Monday, June 27, 2011

I lost a day somewhere. They're all blending into one at this point. On the 13th I actually went to the Eiffel Tower (and did not climb to the top), and then I did all the cathedrals on the 14th and 18th Century Palooza on the 15th. Not that it matters but I'd just like to set the record straight.

ANYWAYS. Addie Jo is actually writing about the churches she's studying in her blog and it's making me look bad, so since I got this scholarship to study the interplay of fashion, architecture, and politics in major 18th century European empires I am going to write something about that.

I have a tentative theory that may be total crap but I'm going to share it with the world anyways. This would be an illustrated theory but I'm having some Issues uploading photos (@&#%!!!!!!!) so we'll just have to wait on pictures.

In my humble opinion, I think the difference between Austrian and French 18th century politics is definitely reflected in the architecture. And when I say architecture I really mean interior design because it's far easier to update an interior to the atest fashion than an entire building that's been around forever. Schonbrunn palace in Vienna was the imperial summer residence and most of the rooms are still in their rococo state. What really struck me about the gilded wall decorations was the naturalness of the designs. The walls and ceilings were decorated with beautiful creeping rose vines that were symmetrical in terms of the entire room but individual walls had their own unique persoality (the rococo was big on symmetry). Sometimes there would be a muscal instrument tucked into the decoration, but it was mostly natural, floral motifs. The woodwork on some of the flors was highly decorative, but that isn't something I noticed right away. Even the orientalist rooms, which were extremely lavish and overdecorated, still carried a snese of the natural and organic.

The Hotel Soubise in Paris, the rococo rooms in Versailles, and the rococo rooms which have been transported to other museums in Paris have been quite different. The symmetry is complete not only in the overall rom but in the individual designs. Rather than lighter floral motifs many of the rooms had classical references and instruments and giant bursts of swirlies and the nature imagery was far more heavy and ordered. In all there is a sense of power and order and structure. Teh French rococo interiors have been just as, if not more, elaborate than the Viennese interiors, but it's a different kind of elaborate. More heavy and formal. There is the slightest tint of the baroque if you squint hard enough.

I think this is a reflection of the political systems. Both France and Austria were powerful players in the 18th century, as can be seen by the lavishness of the interiors. But political life was different in each country. France took absolutism to the extreme, with everything meant to glorify the power of the monarchy and control the nobility. Court life was highly ritualized, even the act of getting out of bed and dressing (the morning toilette which I could go on about but I wont) was ritualized. Political life was an expression of the power of the monarch and therefore the control he had over everything, even nature (thats why French gardens are so structured, another thing I could go on about). I think this is referenced in the interiors with their more elaborate and tightly controlled designs. While the Austrian monarchy was still powerful, political life was far more relaxed and the nobility was not held under such tight control. Which is reflected in the lighter, more relaxed, and more natural style of the interiors.

This is just something I've been thinking about as I've been making my way through Europe. Next academic post: How Swedish politics are reflected in Swedish fashion.

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