 141–158.

Ingamells,1997.  John Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701–1800. New Haven and London, Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art by Yale University Press.

London, 1991: John Hardy and Francis Russell, Patronage Preserved: and Exhibition of Masterpieces Saved for Country Houses, exh. Cat., Christie’s, London, 1991.

Russell, 1994:  Francis Russell, ‘Notes on Grand Tour Portraiture’, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 136, No. 1096, July 1994, pp. 438–43.

[1] Liechtenstein, the Princely Collection. Giovanni Paolo Pannini, The Interior of the Pantheon in Rome, 1735. Oil on canvas, 127 cm x 99 cm. Signed and dated on the pedestal of the column to the left: JO. PAULUS PANNINI MDCCXXXV. Inv.-No. GE166. Provenance: until 1791 probably owned by George Gordon, Lord Haddo; until 1969 in the possession of Major David Gordon, Earl of Haddo, Aberdeenshire; sold at auction at Sotheby’s, London, in 1969; acquired in 2001 by Russell, 1994; rince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein.) (Information frrom Liechtenstein website.)

[2] Giovanni Paolo Panini, Capriccio View of the Arch of Constantine, the Arch of Titus and the Temple of Venus and Rome, the Colosseum, with an Obelisk, Oil on canvas, 105.2 x 98.2 cm. Signed and dated ‘I. PAVL PANINI / ROMÆ 1744’ (lower right). Provenance: Private collection, Florence.
 David Gordon of Haddo, Haddo House, Aberdeen.
 Anonymous sale; Hampel, Munich, 26 June 2014, lot 198, where acquired by the present owner. (Information from Christie’s, New York.)

[3] References to the Haddo House collection in the Batoni literature, not consulted by me, include Forbes, Sir William (1739-1806) 6th Baronet, Journal of a Continental Tour 1692–93, National Library of Scotland, Manuscript Collections, MS.1539-1545; Cosmo Gordon, A Souvenir of Haddo House, Tuffiff, 1958, unpaginated.

[4] Eileen Harris, ‘Adams in the family: Wright and Mansfield at Haddo, Guisachan, Brookhouse and Grosvenor Square’, Furniture History, vol. 32, 1996, pp. 141–158, National Trust of Scotland photos.

[5] For the Batoni, which belongs to the National Trust for Scotland and it at Haddo Hall, Aberdeenshire, see Clark and Bowron, 1985, cat. 394; Bowron, 2016, cat. 394 on pp. 497–98; the VADS record by David Taylor.

[6] In Artist and Patron in the North East 1700–1860, Aberdeen Art Gallery, 1975, cat. no. 12, the sitter was given as  George, 3rd  Earl of Aberdeen. (From Clark and Bowron and Taylor.)

[7] Russell, 1994, p. 442; Ingamells, 1997, s.v. ‘Haddo, George Gordon, Lord, 1764–91, p. 439). Russell cites Warwickshire Record Office, Warwick, Newdigate MSS.

[8] Russell, 1994, p. 442.

[9] Ingamells, 1997, p. 439.

[10] Bowron, 2016.

[11] The best online copy is from the University of Heidelberg which is the second edition, 1722. Vol. 1, after p. 24 has a different relief with Prometheus.

[12] Russell, 1994, p. 442.

[13] Russell, 1973, p. 1756.

[14] Ingamells, 1997 (or his editor), though, still gives Haddo’s date of birth as 1764.

[15] London, 1991.

[16] https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/149720215/george-gordon

[17] (https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Gordon-2883)

[18] Muriel E. Chamberlain, ‘Gordon, George Hamilton, fourth earl of Aberdeen (1784–1860)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/11044. Chamberlain is the author of M. E. Chamberlain, Lord Aberdeen: a political biography (1983) which I have not consulted. The Wikipedia version is ‘Lord Aberdeen married Catherine Elizabeth Hanson (c. 1730–March 1817 Rudding Park House), daughter of Oswald Hanson, in 1759; they had six children. According to recent sources, she was the cook at the Stafford Arms in Wakefield, and a handsome woman of 29. She apparently blackmailed him into marriage with a loaded pistol after he had seduced her.’

