Leon Battista Alberti famously likened the relationship between architectural structure and superstructure to the dualism of skeleton and skin. In Amorphous Ornament: Wendel Dietterlin and the Dissection of Architecture, Elizabeth J. Petcu scrutinizes how the Architectura treatise (1593–98) of Strasbourg artist Wendel Dietterlin the Elder (ca. 1550–99) subverted Alberti's theory and the aesthetic of stability it promoted by popularizing a style of amorphous architectural motifs that recall bone, cartilage, muscle, and flesh, melding built framework with decorative surface. Drawing these corporeal conceits from contemporary anatomical publications, Dietterlin inspired buildings, architectural prints, and objects that challenged tectonic conventions, upset the traditional split between exterior and interior, and emulated the figural arts’ involvement in representing interior human forms. In assessing how Dietterlin's Architectura turned the proverbial body of architecture inside out, Petcu demonstrates that Renaissance comparisons between body and building did not always project ideals of architectural beauty and reveals overlooked origins of baroque-era fusions of architecture and the figural arts.
Sometime around 1598, Strasbourg artist Wendel Dietterlin the Elder (ca. 1550–99) devised and etched a bizarre Ionic order fireplace for the final installment of his serially published Architectura treatise (1593–98) (Figure 1).1 Dietterlin's hearth is flanked by pairs of putti, who squirm as they shoulder a prodigious mantel set on a partially broken entablature. The mantel is decked with garlands and curling strapwork, as well as ornaments less common in sixteenth-century architecture: contorted figures clad in brambles, a flaming phoenix, and, at the center of the ensemble, a lozenge encased in a strange shell. With two wings that bend in a flourish of corrugated strips to terminate in curling prongs, the form resembles a rib cage splayed open by some inquisitive anatomist.
It has recently been observed that Dietterlin drew inspiration for this and many other Architectura etchings from sixteenth-century Europe's thriving corpus of anatomy prints, including designs that Abel Stimmer (1542–after 1606) derived from Andreas Vesalius's (1514–64) De humani corporis fabrica (1543) (Figure 2).2 Indeed, the bending rows of ribs and cartilage framing the bulge of organs in Stimmer's etching after a dissected trunk from Vesalius's Fabrica are echoed in the pair of banded husks embracing the swelling oval adorning Dietterlin's fireplace.3 The split pinion of the corpse's dislocated sternum, meanwhile, resonates in the bilaterally crested rollwork and phoenix feathers sprouting from the top of Dietterlin's rib cage–like ensemble. But the parallels do not cease at the level of form.
Dietterlin's Architectura joins the works of Vesalius and other period anatomists in representing complex structures, establishing canonical forms, and exploring departures from those norms—common interests that have escaped critical attention. So, too, has the fact that Dietterlin employed anatomical ornaments to mount an eccentric but influential critique of a perennial trope of Western architecture: the idea that architecture should imitate nature. This article examines how Dietterlin's innovative depictions of human anatomy in the architectural ornaments of the Architectura dismembered a prevailing Renaissance analogy between building and body, establishing an antinaturalistic, antiarchitectural aesthetic of structural order. Today, as architecture again embraces the very Albertian dualism of “skeletal” framework and covering “skin” that the Architectura once dissected, Dietterlin's intervention in the early modern discourse on architectural naturalism demands a more probing look.4
Dietterlin's attack on the conventions of architectural structure challenged an idea that had shaped architectural theory and practice since ancient times. Vitruvius, for instance, claimed that architecture's imitation of nature, especially the human body, produced correct and appropriate—that is, decorous—constructions.5 In De architectura, he urged architects to devise buildings that reflected the proportions of the body and described the resemblance between the columns of well-designed temples and the forms of different human physiologies, establishing metaphors of architectural naturalism that became paradigmatic for Renaissance theories of architectural decorum.6
Leon Battista Alberti's De re aedificatoria, composed between 1443 and 1452 but first published in 1485, revived interest in comparing building with body, enhancing Vitruvius's anatomical analogy with the precise vocabulary of fifteenth-century medical science.7 Alberti described architecture as the conjunction of a skeleton-like framework of weights and weight-bearing elements and a skin-like integument of panels, reliefs, and decorations.8 Distinguishing the “bones” of a building from its skin-like superstructures and paneling, Alberti explained:
Among the other important…parts of the wall are the corners and inherent or additional elements such as piers, columns, and anything else that acts as a column and supports the trusses and roof arches. These all come under the description of bones.…Also included in the bones are the coverings to the openings, that is, the beams.…The zone stretching between these primary parts is referred to appropriately as “paneling.”9
Alberti's skeleton/skin–structure/superstructure analogy was not, in itself, groundbreaking. His words echo a letter to Pope Leo X attributed to Raphael, in which the ruins of Rome, stripped of their ornaments, are compared to the “bones of the body without the flesh.”10 Galen, in turn, had characterized the human skeleton and skin in terms of architectural structure and superstructure.11 Yet Alberti's analogy differed in that it expanded the Vitruvian ideal of likeness between building and body from a prerequisite of attractive architecture to a basis for solid construction as well. “The physicians,” Alberti wrote,
have noticed that Nature was so thorough in forming the bodies of animals, that she left no bone separate or disjointed from the rest. Likewise, we should link the bones and bind them fast with muscles and ligaments, so that their frame and structure is complete and rigid enough to ensure that its fabric will still stand on its own, even if all else is removed.12
Defining good architecture as a dualistic confluence of framework and finish, Alberti promoted both ornamental and tectonic decorum through his anatomical analogy.
Since the publication of Rudolf Wittkower's 1949 Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, such anatomical rhetoric has been regarded as a wellspring for Renaissance ideals of architectural beauty and order.13 Scholars have explored Vitruvian descriptions of human types as models for the orders and conventions of architectural correctness, investigated Andrea Palladio's understanding of a building as a rational body that could be studied to reveal facts and qualities, and analyzed the impact of Alberti's corporeal analogy on Renaissance theories of architectural decorum and figuration.14 But early modern architectural theorists did not invariably compare human and architectural anatomies to reinforce standards of structural order, beauty, or decorum. Dietterlin imitated human anatomy to undermine those ideals.
