Daniel Savoy

1. I met Harry at Vassar in September 2008, shortly after he hired me as an adjunct assistant professor to teach the Italian Renaissance portion of Art 105.  At that time, the department’s offices were under renovation, so we met briefly in temporary offices on the outskirts of campus. We chatted about the course in general as well as numerous logistical details. I remember thinking that Harry was very pleasant, welcoming, and helpful, a first impression that he subsequently validated time and again.

 

2. Given the subject of my published work, most people probably view me as a historian of Venetian architecture, but my current project, provisionally titled Architecture, Networks, and Value in Early Modern Italy and in progress with Yale University Press, addresses early modern Italian architecture as a whole.  Specifically, it attempts to dismantle what I feel is the main impediment to a more pluralistic understanding of the buildings of the period, that is, the traditional historiographical practice of arranging them into hierarchies of value.  In the standard narrative of Italian Renaissance architecture, rooted in Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Artists (1550, 1568) and reaffirmed in modern surveys as recently as 2011, monuments that adhered to classical principles are featured in a heroic story of ancient revival that begins in Florence with the work of Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446); those that did not, by contrast, are largely excluded from the discourse.  Culling from recent scholarship in Sociology, Philosophy, Biology, and Computer Science, I am suggesting an alternative method of analysis based on network and systems theory.  Central to the approach is the belief that early modern Italian builders, architects, and patrons associated their monuments with numerous values, here defined as points of architectural, cultural, or commercial significance, which they expressed in the design of those monuments by referencing a variety of interconnected factors in their historical environment. Of the many values potentially assigned to any one building, some may have been specific to one individual, while others may have been shared by many.  All of them, however, are seen as integral to the building’s overall composition of value, and therefore hold equal historical significance.  In this view, a building is less an object within a hierarchy of value than it is a node of multiple values within non-hierarchical networks of agency – which have no a priori conceptual or geographical limitations.  Focusing on this process allows the researcher to string together cross-cultural networks of agency in the designs of multiple buildings, defining the historical position of one building in relation to another.  The text will demonstrate this procedure in six chapters, each of which offers a comparative study of two contemporary, interrelated buildings or building projects.  As the buildings are examined according to their own modes of production, a thoroughly heterogeneous and interwoven European architectural culture comes to light.

 

- December 8, 2013