[19] Chamberlain, 2004.

[20] Sale Christie’s, London, 14 June 1794, Lugt 5225, Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) (Italian), David with the head of Goliah,  seller Christie’s, sold, 4.4 pounds to ‘Aberdeen’. From Getty Provenance Index. For the painting, still at Haddo hall, see the entry by David Taylor. in VADS (Visual Arts Data Service): https://vads.ac.uk/large.php?uid=85670&sos=0. The essential information is: Attributed to circle of Domenichino, probably about 1620, David with the Head of Goliath, National Trust for Scotland (Haddo House), accession number 79-72. Oil on canvas, 104.1 x 74.9 cm (estimate). Purchased from the 4th Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair 1978. From Taylor’s entry: ‘Borea, E., Domenichino, Milan, 1965, p. 55, n. 56; Spear, R. E., Domenichino, New Haven and London, 1982, vol. I, p. 211-12, no. 58, n. 19. A version of the painting shows David’s left arm, still holding his sword, raised in the upper left hand corner of the canvas (Museum of Fine Art, Budapest). Evelina Borea, in her 1965 monograph, thought the Haddo picture was by Domenichino and the Budapest picture was a copy of it. However, Richard E. Spear in his 1982 monograph, says the Haddo picture has been wrongly attributed to Domenichino, and tentatively suggests it may by a Tuscan artist.’

[21] Sales at Christie’s, London, by the 3rd Earl of Aberdeen: Herman van der Myn, A pair, nymphs with satyrs, 1–2 June 1781, lot 46, £4, sold by Smith; Abraham Hondius, Venus and Adonis, 7-8 June 1782, lot 47, bought in for £1 but, successfully sold four years later: on  25-26 May 1786, lot 41, £1.8, bought Seguier; Abraham Diepenbeek, The head of our saviour, June 7–8 1782, lot 49, £3.3, bought Halked; Jan Siberechts, A landscape, with a farm yard and figures, 7–8 June 1782, lot 72, bought in for £1.6; Antonio Pellegrini, Mars and Venus, 25–26 May 1786, lot 43, ?£1.1, unknown buyer; Willem Romeyn, A farm yard, 25–26 May 1786, lot 42, £1.7, bought Seguier.

[22] Purchases at Christie’s, London, by the 3rd Earl of Aberdeen in addition to the ‘Domenichino’: Luca Giordano, Mars and Venus, 7–8 June 1782, lot 28, £1, seller Robn; Peter Lely, A whole-length portrait of the Duke of Monmouth, 11–12 March 1796, lot 11, £4.4, sold by Benjamin Van Der Gucht; this was then sold on 8-9 December 1797, lot 57, for £1.5, no buyer given.

[23] This is The Infant Christ as the Good Shepherd. See Dulwich catalogue.

[24] Christie’s, London, 9–10 May 1785, all these on 9 May, Lugt 3879; all purchased by ‘Gordon’: Lot 53, Clérisseau, Charles Louis (French), One, Clarissau [High Finished Drawings], seller Noel Joseph Desenfans, sold, 0.8 pounds; Lot 64, Panini, Giovanni Paolo (Italian), Two, Pannini [High Finished Drawings], seller Noel Joseph Desenfans, sold, 0.4 pounds; Lot 59, Vlieger, Simon De (Dutch), One, De Vlieger [High Finished Drawings], seller Noel Joseph Desenfans, sold, 0.9 pounds; Lots 62a and b, Picard (Picart) (French) and Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian), Two, Picart and Guerchino [High Finished Drawings]; seller Noel Joseph Desenfans, Sold, 0.13 pounds for both. From Getty Provenance Index.