Returning to Dietterlin's fireplace, we discover an unsettling take on Alberti's analogy (see Figure 1). The hearth's top-heavy framework resembles no skeleton in nature. The interlocking arms of the putti follow the Albertian tenet that supporting elements should fuse, but the figures hunch as they struggle under the massive mantel's weight. Set above the childlike caryatids, the mantel's adult figures defy the Vitruvian injunction against placing heavy bodies over delicate forms.15 Alberti classified fixtures such as carved mantels as part of architecture's outer membrane. In grafting elements of the human interior onto the architectural skin, Dietterlin's rib cage mantel turns Alberti's proverbial body of architecture inside out.
Dietterlin's Architectura was far from the first architectural project to challenge this Renaissance aesthetic of structural order—one thinks, for instance, of the tectonic tensions of Michelangelo's vestibule for the Biblioteca Laurenziana, or the destabilizing conceits of Giulio Romano's Palazzo del Te.16 Violations of the architectural order manifested in Vitruvian comparisons between body and building proliferated during the sixteenth century as virulently as did anatomical studies—and the two phenomena are arguably interrelated. Yet Dietterlin's Architectura departs from previous critiques of the Vitruvian corporeal metaphor and the Albertian dualism of frame and surface by employing imagery that resembles external human features as well as internal ones. The volatile viscera of Dietterlin's architectural designs pit the Vitruvian notion that architects should imitate human forms against Alberti's own Vitruvian ideals of tectonic stability, attacking Vitruvian classicism as if from the inside.
Besides recalling the human rib cage, the amorphous forms of Dietterlin's fireplace—some bony, some fleshy, some cartilaginous—embody what in English is now referred to as auricular ornament, a term that evokes the irregular topography of the human ear.17 Often resembling flaps of excoriated skin and flayed organs, the motif has inspired many comparisons with the forms of anatomy and dissection.18 Defined by its indefinite appearance, Dietterlin's flexible motif challenged Alberti's rigid structural aesthetic. Through his Architectura's anatomical conceits, Dietterlin introduced the amorphous form to architectural design and made it ubiquitous in seventeenth-century ornament.19 By incorporating images of flesh and bone into architecture's ornamental armature, his auricular ornament revised the Albertian dogma of structure and superstructure.
An investigation of Dietterlin's anatomical ornaments can transform our understanding of naturalism in early modern architecture, for these ornaments severed the bond between architectural anthropomorphism and order that Wittkower and subsequent scholars have taken as an inevitable result of Renaissance enthusiasm for the Vitruvian anatomical analogy. Yet Dietterlin's critique of Alberti's Vitruvian aesthetic also resonated well beyond early modern building to the domain of other media.20 In dissecting and inverting the anatomy of the edifice, Dietterlin's Architectura fortified the sinews that bound architecture to the figural arts.
Dietterlin's anatomical intervention in Renaissance architectural theory was a product of the idiosyncratic historical circumstances of sixteenth-century Strasbourg, particularly the close relationship between anatomical printmaking and architectural printmaking there. The artist's home city fostered auspicious conditions for architectural and anatomical inquiry to mingle via print, for it stood at intersecting corridors of economic, intellectual, and artistic exchange and boasted a flourishing publishing and book trade.21 Strasbourg became a hotbed of anatomical publishing early on, yielding the first surgical text printed in German in 1497.22 Authorities in anatomy and architecture abounded among the city's printmakers, publishers, and authors, who included physician Walther Hermann Ryff, who produced numerous medical texts and the first German translation of De architectura; printmaker/printer Heinrich Vogtherr the Elder, who created both architectural and anatomical woodcuts; and printer Jakob Cammerlander, who released physiology and medical texts by Albertus Magnus and Ryff and, in 1541, published the first edition of Alberti's De re aedificatoria printed in the German-speaking lands.23 That text, along with other writings by Ryff, likely served as source material for Dietterlin.24
Strasbourg's first public dissection in 1517 inspired a flurry of anatomical prints, because artists could now obtain anatomical knowledge from firsthand observation and interaction with experts, or through text and images.25 Local printmaker Hans Baldung Grien, for instance, created anatomy woodcuts reflecting knowledge he likely gained from a physician relative.26 Anatomy prints also drew from architecture. Both Hans Wechtlin the Elder's single-leaf print Anatomia aller Beynglyder des Menschen…(Anatomy of all human bones) and the copy in Hans von Gersdorff's Feltbüch der Wundartzney (Field book on wound healing), published at Strasbourg in 1517, depict skeletons modeled on a sculpture adorning the tomb of Duke Albrecht of Palatinate-Mosbach.27 Seeking new ways to mix the figural and architectonic, Dietterlin transformed Strasbourg's parallel traditions of anatomical and architectural printmaking by combining the genres, courting overlapping audiences of print consumers in the process.
The etched format of Dietterlin's images was crucial to their impact on architectural theory. Dietterlin's amorphous, “auricular” inventions and the designs based on them could efface the boundaries between architecture and the other arts in part because they derived not from built structures but from printed designs for ornament that could be realized in virtually any medium. The auricular motif first circulated after the 1530s in the engravings and etchings of Fontainebleau artists such as Antonio Fantuzzi, Jean Mignon, and René Boyvin, and later in the prints of Netherlandish artists, including Maarten van Heemskerck, Cornelis Bos, and Hans Vredeman de Vries.28 Model books featuring these forms achieved ubiquity after Dietterlin's Architectura demonstrated their potential for adorning architectural schemes, indicating that the motif was regarded as a specific type of ornament by around 1600. Still, early modern artists made no terminological distinction between instances of the auricular style and the grotesque (Gradesca, Gradisco), or even decoration (Zirat, Zierathen, Zieraten) more broadly.29 What is now described as auricular ornament manifested in countless ways, and thus did not always resemble human or even mammalian parts. It could emulate the features of fish or amphibians, acanthus or laurel leaves, or even inanimate forms such as leatherlike strapwork or meteorological phenomena.30 Clouds in the 1587 Marriage of Cupid and Psyche that Hendrick Goltzius engraved after a painting by Bartholomaeus Spranger inspired the nebulous metalwork of Janus Lutma.31 One title page of Christoph Jamnitzer's 1610 Neüw Grotteßken Bŭch shows grotesques executed in this style as specimens from a “bug market”; another calls the motif “strange fruit.”32 Because auricular ornament and alternative names in other languages inadequately describe the range of forms evoked, I use the term amorphous ornament here.33
With its protean appearance and origins outside building, the amorphous motif helped to undermine Renaissance conventions of architectural naturalism such as the Albertian skeleton/skin analogy. Cornelis Floris II was among the first artists to challenge Vitruvian-based structural principles with amorphous, flesh-like ornaments. A print designed by Floris and etched by Johannes van Doetecum the Elder and Lucas van Doetecum in 1556 pictures an amorphous cartouche with grooved tails embracing tapering figures bound below the waist—forms now known as “terms”—mounted on a cruciform frame (Figure 3).34 The frame grows from an arboreal base, pierces the cartouche with a tripartite stem that encases three monstrous bodies, and emerges from the fleshy mass to terminate in bands of rollwork hung with cornucopia-toting putti. The cartouche's voluptuous compartments and undulating flaps appear malleable next to these rigid rollwork coils, evoking animal flesh. At the foot of Floris's grotesque design, muscular terms, spiral-shelled snails, and a lizard announce themselves as the models for the cartouche's fibrous, supple, and scaly forms.
