Building Codes: The Aesthetics of Calvinism in Early Modern Europe

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Building Codes: The Aesthetics of Calvinism in Early Modern Europe. By Catharine Randall. (Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press. 1999. Pp. xii, 288. $36.50.)

Randall's monograph examines the work of Calvinist architects in France from the outbreak of the French Wars of Religion in 1562 to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, a period in which space was a highly emotive and contested issue between the Catholics and the Huguenots. She argues that in the face of persecution, "these Calvinist creators devised strategies to subvert from within: to inscribe, via representational reconfiguration and code their distrust of the hierarchy on the very buildings commissioned to attest to Catholic authority." Furthermore, "a Protestant aesthetics of subversion, possessing its own idiom, voice, strategies, and conceptual responses to specific historical moments of oppression, existed from the mid-sixteenth through the early seventeenth century." Randall dedicates chapters of her book to exploring this in the writings and work of leading architects of the period: Bernard Palissy, Philibert de l'Orme, and a group defined as "second generation Calvinist architects" which includes figures such as Jacques Boyceau, Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, and Salomon de Brosse. It is argued that they subverted the Catholic iconography through means such as the use of code, creating hidden spaces for dissent, trompe l'oeil, "eccentric or fantastical deviations," etc. It was an architectural style that drew upon the Scriptures and was informed by the work of Jean Calvin. In the second chapter, Calvin is seen as providing a prototype for Calvinist architects. His writings employ "para-architectural terminology," and his exploration of the relationship between the visible and invisible churches led him to consider the concept of space. Randall even argues that the Institutes, "written from Calvin's location in self-imposed exile" in Strasbourg, provide Calvin's blueprint as to how the city-space of Geneva should be reconfigured. …