December 30: THE academy

2012/12/30 § 1 Comment

Louis_le_Grand;_Harnas

On this day in 1671 the Académie royale d’architecture was founded.

One of several academies founded by the French to set down la pratique parfaite in virtually all fields–in other words, to codify the ideal Frenchness of everything–the Royal Academy of Architecture had both specific goals and tremendously broad reach.  As a training ground it ensured that properly educated and directed corps of designers would be available to contribute to the great works to honor the great king, notably Versailles and the Louvre.  But it did much more than ensure the beauty and consistency of seventeenth-century French architecture for the state; it became the core of Classical training in the grand tradition for generations of architects in France and, ultimately, far beyond its borders.  De-royalized at the time of the Revolution, by the early nineteenth century the Academy was back in business as the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the most successful and important architecture school and tradition ever, anywhere, in the universe.  It brought together the traditions of the Classical world as they were first formed: guides to the identification and understanding and creation of beauty as well as the application of design principles within contemporary practice.  It is the universal, timeless, truly modern way to design and build, and always has been, except for a brief interruption occasioend by a small blip of pestilence–a nasty, hard-to-shake virus still sadly lingering on–that brewed in 1920s Germany among the sorry, misguided followers of a poor ill soul who had lost his ear for the Muse.

The academies may be the high point of the Sun King’s reign.  They are a part of a small but significant heritage of tasty patrons cut of royal cloth.  A small club to be sure, but when they have an eye for beauty, there is no stopping them.  And while we may cringe at the excesses and downright grossness of Louis and others in his fraternity–Nero and Napoleon III come quickly to mind–there’s no denying that imperial legacies are not all bad (just take a skipping romp through Early Christian Rome, sixth-century Byzantium, the eigth-century Frankish Kingdomtenth-century China,  seventeenth-century India, eighteenth-century Italy and Russia, and nineteenth-century Vienna).  Maybe it is appropriate then that Louis, who built the place that Thomas Jefferson would one day call “the pit of depravity,” is the one who left the single most important legacy to the world of architecture: as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, Classicism without end.

Image: Louis XIV, within a few years of founding the Académie (from this source)

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