"The buildings of the Orientals are admired by all those who visit them: among us, only architectural professionals refuse to give their approval, for the reason that these buildings deviate too much from the proportions of Ancient architecture." Carrying the image closer to home, he pointed out that "we admire [Gothic churches], we find them beautiful, & [yet] we would be ashamed to imitate them. These sentiments are bizarre & incompatible." He concluded that aesthetic authority rested in the hands of the broad, general public of unprejudiced, uncorrupted, neutral spectators: "The Masters of the Art are not the best Judges; the parterre decides much more surely than they do."
For those who yearned for the supposedly stable consensus of the past, the growing variety of architectural discourse was a troubling sign. It smacked of uncertainty and disunity, and of the great distance separating the present age from the glories of Greece, Rome, or the age of Louis XIV
my purpose in reviewing them here is only to highlight the relation of their common concerns to the eruption of public debate on architecture.
Architecture had instead become a game for experts, while the public had become pervasively ignorant of the ways in which architecture carried meaning.
Presenting both a fresh theoretical orientation and a large body of new primary research, it offers a new cultural history of virtually all the major monuments of eighteenth-century Parisian architecture, with detailed analyses of the public debates that erupted around such Parisian monuments as the east façade of the Louvre, the Place Louis XV [the Place de la Concorde], and the church of Sainte-Geneviève [the Panthéon].
Wittman shows that the academy’s denigration of the Gothic and its will to codify precise rules presupposed a fictive public consensus, one staged in state-sponsored publications. Thanks to the academy, Wittman argues, a nascent readership began viewing and evaluating buildings in purely aesthetic terms. As it sought universal, transhistorical principles for architectural beauty, Wittman explains, the academy bound architectural meaning to the abstraction of printed words.
Not only does Wittman’s publication stress the imperative of a critical use of textual sources by architectural historians. Wittman demonstrates vividly how Paris became a veritable laboratory for architectural modernity at the…