Monday, July 6, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Gottfried Gruben, Klassische Bauforschung. München: Hirmer Verlag, 2007. Pp. 304. ISBN 978-3-7774-3085-0. €39.90; $56.00.
Reviewed by Barbara A. Barletta, University of Florida

[Chapter titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This book is a collection of articles and essays written by G. Gruben over nearly his entire career, with publication dates extending from 1965 to 2000. It represents a selection of the numerous publications of this author, which are listed at the back (302-303). The eleven essays assembled here were apparently chosen for their range of subjects and their appeal to a larger audience. Thus, they include general discussions of the role of the architect throughout history, Classical architecture, the origin of the Greek temple, and architectural reconstructions in Greece. There are also more specialized works that reflect Gruben's particular interests in marble as a building material and in Ionic architecture. This last subject is represented by articles on the Sphinx Column at Aigina, Cycladic architecture, and re-used columns on Naxos. The book is organized from the general to the specific and within the latter category roughly from earlier to later material. The chapters are not numbered in the Table of Contents, but their sources, which are cited at the back (304), are given consecutive numbers and those will be used here.

The first chapter discusses the role of the architect through time, with an emphasis on antiquity, as expected. It begins by looking at modern developments in architectural training, which have led to a schism between technological advances and artistic design. It then traces the increasing complexity of constructions and the rise of the architect as genius (the Egyptian Imhotep) in ancient society. By the Roman period the types of buildings and techniques of construction demanded a fusion of architect and engineer. During the Middle Ages the role of the builder took a very practical and empirical turn, away from a theoretical basis, despite the impressive achievements. The guilds of this period had not allowed freedom and creativity. Yet both theory and individual creativity were revived in the Renaissance. Many of the great architects of this period were trained in other arts as well. By showing the relationship between the role of architects and the societies in which they lived, Gruben argues that the solution for modern architects must likewise be sought in their own times.

Chapter two deals with the investigation of Classical architecture from the Roman period onward and thus represents a companion to the previous chapter. Here, too, Gruben traces developments over time, from the writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius to the rediscovery of his treatise in the Renaissance and its corresponding impact. During the 17th c. France begins to acquire a leading position in this investigation with the foundation of the French Academy in Rome (1633). The 18th c. brought the rediscovery of Paestum and excursions to Greece, leading to an interest in Greek architecture. Up to this point, most of the investigations had been carried out by architects, but with the rise of archaeology in the 19th c., a gap developed between the two disciplines. Gruben argues for closing that gap and, as in the previous essay, for uniting art/architectural history with the technical study of architecture.

Chapter three, on the origin of the Greek temple, traces the development of both form and function from the 11th to the 6th centuries B.C. It begins by describing the basic types of religious buildings and then explains their uses, from the funerary cult at Lefkandi, to eighth-century temples with hearths for collective meals, to elaborate enclosures for large-scale cult statues in the sixth century. Gruben also includes in this discussion secondary buildings derived from the temple form, such as treasuries and stoas. In parts II and III, he examines individual examples from the Protogeometric and Geometric periods and from Protoarchaic times (7th to beginning 6th centuries). One concern of part II is the possible continuity of cult from the Bronze Age, which he concludes is rarely demonstrable. Another is the adoption of the peristyle, which he accepts for several early structures while noting that not everyone agrees. The Protoarchaic period introduces more permanent materials and the architectural orders, with their separate developments in different geographical regions. In discussing Cretan temples under the Doric order, Gruben seems to be accepting a link between ethnic background (Dorian in this case) and architectural style, as suggested by Vitruvius. Similarly, he accepts a wooden origin for components of the orders and accounts for their absence, for example at Isthmia, as largely resulting from the lack of preservation of that material.

Because the aim of this essay is to present a general overview, the author must necessarily summarize the information and in some cases merely cite, rather than describe, examples. Yet he supplements the discussion with scholarly footnotes and good illustrations. In its citation of references and its emphasis on early periods, the essay offers a somewhat different treatment from that in the various editions of Gruben's Greek architecture book. Its overview is even more useful and should be required reading for any serious student of ancient architecture.

In chapter four, Gruben reconstructs the Aigina Sphinx Column from foundation to capital and then sets it within the development of the Aphaia sanctuary. Only a few fragments are preserved of the column, but they provide important evidence for its reconstruction. The smooth cylindrical plinth suggests that the column rested on a correspondingly smooth spira, as known from other early Ionic columns. The approximate diameter of the column is calculated at the base from the largest preserved shaft fragment and at the top from the circular setting on the underside of the capital. The column diameter, in turn, offers possible reconstructions of its height. Although the crowning sculpture is not preserved, Gruben reconstructs it as a sphinx similar to the fragmentary example recovered from the Aphrodite sanctuary on Aigina. On the basis of technical and stylistic characteristics, the column is placed at the beginning of the sixth century. Its location outside the first two temenoi but inside the third and its display of some chronologically later features are ascribed to its movement with the remodeling of the sanctuary.

Although this article was originally published in 1965, it continues to be important. The capital remains one of the earliest representatives of Ionic architecture, despite the additional material that has some to light in the intervening years. Gruben argues here for the introduction of the Ionic stone column in a votive context, although with antecedents in wooden architecture. He expanded this idea in subsequent works and it has generally been borne out by subsequent evidence.

The next essay, "Griechische Un-Ordnungen," takes exception to the idea of orders and canons, at least as applied to Ionic architecture. In contrast to Vitruvius, who cited a rigid set of forms and proportions, or Winckelmann, who traced a development over time, Gruben argues that Greek architecture often demonstrated uncanonical forms and gaps in the presumed continuum. He first explores the antecedents of the columnar order, suggesting that rectangular pillars, rather than just columns, might have played an important role. The support function was enhanced by the capital, which originated in the thickened top of the shaft of a votive column from Sangri. It was later enriched with a leaf crown to form the Ionic echinus. A transverse beam, which was embellished with a volute, increased its bearing capacity. The familiar Ionic frieze appeared in early buildings as a covering for beam ends.