[25] Christie’s, London, 9–10 May 1785, on 9 May, Lugt 3879, with ‘Gordon’ as seller: Lot 68,  Sandby, Paul (British), One, a view on the terrace of Windsor Castle, P. Sandby, framed and glazed [High Finished Drawings] (companion to lot 69), bought in, 11.0 pounds; Lot 69, Sandby, Paul (British), One, another view of ditto [Windsor Castle], the companion, ditto [framed & glazed] [High Finished Drawings] (companion to lot 68), bought In, 8.18 pounds. From Getty Provenance Index.

[26] Lots 70a and b, John Fyte, Dead game and a portrait, capital; and Anonymous, Dead game and a portrait, capital, 14.3 pounds.

[27] From the VADS entry by David Taylor: Circle of Panini, Giovanni Paolo, A Prison Interior (or Prison of the Inquisition). National Trust for Scotland (Haddo House). Acc. no. 79-40. Oil on canvas 59.6 x 86.3 cm (estimate). Purchased from the 4th Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair 1978. Provenance: By descent in the Gordon family. Notes: ‘The frame includes a label with a painted inscription reading ‘PRISON OF THE INQUISITION/ PANNINNI [sic]’. The NTS paintings list for Haddo House calls the artist Giovanni Paolo Pannoni ’ Description: ‘This fanciful interior was painted by an artist in the circle of the famous veduta painter Paolo Giovanni Panini (about 1692-1765). Typical of Panini’s style, the imagined prison scene shows great attention paid to architectural details and the rules of perspective. Small figures in the foreground include two monks, a washer woman and a man on all fours passing a bowl of food to an unseen person through a grill on the floor.’

[28] Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Carcere Oscura, from Prima Parte di Architettura, e Prospettive (Part One of Architecture and Perspectives), 1751. Etching, image 36.5 × 23.7 cm; inscription) 2.2 × 23.3 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937. Accession Number: 37.45.3(5).

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What is the Baroque?

What is the Baroque? Is it a period, a style, a civilisation, or a critical concept? It is all of these. ‘Baroque’ was a term that came into use in the eighteenth century as a negative descriptor of the style of the art of the seventeenth century. Like most such terms its meaning was elastic, with a general sense of ‘bizarre’, ‘excessive’ or ‘misshapen’ (like a baroque pearl). As Ernst Gombrich pointed out long ago, most Western art style terms are variations of ‘non-classical’, the classical being the norm against which all art was measured. Nineteenth-century German historians dropped the negative connotations, and because they were interested in the essential nature of an ‘age’ (the Zeitgeist, literally ‘spirit of the age’) the Baroque as a period-style term emerged. This idea still has popular currency, as when newspapers at the end of each decade try to define the characteristics of ‘the sixties’ or ‘the noughties’. ‘The sixties’ is clearly an arbitrary set of chronological boundaries, but ‘the Baroque period’ is more vaguely defined chronologically, and also in geographical extent. And whatever the chronological and geographic limits, is it really true that everything within them dances to the same tune?

Recognising these problems, and having lost interest in the German idealist philosophy that underpinned ‘the Baroque’ as a period style, art historians at the middle of the twentieth century sought to make more rigorous the concept of style while dropping the insistence on period, before losing interest in style altogether and moving on to other methodologies. ‘Baroque’ became a useful and generally agreed shorthand for a certain body of art beginning around 1600 in Italy, exemplified by the painters Caravaggio, Annibale Carracci, the sculptor Bernini, and the architect Borromini, which could be usefully extended to other parts of (especially Catholic) Europe that was influenced by or developed from this. Musicologists use the term in a similar way (Bach, Vivaldi). The end of the Baroque ‘period’ is generally agreed to be around 1750, when for art historians ‘Neoclassicism’ (Jacques-Louis David) begins, and for musicologists ‘the Classical period’ (Mozart) begins.

