Tuesday, March 3, 2015
These architectural fragments, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, were originally carved of Istrian stone in the 1480s for a fort on the Adriatic coast. The fort was commissioned by Giovanni della Rovere, Lord of Senigallia and nephew of Pope Sixtus IV. According to the Museum, these are corbels rather than capitals. They were originally set into the wall at the point where the vault of the ceiling meets it, providing an aesthetic termination for the pilasters rather than any significant architectural support.
These and many other corbels – no two alike – were designed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini (1439-1501) who worked interchangeably as architect, engineer, sculptor, painter, illuminator, and theoretician. The slightly younger Leonardo da Vinci is known to have owned and annotated writings by Francesco di Giorgio Martini.
The general trend of educated opinion during my own lifetime has judged the colonial appropriation of architectural fragments like these (along with every other form of cultural loot) as an indisputable crime. I am not particularly comfortable with this viewpoint, considering that my own era has also witnessed the highest-ever levels of global chaos, violence and general destruction. Whatever has survived from a better world than ours is already a sort of miracle. Gratitude for these miracles inclines me to endorse whatever historical circumstances led to their unlikely survival.