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Assignment 3: Reading Response Assignment

Johann Joachin Winckelmann (1717-1768)


Remarks on the Architecture of the Ancients (1762)

EVDA 523.01: Premodern Traditions of the World


Name: Sumer Matharu
Student ID: 10047835
Date: 03 November 2015

After reading the introduction of the excerpt, it is evident that Winckelmann had
gained considerable credibility among his peers and the public for his views on
architecture and art. Coming from humble beginnings and developing a burning passion
enough to make it his lifes purpose, it is almost as if he was like a messiah or
messenger sent to the world for the very purpose of bringing a critical view on certain
histories, especially hellenistic. It is admirable how Winckelmann had the ability to
fundamentally break down his analysis to a variety of perspectives complex, basic,
subjective and objective. All these different views can be seen (or read) in the excerpt.
Chapter II: Concerning Ornamentation in Architecture in Winckelmanns Remarks
on the Architecture of the Ancients is about the distinction between real and fake,
originality and imitation, complexity and simplicity, goal and higher purpose, the master
and the amateur, and finally vanity and meaning. All these are intertwined together to
form the remark on ornamentation in architecture and form great meaning in the present
day where we are going full cycle back to the ideas of minimalism and form follows
function.
The topic of ornamentation is one that I have been contemplating with since my
journey of finding myself. On looking back I notice the age and circumstances that led
me to shun clothing with excessive embellishments and move towards a more generic
aesthetic while still keeping necessary or suitable ornamentation which could be
considered as the bare essential. After I started becoming interested in the arts,
including but not limited to architecture, I noticed my aesthetic develop even further
towards dis-embellishment. This involved studies and readings into the works of the
original Masters such as Tadao Ando, Le Corbusier, Carlo Scarpa, and Richard Neutra.

When the time came to reveal my aesthetic in form, it involved more of taking away
rather than adding on. The result was as simple as possible and as complicated as
needed and from this emerged innate or true beauty. This is synonymous with the
sentence from the excerpt reading .and when decoration is combined with simplicity
in architecture, the result is beauty.
Having been the first historian to draw a sharp distinction between Greek art and
its Roman copies, Winckelmann had a keen eye for originality to the extent where he
could distinguish between noble simplicity and calm grandeur between two close but
distinct cultures. Whether it be considered a criticism of the Roman artists, it has been
established and accepted as a fact that the Greeks did it first and they did it better. This
also ties into a later remark in the excerpt, and as architects could neither equal nor
surpass their predecessors in beauty, they tried to look richer which stands out very
prominently for me.
There was a time when education was boundless and one could study whatever
they wanted without having to go through qualification rounds by preconceived experts
of academia and bureaucratic procedures. This meant that the same person could study
architecture, sculpture, electrical engineering, physics, aeronautics, painting, etc. This in
turn gave them a breadth of knowledge and cross disciplinary technique of finding
unique solutions to problems. The people who lived in those roles were the ones who
truly innovated without rules. As time passes, we wish to cage academic endeavours
with a purpose of being more organized. Part of this also stems from an economic
standpoint where for revenue generation, topics get concentrated into narrower and
deeper disciplines. Some more factors may include the fact that ongoing research

produces so much knowledge and stuff to know that it becomes harder to contain it all
together and it has to be further dissected.
All said and done, in the present day, it is very hard for one single person to hold
the knowledge possible to be able to innovate like the old masters did. These masters
were not only technically proficient, but some of them were avid philosophers which
may have had an impact on the deeper meaning or higher purpose of their endeavours.
I personally dont believe that the masses today hold that kind of vision or goal
anymore. Even Winckelmann mentioned that because our times are going even
further away from the severity of the ancients, and people are very like the kings of
Peru, who had gold plants and flowers in their gardens, and whose greatness was
shown by their decadent taste.. It seems that to create a grand vision today, one has to
work in a multidiscipline think tank of sorts. While this is effective, it doesnt come from
the same mind and the coordination in purpose may differ and this may lead to dilution
of the quality of thoughts and innovation. In other words, while the innovation may move
forward and find new things, it may not be as grandiose as the visions of the old
masters.
Let us take the example of the present day architect Santiago Calatrava who has
attended studies in civil engineering, architecture and structural engineering. At one
time these were under the same discipline. In todays day and age, he has had to enroll
in each of these programs separately. Although it has brought him huge success, having
the mind of an engineer and an architect in near perfect union, it may still not lead him
to the level of ingenuity and vision that the old masters may have held.

In the professional world I get the opportunity to design and create furniture and
home accessories for the interior design market in Calgary. Most of them strive to follow
trends, one of which was a dash of the colour gold in anything and everything. This
always seemed to be an easy fix or solution to creating something beautiful, unless the
gold was an innate quality of the end product and came from within. This solution to
make a design look richer did not appeal to me. I found true beauty in raw exposed
concrete, black steel straight off the mill, and slowly oxidising sheets of brass. If one had
the ability to maneuver these natural materials, give them purpose and a higher
meaning, which to me is the sign of someone who saw beauty from within, unadorned,
dis-embellished. Winckelmann said so himself, Ornamentation was as rare in antique
buildings just as in the antique statues. He also said, was actually not viewed as
decoration, which indeed was sought after so little by the ancients that the word that
stood for it was applied only to ornamentation in clothes. They understood, real beauty.
They understood, originality. Their visions came from within. Our visions come from the
study of precedents.
In the end, this excerpt of two pages has given my formless thoughts new
meaning by an expert historian who lived in the 18 th century.

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