The Extinction of Gothic Architecture


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  • Speaker: Robert Bork
  • Host Department: History of Art
  • Date: 04/01/2013
  • Time: 4:00PM

  • Location: 180 Tappan Hall, 855 S. University

  • Description:

    Gothic architectural culture flourished for nearly four centuries, but it went out of fashion rather quickly in the decades after 1500.  The collapse of the Gothic tradition, and its displacement by Renaissance classicism, surely ranks among the most important pivots in the history of European architecture, but the dynamics of this transition are poorly understood even today.  General treatments of the period often buy into an unreliable biological metaphor in which the Gothic tradition is supposed to have essentially died of natural causes after a period of decline.  More sophisticated treatments of sixteenth-century art generally avoid such sweeping and dismissive language, but their frequently narrow scope too often makes it difficult to appreciate the larger patterns of change in the period, and the social mechanisms that drove them.  In this talk, Robert Bork will outline the approach to this problem that he will take in his new book project on the demise of the Gothic tradition, which he understands as a kind of extinction event driven by cultural climate change.

    Robert Bork, professor of art history at the University of Iowa, received a BA in physics from Harvard University, an MS in physics from the University of California-Santa Cruz, and MA and PhD degrees in architectural history from Princeton University. A specialist in the study of Gothic architecture, he has taught a variety of courses in medieval and northern Renaissance art, receiving a Collegiate Teaching Award. He is author of Great Spires: Skyscrapers of the New Jerusalem (2003), Gotische Turme in Mitteleuropa (2008), and The Geometry of Creation: Architectural Drawing and the Dynamics of Gothic Design (2011). He served from 2004 to 2009 as president of AVISTA, the Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Technology, Science, and Art, editing three volumes in the AVISTA/Ashgate series: De Re Metallica: The Uses of Metal in the Middle Ages (2005), The Art, Science, and Technology of Medieval Travel (2008), and New Approaches to Medieval Architecture (2011). Bork's articles have appeared in the Art Bulletin, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Res, and in several books on art history and building technology. His ongoing research on the geometry of Gothic architectural design has received support not only from the University of Iowa, but also from the American Philosophical Society, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.