These early structures thus gave rise to the Ionic "order," but they were hardly canonical. In the fourth Temple of Dionysos at Yria on Naxos (580/570 B.C.), the marble roof was visible from the interior. The Naxian Oikos on Delos had extremely slender columns, with a height over 13 lower diameters. The columns of the Temple of Demeter at Sangri stood on Ionic bases but bore Doric-like capitals. The interior columns varied in height by over 1 m. and were all much slenderer than those of the fa├žade. This building also had an open ceiling. Such diversity serves as a warning to modern scholars to examine all evidence before offering reconstructions.

The sixth chapter surveys the evidence for Cycladic architecture at the time of publication (1972). It includes buildings on Naxos and Paros but also the four Ionic treasuries at Delphi. Of the cities dedicating these treasuries, only Siphnos was Cycladic. Nevertheless the buildings are united by common features, such as size, plan, material (Parian marble), wall base moulding, and sculpted frieze, which leads to the suggestion that they were the products of a single building tradition. Both stylistic and technical details link that tradition to the Cyclades. This article is important not only for its discussion of extant architecture and its attribution of the treasuries to a Cycladic architectural tradition but also for the definition that it provides of the characteristics of that tradition.

In the next essay, Gruben focuses on one Naxian temple, the fourth (and last) of a series built for Dionysos at Yria and dated between 580 and 550 B.C. According to the author, this is the first large-scale temple in the Cyclades and as such, its technique of construction and use of forms deserve attention. Thus, anathyrosis appears on the doorsill and marks of the tooth chisel are found on the roof. The projecting wall socle is assumed to represent an early version of the typical Cycladic moulded wall base. The interior columns are fluted and stand on torus-crowned bases, with variations from one to another. The doors are enclosed by monoliths, although without the fasciae of later times. Gruben concludes by noting that Cycladic architecture will continue to develop over time, eventually giving rise to such precise buildings as the Parthenon and Propylaia on the Athenian Acropolis.

The association of Attic and Cycladic architecture arises from Classical Athens' adoption of the Island-Ionic order, the subject of chapter eight. Once again Gruben discusses the fourth Temple of Dionysos at Yria but now as a development from its predecessors. He finds similar characteristics in the Naxian Oikos on Delos and the Temple of Demeter at Sangri, on Naxos, especially in regard to the entablature with its frieze course and the construction of the roof. This essay concludes by repeating the defining traits of the "order," as originally set out in his 1972 article. At the same time, the author notes the absence of a canon in building types, forms, and proportions and the eventual replacement of this order for Doric in Cycladic architecture after the Persian Wars.

Cycladic roofs are addressed again in the next chapter (nine). This essay was originally published in 1989, apparently before Gruben formulated his ideas on the ceiling beams of the Naxian Oikos (compare figs. 53 and 155). Nevertheless, it treats in some detail the construction techniques and properties of marble beams and tiles, which were used from the early sixth century in Cycladic roofs. In the mid-fifth century, marble ceilings and roofs become customary for Athenian buildings. These, however, required longer beams, which at least in some cases were reinforced with iron bars. Gruben attributes the use of marble to a desire for perfection in temple architecture, since the explanation (at least for Cycladic buildings) that wood or terracotta was absent or expensive is countered by the nearly 10-fold cost of marble over terracotta tiles.

The final two essays look at Greek architecture in post-Classical times. In "Wandernde Säulen auf Naxos," Gruben discusses remains of a fourth-century Ionic building that were re-used on both Naxos and Paros. Ten column shafts, which are similar in various ways including their unusual number of flutes (18), were adopted for the church of Agios Stephanos near the Naxian village of Angidia. At least two capitals found in another location on Naxos belong to these same columns. Additionally, Gruben has identified three other columns of this group in the Hestia sanctuary on the neighboring island of Paros. A two-fascia architrave, dentil course, and sima from this sanctuary show close relationships with buildings of the "Ionian Renaissance" in Asia Minor. The remains thus provide evidence of an important Parian structure of which no part is preserved in situ, while also warning scholars against assuming the original location of a building from its findspot.

The last essay is on restoration in Greece. It focuses especially on the Athenian Acropolis, comparing the approaches taken through time to a performance. Attempts to re-create the buildings in an "authentic" manner have extinguished all post-Classical revisions and have even caused damage through the use of inappropriate modern materials. Current work on the Parthenon seeks to reverse this damage, but it also has other aims: to complete the building, establish it as a national monument, protect it for the future, and develop it as a tourist destination. Work has been carried out at other sites with the same goals in mind but using different methods, as Gruben details.

The organization of this book is logical and the subjects of the various essays often build on each other. Yet the book remains a compilation of individual essays rather than a work with a single overriding theme. As a result, some discussions overlap, risking repetition and fragmentation. That is the nature of such a publication, which was created as a testament to the varied interests and contributions of it author. It is useful in its assembly of articles and essays from publications that are specialized and/or of limited distribution. It thus makes accessible to the reader many valuable observations and ideas from one of the greatest architectural historians of our time.

Contents: Vorwort, Die Rolle des Architekten in der Geschichte, Klassische Bauforschung, Die Entstehung des griechischen Tempels, Die Sphinx-Säule von Aigina, Griechische Un-Ordnungen, Kykladische Architekur, Anfänge des Monumentalbaus auf Naxos, Die inselionische Ordnung, Weitgespannte Marmordecken in der griechischen Architektur, Wandernde Säulen auf Naxos, Anastilosis in Griechenland, Anhang.

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