Review Of "Bearers Of Meaning: The Classical Orders In Antiquity, The Middle Ages, And The Renaissance" By J. Onians

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Vignola and Palladio, the names one associates most readily with architectural orders aside from Vitruvius, do not feature in this book, even though its focus is the Renaissance; two thirds of the text is devoted to Italy from 1300 to 1550 and the rest, as an extended prelude, to Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Onians's interest, in a revisionist vein, is semantic rather than syntactic, his subject being the usage, as opposed to the use, of the orders, in particular the capitals and their meanings (as opposed to their forms) derived, as he writes, "from the changing feelings and expectations of the typical spectator" of the day. In recovering those expectations from theory and practice in historical vicissitudes, Onians gives the whole of Renaissance architecture a new perspective, in which Filarete, Francesco di Giorgio Martini, Francesco Colonna, Pacioli, and Serlio emerge as new heroes. Onians, though verbose, is impressive in originality no less than in historiographical rigor; and the book, abundant in insights that ultimately coalesce into a contextual overview of the architecture of the Italian Renaissance, does for both Renaissance studies and architectural history of this generation what Geoffrey Scott (The Architecture of Humanism, 1914) and R. Wittkower (Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, 1949) did respectively for theirs. Strongly recommended for all academic libraries.


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