The Sense of Form in Art: A Comparative Psychological Study

By H. Wolfflin; Alice Muehsam et al. | Go to book overview

V. GRANDEUR AND SIMPLICITY

LARGENESS of scale is inseparable from Italian art. Everything seems to be gauged according to a different unit of measurement than in the North. The large blocks of the palaces with enormously high stories, the great halls, the wide interiors of the churches--all this gives us immediate assurance of being in the South. The distinctiveness, however, is determined not as much by absolute size as by the simplicity on a large scale. The whole is never multifarious or complicated, but is reduced to a few clearly expressed motifs. The imagination that produced the unfathomable labyrinth of forms of Krafft gigantic "Sacrament House," or even the Nuremberg Shrine of St. Sebald, is not the Italian imagination. Italian design is characterized by large simple lines and planes, and Italian architecture has a simplicity of form that may often seem almost like bleakness to the northern eye. But the factor responsible for the distinctive effect is this: Italian grandeur is a human grandeur and always implies an exaltation of man in his natural existence. In the column, natural man rises up; and it is he who grows larger in a great hall. Neither the over-tall northern church pier nor the over-large mass of "late Gothic" church structures are able to impart similar impressions. The need to use large dimensions, at least on certain occasions, is not foreign to the North; but northern greatness is really comparable to the Italian only when it is achieved on a natural human basis. This change in attitude took place only slowly and gradually. A building like the Rothenburg Town Hall, with its closely set stories and huge roof, produces an effect of largeness and no longer has anything to do with the Gothic style. But it would be difficult to say how the people who would really correspond to this architecture should look. By contrast, Palladio's town hall in Vicenza, the Basilica, or a Palladian palace courtyard (Fig. 72) immediately suggest the image of a specific human life of grand gesture and bearing.

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The Sense of Form in Art: A Comparative Psychological Study
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1
  • Preface 3
  • Contents 7
  • List of Illustrations 8
  • Introduction 13
  • I. Form and Contour 21
  • Ii. Regularity and Order 87
  • Iii. the Whole and Its Parts 119
  • Iv. Relaxed Tension 150
  • V. Grandeur and Simplicity 166
  • Vi. Types and Generality 180
  • Vii. the Relief Conception 190
  • Viii. Clarity and the Subject in Art 202
  • Conclusion 224
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