While nature inspired the individual ornaments of Floris's print, their particular configuration here defies the Vitruvian rhetoric of architectural naturalism undergirding Alberti's skeleton/skin–structure/superstructure analogy. To some extent, this rang true for all grotesques, and Vitruvius had famously condemned that genre for refusing to emulate nature. A diatribe against grotesques in Vitruvius's De architectura could well serve as an ekphrasis of Floris's precariously ornament-laden construction:
Reeds are set up in place of columns, as pediments, little scrolls, striped with curly leaves and volutes; candelabra hold up the figures of aediculae, and above the pediments of these, several tender shoots, sprouting in coils from roots, have little statues nestled in them for no reason, or shoots split in half, some holding little statues with human heads, some with the heads of beasts.35
The problem with such configurations, wrote Vitruvius, was that “these things do not exist, nor can they exist, nor have they ever existed.”36 It was not only the grotesque's unlikely combination of forms but also its structural absurdities that negated the decorous imitation of nature. “How,” demanded Vitruvius, “can a reed really sustain a roof, or a candelabrum the decorations of a pediment, or an acanthus shoot, so soft and slender, loft a tiny statue…?”37
But while Floris's print visualizes the very grotesques that Vitruvius rejected, the design still claims some form of naturalism. Instead of imitating creation's outer appearances, Floris emulates its hidden structures. His cartouche's arrangement of muscular chambers resembles a sliced-open heart. Its blubbery head and unfurling tails evoke the dissected trunk and tentacles of a squid or octopus. Perhaps Floris derived the cartouche from firsthand observation of marine life, a practice then employed by Netherlandish artists.38 Alternatively, he could have developed these forms from illustrated anatomical publications, providing a model for Dietterlin's own challenge to Vitruvian architectural naturalism and the related, Albertian conventions of structural order.
We cannot know if Dietterlin observed dissections prior to drafting the Architectura's anatomical ornaments. We do have an idea of the anatomy publications available to the artist before his Architectura appeared, despite the fact that no record of Dietterlin's possessions survives. Sometime in the period 1590–92, while he was decorating the great hall of the new Lusthaus in Stuttgart, Dietterlin befriended Württemberg architect Heinrich Schickhardt.39 Schickhardt's 1631 library inventory names each German installment of the Architectura, referring to its author as “Wendel Dieterlein [sic] of Strasbourg, my dear and good friend.”40 It also lists books—Lorenz Fries and Otto Brunfels's 1529 Spiegel der artzney, Ryff's 1561 Kurtz Handtbüchlin vnd experiment vieler Artzneyen…, the 1584 edition of Christoph Wirsung's Ein new Artzney Buch…, and Paracelsus's 1591 Chirurgische Bücher unnd Schrifften—that could have amplified Dietterlin's anatomical knowledge.41 But since these texts contain few, if any, images, the artist must have found models for his book's corporeal ornaments elsewhere.
During the first half of the sixteenth century, artists involved in Strasbourg's thriving trade in anatomical prints developed novel ways of structuring their works. Heinrich Vogtherr the Elder pioneered the genre of anatomical fugitive sheets—multipart, user-constructed anatomical prints showing the overlapping components of the body with superimposed flaps—in a sculptural woodcut of 1538; a nearly identical image by Jost de Negker of Augsburg appeared in the same year (Figure 4).42 The print's multiple layers of paper peel back successively to reveal the female figure's various organs: diaphragm, stomach, spleen, intestines. The kinetic system reconstructs how the parts of the abdomen relate to each other in space. By manipulating the printed construction, the viewer discovers, through sight and touch, the interior structures of the female anatomy.
Such paper “dissections” find parallels in a quartet of grotesque masks from the Architectura's first installment, published in German as the Erst Buch in 1593 (Figure 5).43 Framed by interwoven strapwork sprouting a panoply of vegetal and amorphous forms, the masks bring to mind the symmetrical network of intertwining ducts and organs in Vogtherr and de Negker's anatomical broadsides. With their indented and ribbed edges, the rollwork volutes flanking Dietterlin's putto mask evoke the scalloped, C-shaped forms of the intestines framing the other digestive organs and the womb. The ridged bulb and leafy crown above the child's head echo the swell of the stomach beneath the disk of the diaphragm; the long, bell-shaped curves of the putto's wingtips resemble the pair of tubes arching over the guts. The cleft, strapwork V anchoring Dietterlin's grotesque, meanwhile, corresponds to the split-tipped chevron of the vagina and fallopian tubes; its protruding blooms rhyme cleverly with the ovaries framing the uterus, which in its open state would reveal a fetus reminiscent of the child in Dietterlin's print. Even the pronged, rollwork Y crowning Dietterlin's putto mask ensemble mirrors the Y-shaped paper tubes that one must lift to view the printed uterus.
The intertwining, living forms of Dietterlin's amorphous grotesques lend a quality of flexibility also present in the reconfigurable 1538 anatomical flap prints. Dietterlin did not, however, imitate anatomical fugitive sheets merely because they offered compelling models for ornament. Reference to a kinetic paradigm of printmaking encouraged audiences to regard Dietterlin's designs as complex, malleable bodies. Transferring the ordered structures of anatomical illustrations to the genre of the grotesque, which otherwise exemplified synthetic disorder, Dietterlin, like Floris, challenged the Vitruvian critique of grotesques as implausible, unnatural constructions. His amorphous masks thereby lay foundations for the Architectura's attack on the Albertian structural aesthetic and ideals of architectural naturalism writ large.
