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Posts Tagged ‘copying’

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Photo: Bertramz
When you look at the remains of Qalb Lozeh church in Syria, you can see the inspiration behind Notre-Dame.

As many of us have been learning in recent years, much that is beloved in Western architecture was originally inspired by buildings in the Middle East. Moreover, there are Christian cathedral styles that mirror Muslim mosques.

A new book aims to set the record straight. Oliver Wainwright reviewed it at the Guardian.

“As Notre-Dame cathedral was engulfed by flames last year, thousands bewailed the loss of this great beacon of western civilisation. The ultimate symbol of French cultural identity, the very heart of the nation, was going up in smoke. But Middle East expert Diana Darke was having different thoughts. She knew that the origins of this majestic gothic pile lay not in the pure annals of European Christian history, as many have always assumed, but in the mountainous deserts of Syria, in a village just west of Aleppo to be precise.

‘Notre-Dame’s architectural design, like all gothic cathedrals in Europe, comes directly from Syria’s Qalb Lozeh fifth-century church,’ Darke tweeted on the morning of 16 April, as the dust was still settling in Paris. …

“It is not only the twin towers and rose window that have their origins in the Middle East, she pointed out, but also the ribbed vaults, pointed arches and even the recipe for stained glass windows.

“Gothic architecture as we know it owes much more to Arab and Islamic heritage than it does to the rampaging Goths. ‘I was astonished at the reaction,’ says Darke. ‘I thought more people knew, but there seems to be this great gulf of ignorance about the history of cultural appropriation.’ …

“With Stealing from the Saracens, an exhilarating, meticulously researched book, [she] sheds light on centuries of borrowing, tracing the roots of Europe’s major buildings – from the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey to Chartres cathedral and St Mark’s basilica in Venice – back to their Middle Eastern precedents. …

“ ‘Now we have this notion of east and west,’ says Darke. ‘But back then, it wasn’t like that. There were huge cultural exchanges — and most came from the east to the west. Very little went the other way.’

“Given their prevalence in the great cathedrals of Europe, it is easy to imagine that pointed stone arches and soaring ribbed vaults are Christian in origin. But the former dates back to a seventh-century Islamic shrine in Jerusalem, while the latter began in a 10th-century mosque in Andalucia, Spain.

“In fact, that first known example of ribbed vaulting is still standing. Visitors to the Cordoba Mezquita can marvel at its multiple arches intersecting in a masterpiece of practical geometry and decorative structure, never needing a repair in its thousand-year existence. …

“The pointed arch, meanwhile, was a pragmatic solution to a problem encountered by masons working on the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. One of the holiest sites in the Muslim world, it was built in 691 by the ruler of Islam’s first empire.

“The challenge was how to line up an outer arcade of rounded arches with a smaller inner arcade, while maintaining a horizontal ceiling between them. For the openings to align, the masons had to give the inner arcade tighter arches, forcing them to become pointed. Another world first can be spotted higher up in the shrine, where encircling the dome is an arcade of trefoil arches, the three-lobed style of arch that went on to encrust practically every European cathedral. …

“[Misidentification of] the Dome of the Rock was down to the Crusaders of the Middle Ages mistakenly thinking the building was the Temple of Solomon. They used the domed, circular layout of this [shrine] as the model for their Templar churches (like the City of London’s round Temple church), even copying the decorative Arabic inscription, which openly chastises Christians for believing in the Trinity rather than in the oneness of God. Their pseudo-Kufic calligraphic patterns went on to adorn French cathedral stonework and the borders of richly woven textiles, with no one aware of what they actually meant.” More at the Guardian.

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Back in August, the Ideas section of the Sunday Globe had a short piece by Kevin Hartnett on a robot that creates art. Well, a robot that copies art. It’s a discomforting notion.

“When you watch an artist paint,” writes Hartnett, “individual brush strokes can seem random. It’s often not until close to the very end that the image the painter is after becomes clear. This is doubly true when you watch e-David, the robot painter, at work. e-David (the name stands for ‘Drawing Apparatus for Vivid Image Display’) was created by a team of engineers at the University of Konstanz in Germany. It’s a former welding robot that has been retrofitted to reproduce, brush stroke by brush stroke, existing works of art. The robotic arm has access to five different brushes and 25 colors of paint, and after each dab of paint, it takes a photograph of what it has painted so far. Computer software analyzes the photograph and tells e-David where to place the next brush stroke.

“The strangeness of the process is especially evident when e-David signs the art at the end, beginning by making the dot over the ‘i’ and then writing the rest of its name backwards.” More.

Having recently read an amusing novel about the Gardner heist, The Art Forger, I can’t help thinking that e-David could have quite a career — maybe not fooling any experts but at least making serviceable reproductions.

Photo: Oliver Deussen, University of Konstanz
Painting by e-David, a robot

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