The Answer is: Giulio Romano

I had another art history dream the other night. I dreamed that I went to go visit my the AP art history teacher from my old high school. She was a really fantastic teacher and really influenced my decision to study art history. In my dream, I wanted to prove to Mrs. W that I had learned a lot from my art history training and schooling, so I went to go visit her class. However, I arrived on a day that an exam was scheduled. Mrs. W had set up the test so that we would travel to her house and then give a stylistic analysis of the house’s architectural features. When we arrived, I realized that Mrs. W expected me to take the exam too. The facade of her dilapidated house was a mumbo-jumbo amalgamation of a bigillion different architectural features.

I started the exam feeling pretty confident, because I saw a whole bunch of connections and references to famous pieces of architecture. And then I noticed some architectural feature which related to the Palazzo del Té (Mantua, Italy; 1525-1535, shown here). I wrote that down, but then panicked and realized that I couldn’t remember the architect’s name.

What is it?
What is it?

Aaaah! I died of embarrassment, knowing that Mrs. W would find out that I couldn’t remember something that she expected her AP students to know. Luckily, I woke up before we finished taking the exam. Phew!

When I woke up, I still couldn’t remember the name and had to look it up. But I’m sure that I won’t forget it now. The answer is Giulio Romano.

The Palazzo del Té dates from the Mannerist period in art. In this period, it was the style for figures in painting and sculpture to be elongated, twisted in physically impossible poses, depicted with unnatural colors, etc. The key idea surrounding Mannerism is that art is artifice – and for that reason, it’s okay to make things look like they are not “natural.” This nonsensical (and sometimes strange) style spread into architecture too, as shown in the design of the Palazzo del Té.

My favorite things about the Palazzo del Té are the ridiculously large keystones. They look really unsettled and seem like they are going to slip out from their position. Furthermore, many keystones are placed over rectangular niches (which is ridiculous, since keystones are used to help hold an arch in place, not a rectangle). I also like the impressively large Tuscan columns, that end up supporting an itty-bitty architrave. (And the architrave itself is broken into different sections, as if the triglyphs above are going to push chunks of architrave off of the structure.) He hee! It’s a little silly. And I like it.

So, thanks for making this fun piece of architecture, Giulio Romano. I promise not to forget your name again.

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The Unfinished "La Sagrada Família"

Of all of Gaudi’s works, I am most familiar with the Casa Mila. (1907; Barcelona, Spain) However, I think that the cathedral La Sagrada Família (also in Barcelona) is the most fascinating of Gaudi’s masterpieces. This cathedral has been under construction since 1882, and will probably be finished in about twenty years from now (which will be around the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi’s death).

Gaudi lived during the turn of the century (fin de siècle) from 1852-1926. His architecture has been classified as Art Nouveau, but really, there isn’t a category or movement which completely fits for the work of this original, innovative thinker. The thing that I like most about Gaudi’s mature style is his fascination with natural forms; his architecture often mimics or recalls things found in nature. Gaudi believed that his buildings were “symbolically a living thing.”1 Although I have never personally been inside a building by Gaudi, I think that his architecture really looks animated and vivacious in photographs. In La Sagrada Família , I love how the inclusion of gables (the triangular shape framing the portals and doorway) follows the Neo-Gothic tradition, but Gaudi has morphed the triangles to appear more naturalistic, as if canopies of stalactites are forming in place of static architecture. (You can see more detail of the gables by enlarging the photograph above.)

This inclusion of stalactites and naturalistic features helps to ease the transition between modernism and traditional Neo-Gothic elements, with the (literal) pinnacle of individualism finding itself in the four towers. 1 I think these towers are so interesting and striking. They are simple paraboloids in shape, with the sides perforated for acoustic reasons (the towers were intended to hold tubular bells). The plan of this church calls for eighteen towers – what a spectacle! You can see a model for the completed church here.

I also think it’s interesting that Gaudi was able to design this cathedral in such a way that it does not employ flying buttresses. However, I think he kind of mimics and alludes to flying buttresses in his decoration of the Passion portal (shown to the left), with the slightly curved supports that lean into the building. Once again, I feel like he is alluding to traditional architecture, but changing it to be original and modern.

The interior of this building will finally open for services sometime next year. It would be fun to go inside then, but I really am excited to go inside when this cathedral is finally completed. Plus, I’m curious to see how much of the final product compares to Gaudi’s original plans.

