Cristóbal de Villalpando’s ‘View of the Plaza Mayor of Mexico City’, 1695

We see an artist attempting to represent the diverse ethnic makeup of the Spanish viceroyalty of New Spain. Introduction In Mexico City’s main plaza, a bustling scene unfolds before our eyes. Horse-drawn carriages carry the city’s elite. Most people are on foot, and some can be seen promenading in a line at the canvas’s bottom[…]

Buddhist Art of Salvation: The Medieval Dazu Rock Carvings at Mt. Baoding

The complex served as the major cult center dedicated to the enigmatic saintly figure Liu Benzun. Introduction The monumental sculptural complex at Mt. Baoding, Dazu, Sichuan province, China consists of nearly 10,000 painted and gilded images of Buddhist deities and narrative scenes carved out of sandstone. Mt. Baoding is the richest repository of sculpture of[…]

The Mỹ Sơn Hindu Temple Complex

The Mỹ Sơn sanctuary was built by the Chams, who once dominated what is today southern Vietnam (Champa). A Sacred Sanctuary of the Chams Before the formation of modern-day countries in Southeast Asia, there were ancient kingdoms with magnificent temples. One location stands out—the Mỹ Sơn sanctuary, home of the Hindu gods. Today this is[…]

Palmyra: The Fight to Preserve an Ancient Homeland in Syria

History and identity come together to tell the story of Palmyra. Introduction Born and raised in Palmyra, Syria, Waleed Khaled al-As’ad can trace his family’s lineage in the city back five generations. Now a refugee in France, he hopes to someday return to Palmyra, an important world heritage site that suffered widespread destruction by ISIS[…]

Keeping Warm in Ancient Rome

Hot drinks and early bedtimes were key to a comfortable winter. Images of Italy and the Mediterranean generally include bright sun shining on sparkling water and dusty groves of olive trees. In fact, according to Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, who wrote a 10-volume treatise on architecture in the first century, “Divine providence has so ordered it that[…]

The History of the United States Capitol Building since 1793

In 1791, President George Washington selected the area that is now the District of Columbia from land ceded by Maryland. Introduction The history of the United States Capitol Building begins in 1793. Since then, the U.S. Capitol has been built, burnt, rebuilt, extended and restored. The Capitol that we see today is the result of[…]

Struck by Los Angeles, a City of Creative Free-Form

An L.A. tour to remember architect Frank Israel. By Maristella Casciato and Johnny Tran “If all roads lead to Rome, as many roads now depart from Los Angeles,” Frank Israel wrote in his 1992 essay “Cities Within.” For Israel, Los Angeles was linked with Rome, “the eternal city.” He believed that urban forms inspired creative[…]

A Gateway to the West: The Construction of the St. Louis Arch, 1963-1965

The formal beginnings of establishing the Arch, its grounds, and museum actually date to 1935. Introduction It rises gracefully toward the sky, then elegantly curves back toward Earth as the combined waters of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers swiftly flow by at its base—a symbol of the accomplishments and dreams that drive the American experience.[…]

‘Avenger’: The Temple of Mars Ultor in Ancient Rome

The Temple defined the authority of the new ideology of the rising Augustan empire. The Temple of Mars Ultor was an octastyle sanctuary created with the Corinthian order in Ancient Rome. The construction has been completed in 2 BC but the project of Augustus stems from the victory obtained by the battle of Philippi in[…]

Herakles Victor and the Temple of Portunus in Ancient Rome

This small temple is a rare surviving example from the Roman Republic. It is both innovative and traditional. Introduction The Temple of Portunus is a well preserved late second or early first century B.C.E. rectangular temple in Rome, Italy. Its dedication to the God Portunus—a divinity associated with livestock, keys, and harbors—is fitting given the[…]

Byzantine Iconoclasm and the Triumph of Orthodoxy

Who were the players and what was this Controversy all about? Introduction The “Iconoclastic Controversy” over religious images was a defining moment in the history of the Eastern Roman “Byzantine” Empire. Centered in Byzantium’s capital of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) from the 700s–843, imperial and Church authorities debated whether religious images should be used in Christian[…]

A History of Renaissance Architecture

Renaissance architecture was an evolving movement that is, today, commonly divided into three phases: Early, High, and Mannerism. Introduction Renaissance architecture originated in Italy and superseded the medieval Gothic style over a period generally defined as 1400 to 1600 CE. Features of Renaissance buildings include the use of the classical orders and mathematically precise ratios of height and[…]

Aqueducts and Water Movement in Ancient Rome

Most Roman aqueducts proved reliable and durable. They still stand today as a testament to that. Introduction The Romans constructed aqueducts throughout their Republic and later Empire, to bring water from outside sources into cities and towns. Aqueduct water supplied public baths, latrines, fountains, and private households; it also supported mining operations, milling, farms, and[…]

