Friday, October 18, 2013

Rococo (pt. 4)

I said that many other philosophies relating to politics dominated the Enlightenment, and these will become equally significant later on.  Particularly, John Locke's theories on the natural rights of man (that of life, liberty, and property) influenced the political arena of the late eighteenth century.  In lieu of such absolutist demonstrations as those seen in England under King Charles I, Enlightenment thinkers took it upon themselves to produce political theories and models for the ideal governmental system.  Where all this political speculating would lead, the latter half of the century would show; but for now let's resume our look at the Restoration Period in Great Britain before we cross over to France and look at Rococo art.
The Great Fire of London struck in 1666 and lasted four days, destroying 89 churches.  Commissioned to be in charge of reconstruction was a young British architect named Christopher Wren, who was also at the time a professor of astronomy at Oxford University.  Wren's challenge was that he had to design the churches to fit in their small, predetermined spaces.  He therefore used tall, slender steeples to build upwards, not outwards.  These steeples became significant in England and later in North America as the architectural preference, and even though he drew from Greco-Roman designs, Wren is credited with their introduction into the modern world.  His most famous creation he went on to design: the façade of St. Paul's Cathedral.
This cathedral was the tallest building in London for over two hundred years and still continues today to be one of the city's most endearing landmarks.  In designing it, Wren created deep porches at two levels to instill a pattern of light and dark values (recalling Baroque tradition).  Each porch has a pair of huge columns supporting it, and as the building goes up, the porches grow thinner, pointing the viewer's look to the top dome and tympanum.  The two towers on either side beautifully frame the building.  By employing this unity of design, the cathedral appears reminiscent of Classical structures like the Parthenon; all parts of the building are symmetrical and balanced, very similar to the ancient Roman architectural technique.
As I mentioned, this form of structural design would become vastly significant to England and North America in the following centuries.  Sir Christopher Wren was knighted in 1673, when he was just above forty years old.  He is to this day considered one of the greatest architects in history.  Today, the London skyline itself serves as Wren's legacy, because he was the one responsible for the construction of over fifty churches after the Great Fire.  It is for this reason that Wren's eldest son wrote on his father's tombstone at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1723 the inscription which, translated from Latin, states: "If ye seek my monument, look around."

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