The specificity of baroque light

Gough, Tim (2009) The specificity of baroque light. In: Barok/Licht , Farbe; 28 Jun - 02 Jul 2009, Einsiedln, Switzerland.


This paper will argue that the specificity of baroque light lies, if anywhere, in a certain reflexive structure. If, for Deleuze, the baroque signifies above all the multiplication of frames; and if the theatricality of the baroque goes without question; then these two characteristics can in turn be derived from a more primary source � that of the attention back onto a phenomena, the reflexive movement; not just the matter at hand, but at the same time the attention to that very matter. And yet this reflexivity, in itself, is clearly not historically specific to the baroque: we might essay it as equally in the fortresses and theory of Francesco di Giorgio as in the Theatine staging and Architettura Civile of Guarini. Or, in the realm of thought, as well in Plato�s sane man attending to his own thoughts and vision (a soulful echo of matter �inclined to return on itself� � Timaeus) as in Kant�s transcendental movement. What is rather specific to the baroque is the way this reflexive structure gets evinced by light, albeit most clearly in particular works � the architecture of Borromini; the sculpture (not the architecture) of Bernini (Cornaro chapel, Vision of Emperor Constantine); Guarini�s chapels/churches; and southern German baroque/rococo; all of which we might be tempted to label archetypically baroque in contrast to more �classical� architecture (such as, we will argue, that of Bernini or perhaps northern Europe). Light reveals space and its articulation - this primary phenomenon is common to all architecture; what the baroque does in certain of its moments is to make this revelation a topic for the architecture itself to explicate - the revelation of a revelation (reflexivity as reflection), we might say. The use of more or less hidden sources of light, acting on complex forms (whether geometrically derived as in Guarini or artisan-constructed as in southern Germany), combined with its multi-levelled symbolic representation is here not the simple disposition of a series of architectural registers of technique and meaning. It constitutes rather an attempt to present both the �thing itself� of light in all its complex possibilities and, at the same time and as an essential aspect of this presentation, its re-presentation and staging in a manner which investigates this primary phenomenon and, by placing it within the symbolic field, in turn questions this primacy. Therefore we may see in the architectural use of light in the baroque a situational understanding of space as the interplay of person and place which nonetheless questions any primacy of perception, phenomena or experience.

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