Cadavers and Constructions
Early modern architectural literature often defied the Vitruvian injunction against grotesques, but Dietterlin's Architectura was no typical tract on building, and its structural critique no ordinary affront to tectonic convention. Scholars have interpreted Dietterlin's project as a painter's architecture book, a pattern book for architectural sculpture, a guide to building design, a compendium of emblems, and even an architectural novel.44 All are accurate, for Dietterlin, a façade painter who never practiced as an architect, devised his Architectura to appeal to many different types of readers.45 Published in three installments in 1593, 1594, and 1598, the treatise encompasses nearly two hundred etchings—designed and executed by Dietterlin—that innovatively portray the canonical orders as manners of ornament for all media.46 The final, 1598 version of the Architectura contains five sections dedicated, respectively, to the Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Composite modes, each with full-page etchings that display their forms through architectural and nonarchitectural works: fountains, epitaphs, façade designs, and even small objects such as a saltcellar. The Architectura differs from prior guides to the orders in identifying figural artists as its primary audience. The bilingual, Latin/French version of the Erst Buch, the Liber I., even names “neophytes in architecture” (Tironibus Architecturæ) as well as sculptors, stone carvers, and other craftsmen as its target readership.47 Dietterlin's innovative presentation of the orders as a system for devising buildings as well as objects and images projected a radical vision of architectural ornament as a link between architecture and media such as painting and sculpture. The Architectura's corporeal but often amorphous interpretations of anatomical form and their anti-Albertian structural rhetoric helped bring that vision to life.
The Erst Buch transposed the amorphous motif from ornament prints to architectural design, reimagining the form in decorative schemes that resemble configurations from contemporary anatomy publications. Flanked by apostrophe-shaped volutes, the lozenge-like shield with a cleft rollwork base at the foot of Dietterlin's Ionic caryatid recalls the interconnected ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and labia in Vogtherr and de Negker's prints of the female sex (Figure 6, see Figure 4). The escutcheon on the base to the right, with an arrow tip bracketed by drooping banderoles set below a tubular ring pierced with a thick stem and topped with two lobate forms, resembles a stylized version of the two networks of pointed phalli, hanging testicles, looping urinary tracts, bladders, and bulbous kidneys pictured in Vesalius's Fabrica (Figure 7).48
As his rib cage fireplace suggests, it is likely that Dietterlin studied this and other Vesalian figures from etchings that Rhineland artist Abel Stimmer devised after Fabrica woodcuts for Felix Platter's (1536–1614) 1581 Liber Tertius. Corporis humani partium per icones delineatarum explicatio (Figure 8).49 Dietterlin's corporeal ornaments display volumes and textures with a degree of descriptive richness that only the artist(s) involved in Vesalius's enterprise and followers such as Stimmer had theretofore captured in anatomical prints. Compositional similarities abound as well. For instance, the entrails and peeling strips of flesh from Stimmer's dissected torsos (see Figure 2), likewise copied from Fabrica illustrations, are echoed in the dissolving bowels and crenellated rollwork of Dietterlin's Corinthian term (Figure 9).50 Dietterlin's Vesalian ornaments accost Alberti's anatomical analogy on multiple fronts. Applied to the façade, the amorphous innards mock the Albertian distinction between architectural interior and exterior; miming exploded anatomies, they undermine the Albertian value of apparent structural integrity; stylizing corporeal forms almost beyond recognition, they deride Alberti's attachment to the faithful imitation of the body in architecture.
Dietterlin had ample reason to refer to the Fabrica (and related texts) in conceiving his corporeal ornaments, for its innovations to sixteenth-century anatomical illustration altered how print was used to convey information about structural systems. Vesalius published the Fabrica in 1543 and released an abridgment, the De humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome, around the same time.51 The Fabrica argued for a hands-on approach to the study of anatomy, eschewing the speculations of contemporary medical authorities for invasive procedures once relegated to the barber and replacing the abstract theories of current anatomical writings with observations and experiment.52 Its corpus of more than two hundred woodcuts far outstripped the visual apparatus of prior anatomical publications in quantity and naturalism, demonstrating new means for describing complex physiological systems.53 The Fabrica visualized a canonical human body of standard forms and structures—a concept present in Galen's writings but never before illustrated in such detail—and thereby defined anatomical norms.54 Vesalius's project lent credence to the printed image as a tool of anatomical education and validated the role of print as an instrument of scientific inquiry. It proved so influential that after a 1543 German translation of the Epitome dedicated to Duke Christoph of Württemberg (father of Dietterlin's Lusthaus patron, Duke Ludwig III) made Vesalius's lessons accessible to non-Latinate readers, Strasbourg anatomical publishing all but ceased.55 By the time the first installment of Dietterlin's Architectura appeared in 1593, the works of Vesalius and his imitators had accrued immense authority as models for representing corporeal forms.