But the essentialist usage of Baroque lingered, and received encouragement from French poststructuralist theory, which was interested in ‘epistemes’: ‘the body of ideas which shape the perception of knowledge in a particular period’ (OED). It was taken up by Spanish historians, such as José Antonio Maravall, who re-centred the Baroque from Italy to Spain. For historians in Franco’s Spain and Latin America ‘the Baroque’ provided a concept that was both historically grounded in the seventeenth century and potentially oppositional. Or more commonly, the Baroque it is seen as the embodiment of a religious movement, the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

More recently, cinema studies scholars have returned to the art historical idea of the Baroque as a style in order to extract from works of seventeenth century art principles or processes that can be discerned in contemporary cinema, and by extension in contemporary art and culture generally. These principles might be quite closely tied to particular formal operations in seventeenth century art, such as ‘a self-reflexive attitude to its methods of construction’ (in other words, the way that in a ceiling like that by Andrea Pozzo in S. Ignazio in Rome, the spectator simultaneously experiences an illusion while being aware that this is what it is). Or they might be something more abstract, such as ‘a sense of performativity and theatricality’ or even ‘madness of vision’. In seeking analogies between seventeenth-century art and twentieth- and twenty-first century cinema the concept of ‘baroque’ serves as a filter, so that the ‘baroque’ aspects of seventeenth century art and culture are privileged.

Manifestations of ‘the Baroque’ subsequent to the seventeenth century are naturally labelled ‘Neo-Baroque’. These can be straightforward imitations or revivals, such as the interest in ‘baroque’ (that is, seventeenth-century French) architectural style around 1900 (examples can be found in London and Melbourne), or the fascination with baroque style embraced by the aristocratic arty set in England in the 1920s and 1930s, such as the photographer Cecil Beaton, who were reacting against the rise of modernism and social democracy. It can be contemporary art that draws its inspiration from the art of the seventeenth century. In contemporary cultural criticism, ‘Baroque’ and ‘Neo-Baroque’ can be used as critical terms that parallel, or form a subset of, postmodernism. Or they can refer to quasi-mystical philosophical concepts unconstrained by place or period ‘radiating through histories, cultures, and worlds of knowledge’ (Deleuze). Because there is now no single significance of the term ‘baroque’ it can mean everything or nothing depending on what the writer wants to say.

But the one thing common to most usages of ‘baroque’ is the visual. Whereas other intellectual endeavours may be driven by economics, politics or morality, by science or numbers, the exploration of ‘the Baroque’ is driven by imagery, whether literal or metaphorical. If you see Andrea Pozzo’s ceiling at Sant’Ignazio, Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, or Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, you are engaging with the Baroque and you can go from there.

This brings us back to the ideas that cluster around the original meaning of ‘baroque’. First, that it is non-normative in some way: non-classical (art); privileging creating invention over correctness (architecture); oppositional left versus authoritarian right (politics); illusionistic as opposed to representational (cinema studies); fantastic as opposed to realistic; over-the-top as opposed to straitlaced. There is a witty piece by Ellen Wills dating from 1979 that opposes ‘baroque’ sex to ‘classical’ (e.g. “Location: Outdoors is classical, except for crowded nude beaches. The back seat of a car is classical if you’re a teen-ager, baroque otherwise. … Clothing: The only truly classical outfit is nothing. Clothing evokes fantasy and fantasies are baroque. Black lace underwear is of course the classic baroque outfit. Red is baroque, as is anything see-through. Frilly white nightgowns are a baroque impulse with classical content.’

Second, that it is centred on Catholic Europe of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Put the two back together and you are presented with a box of fireworks exploding with forms, operations and processes. For those who do not dogmatically claim to already know all the answers, the Baroque is a treasure house of possibilities that might help us understand our present condition.


Gombrich, Ernst H., ‘Norm and Form: The Stylistic Categories of Art History and their Origins in Renaissance Ideals’, in Norm and Form: Studies in the Art of the Renaissance, London and New York: Phaidon, 1991, pp. 81-98.

Wölfflin, Heinrich, Renaissance and Baroque, London: Collins, 1964 (first published as Renaissance und Barock, 1888).

Ackerman, James S. and Rhys Carpenter, Art and Archaeology, Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice-Hall, 1963.

Maravall, José Antonio, Culture of the Baroque: Analysis of a Historical Structure, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986, originally published as La cultura del Barroco. Análisis de una estructura histórica, Barcelona: Ariel, 1975.

