Enfilade

Exhibition | The Hidden Horizontal: Cornices in Art and Architecture

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 3, 2021

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, De Romanorum magnificentia et architectura: Della magnificenza ed architettura de’ Romani (Rome, 1761). ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Rar 1311.

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From the press release for the exhibition:

The Hidden Horizontal: Cornices in Art and Architecture
Die unterschätzte Horizontale: Das Gesims in Kunst und Architektur
Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, 25 August — 14 November 2021

Curated by Linda Schädler and Maarten Delbeke, with Anneke Abhelakh, David Bühler, and Emma Letizia Jones

In architecture, the cornice hides in plain sight. Omnipresent as the elaborate junction between roof and wall, or wall and ceiling, this ornamental element seems to have attracted far less attention from architects, critics, or theoreticians than, for instance, columns or the architectural orders. But in a new exhibition at the Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, the cornice makes its long overdue grand entrance, displaying its many incarnations in art and architecture. Over 150 drawings, prints, books, and objects from the 15th century to the present day are united in a new dialogue, some shown for the first time in Switzerland.

Cornices are everywhere. Once you start looking, their ubiquity is almost irritating. Windows, doors, ceilings, mirrors, and wall panelling from across the centuries sport elaborate profiles at their edges. The skyline of any city street is a ragtag procession of cornices in various states of materiality, refinement, and maintenance. It does not stop there. Cars and clothes, furniture, and household objects feature their own cornice-like elements. Strips, bands, and lines of paint act like cornices by framing, delineating, or crowning almost any kind of artefact. Still, they attract far less attention from architects, critics, theoreticians, or even the general public than other building parts. In response, a reappraisal of this underrated element are presented in the current exhibition at Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich, where the cornice is placed at centre stage.

Giuseppe Gallli Bibiena, Sketch for Set Decoration ‘Scena per angolo’, 1700–50, pen and ink drawing (Graphische Sammlung ETH Zürich).

The cornice, once an essential part of any classical composition, incurred the wrath of modernists at the beginning of the 20th century. It has, at various times, been identified as the most expressive part of architecture, as well as the most problematic. It has drawn attention to itself in drawings, etchings, and other works of art. Hence, a history of the cornice in many ways offers a new window onto the multiple histories of architecture and its representations. For, on account of its ubiquity, the cornice carries several layers of meaning: as an element defined by, and defining building regulations; as the solution to the technical problem of joining wall and roof; and as a site to expression of social aspirations or distinction. As the visual limit of a construction, the cornice is as much about the individual building as it is about the city or the landscape. As an ornament applied to buildings, it involves matters of taste and aesthetics as much as of craft and industrial production. And as a subject depicted in two-dimensional works of art on paper, it allows us to interrogate the art historical conventions of image-viewing and composition. Finally, as a complex three-dimensional object, the cornice raises questions of cultural representation and communication through material transfers over time.

The exhibition unites a unique selection of drawings, prints, books, and objects from the 15th century to the present day. Authors and artists exhibited include Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Gottfried Semper, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Le Corbusier, amongst many others. By bringing works from earlier centuries from the ETH collections into direct dialogue with loans from important institutions in Switzerland and abroad—including the Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris, the Louvre, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, the Drawing Matter Collections (UK), the Berlin State Museums, the Rietberg Museum Zurich, and more—the exhibition exposes the ‘hidden horizontal’ at the centre of five centuries of art and design thinking.

Featuring works by:
Cherubino Alberti, Daniel Badger, Ottavio Antonio Baiardi, Baccio Bandinelli, Pietro Santi Bartoli, Nicolas Beatrizet, François-Joseph Bélanger, Stefano della Bella, Ferdinando and Giuseppe Galli Bibiena, Jacques-François Blondel, Jan van Bronchorst, Andreas Buschmann, Richard Cahan, Cesare Cesariano, Charles Chipiez, François Collignon, Francesco Colonna, Le Corbusier, Pascal Coste, Marco Dente after Raphael, Deutscher Werkbund, Wendel Dietterlin, Giovanni Dosio, Albrecht Dürer, Louis-Émile Durandelle, Charles Eisen, Theodor Fischer, Domenico Fontana, Johannes Gachnang, George Jackson and Sons, Ludger Gerdes, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Hubertus Goltzius, Karl Adolf Graffenried, Michael Graves, Iain Hales, Herzog & de Meuron, Utagawa Hiroshige, Jacques Hittorff, Daniel Hopfer, Lucas Kilian, Henri Labrouste, Mari Lending, Johann Baptist Marzohl, Johann Matthäus Mauch, Meister GA mit der Fussangel, Nicoletto da Modena, Richard Nickel, Friedrich Ohmann, Ordinary Architecture (Charles Holland and Elly Ward), Andrea Palladio, Manuel Pauli, Georges Perrot, Pablo Picasso, Christiane Pinatel, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Marcantonio Raimondi, Mies van der Rohe, Diego Prévost Sagredo, Antonio Sangallo the Younger, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Gottfried Semper, Sebastiano Serlio, Hermann Spielberg, Philippe Starck, Christian Ludwig Stieglitz, Gabriel Ludwig Stürler, Johann Georg Sulzer, Charles Heathcote Thatham, Philippe Thomassin, Constantin Uhde, Agostino Veneziano, Howard Charles Walker, Frank Lloyd Wright, Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Hans Vredeman de Vries, and Nicolai Zabaglia.

The presentation is jointly organised by the ETH collection of prints and drawings, Dr. Linda Schädler, and the chair of the History and Theory of Architecture ETH Zürich, Prof. Dr. Maarten Delbeke. Additional curatorial support has been provided by Anneke Abhelakh, David Bühler, and Dr. Emma Letizia Jones.

Programming details including guided tours, a lecture series, and walks can be found here.

Publications

Illustration from Vorbilder für Fabrikanten und Handwerker (‘Patterns for Manufacturers and Handicraftsmen‘), edited by Christian Peter Wilhelm Beuth and Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1821).

A special edition of gta papers (the journal of the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture ETH Zurich) dedicated to the cornice will be published in Fall 2021 to coincide with the exhibition (retail price: Fr. 25.–). Edited by Maarten Delbeke, Erik Wegerhoff, and Adam Jasper, the issue features an introduction by Maarten Delbeke and texts by Richard Anderson, Guido Beltramini, Emma Letizia Jones, Edoardo Piccoli, Linda Schädler, Oliver Streiff, David Bühler, Flavia Crisciotti, Linda Stagni with Claudio Gianocelli, Xu Han, and Maxime Zaugg.

The September 2021 issue of werk, bauen + wohnen focuses on the cornice as well. It contains an introduction by Maarten Delbeke, the first German translation of Luigi Moretti’s 1952 text “I valori della modenatura: Wert und Wirkung plastischer Profile,” a text by Mario Rinke, and reviews of projects by De Smet Vermeulen Architecten, 31/44 Architects, KilgaPopp Architekten, Joos & Mathys Architekten, Lütjens Padmanabhan Architekten, and Studio Anne Holtrop.

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