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Inessential Colors: A History of Color in Architectural Drawings, 16th–19th Centuries

Architectural historians have focused on the history of drawing primarily as a project design tool. By applying the methods of art history, this talk traces color as a key player in the long history of rivalry and exchange between European traditions in architectural drawing and practice. While Italian Renaissance drawings were largely monochrome and developed their conventions under pressure from engravers, seventeenth-century European drawings are characterized by a contrast between a colorful German and Dutch world—developed around architect-painters’ designs that influenced French and Spanish draughtsmanship—and a still largely monochrome tradition in Italy and England. At the end of Louis XIV’s reign, French architects adopted color conventions taken from engineers, largely for informational purposes. In the middle of the eighteenth century, however, a color revolution took place, one in which a new generation of architects who were working alongside painters developed a wide chromatic range that was no longer limited to informing the worker but to persuading academic juries and gaining commissions. This eighteenth-century French employment of color laid the foundation for Beaux-Arts architectural drawings in the first half of the nineteenth century, at a moment when English architectural drawings also adopted color in response to the English watercolor movement.
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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation for its operating support.
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