Ndalianis, Angela, Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.

Buci-Glucksmann, Christine, The Madness of Vision: On Baroque Aesthetics. Translated by Dorothy Z. Baker. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2013 [1986].

Calloway, Stephen, Baroque Baroque: Culture of Excess, London: Phaidon, 1994.

Deleuze, Gilles, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

Beaven, Lisa and Angela Ndalianis, Emotion and the Seduction of the Senses: Baroque to Neo-Baroque, Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2018.

Ellen Wills, ‘Classical and Baroque Sex in Everyday Life’, in Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

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The Weirdness of the Topography of ‘The Favourite’

The Favourite is set in about 1705-1711 in London, at presumably, notionally, Kensington Palace, Queen Anne’s principal residence, where, according to Wikipedia, the final falling out between Queen Anne and the Duchess of Marlborough took place. The setting could, however, have been intended to be Hampton Court, the courtyard of which appears in one scene. It was filmed mostly at Hatfield House. Hatfield house is an Elizabethan country house that had a Victorian makeover so is slightly confused historically. (I did wonder whether the main room used was in fact a set. There is also a gallery with copies of Raphael’s Tapestry cartoons which I could not place.)

Every film needs locations, but here the location, as a remote rural country house, seemed to take over the plot, which, in its bare-Wikipedia outlines, but only in this, is factual. (The lesbian sexual dynamic is the fictional bit.) There are scenes of shooting birds in the back garden of what must be Hatfield, which looks very rural, but not so much as two crucial moments for the plot which situate the palace firmly in the country, although I suppose they make sense if it was Hampton Court. The first is where Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) rides out into the woods to gather herbs. The second is where Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) is dragged through what look like the same woods by her horse so far that no-one thinks to connect her unconscious body with the palace. She ends up at a brothel situated, bizarrely in the middle of these woods, rather like the witches house in Hansel and Gretel. Here the director could not resist indulging in the carnivalesque that is de rigueur for movies set in the eighteenth century, for which Gilray has much to answer, with plump prostitutes baring their bums at Lord Godolphin, whom Sarah had told the madam who is her rescuer/captor to find in return for a promised reward. The madam is told to find a man walking a duck in Hyde Park, so we are suddenly back in London. The duck appears at the beginning in a mildly carnivalesque scene of a duck race at the beginning, and in the middle being stroked suggestively in a sexual visual gag. And near the end is another carnivalesque scene of a naked fat man clutching his private parts while being pelted with eggs or something and thoroughly enjoying it. This scene is completely gratuitous as far as the plot is concerned. And there is much play between the soberly dressed Godolphin (Sarah’s man) and the high camp bewigged Harley (in alliance with Abigail). The former is played as old, the latter as young (in reality he was going on 50) and very tall, but not so young as the last role one remembers the actor for: the boy in About a Boy (Nicholas Hoult.)

Blenheim Palace appears as a model (it was built from 1705 to 1722) and in a reference to it being still just empty fields.

The costume design is fabulous, with a black and white theme that is very stylish. At a scene at a concert when the battered Sarah appears the women are wearing hair pieces à la fontanges, supposedly invented by the Marquise de La Fontanges, a mistress of Louis XIV, when she lost her cap while hunting who returned with her hair tied up in a ribbon. It was popular in the 1690s, possibly out of date by 1705. It has a fan like arrangement, like an art deco mirror, sometimes on a frame, but here they are more natural, while Abigail Hill wears one that is more a loose ribbon bow than à la fontanges. There is lots of faux-lace, like Sarah’s choker, which is emphatically not woven, usually black to set against white fabric or pale skin.

