If the overlay and clash and contrast of instincts is a topographical question for Freud, then Murray Smith has it here as a graphical one. Smith’s own instinct, however, is that the Baroque, in its heightened sensitivity to force, tension and unease, is the 3D paradigm for exposition of the ineffable mysteries of consciousness.
Illusion in architecture exists in both the physical and cerebral paradigm, with the Baroque age exemplifying a series of interconnected theoretical and non-theoretical frameworks. The use of painting processes including chiaroscuro and quadratura enabled artists and architects to design places of worship that formed heightened relationships with the Almighty by presenting a glimpse of the knowledge that lay beyond the eternal.
The transformative effects of illusion within painting are set out in the description of Zeuxis and Parrhasius. The account tells of a painting contest conceived to resolve who was the finest artist. While Zeuxis painted a picture of grapes capable of misleading the birds into trying to eat them, Parrhasius painted a picture that was obscured by a veil. Upon closer inspection Zeuxis learned that the painting of the veil was in fact the picture itself, meaning that while Zeuxis had been able to fool the birds in the sky, it was Parrhasius who had been able to deceive Zeuxis.
An architectural work and its subsequent representation extend far beyond the comprehension of their originator’s hand. They are the result of an intensely distorted and contradictory internalised determination to attain, however small, a sense of individuation unobstructed by acts born of ego and of narcissism.
When considered through the prism of the Baroque age, from the early 17th century until the 1740s, the inherent relationships linking psychological development to the conception of architecture, and more specifically of architectural experiences, presents a timely opportunity to contest orthodox methodologies attributed to the understanding of physical and non-physical settings.
“WHY THE BAROQUE? WHY NOW?” were the concerns of a paper written by William Egginton and first published in the journal of the Modern Language Association of America in January 2009. In the piece, ‘The Baroque as a Problem of Thought’, the author draws on Kant, Deleuze and Guattari to explore “the relation of appearances and the world these ostensibly represent”. (2009)
In The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, Gilles Deleuze (1988) wrote extensively on the Baroque. He interprets Leibniz’s theories relating to the idea of space and time existing as a series of infinite folds, a concept expressed by Liebniz in one of his later philosophical works The Monadology. (1714)
Egginton conjectures that Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), emphasises the inconsistency of aesthetics and the tenets they epitomise, further reinforcing his contention that the architecture of the Baroque “assumes the existence of a veil of appearances and then suggests the possibility of a space opening just beyond where truth resides.” (2009)
In making this assertion, Egginton asks the reader to ponder what really transpires in that vague space just beyond the grip of human knowledge. The resultant analysis of these theories proposes that the rise and fall of civilisations and, by extension, the rise and fall of architectures, can be attributed to the pursuit of the infinite through man’s psychological development in relation to his creator.
The influence of the rococo style and the techniques employed to ensure “recipients are drawn in by a promise of fulfilment beyond the surface, their desire ignited by an illusory depth” (2009) was further exemplified in the progress of the High Baroque, resulting in works such as San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane by Francesco Borromini.
The structure embraces an assembly of key aesthetic features providing the church with a colossal instrument of influence that offered the promise of transcendental enlightenment in the next lifecycle for those prepared to live out their current one in obsequious reverence.
It is within this sphere of orientation that the philosophical and psychological suppositions of Freud and Lacan can be utilised in the exploration of the tensions communicated in baroque painting and architecture. The mystery of the unconscious in this instance is confronted by the mystery of symbols and imageries that can never be fully unveiled, therefore demanding faith, but faith in what?
The study of linguistics and semiotics in relation to the organisation and design of a physical structure plays an essential role in deciphering what is seen as rational and/or irrational. When a grid is placed on top of another grid, these can be interpreted differently because of their relationship to one another.
A germane feature of the expansion of the Catholic Church from this period was its coincidence with that of European colonialism, which resulted in baroque places of worship being constructed across vast geographical distances, extending throughout Latin America in a style recognised as Churrigueresque (Ultra Baroque).
Research conducted by Joseph Henrich, Professor and Chair of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, has explored themes connecting Western attitudes towards the self. Research directed by Henrich (2020) has also suggested that members of these cultures display psychological traits and behaviours that are in opposition to those displayed throughout the humankind.
Henrich hypothesises that from circa 1500 the West was able to develop at an unusually rapid rate, resulting in a breakdown of kinship bonds which coincided with a raft of social deviations attributed to the expansion of the Catholic Church in Europe. This conjecture explored the tangible shift from a tribe-concentrated mentality to its ultimate replacement with a model which endorsed individual achievement and the accomplishments of the self.
The unrelenting fascination with knowledge of what is fundamentally unknowable and the desire to see what is just beyond the horizon of mortal understanding have placed incredible power in the hands of institutions who propose a spiritual passageway to self-illumination.
When considering the influence of baroque painting and architecture during the Counter- Reformation in Europe, the significance of certain discernable features including the use of Solomonic columns, trompe l’oeil, chiaroscuro and elliptical forms should not be underestimated. These characteristics were critical in conveying overwhelmingly sensual and emotive experiences which are aimed at a partial unveiling of the truths that awaited the deferential devotee.
The principles of Eros and Thanatos had been furnished with the most sumptuous of theatres in which to perform their infinite dance between lust and death, but only just enough to keep the congregation on the edges of their lavishly ornamented pews ahead of their next bout of repetition compulsion.
When interpreting architectural manifestations within the context of the theories of Lacan, one which could be of particular relevance is that of the Mirror Stage. During this period of development, commonly associated with infancy, the individual is able to recognise oneself in a mirror but has yet to gain full command of their movements. This can ultimately lead to a sense of tension between the mirror image and the viewer which can result in feelings of estrangement due to an inability to identify oneself in reflection.
If this conjecture is then applied to the relation- ship between an individual and a piece of architecture then an inability to fully comprehend the image projected into the eye could lead to similar feelings of estrangement and alienation. Within an ecclesiastical setting the user, unable to comprehend the relationship to not only God but to the edifice itself, could be observed to exasperate an already heightened sense of tension and internal disquiet.