Vesalius's Fabrica and related works such as Platter's Liber Tertius attracted designers like Dietterlin because such Vesalian texts shared many of the interests of sixteenth-century architectural culture. Sebastiano Serlio's so-called Quarto libro of 1537, which canonized the images of the five architectural orders, has, for example, often been linked to the Fabrica.56 These two works’ common objectives appear to have influenced the Fabrica in various ways. Both Serlio and Vesalius explored how disparate components of a system combine to form a complex, integrated whole.57 Vesalius's endeavor to canonize the forms of the human body resembles Serlio's initiative to describe standard forms for the orders. Just as Serlio systematized the orders by analyzing ancient ruins, Vesalius documented the parts of the body with reference to antique sculpture, publishing, for instance, images of the human trunk based on the Belvedere Torso—a conceit Stimmer also emulated in one print (see Figure 8, upper right).58 Parallels between the methodical study of antique architecture and Vesalius's scientific research are also manifest in ancient ruins depicted in several Fabrica woodcuts (Figure 10). These images liken the anatomist's revived cadaver to the remains of antiquity, dismembered by time and exposed—indeed, reanimated—by the investigations of sixteenth-century artists. Vesalius's use of schematic prints to enliven the anatomy discussed in his text echoes the Quarto libro's manipulation of diagrammatic woodcuts to clarify classical architecture.59 Serlio's handbook of standard architectural forms permitted viewers to spot transgressions of the classical canon of ornaments.60 Vesalius's canonical human body in turn allowed readers to consider anatomy in general terms, making physical aberrations easier to define.61
As a lavishly illustrated guide to the five orders conversant with Serlio's Quarto libro, the Architectura visualized standard forms, as in Dietterlin's schematic summary of the Ionic manner (see Figure 6). But far more than the Quarto libro, the Architectura cultivated a filial relationship with Vesalius's Fabrica through its shared interest in the Albertian skeleton/skin–structure/superstructure analogy. Vesalius had indeed availed himself of Alberti's metaphor to describe the constitution of the human throat, writing that the cartilages around the larynx resemble
the beams which form the framework of a country cottage before the thatch, the facings, and the mud are applied. In fact, when the human bones and cartilages are stripped of their flesh and then assembled together there is no better analogy to describe them than that of the framework of a hut which has been raised but not yet finished off with branches or earth.62
Vesalius, like Alberti, compared skeleton and skin to architectural structure and superstructure—but to distinguish between anatomical framework and flesh. The anatomist employed tactile language to describe the body's membranes, conjuring prickly, smooth, lush, and spongy surfaces. This descriptive style is echoed in Dietterlin's fascination with the haptic qualities of architecture's ornamental surfaces, features that the rich textures of the Architectura etchings evoke with astonishing skill.63
One anatomical ornament in the second, German installment of Dietterlin's Architectura, the 1594 Annder Buch, engages Albertian structural theories explored in Vesalius's description of the human throat through its own windpipe imagery.64 A depression between the gated portal and gable window in one plate features concentric rings that curl into a hanging ball, resting on a rusticated keystone—an ensemble resembling the membranous, ringed tube of the pharynx with the supple bulge of the uvula (or the soft form of the epiglottis) anchored by a diminishing larynx (Figure 11).65 Dietterlin could have observed the oral forms through the open mouth of a living subject and the epiglottis and larynx in anatomical illustrations such as one in Vesalius's Fabrica that similarly depicted a tube of ringed bands punctuated by a dipping protrusion and terminating in a tapering, rough-textured stem below (Figure 12).
By placing the oral form beneath the square window between a pair of eyelike oculi formed by the curling volutes flanking the gable atop the gate, Dietterlin also evokes the facial imagery that Alberti used to describe the naturalistic application of architectural openings. The ancients, Alberti wrote, “never made openings even in number; this they evidently learned from Nature: to animals she has given ears, eyes, and nostrils matching on either side, but in the center, single and obvious, she has set the mouth.”66 Exhibiting an Albertian interest in architectural rhetoric and affects, Dietterlin's throat motif visualizes the Renaissance notion of doorways as “mouthpieces” that communicate architecture's functions, social status, and other meanings.67 But while the design's oral imagery engages Albertian themes of architectural decorum and persuasion, it also subverts Albertian ideas about structure and scale.
In a crucial passage of De re aedificatoria, Alberti had contended that “every body [corpus] consists entirely of parts that are fixed and individual; if these are removed, enlarged, reduced, or transferred somewhere inappropriate, the very composition will be spoiled that gives the body its seemly appearance.”68 As with many anatomical designs in Dietterlin's Architectura, the throat portal defies Alberti's Vitruvian taste for appropriate proportions. By depicting an architectural windpipe many times larger than life-size, Dietterlin transgresses the convention that architecture should reflect the scale of the human body. The throat also subverts Albertian structural norms. In aligning the motif with a portal and a window, Dietterlin joins Alberti in comparing architectural openings with anatomical orifices. Yet unlike portals and windows, the throat-like depression in Dietterlin's design belongs neither to the construction's ornamental skin nor to its tectonic framework. Confusing interior and exterior through the very organ that the Fabrica used to explain the Albertian dualism of structure and superstructure, Dietterlin's throat challenges the Albertian structural analogy and derides Vesalius's dependence on that metaphor.
A further intersection between the Fabrica and the Architectura emerges in their common interest in the structural implications of departures from established conventions of form. Vesalius wrote, for instance, how the little finger could be fortified or supported by (paruus digitus sustinetur) the exceedingly rare occurrence of a tiny bone in the wrist, the so-called os Vesalianum carpi.69 But other divergences from the anatomical norm upset the corporeal scheme. The revised, 1555 edition of the Fabrica frames abnormal skull structures as knots in the anatomical warp and woof, asserting, despite Vesalius's fascination with the subject, that it might actually make sense “to explain only the well-knit human body, passing over in silence all things freakish and those which occur only in the unhealthy and diseased.”70 Dietterlin's designs in turn equate structural oddities in architecture with such anomalous anatomy. The bones of his rib cage fireplace transpose solid, structuring elements to the architectural surface, transforming the work's decorative membrane into a freakish exoskeleton (see Figure 1). The architectural disfigurement of the overwrought and tectonically impossible hearth echoes in the deformed, twisting bodies flanking its thorax shield, the strange proportions and postures of which also pervert the normative anatomy outlined in Vesalius's text. Dietterlin's ensemble, in other words, embodies the ugliness that Alberti warned would arise from disregard for proportion and careless ordering of architectural parts.
If we are to understand from Vitruvius's comments on grotesques and Alberti's skeleton/skin–structure/superstructure analogy that tectonic order is architecture's defining characteristic, the structural caprices of the Architectura's amorphous anatomical ornaments erode the very feature that distinguishes the medium from the other arts. Stripped of the rational structural relationships that Vitruvius, Alberti, and countless others regarded as the signal features of building, Dietterlin's amorphous architecture worked best in the realms of painting, sculpture, and other figural media that did not so depend on the laws of statics. The Renaissance architect was similar to a physician in that he was bound to maintaining a functioning structural corpus. In killing that ideal, Dietterlin turned architecture into a corpse and allowed his figural artist readers to become anatomists who could dissect and manipulate the medium in ways that the physician-architect, committed to preserving a healthy structural body, never could.
