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  • Writer's pictureDavid

Who Do I Think I Am?

Updated: Dec 21, 2018

My first experience of Rome and Italy shaped my understanding of what it means to be “classical.” Actually, if I hadn’t studied in Rome as an undergraduate architecture student, I probably wouldn’t be doing the kind of work I do today. And that has meant some pretty fundamental things that I had long taken for granted, but now realize are not necessarily common among others who consider themselves classical. One is that I take seriously one of the definitions of classical as meaning the best. That means I’m not troubled by the idea that the best is the enemy of the good. Of course, my notion of the best, or my canon, and yours might differ.

But I can argue for the mainstream nature of my canon across the arc of the Renaissance and Baroque. It’s especially in the latter period that my painting heroes diverge from those of most realist artists today: Guercino, Pietro da Cortona, Baciccio, Luca Giordano, Carlo Maratta, Francesco Solimena, Corrado Giaquinto, Giambattista Pittoni, Tiepolo. Lively, ambitious, masters of the loaded brush, deploying idealized if even generalized figures; dynamic compositions, rhetorical in their props, they primarily painted narrative subjects. Call them decorative, but the great in situ works of these masters were the pinnacle of their practice. They were not, in any modern sense, “realists.”

sanguine drawing from life
Anonymous French or Italian seventeenth-century academic figure

Since plein air painting emerged near the end of my Golden Age, my models there are of a different kind: Valenciennes and Vernet, and later Corot, knew the nature and temporal limits of plein air work, and the vestiges of the Grand Manner in them made them chose subjects that juxtaposed the manmade and the natural. In drawing, the sanguines of Hubert Robert and Fragonard are representative of the general current of eighteenth-century academic technique from Rome to Paris. Rooted in the long development of broad, confident academic drawing traceable through the Caracci back to Raphael, they made powerful, effective drawings and reveled in the drawing act, the marks on paper that distinguish a drawing from a photographic rendering. The technique was trans-national, indeed ubiquitous, in the eighteenth century, as this example shows.

My architecture is split between what I aspire to, evident in my unrealized projects, and what I am able to, in the words of Andy Warhol, “get away with” building today. It’s unified by my concern for compositional clarity, solidity of building, and, of course, integration of the human figure. To name my models, I have learned much especially from Palladio, Bernini, and Filippo Juvarra.

All of that is to, in some way, explain the work on this site. Not justify it, but to locate it within a particular slice of the classical tradition. One that is, for better or worse, not the mainstream today. But it was, once.

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