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Some Remarks on Panini, Piranesi and the Campidoglio

In 1761 Giovanni Battista Piranesi produced, as one of his Vedute di Roma, one of the more unusual representations of the Campidoglio, The Campidoglio from the side (Fig. 1).[1] Piranesi normally did his designs from scratch, and in this case we have his preparatory drawing in the British Museum (Fig. 2) which has a few differences, such as the sliver of a building at the right edge that appeared in early states of the etching. It has been argued that Piranesi wanted to foreground the so-called Trofei di Mario on the parapet, which he had published in detail in 1753 in I Trofei di Ottaviano Augusto.[2] According to Piranesi these trophies commemorated the victory of Augustus over Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, but they were in fact features of the castellum of the fountain of Alexander Severus located in the modern Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, and were moved to the parapet of the Campidoglio in 1590. The castellum is shown with the trophies still in situ in an engraving by Etienne Dupérac (Fig. 3),[3] and as it was in Piranesi’s day in another of the Vedute di Roma, the Fontana del’Acqua Julia. (The aqueduct that served it is now thought to be the Aqua Claudia or Aqua Anio Novus.)

Piranesi centred his composition on the left-hand trophy, which in the drawing is given added emphasis. In order to show it from an impressive angle he chose a low position on the area of uneven ground between the staircase of S. Maria in Aracoeli and the Cordonata of the Campidoglio. By observing features in the foreground and background that are aligned and plotting these on the Nolli map of 1748 one can deduce the viewpoint out the sightlines (Fig. 4). These indicate a viewpoint on the terrace in front of S. Maria in Aracoeli, but this is considerably higher than the Campidoglio terrace, so the viewpoint must in fact have been at the foot of the wall of the staircase, behind the Roman building, roughly at the point indicated in Piranesi’s view of the Campidoglio and S. Maria in Aracoeli (Fig. 5). (The difference is probably within the margin of error for sightline alignments.)

Panini did paint views of the Campidoglio, although rarely. The prime version is the ex-Farnborough Hall painting sold a few years ago in New York, which is signed and dated 1750, which adopts the traditional frontal viewpoint (Fig. 6). (See my discussion in the catalogue of the Christie’s sale, in New York in 2013.) [4] This was preceded by the view in Nolli’s map of Rome (Fig. 7) of 1748. In both the relationship between the parapet statues and the Palazzo Nuovo correspond closely, but the rest does not, which points to additive viewpoints and manipulations of perspective. The actual construction of the ex-Farnborough Hall painting needs further exploration.

The only time Panini does something approaching Piranesi’s oblique viewpoint is in a fictive painting on the left side of the Stuttgart Roma Antica of 1756/57 (Fig. 8).[5] Because this painting shows ancient Roman monuments, the modern ones being found in the companion picture, the Boston Roma Moderna, the subject of this fictive picture is the Campidoglio, but the antique statues of Castor and Pollux on the parapet which have due prominence from this angle. This is confirmed by the fictive painting above and to the left that shows the (ancient) Quirinal Horsetamers from a similar angle, with the (modern) Quirinal palace behind scarcely visible. In other words, whereas Panini adopts an oblique view (but from the right) to prioritise Castor and Pollux, Piranesi eleven years later adopts an oblique view from the left to prioritise, and place at the exact centre of the composition, one of the Trofei di Mario. In the Metropolitan Museum version of the Roma Moderna (but not the Boston or Louvre versions) Panini does include the Campidoglio (Fig. 9), but seen from the front, which serves to emphasise Michelangelo’s façade of the Palazzo Senatorio, causing the statues of Castor and Pollux to sink into its façade, and part of the Palazzo Nuovo. This view seems to be based on the Farnborough Hall picture, but with adjustments to the perspective.

© David R. Marshall 2019

[1] Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), Veduta del Campidoglio di fianco, 1761. Etching, 545 x 784 mm. From Vedute di Roma, Tomo II, tav. 9, Opere di Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francesco Piranesi e d’altri, Paris: Firmin Didot Freres, 1835-1839, tomo 17. Scans from http://www.coe.l.u-tokyo.ac.jp on Wikipedia commons.