1 Fred S. Kleiner and Christin J. Mamiya, Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, 12th ed., vol. 2 (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2005), 896.

2 For more information, see Jordi Oliveras. “Gaudí, Antoni.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, accessed May 13, 2009).


Catedral Basílica de Salvador

Next time I am in Brazil, I want to go to Salvador and visit the city’s Cathedral Basilica. This cathedral was built between 1657 and 1672; originally, it was part of the Jesuit College in Salvador. All I can say is, those Jesuits sure know how to construct an awesome building.

My two favorite things on the facade are the ginormous volute scrolls between the two bell towers. So awesome! I also love all of the broken (Baroque-en!) pediments that decorate the tops of the windows. The three statues that cover the portals are the saints Ignacio, Francisco de Borja and Francisco Xavier.

The nave ceiling with the Jesuit emblem. I love the gilded, elaborate carvings.

Nave facing the shallow capela-mor and side altars. It is possible that the statue of Christ (above the main altar) is the largest wooden statue in Brazil.

Detail of the ceiling in the capela-mor

You can see a virtual tour of the Salvador cathedral here.

I’m still doing research on this cathedral, particularly to verify a few things. I read online that the interior carvings were performed by slaves, and some of the altarpieces are decorated with Candomblé symbols.1 As of yet, I haven’t found any printed or scholarly material that supports this idea. But it’s interesting and entirely possible; I’ll add something in the comment section of this post if I ever find more information. Maybe I’ll just have to fly down to Brazil and examine the altars myself…

P.S. If you want to research Brazilian architecture, I wouldn’t recommend History of South American Colonial Art and Architecture (Damián Bayón and Murillo Marx, 1989). It is the most confusing, boring, and poorly edited textbook that I’ve come across. Then again, there aren’t too many books available on this subject. Sigh. I’m just going to have to write a new survey textbook one day…

1 Candomblé is a religion-philosophy that is concentrated in Salvador. It has roots in African mysticism but also has been influenced by Catholicism (largely because African slaves were adopted/forced into the Catholic church by their owners). There are many similarities between the African deities and Catholic saints.


François Mansart and Mansard Roofs

When I was researching information for my recent Bernini post, I came across an interesting anecdote regarding Bernini’s opinion of the French architect François Mansart. The only recorded time that Bernini left Rome in his adult life was in 1665, when he was invited by Louis XIV to present a design for the Louvre palace (Bernini’s plan was ultimately rejected). Bernini found fault with everything in Paris, and mockingly compared the Parisian chimneys and skyline to a wool-carding comb. Bernini also said that all of Paris was worth less than a painting by Guido Reni. However, out of all of Bernini’s criticisms, he was able to muster some compliments for the architect François Mansart – but he couldn’t help but note that Mansart would have been much greater if he had lived in Rome.1

I developed my love for François Mansart’s architecture (not to be confused with Jules Hardouin Mansart, François Mansart’s grandnephew, whose architecture I also love) on a study abroad a couple of years ago. The image above is of the Château de Maisons-Lafitte, one of the châteaus designed by François Mansart. This château, however, is unique in being the only one designed by Mansart that still contains the original interior decoration.2

François Mansart championed the use of the mansard roof (also called simply “mansard”); although the architect did not develop the mansard roof, it is named after Mansart (although a corruption in spelling) due to the architect’s popularization of it.3 Mansards typically are a type of pitched roof that has two slopes on each of the four sides (although Mansart also also developed a three-pitched variety which was not used by other architects).4 The bottom slopes are set at a steep slope, whereas the upper slopes are at a slight incline. These two different slopes allow for maximum space for the attic interior, which accounts for why the roofs were so popular – an extra level to the structure could be added without distorting the classical proportions of the facade. Mansards are also often decorated with an oblong, flat top.5

Aren’t mansard roofs wonderful? For me, mansard roofs are one of the things which typify Paris. If I ever lived in Paris, I would have to have a mansard over my head.

1 Arthur Lubow, “Bernini’s Genius,” Smithsonian 39, no. 7 (October, 2008): 81.

2 “Mansart, François.” In Encyclopaedia Britannica 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online, (accessed 8 October 2008).

3 Peter Smith, et al. “Mansart.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, (accessed 8 October 2008).

4 Ibid.

5 Francis Woodman. “Roof.” In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, (accessed 8 October 2008).


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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.