New Romans, New Directions
Abstract and Keywords
The papers in this volume have considered the reception, translation, transcription, and appropriation of Classical and Ancient Egyptian architecture in spaces of dwelling from the mid-eighteenth to late twentieth centuries. A complex picture emerges from these diverse analyses that points to future avenues for research. Most fundamentally, these essays demonstrate that scholars should approach much of the reception of ancient architecture not solely through a Neoclassical or Neo-Egyptian lens, but also through that of the Neo-Antique. Broader in concept, a Neo-Antique framework encourages us to make connections between the silos of knowledge, specifically here the Neoclassical and the Neo-Egyptian, to understand that the processes guiding the reception of Classical and Egyptian architecture were often similar, and part of the larger reception of antiquity in Europe and the United States. The Neo-Antique framework also challenges established conceptions of the Neoclassical’s limitations—an aristocratic and elite, derivative phenomenon—and redefines it as diverse, innovative, and original. These essays demonstrate that interest in ancient architecture was not limited to the civic and/or public sphere, but rather, that ancient architecture appealed to a wide range of patrons, architects, and artists in their creation of dwelling places—from dining rooms and bedrooms to tombs and gardens....
The papers in this volume have considered the reception, translation, transcription, and appropriation of Classical and Ancient Egyptian architecture in spaces of dwelling from the mid-eighteenth to late twentieth centuries. A complex picture emerges from these diverse analyses that points to future avenues for research. Most fundamentally, these essays demonstrate that scholars should approach much of the reception of ancient architecture not solely through a Neoclassical or Neo-Egyptian lens, but also through that of the Neo-Antique. Broader in concept, a Neo-Antique framework encourages us to make connections between the silos of knowledge, specifically here the Neoclassical and the Neo-Egyptian, to understand that the processes guiding the reception of Classical and Egyptian architecture were often similar, and part of the larger reception of antiquity in Europe and the United States. The Neo-Antique framework also challenges established conceptions of the Neoclassical’s limitations—an aristocratic and elite, derivative phenomenon—and redefines it as diverse, innovative, and original. These essays demonstrate that interest in ancient architecture was not limited to the civic and/or public sphere, but rather, that ancient architecture appealed to a wide range of patrons, architects, and artists in their creation of dwelling places—from dining rooms and bedrooms to tombs and gardens.
The art and architecture of Classical antiquity and Egypt are endlessly mutable and ripe for transformation; they remain sources of inspiration for Europeans and Americans, but their meanings have changed depending on time and place. While largely lauded as an exemplary model in the eighteenth century, receptions of Classical architecture became more (p.270) problematic, as Hales, Deusner, Nichols, and von Stackelberg demonstrate, as the twentieth century approached and ran its course. Such receptions were now contested and their value not assured.
The majority of the Neo-Antique monuments discussed in this volume were closely connected to the major ideas and trends of their era. John Soane was a pioneering and influential architect who erected Neoclassical buildings in Britain that were responsive to their era, when Britain was building its empire. His residences and his most famous commission (the Bank of England) were also informed by the recently excavated sites on the Bay of Naples and an increased knowledge of antiquity through new publications on excavations. Similarly, van Eck and Versluys demonstrate that the immersive environment of the Hôtel de Beauharnais was a manifestation of changes in attitudes toward design and design theory and reflected political realities—Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt and the resulting influence of Egypt on French art and architecture. Thus, the Empire Style is connected to the cutting edge-design theories of its day and prefigured the Beaux-Arts movements that would come to define nineteenth-century French design and architecture. Hales’s study of the Roman and Gallo-Roman house at the Paris Exposition not only demonstrates the diversity of the antiquity that was repurposed (looking beyond the obligatory high points of Augustan Rome or Periclean Athens to include Late Antiquity and provincial influences), but also highlights how antiquity and its reinterpretations were tied to the major theoretical and intellectual issues of the day—here the emergence of national concerns and ethnography.
Ideas about race, class, and gender also played out in these spaces, thus making the reception of antiquity as problematic as it was appreciated. As Nichols points out, debates over American-born versus immigrant labor found a cause célébre in the creation of the Pompeii room at the Capitol building. Deusner’s paper demonstrates that reactions to the exedrae of New York City’s parks were complex because although they embodied democratic values and an engaged citizenship, they were also perceived as a license for the wrong sort of folk to loiter in their leisure (or worse, unemployed) time. The political and economic crises of the mid-1970s no doubt contributed to the critical ridicule the Getty Villa received. Yet the process appears to be cyclical; today, nearly fifty years later, it is prized for being an immersive experience that allows visitors to experience an ancient villa and garden. Once again we are seeing the resurgence of ancient forms as artistic models for sculptural production (Gavin 2015).
