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Charles-Étienne Briseux, Traité du beau essentiel dans les arts, appliqué particulièrement à l'architecture (1752).

Clark Lecture by Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor Erika Naginski: "Rococo Vision and the 'Sonorous Body' of Architecture"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012
5:30 pm

Erika Naginski of the Harvard Graduate School of Design, who is the Robert Sterling Clark Visiting Professor in the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art, will present a lecture in which she considers particular aspects of architecture’s relation to vision in French Rococo aesthetics. The point of departure here is the challenge posed by the architect Charles-Étienne Briseux to classically derived analogies, based on numerical ratios, between architectural proportion and musical harmony. It is well known that Briseux drew directly on the musical thinking of Jean-Philippe Rameau in order to explore architecture¹s connection to the “sonorous body” (corps sonore), which could be detected by hearing, touch, and sight. In so doing, the architect’s theories registered a broader shift from Cartesian rationalism to the sensorialist philosophies of the Enlightenment (as Alberto Péréz-Gomez, among others, has pointed out). Yet how such a proposition might have worked itself out formally and architectonically remains a compelling question—especially in light of the fact that Briseux’s own claim to fame was domestic architecture, the decoration of interior spaces, and the elaboration of surfaces and thresholds (by means of mirrors, mantelpieces, ceilings, overdoors, paneling, etc.). How did the “sonorous body” come to be perceived architecturally? And what kinds of connections between interiority and the senses might have been at play?