Reconceiving received models is, of course, a vital condition of artistic production. And it is no coincidence the Architectura's anatomical motifs often refer to artistic creation by abstracting the forms of reproductive organs, for Dietterlin's interest in anatomical illustrations as models for ornament dovetails with his theory of architectural invention. Sixteenth-century anatomical publications often presented their subjects as atomized components of a synthetic whole, a pictorial strategy that made it easier for Dietterlin to cull details from those works and reimagine them within a novel architectural context.71 Like many period tracts on architectural ornament, the Architectura also presents atomized decorative motifs as ingredients for fantastic new conglomerations of form, a strategy that has been described as characteristic of the bricolage aesthetic of sixteenth-century design.72 Dietterlin expects artist readers to dismember the Architectura's architectural schemes into individual phrases of ornament and to recombine the resulting motifs in novel confabulations. His designs, he contends, will allow “others [to create] more…than I, [and] realize more artful and better work.”73
Such reinventive operations served the collective architectural good. By the end of the sixteenth century, critics like Dietterlin regarded the corpus of Vitruvian architectural norms less as a beautiful body of rules than as a cadaver of design clichés. The Architectura's dissection-like method of ornamental invention and its novel articulation of the links between building and the other arts aimed to dismantle, reconstitute, and thereby resurrect the body of classical architecture. In a provocative prognostication at the conclusion of the Erst Buch's introduction, Dietterlin proclaims that “the new proceeds always out of the old. And from the new, the antiquated becomes worthless…and so what has become old and indeed base, shall no longer be held as high as what is new, and strange, and unique.”74 Introducing the interior forms of the human body to architectural design exemplified this sort of radical innovation.
The Architectura designs and the dissection-like inventive procedure they promoted appealed to painters and sculptors as much as to architects, a condition Dietterlin nurtured by exploring the interplay between architecture and other visual media. Beyond infusing architecture with the forms of the human figure, Dietterlin's amorphous anatomical ornaments drew architecture closer to the figural arts through the rhetoric of figuration—specifically, through performances of pictorial imitation, metaphor, and allegory.
The Architectura's anatomical designs engage the rhetoric of figuration on a formal level by confirming and defying expectations about the observation of nature in art. The Vitruvian dictum that architects, in imitating nature, must first study the natural world had long shaped architectural culture in Dietterlin's milieu. For example, to illustrate the acanthus plant said to have inspired the Corinthian capital, Ryff's 1548 Vitruvius Teutsch copied a woodcut of the species from Leonhart Fuchs's pioneering work of botanical illustration, the De historia stirpium of 1542 (Figure 13).75 Emphasizing the importance of basing built forms on natural ones, Ryff described the print as an “extremely accurate, lifelike counterfeit image of the true Acanthus, with its growth, and the structure of the wreathed teeth or basket [of the Corinthian capital].”76 The plant nevertheless looks nothing like an architectural ornament. Ryff and his readers understood that architects had to adapt natural forms for use in building. Even in its most literal form, such architectural naturalism involved imagination and compromise.
Of all the modes of nature study, observation of the human figure was perhaps considered the most crucial for western European architects in Dietterlin's era. Following the teachings of Vitruvius, Michelangelo had contended that “the members of architecture derive from the members of man. Who has not been or is not a good master of the human body, and most of all of anatomy, cannot understand anything of it.”77 This idea captivated Renaissance Strasbourg. Vogtherr, who in 1538 printed both an anatomical broadside and a book with numerous architectural grotesques, personified this ideal of dual expertise.78 So, too, did Ryff. The physician not only published anatomical prints and volumes on both medicine and architecture but also, through the Vitruvius Teutsch, introduced the Vitruvian model of the medically informed architect to German-speaking readers.79 Perhaps Vogtherr's and Ryff's architectural publications piqued Dietterlin's interest in anatomical illustrations. By infusing the Architectura with anatomical imagery, Dietterlin joined Vogtherr and Ryff in demonstrating the medical knowledge by then regarded as integral to architectural expertise.80
But while architects were expected to study and imitate nature, it was not seen as essential for them, as it was for painters and sculptors, to be able to depict the human body. Theoretical knowledge of the human corpus, not the capacity to render it in built form, was what made the Albertian structural aesthetic work. Thus, no architectural publication prior to Dietterlin's Architectura depicted internal anatomical structures with the degree of vividness that Ryff demanded. With their affinity to anatomical illustrations, corporeal schemes like the rib cage motif of the fireplace in the 1598 Architectura granted architecture a new relationship to figure study while framing the description of anthropomorphic form as a vital ingredient in architectural design (see Figure 1).
The Architectura's readers did not necessarily understand that Dietterlin's images derived from anatomy prints. For viewers unfamiliar with such publications, the Architectura's anatomical motifs may have seemed to be based on direct observation of the human interior. The rib cage form at the center of the mantel discussed above, for instance, displays irregularities, suggesting that it derived from study of a specific, dissected human trunk. Its lower prongs curl at uneven angles, its upper termini crease in distinct patterns. Even the edges of the object's interior ridges are nicked at irregular intervals. Opened wider than any intact rib cage, Dietterlin's gaping form appears to record an actual dissection, and thus adopts the visual rhetoric of the so-called nature study.81 Such depictions of physical imperfections and use of the exploded view were two common ways in which contemporary nature studies asserted their status as direct records of observed subjects.82 Developing alongside the cross section and other canonical forms of architectural representation, they advanced a visual culture in which images could make potent truth claims about structures that would otherwise remain obscure.83
The conceit that the Architectura's anatomical ornaments arose from dissections conducted or observed by Dietterlin established further links between the treatise's architectural designs and other artistic media. The image made from life formed a central trope of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century figural arts in northern Europe, a counterpoint to the kind of fantastic imagery that otherwise filled Dietterlin's Architectura.84 The woodcut that poses as a “lifelike counterfeit image of the true Acanthus” in Ryff's Vitruvius Teutsch exemplifies this type of picture. So do the many anatomical prints of the period that likewise claim the status of imago contrafacta—that is, an image made after life or as a faithful copy of another such image.85 The pretension of representation following direct observation of natural models had long been an element of decorative design, evident in the forms of marine life that Cornelis Floris incorporated into his grotesque print (see Figure 3). By engaging the rhetoric of the image derived from life (or, in this case, death) through the rich detail, irregularities, and exploded-view configurations of his anatomical ornaments, Dietterlin injected architecture with forms of representation once associated with the figural arts alone.
