January 16: So happy to make your acquaintance. Shall we transform architecture before or after tea?
2012/01/16 § Leave a comment
Late during this month in 1755, Robert Adam and Charles-Louis Clérisseau met.
The meeting was occasioned by the Grand Tour undertaken by designer-architect Adam (1728-92), which placed him in Florence, where Clérisseau (1721-1820) had come from the French Academy in Paris. Adam is rightly seen as an essential protagonist in the story of Neo-Classicism; so famous and successful, he is one of a small handful of architects to have a style named after him. Too infrequently does any credit fall to the French artist-architect-archaeologist who was his tutor in Florence, Rome, and beyond, and who also talked him into writing a book on Roman antiquities (Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalato, 1764) and then provided some of the best illustrations for it. Clérisseau’s contribution to Adam’s development and publication would be reason enough to spend more time thinking about him, but there’s more. Much, much more. For one, he could really, really draw: just look at that image above. His skills were recognized far and wide: he was an architect to Catherine the Great, and was thick with other great eighteenth-century figures, from Piranesi to Winckelmann. He taught, associated with and worked for William Chambers and Thomas Jefferson (who relied on Clérisseau and his 1778 publication Antiquités de la France, Prèmiere partie: Monumens de Nismes for the design of the Virginia State Capitol). In all, his fingerprints are all over Neo-Classicism from Russia to Germany, France to England, and even to the wee, young United States.
If the rise of Neo-Classicism got the Hollywood treatment–for which it is long overdue–you might imagine an Ocean’s 11 scenario, with Clérisseau at the center of things, organizing the troops, putting all the wheels in motion. And that would definitely hold true if, in the year 2258, people looked back to that movie, but focused on Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle rather than George Clooney. And you know that would be a shame.
Because you need more Clérisseau, you need to read Thomas J. McCormick’s book