Inscribed: ‘Veduta del Campidoglio di fianco. 1. Statua enea Equestre di M. Aurelio nell’ aja Capitolina. 2. Palazzo di Sua Eccza il Senator di Roma. 3. Palazzo degli Eccmi Conservatori di Roma 4. Museo Capitolino. 5. Trofei d’Augusto, volgarmente detti di Mario. 6, 7 Colossi di Cajo e Lucio sotto il simbolo di Castore e Polluce. 8, 9 Statue di Costantino Magno. 10. Colonna milliaria. 11. Palazzo Caffarelli.’

[2] Malcolm Campbell (ed.), Piranesi: Rome Recorded. A Complete Edition of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Vedute di Roma from the Colllection of the Arthur Ross Foundation, from the collection of the Arthur Ross Foundation, 5 May–14 June 1989, Arthur Ross Gallery, Furness Building, University of Pennsylvania,  New York, Arthur Ross Foundation, 1989, cat. no. 58. John Wilton-Ely, The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, London: Thames & Hudson, 1978, p. 58. This is still one of the best accounts of individual works in the Vedute di Roma series.

[3] Etienne Du Pérac (1525–1601), Vestigi del castello dell’acqua Marcia, 1575.

[4] See my essay on paintings by Panini from Farnborough Hall, for Christie’s, New York, 30 January 2013, lots 41 and 42, The Campidiglio, Rome and Piazza S. Pietro, Rome.

[5] There is a painting in a private collection attributed to Panini of the oblique from the left, but this is clearly based on Piranesi’s etching.

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Chinoiserie Fabriques Part 2: William Kent

William Kent, Design for Chinoiserie garden temple, showing plan and detailed elevation with bamboo porch, c. 1730–1735. Pen and brown ink and brown wash on paper. London, Victoria and Albert Museum, E.384-1986. (Fig. 1)


English Chinoiserie pavilions explored a repertory of forms that was slightly different to those in Europe, and often had vernacular elements that was a consequence of their being simple and cheaply made. William Kent’s design of 1730–35 has a scale, presumably in feet, which gives dimensions of 15.34 feet wide, 11.30 feet deep, 10.21 feet to the top of the meander frieze, about 15.48 feet to the top of the ridge, about 17.01 feet to the top of the ridge ornaments, and about 2.90 feet from the ground to the bottom of the window openings (Figs 2, 3).

As in many English Chinoiserie designs Kent uses the Chinese fret motif, here on the dado part of the porch, evidently in bamboo. It is not quite clear whether these are on the plane of the porch or the pavilion itself; probably the former. The window openings are tall with pointed tops with slightly concave sides, which is somewhat gothic. Probably the narrow pointed forms within the larger are niches on the plane of the pavilion; the larger ones are openings in the front of the porch. The columns are also essentially gothic, with their tall concave-sided capitals. The band above these are artisanal half-circles. The equivalent frieze on the pavilion proper is a Greek meander. Although this has affinities with the Chinese fret, it is not properly a Chinoiserie motif. Chippendale, for example, in the Chinese designs in the Director has many friezes that function comparably, but none uses a Greek meander. Usually they are more complicated ‘Chinese’ fret designs (Fig. 4). Similarly Chambers used complicated designs that go beyond the meander.

It is the roof that is the most Chinese in style. As with the usual misunderstanding of how Chinese roofs worked, the concavity of the roof proper leads to convex eaves, which would have been hard to build. The roof ribs are round in section, which is quite Chinese, as are the convex ‘terracotta’ tiles. The ridges end in bird-like ‘dragons’ with bells suspended from their mouths, which is almost a requirement in English Chinoiserie pavilions.

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The Gateway at Montacute Pavilion and the Palazzo del Te

Although the gateway arch was initially intended to have been based on Serlio’s Libro Estraordinario, as it has unfolded it has become the Mannerist Gateway. The inside façade is based on Michelangelo’s Porta Pia, the outside one on Giulio Romano’s Palazzo del Te. One can suppose that Giulio created the external facade of the Porta Pia in the 1520s and it was destroyed during the Risorgimento (or earlier), and Michelangelo did the interior in the 1560s. Giulio, of course, anticipated the realignment of the Via Nomentana made by Pius IV …

This facade is currently under construction.