The use of Neo-Antique forms, interiors, and architecture also often denoted social belonging at aristocratic and haute bourgeois levels. (p.271) Soane’s stuffed house and the ruinous landscapes of his Neoclassical suburban abode reflected his interest in the Classical world as a designer and architect. His residences were also highly visible, outward symbols that he, as the son of builder done good, was now a respectable member of good society. Likewise, the Neo-Antique tombs of Woodlawn cemetery signified the social status of an individual. The fact that numerous self-made millionaires like Gould, Bache, and Woolworth erected Neo-Antique mausolea demonstrates that, even in death, such forms denoted one’s achievements, status, and social belonging. Like Soane, many of the self-made men who built Neo-Antique mausolea were also collectors of antiquities. Therefore, the possession of ancient objects and the erection of Neo-Antique architecture reflect the multifaceted nature of the interaction between ancients and moderns. The opening vignette of Nichols’s paper illustrates how the social acceptability of the Neo-Antique also meant that it could symbolize the oppressive nature of the social restrictions of the late nineteenth century.
Triangulation is central to the American examples. The reception of the Antique was often refracted through the lens of European interpretations of antiquity, as von Stackelberg and Nichols note, so that the elite of the United States still looked to Europe as a cultural model. Newly wealthy Americans of the time often sought legitimacy through ancient forms in their domestic environments and tombs.
In many of these dwelling spaces, we see the development of what could be termed the “Kodak-ization” of antiquity. In this sense, “Parthenon,” or some other famous building, became a synecdochical term for any and all Classical structures. In other words, there is a movement toward a generic ancient reference to interiors and architecture. The lack of specificity in late nineteenth-century sources over the exedra of Greek or Roman architecture demonstrates that the idea of antiquity often mattered more than the details. The pastiche tombs of Woodlawn, like the Leeds and Woolworth mausolea, as discussed by Macaulay-Lewis; the so-called Pompeian dining rooms considered by Nichols; and the Roman and Gallo-Roman houses explicated by Hales, exemplify the phenomenon where the idea of something Classical or Egyptian is more important than a considered reference to a specific building or place.
Almost all of the architectural receptions discussed in this volume were highly immersive experiences that integrated architecture, interior design, and/or landscape to remarkable effect. These immersive environments serve as reminders of the challenges of creating “reconstructions” today, specifically the virtual world reconstructions of ancient cities and sites. (p.272) While many of these projects, like the detailed virtual reconstruction of Hadrian’s Villa, are grounded in scholarship and knowledge (Frischer n.d.; Gentiluomo n.d.), many others are not and run the risk of becoming digital pastiches not so different from those created by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century architects and patrons. Examples of Neo-Antique place-making from the late eighteenth through to the twentieth centuries are in many ways the original virtual world environments and have value as an intellectual sounding board for contemporary projects. The recent profusion of computer games that recreate aspects of ancient Rome, Greece, and Egypt (or allow the gamer to do so) demonstrate the potency of these civilizations on our imaginations. A deeper consideration of such games would allow us to engage with other popular receptions of antiquity.
Much like its oversized position in Roman archaeology, Pompeii holds an overly important place within the reception of ancient architecture in spaces of dwelling. Pompeii, a small provincial town with a population of 10,000 to 25,000, captivated American and European patrons and architects alike. Its importance seems to be due to several key factors—its dramatic and sudden demise as a city made it a cautionary tale for those perceived as living a life of sin in later eras; the extraordinary level of preservation at the site, including its stunning wall paintings, sculpture, and furniture; and the domesticity of many of the spaces recovered. Pompeii remains most famous for its houses; thus it was natural that Pompeian rooms and vestibules should appear as key elements in reinterpretations of Pompeii in later eras. Pompeii’s reception, which was often filtered through literature, also speaks to the important role of texts in the reception of ancient architecture.
In the realm of Classics, scholars of visual and material culture often have had a contentious relationship with textual scholars. The essays in this volume demonstrate that texts—specifically ancient texts; eighteenth-, nineteenth- and twentieth-century texts on antiquity’s archaeological treasures, such as the Description of Egypt, Piranesi’s etchings, the pattern books and histories of ancient architecture; and literature, such as Bulter-Lytton’s The Last Days of Pompeii—were vital to the conceptualization and framing of ancient architecture’s reception. The Last Days of Pompeii could not have been written without the remarkable archaeological discoveries on the Bay of Naples. Conversely, the creation of a Roman and a Gallo-Roman house in the Paris Expo might not have happened without the popularity of Bulter-Lytton’s novel and its translation into French. So rather than seeing the process as an “either/or—text or material culture,” we should understand the reception of ancient culture in America and (p.273) Europe as one that was shaped by a reciprocal engagement with literary, historical, visual, and material culture. In other words, text, art, and architecture all matter, and are equally important aspects of the process of architectural and Classical reception; therefore, they must be considered together. Deusner’s paper also reminds us that architecture was often in conversation with art, specifically paintings; the physical exedrae were paralleled by their painted cousins in the works of Alma-Tadema and others.
