Skip to Main Content

Anthony Vidler (March 4, 1987)01:30:21

Ron McCoy introduces Anthony Vidler.

Vidler describes how one year after the 1902 collapse of the Campanile in Venice historian Alois Riegl wrote The Modern Cult of Monuments which pointed out that originally all monuments were memorials. The idea of the historical monument developed in the 19th century, including a variety of artifacts that could become historical monuments simply by having existed in the past. Vidler explains four values that Riegl claimed to define the historical monument’s importance. Either historic value, artistic value, age value, or use value take the central role as they work against each other to give importance to monument or ruin.

Anthony Vidler begins his argument by restating Friedrich Nietzsche’s observation that an obsession with history can be an illness, and at a certain point must be forgotten. The arguments arising from how to react to the 1902 collapse of St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, leading to its subsequent reconstruction, illustrate the architectural dilemma between historical irreplaceability and monumental necessity. The tower’s initial value was purely utilitarian until the 16th century when the cap and Loggetta of Sansovino were added as a means of inventing a monumental status.

Vidler describes a cult-like fascination with monuments prevalent during the mid-18th century and gives works by Piranesi and Canaletto as examples of a preoccupation with ancient ruins. By the late 18th century interest shifts to the size of the ruins and buildings like the Column House by François Racine de Monville appear.The 19th century witnessed the rise and fall of the monumental sublime as exemplified in renderings of Stonehenge by Turner. To save them from vandalism during the French Revolution, many of the country’s antiquities were placed under the care of Henri Grégoire who created elaborate settings for them in new museums.

Vidler discusses examples of the contradictions that arise from tampering with historical objects in efforts to monumentalize western civilization. Examples of this are found in Schinkel’s Altes Museum and his farmhouse project as well as various efforts to restore Roman and Greek antiquities. Viollet-le-Duc did various restorations of medieval structures in the 19th century without the aim of maintaining, repairing, nor rebuilding them. Instead he believed the purpose of a restoration was to re-establish in a complete state what never existed.

Vidler describes Ruskin’s displeasure with the fact that the Venetian architect Giovanni Battista Meduna used his drawings to restore certain ruined buildings in Venice. Meduna’s work on the façade of the Basilica of St. Mark meant that the original Byzantine facing was scraped off and replaced by an inferior modern material made to look like the original in its newly constructed state. These approaches introduce the idea of the touristic sublime and new projects that attempt to restore the past. He points out that ridiculousness and the postmodern sublime commonly go together.

From the Media ArchiveMedia archive link