Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Publication of Renaissance Architectural Treatises in the Soviet Union in the 1930s: Alexander Gabrichevsky's Contribution to the Theory and History of Architecture 1

Academic journal article Journal of Art Historiography

Publication of Renaissance Architectural Treatises in the Soviet Union in the 1930s: Alexander Gabrichevsky's Contribution to the Theory and History of Architecture 1

Article excerpt

In just a few years, a considerable corpus of architectural treatises was translated and published with detailed commentaries in the USSR in the second half of the 1930s. Primarily dating from the Renaissance, these treatises were written by Leon Battista Alberti, Giacome Barozzi da Vignola, Daniele Barbaro, Andrea Pozzo, Andrea Palladio, and so on. A complete list is found in Branko Mitrovic's article 'Studying Renaissance Architectural Theory in the Age of Stalinism' (2009); this article first introduced the English-speaking audience to this unprecedentedly broad, precise, academically meticulous and extraordinarily rapid publishing project that, paradoxically enough (considering the time and circumstances), outpaced similar English-language translations by 50 years.2 Although this project clearly corresponded to the classical taste that began to be inculcated into Soviet architecture after the wild 1920s, these publications, according to Mitrovic, evinced 'remarkably little effort to adjust their content to the needs of practicing architects and the ongoing classical revival'.3 Is this due to the fact that, with the exception of Ivan Zholtovsky and Georgy Yemelyanov, none of the contributors were architects? Nevertheless, as Mitrovic remarked, even in Yemelyanov's commentary to Vignola's treatise, 'the main intention is not to facilitate the use of the Regola but rather to analyse [its] sources'.4

The question of the historical and cultural significance of this publishing project, the principles guiding translation and commentary, and the connection between this project and contemporary architectural development and its needs should be posed in the broader context of the 1920s and the 1930s discussion about the relation between architecture and the cultural heritage. This discussion divided Soviet architects into two major groups, as Moisei Ginzburg remarked as far back as 1924 in his book C???? ? ??oxa (Stil' i epokha) (Style and Epoch)5, which shaped the aesthetics of early constructivism. Ginzburg wrote this work while working at the State Academy of Artistic Sciences ("GAKhN") in the Section of Spatial Arts (Subsection Architecture), where he conducted research on historical and folk architectural experience for several years.6 Noting the existence of two distinct paths in architecture based on the law of succession, on the one hand, and the independence of new thought, on the other, Ginzburg, expectedly enough, proposed a third path that should take both of these laws into account.

Nevertheless, in the article 'Architecture', written by Ginzburg for the Dictionary of Art Terms that was being drafted at GAKhN (yet not published ultimately), the question of the historical tradition and the aesthetic component of the architectural work was not even posed. The entire article focused on materials and technologies, while the most important aspects of architecture were said to be the goal and the means. Ginzburg wrote, 'Architecture is the art of organizing a certain part of space for the concrete needs of the individual, group or class with the use of different material means determined according to the level of the age'.7 According to this definition, buildings (whether a Greek temple or a modern residential building) are 'functions of the goals of the age and the latter's technological level'.8 Furthermore, Ginzburg voiced the idea of two historical periods: a period of great social aspiration and a period of social depression. In architecture, the former period corresponds to the creation of fundamental constructive principles. During the second period, these principles give way to purely decorative aims, leading to eclecticism.

The outright rejection of eclecticism, which gradually gained momentum in Soviet architecture, served as a common platform that, in the 1930s, brought together several constructivist architects and Ivan Zholtovsky, one of the main proponents of traditionalism. A categorical opponent of eclecticism, Zholtovsky maintained that architectural development must be based on a certain artistic and cultural tradition and on assimilating 'classical art as a method'. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.