Central to the conceptualization and execution of these architectural receptions is also the idea of bricolage. These receptions are diverse in terms of their use of antiquity, their combinations of different aspects of antiquity, their interpretation of antiquity. There are different antiquities—Pompeii, (Augustan and Late Antique) Rome, Greece, and (Hellenistic and Pharaonic) Egypt—that are reused in different ways, as interiors of lavish mansions, ruinous landscaped gardens, tombs, restaurants, and so on. At the Hôtel de Beauharnais, Egyptian and Roman rooms were created, as well as a Turkish boudoir, and the same happened in the Marquand Mansion (Deusner 2010 and 2011). In Woodlawn Cemetery, eclectic combinations of ancient motifs were used to create compelling final abodes in many mausolea. In the tomb of Leeds, the stepped-roof of the Mausoleum of Halicarnissus was combined with Roman architectural fragments and the details of the tomb of Scipio Barbatus, while in Woolworth’s tomb, a range of Egyptian buildings, including the Temple of Dendur, were referenced.
This volume has moved the study of ancient architecture solely from the preserve of civic and public realms toward a more nuanced understanding of the reception of ancient architecture in spaces of dwelling. Therefore, it should serve as a catalyst for a “big tent” approach to the reception of ancient architecture and for a broader understanding of reception studies. The papers within this volume also outline a set of avenues for future investigation. Kuttner’s discussion of the ruinous gardens of Soane’s Pitzhanger Manor, Macaulay-Lewis’s analysis of the highly faithful Neo-Egyptian landscape of Bache’s Philae-inspired mausoleum, Deusner’s consideration of the Cornish gardens and exedrae in parks, and, lastly, von Stackelberg’s treatment of the Crownshield garden and gardens of the Getty Villa demonstrate the centrality of landscape to the Neo-Antique style and to Classical reception. Undoubtedly, investigation of other receptions of antiquity as expressed in other, new creations of landscape will help us to understand how the moderns understood and interacted with ancient conceptions of landscapes and gardens long before any ancient gardens were systematically excavated.
(p.274) Just as the expanse of landscape deserves further treatment, so too do other aspects of the interior. Examples of Egyptian interiors have been treated in detail by van Eck and Versluys; of Roman ones by Kuttner; and of Pompeian ones by Nichols, Hales, and von Stackelberg. Analysis of Greek interiors, like that of the music room of Henry Marquand, to which Deusner refers, should also warrant more attention. The tension that Nichols highlights between positive and negative perceptions of Pompeian vestibules and interiors demonstrates that such spaces were contested and reflects conflicting perceptions about ancient receptions.
Mass produced furniture that became a staple of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century decor and interiors deserves more study. Scholars have examined the use of Egyptian motifs in furniture and objets d’ art, but they have typically focused on the very best that was produced. Therefore, an examination of the motifs used and the antiquities repurposed by the bourgeois and working classes would allow us to understand why people purchased such objects and the roles that they play in the home—as a status-symbol or symbol of social and/or class inclusion. Likewise, the advent of mass-produced prints allowed non-elites to purchase works of art for display in their parlors and home. Analysis of such works of art—many of which were prints of famous archaeological sites or other important buildings—would also prove insightful.
Other avenues of approach include a more focused engagement with issues of class, race, and ethnicity. There has yet to be an in-depth study of working class responses to Classical antiquity in the United States. Margaret Malamud’s consideration of popular entertainments that recreated the eruption of Vesuvius at Coney Island demonstrates that many of New York’s working class were delighted by the spectacles of ancient destruction (Malamud 2009). The Classics and Class project has demonstrated that the non-elites of the United Kingdom engaged with and received Classics and antiquity in their own ways, distinctive of elite practices (Hall and Stead n.d.). The study of how people of color have interacted with the visual and material culture of antiquity also requires further study. Just as studies of postcolonial literary receptions of Classics have seen focused attention (Hardwick and Gillespie 2007), ancient architecture has often been reinterpreted across the globe through European colonialism. An examination of civic and judicial buildings, train stations, museums, ambassadors’ residents, as well as other types of architecture in the Asian subcontinent, Africa, and South America would likely yield fruitful and complex insights into a highly layered reception, where antiquity was refracted through the lenses of European and colonial interests.
(p.275) In sum, this volume has considered how many modern Europeans and Americans recast themselves as new Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians in an effort to create unique domestic environments, gardens, and even tombs. For these new Romans, the past was something to be revisited, reinterpreted, and revised to suit the changing needs of modernity. This volume offers a glimpse of how complicated and rich such receptions were and will continue to be. (p.276)