I always intended to make the exterior façade more aggressive and defensive than the interior façade, and so I toyed around for a while with massive rounded rustication. The ideal of an imminently falling keystone, like David Roberts’ view of a gateway at Baalbek was attractive (Fig. 1). I have also long had in mind the architecture parlante of Delafosse’s design for an imaginary prison, but this was a bit har to develop in this context. This lead me to various ruin fabriques at Schönbrunn (Fig. 2) and Eremitage (Figs 3, 4), the latter being more promising. This, however, really does read as a collapsing ruin, and is a bit too realistic. At one point I toyed with the idea of a broken lintel, tilting downwards in the middle, with big rusticated blocks above. In the end I decided this was a bit crass, a bit like something a contemporary starchitect like Gehry would do, like leaning or twisted office towers.

Eventually I settled on one of the interior courtyard facades of Palazzo del Te (Fig. 5). This is the complicated façade with the entrance. The pediment on brackets with the big rough keystone may look a little simplistic and linear but I seemed to work in the new context. The Doric entablature has the famous slipped triglyphs, one of the signature motifs of Giulio Romano’s Mannerism (Fig. 6). As Giulio uses it, it is more ornamental than threatening. That is, it does not convey a sense that the building is collapsing, but rather draws attention to the cleverness of the architect and to the way an entablature is constructed. As adapted, it is even more a sign rather than being expressive, in this case what it signifies, to the architecturally literature, is its source in Giulio Romano. Not being very expressive in itself, it is probably invisible to the profane observer.

The pediment and keystone, by contrast, have emerged as quite heavy and gutsy, and should have some expressive power (Fig. 7). Adapting this for once proved quite easy and pleasurable. I wanted to retain Giulio’s play of contrasts between rough textured blocks and smooth one. When I make the rough ones actually rough remains to be seen, but it might be worth pursuing, perhaps by mixing something gritty into the paint. Mostly I am relying on the distinction between timber 45 mm thick with rounded edges, and timber 35 mm thick with square edges. The design requires that these slabs be overlapped, and I am determined to properly master the router so I can do better lapping and tongue and groove joints. I have also realised that a planer-thicknesser might be useful, but this is an additional expense and I have nowhere to put these tools which have to be kept outside on the deck under tarpaulins.

With the dropped triglyphs, what is interesting is the fudging involved. With Giulio the triglyph and the section of entablature below has slipped. The architrave section has a slight taper, trying to convince us that the architrave is a straight arch consisting of multiple small pieces with sloping sides forming voussoirs. This is not very realistic, unless perhaps we consider it to be simply in relief, as it in fact is. Where a gap opens up at the top of the slipped triglyph (Fig. 8), Giulio actually tells us that the triglyph is quite shallow, resting against the wall behind and kept in place by the ‘flat arch’ architrave section. The triglyph is narrower than the architrave section, which means that there ought to be little square recesses above the architrave band, but Giulio, or later restorers, has ignored this or filled it in, which weakens the effect. I think I will restore these. The architrave section below is much deeper, and is slightly separated from the wall behind, to help cast a shadow and to heighten the viewer’s awareness of it as a true architrave (Fig. 9).

For the entablature to have slipped the architrave needs to have moved apart, but in practice things do not quite add up, especially on the right hand instance. Here the architrave block slopes at about 10 degrees and there is a gap which is filled at the bottom of the intact part of the architrave which forms prongs that seem to grip the slipped architrave and stop it slipping further (Fig. 10). As a result of all this the architrave band is significantly shorter than the space it supposedly once occupied, which is commensurate with the two halves of the architrave having moved apart. But there ought, therefore, to be corresponding gaps on either side of the triglyph slab. But this would imply gaps in the cornice above. In any case the idea of slipping — as opposed to splitting apart — is clearer if the triglyph fits tightly. Which brings us back to the architrave. If this had straight sides there would be nothing visually to stop it keep slipping, which is why the architrave has to be a flat arch. The whole slipping keystone motif is predicated on the idea of voussoirs, which is why the architrave needs it.

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