Age as Quality: Historical Admiration and Nationalism

Research output: Contribution to ConferencePaperAcademic


In the work of various mid-eighteenth-century architectural writers in Europe, we find a special interest in the temporal qualities of buildings, which influences architectural admiration and critical judgment. Historiography has always had a strong interest in the early modern study of ancient monuments and ruins. It supports narratives explaining the quest for the origins of architecture, cravings for the primitive, ways to uncover universal rules of beauty and good architecture, or attempts to free architecture from classicist doctrine and start its ascend towards 20th-century Modernism. Yet, these interpretations have failed to acknowledge that age itself was increasingly valued as a crucial element to be admired in architecture, not because it was related to specific notions or ideas within architectural discourse, but because it could be the object of a historical sensation, able to promote an architecture ‘bound to please everyone’. This growing interest in the historical imagination was stimulated by discussions in aesthetics and taste of the time, such as the picturesque and the sublime, and even more so in contemporary thought in psychology, in theories of visual perception and imagination, and acquired urgency within a political context. Admired architecture had the power to foster collective memory. The fact that age itself could be presented as a positive, meaningful and important value that could be attached to ruins, existing and new buildings, is acknowledged in contemporary treatises, and occupies a special place in the work of the most prolific architectural writer of the eighteenth century, Jacques-François Blondel, whose writings are still suffering from positivist historiography and often characterized as ‘conservative’. Rather than reach only an elite with a taste for architecture, historical admiration could attract a wider audience, a people or a nation, and relate specific buildings to important past events and political ideas.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 19 Apr 2018
EventSAH 2018 Annual International Conference - Saint Paul RiverCentre, Saint Paul, United States
Duration: 18 Apr 201822 Apr 2018


ConferenceSAH 2018 Annual International Conference
CountryUnited States
CitySaint Paul
Internet address

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