Friday, December 04, 2009

Research by Architecture Professor Describes Missing 500-Year Period of Loggias, Porticos


In European history, loggias represented more than just interesting architectural features. They also served important cultural functions.

That’s the focus of research presented in a recent journal article by Kim Sexton, an associate professor in the University of Arkansaw's Fay Jones School of Architecture. She had the lead article in the September issue of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, a quarterly publication. .

Sexton’s 12,000-word article accounts for a number of centuries for which there are no surviving porticos. By researching text and images, she’s reconstructed what those were like between the 7th and 12th centuries. During this period, the use of porticos — roof-covered structures supported by columns — gave way to loggias, or recessed porticos.

“It’s important because we had porticos in Roman times, and then they come back in the Renaissance,” she said. “It’s like this unaccounted time, what happened in between.”

In her article, Sexton argues that they returned to prominence because different ethnic groups used them “to display their judicial systems.” As court proceedings were held outdoors, “they used different styles to frame that.”

At different times there were German and Romanic law; certain loggia announced each style. “It’s in this competitive kind of culture that they start to use the portico again,” she said. “From there it comes back into prominence in the Renaissance and late medieval Italy.”

This article resulted from research she did for The Italian Loggia, a book that looks at the use of the loggia between the 13th and 16th centuries. She’s finishing that manuscript, preparing to send it to a publisher. The information in the journal article, covering the pre-history to that book, is not part of the book.

A fascinating aspect of her research was “how there is an interrelationship between text and image and actual space. And to knit that together was I think the most interesting, but also I think the most progressive in terms of theory,” Sexton said.

Instead of seeing these sources as belonging to a distinct discipline — text for history, image for art history and space for architecture — “it’s put together in an interdisciplinary way,” she said. “It certainly would not have been possible to reconstruct without all those things.”

In her book, Sexton argues that loggias were “used to display activities that were kind of new, and maybe people felt unsure about their value. So that they wanted to display there was something good about the justice system.” She compares it to television today, as a powerful medium that can influence behavior.

Her research came out of investigations she began while writing her doctoral dissertation at Yale University. While studying art history there, she focused on Italian Renaissance architecture.

Loggias and porticos have long interested Sexton. “They seem at once so transparent in their function because they seem like simple shelters,” she said. “But then, why did they come to be built with such magnificent architecture by some of the best architects of the Renaissance?”

Sexton discovered images in several medieval sources — the center of a gem, illustrations of the book of Psalms, illuminations from law codes and encyclopedias.

The article’s most important image, which is in color on the journal’s cover, shows the only known instance of a king in a loggia where “a trial is actually in progress,” she said.

“If you see them empty, you’re not getting what it’s about,” she said of loggias. “You have to see it when it’s full of activity.”

Dean Jeff Shannon said this about Sexton: “This journal is the premier American venue for architectural historians; it is very difficult to have work accepted. To be featured on the cover is an additional recognition of the value of Kim’s contribution. We’re very proud of her achievement.”

Sexton’s research of loggias has included travels to Florence, Rome, Venice, and Bergamo. During her 10 years on the faculty of the Fay Jones School of Architecture, she has taught survey courses in the history of world architecture, specialized courses on medieval and Renaissance architecture, and space and gender theory.