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Architect/Craftsman: Professional Identity and Skill in the Early Modern Era

Posted By Sarah W. Lynch, Thursday, May 11, 2017
Updated: Friday, May 12, 2017

What makes an architect an architect? What skills, knowledge or achievements separate an architect from a stonemason, engineer, craftsman, or simple builder? Plato divided each field of knowledge into practical and theoretical branches, valuing the theoretical (knowledge of truths) over manual skill. Architectural literature of antiquity and the early modern period generally observed this divide and asserted that “theoretical” knowledge separated the craftsman from the architect. Vitruvius stated that an architect possessed almost universal knowledge and that a carpenter was only a tool in his hands, thus establishing a clear hierarchy in the design and construction of a building. Alberti, Serlio and other fifteenth and sixteenth-century authors prioritized design over manual execution. Walther Ryff stated that a Baumeister could only become an Architekt by reading Vitruvius, thus suggesting that the distinction between the two categories lay in learned discourse. Yet other authors including Francesco di Giorgio emphasized the importance of training on a building site and manual skill for the architect-designer.

How do these discourses influence our interpretation of early modern architectural work today, and how much did they reflect the reality of architectural practice? Builders often made unauthorized changes to a design in the process of construction and architects who trained as painters and sculptors ran into conflicts with the skilled builders on their projects. These issues suggest that the responsibilities of architects and building professionals were not clearly defined and frequently overlapped. Further, modern concepts of authorship, in which a single designer is considered primarily responsible for the outcome of a building, may not apply in this environment.

This panel seeks to address the questions of the professional identity and responsibilities of architects and builders in the early modern era. Papers addressing all geographic areas and periods 1300-1700 are welcome. Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

 

What distinction was made in the early modern era between design and building?

How can we assess the meanings of different professional titles (architect, engineer, stonemason, Baumeister, provveditore, proto, etc.) and what distinguishes them?

Can economic factors such as pay scale be used to distinguish a clear hierarchy in the design and construction process? Are salaries related to professional titles?

To what extent do early modern texts about architecture reflect the lived experience of designing and building a structure? Do the ideal architects described by Vitruvius and others exist anywhere other than on the page?

In regions where masons’ guilds controlled building trades, what role did they play in determining titles and qualification for specialized roles and skills? Was it possible to work outside of these guild structures?

How did architects who trained as painters or sculptors interact with the builders on their projects?

How did architects, patrons, and viewers discuss authorship with regard to building projects?

Who was ultimately responsible for the outcome of a building project and how were the results evaluated? Is it possible to assess when or where builders made changes to the design in the process of construction?

 

Please send paper proposals to Sarah Lynch at swlynch@princeton.edu before June 1. Proposals should be formatted according to RSA guidelines (found here) including title, an abstract of no more than 150 words, keywords, and a 300 word CV including your current affiliation (prose form not accepted).

 

 

Tags:  architecture  art literature  artistic practice  artistic process  construction  design  professions  skill 

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