Dietterlin's drawing for the rib cage fireplace reveals, however, that even the most lifelike of the Architectura's designs sometimes arose from drafting methods quite different from those of life drawing or anatomical nature study (Figure 14).86 Traces of ink on the right side of the creased sheet mirror bolder contours on the left, indicating that Dietterlin devised the left half of the fireplace in pen and folded the sheet to create a reflection of his design. Another layer of lines and wash shows that the artist then distinctly elaborated each side. Sixteenth-century ornament designers often employed this modified counterproof technique to create symmetrical schemes with speed and precision.87 Yet since such mechanical drafting allowed scant control over the depiction of details and irregularities—two key aspects of nature studies—Dietterlin's use of the technique confirms that he valued efficiency over fidelity to anatomical sources. In the bodies flanking the mantel, we observe an almost cynical approach to figure drawing. With just a few strokes of the pen, Dietterlin transforms the outline of a woman with her back to the viewer into a forward-facing man. The rib cage, too, reveals itself as a mechanically drafted confection, modified to look less crassly schematic—and more like a naturally irregular body—through minor adjustments of line and wash.
Dietterlin's drawing for the rib cage fireplace registers a tension between description and abstraction in the artist's engagement with the human corpus. On the one hand, his anatomical motifs had to be convincing enough to resemble human parts and thereby challenge mores of architectural naturalism such as the Albertian analogy. Yet on the other hand, Dietterlin—unlike Vesalius and other anatomists invested in accurately depicting human form—was also in the business of creating ornaments that could be easily adapted by his artist public. While schemes such as the rib cage–like motif of the fireplace engage the visual rhetoric of the image drawn from life, they also offer a stylized interpretation of anatomical form more effectively reproduced than the painstakingly precise illustrations of Vesalian literature. It therefore seems fitting that those Architectura ornaments that recall reproductive organs appear more stylized than almost any other type of anatomical motif in the treatise, to the point that they become mere ciphers of their biological models (see Figures 5 and 6). By dissolving corporeal form into abstracted, amorphous ornament, Dietterlin made his etched architectural anatomies easier for artists to emulate and thereby created conditions for his bold critique of Alberti's analogy to more fully transform architectural design.
Along with nature study, allegory was another form of representation associated with the figural arts. Expanding on artists’ affinity for treating the human body as a vessel for allegory, Dietterlin used amorphous anatomical ornament to construct architectural metaphors. Some of these are relatively straightforward, such as the pedestal beneath the “matronly” Ionic caryatid with a stylized image of the female reproductive system, or the base of the “phallic” column next to her with an abstraction of the male organs (see Figure 6). Other anatomical allegories in the Architectura convey multiple meanings. The rib cage hearth alludes to the convention of the chest as the furnace of the body, as if to express the fireplace's architectural function in biological form (see Figure 1). Meanwhile, the bramble-clad figures flanking the mantel can be read as the postlapsarian Adam and Eve. The ribs, as the part of Adam that God used to create Eve, express the stereotypically feminine nature of the design's Ionic order. Showing the different ages of man and a phoenix rising from the ashes, the image also allegorizes growth, demise, and rebirth. Its open rib cage aptly elaborates this metaphor, for the skeletal form aligns with the imagery of memento mori, the charge to remember that death will befall us all.
Dietterlin also recognized amorphous ornament's potential for conveying religious themes of the kind typically associated with figural arts; this is most apparent in those Architectura prints portraying holy histories. The motif's likeness to flesh made it an apt symbol for the baser human instincts dramatized in biblical narratives.88 The amorphous viscera adorning the rib cage fireplace can refer, for instance, to the physical toil and carnal impulses that plagued Adam and Eve after the Fall, allegorizing, by extension, human and architectural procreation.89 Amorphous decoration also complemented gory devotional images of ailing saints and monstrous devils.90 A Pietà epitaph in the 1598 Architectura features interlocking tatters of ornament, reminiscent of flayed flesh, that rhyme with the intertwined bodies of the battered Christ and his sorrowful mother, as well as a crest of spiked bands recalling Christ's crown of thorns (Figure 15). The amorphous motif's seductive curves and points enhance the print's flirtation with the dark eroticism of holy suffering, an eroticism that also lurks in the morbid spectacle of early modern anatomical representation.91
But while amorphous decoration excelled at abstracting the more sordid trappings of the devotional image, the form's indeterminate constitution could also paradoxically evoke the counterpart of holy physicality, namely, the immaterial nature of the sacred. Viewed as a reference to the creation of woman, the motif in the rib cage fireplace brings to mind the mystery of Eve's emergence from Adam's rib. The curling ornaments framing the Pietà epitaph, meanwhile, resemble the wings of the putti anchoring the shell-domed niche, or perhaps plumes of smoke issuing from the votive candles often placed below such epitaphs. Dietterlin here aligns the otherworldly physicality of the soon-to-be-resurrected Christ and the angelic bodies with the mercurial materiality of the ornamented frame. The print does not portray specific corporeal features so much as flesh transformed into ethereal matter.
Since the Middle Ages, images of the Passion and suffering saints had inspired conversations about the unusual materiality of sacred bodies.92 The ineffable qualities of angels and other divine bodies had similarly preoccupied artists for centuries, attracting particularly intense interest around 1600.93 Architecture, however, had rarely participated in these dialogues, at least not in explicit anatomical terms. By introducing the symbolically pregnant forms of the human interior to the architectural treatise, Dietterlin augmented the figural rhetoric of architectural literature. In making architecture more figurative, his Architectura enhanced the medium's resemblance to the figural arts.
The Architectura's unstructured, amorphous forms remained at odds with the conventions of European architectural design until the later baroque period and the era of the rocaille. The amorphous motif seldom appeared in Netherlandish building and saw only limited use in Italy, in works such as Bernardo Buontalenti's 1576–77 decorations for the Uffizi and the casket Matteo Nigetti devised for Cosimo II de' Medici.94 With the exception of figures such as Daniel Rabel and Denis Boutemie, seventeenth-century French designers, enthusiastic for the restrained forms of classicism, rejected the amorphous motif in almost every medium.95 In fact, only in the German-speaking lands—one of the few regions of Europe where in 1600 a sober Palladianism did not dominate—was it incorporated in building on a large scale.96 There it appeared in secular projects like Schloss Johannis and the Burgher architecture of Bremen, as well as in designs for ephemeral architecture.97 Nevertheless, it was in ecclesiastical structures that Dietterlin's amorphous ornament exercised its greatest influence on building. If the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation exerted pressure on architecture, particularly religious building, to establish more nuanced relationships to its own materiality and structures, amorphous ornament's subtle forms lent themselves to that task.98
Despite the often-gory motif's appeal to a visceral Catholic aesthetic, amorphous ornament at first enjoyed greater popularity among Reformed patrons and their architects, who leveraged Dietterlin's subversive anatomical structures to advance Protestant ideologies.99 Amorphous ornaments cover the façade of the Bückeburg Stadtkirche built by Giovanni Maria Nosseni for the Reformed Count Ernst von Schaumburg between 1611 and 1615 (Figure 16). Massive, tapered pilasters derived from Dietterlin's 1593 Erst Buch adorn the church's west front, mounted by Dietterlinesque term pilasters and closed oculi derived from plate 196 of the 1598 Architectura (see Figure 9).100 Amorphous rollwork, likewise lifted from the Architectura, envelops the construction with increasing intensity, seeming to melt the edifice as it rises toward heaven. Among the first large-scale Protestant churches ever erected, the Bückeburg Stadtkirche in effect dissolved and reconstituted the architectural body of the church. Nosseni's Dietterlinesque, amorphous ornaments transformed solid building into permeable framework.
