Monday, July 29, 2013

Ruskin's Greek Shadow

Time has come to get serious about a paper that I will be delivering on September 6 at King's College, London. This is a conference I have been most eagerly anticipating on the Byzantine Influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Much gratitude to Amalia Kakissis at BSA (conference organizer) and to Franklin & Marshall College for funding my airfare. It will be an honor to share the podium with Gavin Stamp, J.B. Bullen, and Robin Cormack and to catch up with some old friends. See conference details here. Here is what I have just sent for the program.

Ruskin’s Greek Shadow
The British School in Athens and the Byzantine House

The creation of the Modern Greek nation-state was posited on the virtual manifestation of Athens’ g
olden age, which European architects and archaeologists fully endorsed. In practice, this resulted into the suppression of Greece’s complex post-classical heritage and the demolition of medieval houses impeding on the purity of white temples. John Ruskin’s layered sense of historical accumulation, the Arts and Crafts ethos, and the preservation principles of the Anti-Scrape Society had no place in Greece. Ruskin's Venice and Neoclassical Athens incorporated two diametrically opposed epistemologies. The Arts and Crafts' movement staged an early assault on the purist construct of Greece through the archaeology of houses. The paper focuses on Walter S. George’s unpublished studies of three houses at Mystras. They present a radical departure from contemporary practices by French (Gabriel Millet) and Greek (Anastasios Orlandos) scholars. George’s stratigraphic approach, also evident in his excavations in Sudan, offered a critical voice in the development of medieval archaeology. Related work by George’s colleague Ramsay Traquair lead to the foundation of Canadian vernacular architectural studies. The activities of Rhys Carpenter on the houses of medieval Corinth suggest an additional trajectory of influence. Ruskin was not translated into Greek until 1935. His shadow, however, seems to have been already cast on Greek soil through the prominence that Anglo-American architects placed on the house.

Kostis Kourelis teaches architectural history at Franklin & Marshall College. He is an archaeologist with a specialty on medieval settlements and extensive field experience in Greece, Italy, Tunisia, and Ukraine. He has co-authored Houses of the Morea: Vernacular Architecture in the Northwestern Peloponnese (1205-1955) (Melissa 2003) and edited The Archaeology of Xenitia: Greek Immigration and Material Culture (New Griffon 10, 2008), and The Abandoned Countryside: (Re)Settlement in the Archaeological Narrative of Post-Classical Greece (International Journal of Historical Archaeology 14, 2010). While excavating archives rather than medieval houses, Kourelis has discovered a forgotten collaboration between domestic archaeology and the artistic avant-garde. He has investigated the American aesthetes of Corinth, in “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde: Excavations at Corinth, 1920s-1930s” (Hesperia 76, 2007), and the Greek modernists of Mystras, in “Byzantine Houses and Modern Fictions: Domesticating Mystras in 1930s Greece,” (Dumbarton Oaks Papers 65-66, 2011–2012). The Ruskinian origins of Anglo-American aestheticism have brought him to the archives of the British School in Athens.

Image: Courtesy of the Byzantine Research Fund, Archives of the British School in Athens

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Rittenhouse Trinity Windows

During last week's heat-wave, I took refuge in Trinity Church, on Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, and chanced on a fabulous jazz concert. I sat across two stained glass windows and took some notes. Trinity is an important landmark designed by John Notman (1857) in a Romanesque style. Notman's Saint Mark (1849) is considered one of the earliest American buildings to reflect the Oxford Movement. Holy Trinity's Romanesque style is also important in the development of the Romanesque Revival movement which we associate with H. H. Richardson and his Trinity Church in Boston, built twenty years later (1872). The critical link is Philip Brooks, who was rector of Philadelphia Trinity before taking over Boston Trinity. Brooks supervised Richardson masterpiece.

My favorite two windows (sketched above) are the Archimbault Memorial window and the E.A.H. Memorial by Luc-Olivier Merson. Victor Archimbault was a carpet manufacturer in Philadelphia (see obituary here). The top of the window includes a nice representation of a medieval city with the Biblical quote "in my father's house are many mansions" (John 14:2), which make a subtle reference to Archimbault's profession of carpeting America's mansions. The figurative panel below includes angels holding a scroll with yet another architectural reference, "For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come" (Hebrews 13:14). I have not yet determined who was the maker of the window. It is located on the north wall and it is the third in from the east.

The second window, immediately to the west, was designed by the prominent French painter Luc-Olivier Merson in 1894. The window is spectacular for its Japonisme. The woman kneeling below Christ is clad in Japanese dress. Both the flowers and the pot in which they grow signify the Near East. I suspect that the window makes a subtle reference to Trinity's missionary activities. More importantly, the window speaks of the popularity of Japan in the aestheticist circles of France (and England).

I do not post images of those windows because you simply have to go see them yourselves. The church is open every Wednesday at lunch for an ongoing lunch concert series.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States