Media @ McGill

"Building Spaces for the Gods: Mythic Mediterranean Architecture in Early Modern Art"

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Braden Lee Scott


I am interested in looking at the ways that ancient architecture is depicted in artistic renderings of mythic events. A key figure for my research is the Haarlem artist Maerten van Heemskerck. Having spent nearly five years in Rome between 1532 and 1537, he feverishly studied, drew, and painted a wide range of architectural ruins. Many events from ancient Mediterranean mythology are depicted among his imagined built environments, with examples such as the Panorama of the Abduction of Helen of Troy (1535), The Triumphal Procession of Bacchus (c. 1536), Venus and Cupid (1545), and Momus Criticizes the Gods Creations (1561), to name a few. Speaking more broadly, my interest in architecture’s image in art veers toward the philosophical dimensions of space. In the context of my proposed research topic, I am curious to explore how mythical space has been imagined by renaissance artists. Architect and art historian David Karmon states that during the Renaissance, “Roman mythology was inseparable from the physical landscape of Rome itself: it recounted the history of the area of Rome” (Oxford, 2011).  Artists such as Heemskerck used ancient ruins to depict a mythic place, but ultimately, these ruins are indexical to actual architecture that existed in Rome during the time these paintings were produced. Other examples, such as Sandro Botticelli’s Calumny of Apelles (1494), reimagined ancient architecture in painted images that were obscurely anachronistic in their imagery. In my doctoral research, I will investigate selected works (c. 1400-1700) as not simply images of mythical architecture, but as a montage of architectural models recomposed to imagine a built environment for mythic events. I will connect my examples within a conversation of philosophy—veering strongly toward the making of worlds that is present in process philosophy (Bruno, Cache, Grosz, Manning, Massumi, Spinoza, Whitehead). The direction of my research will be targeted toward a way of speaking of the images of mythic spaces as a media-world of mythic architecture. Essentially, the works consulted act as nodes within their respective mythologies, representing moments of imagined events through visual platforms that are separate from but indexical to the built environment known to Renaissance viewers. This leads me to research inquiries dealing with the perception of pagan religions in Christian Europe, how images of deities and their architectural realms were considered to Heemskerck’s viewers in the years leading up to the reformation in the Dutch republic, and how representations of ancient mythical space through the medium of paint can be connected to examples of mythic depictions in cinematic special effects through set designs and contemporary digital media. Looking at these kinds of artworks through a spatial lens enables them to not only be images of mythic architecture, but act as cultural productions within the histories of these built environments that are real—actual, virtual, or a bit of both—in their media manifestations.