Architectural drawings were limited to mostly monochrome in Europe until color appeared in the 17th century. Over the next 200 years, the use of color in architectural plans gave rise to a new category of creator: the painter-architect. Inessential Colors: Architecture on Paper in Early Modern Europe by Basile Baudez (Princeton University Press) explores the reasons for color’s introduction in architectural drawing, and its various functional and decorative uses throughout this period.
“Almost nothing has been written on the history of the use of color in the representation of architecture, either by architectural historians or by historians of color,” Baudez writes. His meticulous, methodical study will likely appeal more to scholars than to the general public, but no matter the audience, this extensively researched, richly illustrated book sheds new light on this overlooked aspect of architectural history and practice.
Architectural drawings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance were executed in a restricted palette of black and, in rarer cases, red inks. In Italian debates between the importance of color versus design, influential thinkers like Alberti and Vasari cautioned against the use of color, which they said could corrupt a drawing’s purity and truth. Architects occupied a more amorphous professional category at the time and were eager to comply with a black and white standard.
While the Italians’ stance against polychromy spread to other parts of Europe — most notably Spain — architects in areas like France, Germany, and the Netherlands embraced color as a tool to imitate building materials and natural elements in their drawings. This imitative quality — green washes to indicate meadows, for instance — would soon be joined by conventional color codes developed in other fields like cartography and military engineering, where different hues visually classified, hierarchized, and organized information. The most enduring example of color’s symbolic meaning in architectural drawings was pink, which represented masonry for decades.
By the second half of the 18th century, color transcended its original utility to take on sensual, decorative qualities. This stemmed partly from an explosion of saturated color in the daily domestic lives of European elites, whose wallpapers, tapestries, furniture, and other household objects became brightly tinted at the time. In addition, contemporary engraving techniques advanced rapidly, enabling architects to print their images with color cheaply and efficiently.
Most of all, Baudez points out, there was a lively cross pollination between painters and architects, who both now sought to entice viewers with dazzling pictorial effects that brought built space to life. As French Neoclassical architect Claude-Nicholas Ledoux wrote, “If you would become an architect, begin by being a painter.” Inessential Colors traces the complex story behind Ledoux’s advice.
Inessential Colors: Architecture on Paper in Early Modern Europe by Basile Baudez is published by Princeton University Press.
As museums readily draft land acknowledgments, they should also be ready to leverage their presence and power on the land to meet the needs of their neighbors today.
Decades later, a letter written by the group has resulted in a permanent exhibition at Bosque Redondo Memorial in New Mexico.
International audiences have free access to the media collections of MMCA Korea, Sharjah Art Foundation, and ArkDes through this subscription-based art streaming platform.
Assembly Required suggests it is high time to strap on a colorful mask and play with someone you don’t know — or don’t know well enough.
The pet home is on view at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, Wright’s largest public project.
Convened by Erika Sprey, Lamin Fofana, Sky Hopinka, Emmy Catedral, and Manuela Moscoso, the public program unfolds this summer at CARA in New York City.
Nun cho ga, meaning “big baby animal” in the Hän language, is “the most complete mummified mammoth found in North America.
A childhood accident took her arms away but the transgender artist survived to create paintings, photography, and performances focused on depicting the body.
The Bay Area art book fair is back this July with free programming at three different on-site venues, new exhibitors, and fundraising editions from renowned artists.
Fans of director Claire Denis should check the film out, but as an agnostic, I find it one of her few truly awful pictures.
There are 30 nations represented in the international exhibition. Some aren’t in their best moment today. A comics diary.
Some have compared her album art to John Collier’s 19th-century portrait of Lady Godiva, but Beyoncé can channel her radical spirit without evoking Western art history.