Anon. (Italian), Fortification study, after 1600. Pen and ink and washes on paper, 366 × 493 mm.
Fortification design is generally associated with military engineers rather than with architecture, yet it could be said that before the eighteenth century the division between the two professions did not exist. In sixteenth-century Italy, for example, artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo were designing fortifications, as it was a major source of income and the skill was much sought-after in a time of incessant war in the peninsula. This was also a period when war consisted largely of sieges, with very few field battles, so each portion of the territory had to be held through the construction of a series of fortifications.
Anon. (Italian), Fortification study, after 1600. Pen and ink on paper, 412 × 312 mm.
Anon. (Italian), Fortification study, after 1600. Pen and ink on paper, 397 × 221 mm.
Each city had to be surrounded by a complex system of walls and bastions. One may be tempted therefore to think of military fortification as a purely utilitarian programme, motivated by basic needs: security, economy, stability. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries however, because these designs relied heavily on geometry, they became the symbol of ideal cities, insofar as they enclosed a barracks, an arsenal, a church and other facilities; and contrary to the current use of wooden models for civil and religious architecture, drawing became the preferred medium to convey fortifications. Drawings travelled more easily, could be made and modified more quickly, and demonstrated more clearly a closeness to research in geometry.
Anon. (Italian), Fortification study, after 1600. Pen and ink and coloured washes on paper, 517 × 441 mm.
Anon. (Italian), Fortification study, after 1600. Pen and ink and coloured washes on paper, 290 × 442 mm.
Given the new system of horizontal fortification – low walls that present themselves at sharp angles in order that projectiles skim the surface – sixteenth- and seventeenth-century drawings of forts consist mostly of plans. Such designs responded to the progress of artillery and the use of iron cannon balls now capable of breaking through the thickest of walls. Typologically, in terms of drawing, it also made the elevation less important than the plan. Plans demonstrated more clearly the importance of the geometrical construction of forts, while elevations typically demonstrated height, the rhythm of doors and windows and ornamentation. These drawings of seventeenth-century Italian and Dutch plans not only encompass the values of symmetry and regularity, but express the belief that geometry was the law of the universe, a belief which constituted the basis of the humanist revolution. Two of these drawings were made for publication of ideal plans, or to be included in a portfolio of an artist, architect or engineer who wanted to show his own proficiency, almost as a geometrical game. Such expressions were nearer to Vincenzo Scamozzi’s conception of architecture as a science rather than as an art, and these drawings demonstrate how much architects and engineers of the Renaissance are indebted to contemporaneous mathematical thought.
Anon. (Flemish), Fortification study, after 1600. Pen and ink on paper, 295 × 408 mm.
Anon. (Flemish), Fortification study, after 1600. Pen and ink on paper, 295 × 410 mm.
Shown, in the exhibition, adjacent to Ruskin’s collection of Siliceous Minerals, such fortifications could not be further from Ruskin’s conception of architecture as a living, natural form. Where Renaissance architects and engineers considered the laws of geometry as the basis for architectural design, Ruskin shows a closer proximity to the cabinet of curiosities, where the entire world is encompassed through its diversity and the accidents of nature, where chance and hazard, asymmetry and the picturesque, supersede regularity and simple geometric forms. In his wonderful little book The Art of Drawing, Ruskin discourages his readers from starting with geometry – with the line, the circle, or the square – advising them instead to go out into the countryside to draw rocks and plants, because each part of nature contains the entire world. For Ruskin, the artist and architect find their inspiration in nature; in the drawings of fortifications, the laws of nature are revealed by geometrical construction.
– Basile Baudez
John Ruskin (1819–1900), Study of Gneiss Rock, Glenfinlas, 1853 – 1854. Lampblack, bodycolour and pen and ink over graphite on wove paper, with some scratching out. Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford.
Anon. (Italian), Fortification study, after 1600. Pencil, pen and ink on paper, 290 × 438 mm.