Amorphous Ornament: Wendel Dietterlin and the Dissection of Architecture

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Leon Battista Alberti famously likened the relationship between architectural structure and superstructure to the dualism of skeleton and skin. In Amorphous Ornament: Wendel Dietterlin and the Dissection of Architecture, Elizabeth J. Petcu scrutinizes how the Architectura treatise (1593–98) of Strasbourg artist Wendel Dietterlin the Elder (ca. 1550–99) subverted Alberti's theory and the aesthetic of stability it promoted by popularizing a style of amorphous architectural motifs that recall bone, cartilage, muscle, and flesh, melding built framework with decorative surface. Drawing these corporeal conceits from contemporary anatomical publications, Dietterlin inspired buildings, architectural prints, and objects that challenged tectonic conventions, upset the traditional split between exterior and interior, and emulated the figural arts’ involvement in representing interior human forms. In assessing how Dietterlin's Architectura turned the proverbial body of architecture inside out, Petcu demonstrates that Renaissance comparisons between body and building did not always project ideals of architectural beauty and reveals overlooked origins of baroque-era fusions of architecture and the figural arts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-55
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Issue number1
Early online date1 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


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