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Durer in Brighton, Bernini in Beijing: architectural connections

August 7, 2012 6 comments

As I work my way (for my next book) I stumble on more and more overlooked and unexpected architectural chains of connection.

My favourite thus far is the Durer-school print featuring an arched whose columns have big bulbous bases that turn into acanthus leaves: this made it’s way to the Moghul court of Shah Jahan, where it was incorporated into existing motifs (themselves concocted from a Persian/Timurid/Hindu soup) and became a standard feature of his architecture, from the Delhi Red Fort to the Taj (probably). This architecture went on to be the defining ‘Indian’ architecture, quoted not least by Nash in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton — where Durer’s C16 column, having gone from Germany to India and back in the C17, fetches up on the Sussex sea front in the early C19.

Then there’s the madrasah, the islamic school which — most historians now agree – formed the *institutional* template for the university; but in turn its *architectural* origins — on the eastern edge of Iran in the C10 – appear to be in then-nearby Buddhist monastic institutions. Buddha – Oxford, then. Kind of.

In spite of the brainless-seeming coincidence of the Franks, ie us, having invented Gothic, a pointed-arch architecture, within a generation of the First Crusade, people are more sceptical about that being a direct line of influence. The pointed-arch compositions that really look like early gothic are, it seems, in the wrong place: Isfahan, not the Levant.

More certainly coincident is the pannelling and four-centered arches that populated Persian and Perpendicular at precisely the same era…

But I have found the ‘god like genius’ Michael of Canterbury copying without a pause or a thank-you a C13 Cairene Qu’ran carpet-page for the dado of his eC14┬áchoir screen in Canterbury cathedral – naughty Michael!

Finally, is Baroque the first World Architecture? It’s certainly the first to have been visible on all four continents: by the late C16, in Mexico, Mozambique, Goa and the Phillipines. No wonder the Qing emperors of China were as happy to rip it off for the ‘western pavilions’ of their Beijing Yuan Ming Yuan Summer Palace, and the Ottoman emperors of Istanbul to make persuasive mosques in the same idiom.

Indeed, one only has to walk into the average Chinese/Middle Eastern/etc home today to see furniture that is basically a poor knock-of of late Baroque/Rococo in Europe. This ‘Louis XVI’ look is everywhere among the nouveau riches of the world. We get their moghul domes; they get our badly distorted acanthus. Fair exchange?

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