Emblazoned across the façade of the Bückeburg Stadtkirche is the inscription “EXEMPLUM RELIGIONIS NON STRUCTURÆ.” Together, the gilded initial letters of the words spell the name of the church's patron, Ernst, but more than the patron's vanity informs this phrase. Interpreted as “an example of religion, but not structure,” or “architecture,” the epigraph disparages the church's retrograde Gothic framework, which Ernst had sought to disguise by having Nosseni adorn it with fashionable amorphous forms.101 Read as “the example of religion, not architecture,” the inscription charges the ornament with a deeper meaning. Ernst's Protestant theology traded the corporeal trappings of the Catholic Church for an aesthetic of dematerialized devotion.102 The epigraph reinforces this antimaterial ethic, denouncing the church's brick-and-mortar presence as a manifestation of the divine in favor of the immaterial presence of faith. Ornament that dismantled and thus negated the religious significance of the building—ornament like Dietterlin's anatomical motifs—served this end well. The structural critique of the Architectura's amorphous ornaments thus complemented the theological imperatives of Protestant image critics.
Dietterlin's amorphous constructions also shaped northern architectural literature well into the seventeenth century, but more often in its printed designs for architectural compositions to be executed in other media than in models for full-scale, constructed buildings.103 Like Dietterlin, authors most often applied the motif to designs for painted and sculpted constructions that dismantled architectural form.104 Daniel Meyer II's pirated 1609 version of Dietterlin's Architectura, a tract Meyer pitched to painters, abounds with anthropomorphic supports that cleave into shapeless flourishes.105 Architect, sculptor, and carpenter Rutger Kasemann, meanwhile, conceived his amorphous ornament–filled treatises as model books for architectural design in a wide variety of media, particularly wood carving.106 One plate from Kasemann's Architectur, which he debuted as a series of individual prints in 1627 and first published collectively in 1630, shows an altarpiece and a banner with motifs that seemingly disintegrate onto the printed page (Figure 17).107 To the left stands a column of fronds, pea pods, snails, garlands, and cornucopias. Figures issue from the support as if bleeding onto the page, structure dissolving into frothy embellishment.
Nurtured by the wealth of model books that followed Dietterlin's Architectura, the amorphous style flourished for decades in virtually every figural medium. But despite its proliferation beyond building, the form retained a vestigial link to Dietterlin's architectural critique. Metalworkers in the Low Countries, for instance, regarded the amorphous style through the lens of the Architectura's inquiry into the anatomy of structure. In 1614, Adam van Vianen cast a grand ewer for the Amsterdam goldsmiths’ guild that remains an iconic example of the motif, with undulating surfaces recalling irregular shell formations or human organs (Figure 18).108 An acrobat bends over the top of the handle, contorted into an impossible pose. The vessel rests on an amorphous creature that seems to heave under the bulk above. In the wake of Dietterlin's Architectura, such decorative objects came to engage tectonic rhetoric once staged primarily in architecture.
Using the Architectura and works like Kasemann's Architectur as points of departure, stucco artists, metalworkers, and woodworkers in the German-speaking lands also incorporated amorphous interpretations of anatomical structures into countless architectonic objects, especially ecclesiastical furnishings and funerary monuments.109 Mediated by amorphous ornament, the paragone between the figural arts and architecture assumed a less antagonistic dimension in the novel fusions of structure and figure that proliferated across seventeenth-century Europe.110 We can observe this in Hans Juncker's 1609–14 altarpiece for the chapel in Aschaffenburg's Schloss Johannisburg, a precocious case of such intermedial constructions and an opening shot of the baroque style in the German-speaking lands (Figure 19).
Replete with painterly reliefs and figures that seem to fuse the structure's five disparate levels, Juncker's design combines an architectural framework of red and black marble with a sculptural program in white alabaster.111 The artist transgresses this scheme in key passages of amorphous decoration. Alabaster terms set on flourishes like those undergirding Dietterlin's Ionic caryatid define the edges of the structure's upper register, combining sculptural material with architectural form. Sculpture performs an architectural function in the alabaster putti, whose wings seem to support the red-marble corbels and pediment at the crown of the altar. The figures carry half-shell niches for the cross- and column-bearing angels on either side. Sculptural and architectural structures also meld within Juncker's composition vis-à-vis amorphous decorations. A red-marble frame sinuously crosses the entablature between the altar's upper and lower sections with the flourish of a lobate, grotesque mask and the curl of a ribbed, flesh-like corbel, fusing a relief showing the Resurrection of Christ to the altarpiece's built structure and the sculptural Crucifixion ensemble below (see Figure 19, detail). Juncker employs the malleable motif to confuse the forms, materials, structures, and functions of sculpture with those of architecture. It is impossible to tell where the work of the architect leaves off and that of the sculptor begins. By equivocating between different physical and medial states, the altarpiece performs on a material level the transformation from corporeal to incorporeal merely narrated in its images of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. In so doing, the altarpiece denies its own substance as architecture—or at least obscures the boundaries between architecture and the figural.112
Here we discern the legacy of Dietterlin's challenge to the Albertian skeleton/skin analogy. Through Dietterlin's amorphous anatomical ornaments, the figural arts that once merely adorned the architectural framework became themselves built structure, and architectural constructions, decomposing into ornament, adopted the functions of other artistic media. The Architectura's anatomical interpretation of the amorphous motif became an origin point for the baroque era's affinity for fusing architecture with the other arts—a source now largely forgotten. In dissecting the Albertian anatomical analogy, Dietterlin left architecture eviscerated, but also transfigured.