An Introduction to Medieval Spanish Gothic Cathedrals

Like Gothic structures throughout the rest of Europe, Iberian cathedrals were stunning in the richness of their ornamentation. Introduction When Archbishop Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada decided to rebuild Toledo Cathedral in 1227, he knew that he was setting into motion something important. He was beginning construction on Spain’s first Gothic cathedral, and he made sure[…]

Gothic Cathedrals: Architecture and Divine Light

The Gothic style was popular throughout Europe from the 12th century through the 16th century. By Hillary SmithHistorian Introduction Gothic cathedrals are some of the most recognizable and magnificent architectural feats. With soaring towers and softly filtered light streaming through stained glass windows, everything about the Gothic cathedral is transportive and ethereal, lifting the gaze[…]

The Use of Wood in Early American Infrastructure

America was soon wealthy enough to start to replace its timber infrastructure with one of steel and concrete. At the end of the eighteenth century, the newly formed United States of America was a country of widely-scattered rural settlements. It’s therefore one of the miracles of history that just a century later it transformed itself[…]

Dominating Castles in the Medieval English Landscape

Castles are best seen as an architectural expression of the social status of their owners. Introduction The traditional view of a medieval English castle is that it was designed for warfare, suggesting that medieval lords were perpetually either at war or preparing for it. Until recently castles were mostly studied by military men or at[…]

Native American Pueblo Architecture and Its Relationship to Place

The Pueblo people are one of many Native American cultural groups living in the southwestern United States. Introduction Until relatively recently, houses at the Southern Tiwa Pueblo of Isleta in New Mexico were replastered every year using a mixture that contained mica from a culturally significant site in the southwestern United States. In the bright[…]

Krak des Chevaliers: A Medieval Hospitaller Crusades Fortress

At its peak, Krak des Chevaliers housed a garrison of around 2,000, allowing the Hospitallers to exact tribute from a wide area. Introduction Krak des Chevaliers, also called Crac des Chevaliers, Ḥiṣn al-Akrād, literally “Fortress of the Kurds”), and formerly Crac de l’Ospital, is a Crusader castle in Syria and one of the most important preserved medieval castles in the world. The[…]

Architecture in 18th-Century Germany

Germany’s superior woodworking and stuccowork traditions aided in refashioning the imported Baroque and Rococo styles. Introduction On a bright summer day, when sunlight pours through the windows of Vierzehnheiligen Church at just the right angle, the interior glows with dazzling warmth. Joyful painted and sculpted putti fly overhead, while sculpted foliage and leafy cartouches seem to organically grow over[…]

The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia in Ancient Roman Palestrina

The presence of wealthy Romans led to the expansion of the temple structure and its continuing decoration. Introduction The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Palestrina (ancient Praeneste) in Italy was built in the 2nd century BCE to honor the goddess Isis and the goddess Fortuna. The massive site spans a mountainside, built with Roman cement or[…]

Bronze Age Ambition and Luxury: Marquis Yi of the Zeng State

How early burial customs and practices could not only reflect someone’s ambition, but also elevate their status. Introduction Imagine stumbling upon an undisturbed tomb filled with 15,000 items—from hundreds of jade and golden objects and enormous bronze wine vessels to massive lacquered coffins and a vast assortment of musical instruments. In 1978 in Leigudun, Suizhou,[…]

Art and Architecture in the Ancient Parthian Empire

The Parthians brought with them cultural influences from their Scythian cousins. By Patrick Scott Smith, M.A.Historian Introduction Parthian art flourished within the Eurasian cultural corridor from the late hundreds BCE to the early 1st and 2nd centuries CE. With the Parthian Empire (247 BCE – 224 CE) stretching from India and China in the east to[…]

Alexander Jackson Davis and Architecture in Mid-19th Century America

Alexander J. Davis was America’s greatest architect of the mid-nineteenth century. America’s greatest architect of the mid-nineteenth century, a designer of picturesque buildings in myriad styles, Alexander J. Davis was born in New York City on July 24, 1803. The son of a relatively poor bookseller and publisher of religious tracts who moved around the[…]

A History of Baroque Roman Art and Architecture

It was a focus for tourists and artists and a watershed of inspiration throughout the Western world. Introduction In the seventeenth century, the city of Rome became the consummate statement of Catholic majesty and triumph expressed in all the arts. Baroque architects, artists, and urban planners so magnified and invigorated the classical and ecclesiastical traditions[…]

How the Needs of Monks and Empire Builders Helped Mold the Modern-Day Office

The needs of the times have always influenced office space – whether for the colonial empire or a growing commerce. Introduction The coronavirus pandemic has forced most people to create an office space of their own – whether by devoting a room in our homes for work, sitting socially distanced in common areas or just[…]

Medieval Monastic Cistercian Architecture

Most Cistercian abbeys and churches were built in remote valleys far from cities and populated areas. Introduction Cistercian architecture is a style of architecture associated with the churches, monasteries and abbeys of the Roman Catholic Cistercian Order. It was headed by Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), who believed that churches should avoid superfluous ornamentation[…]

Medieval Stave Churches of Norway

The churches incorporated local ancient traditions of woodcarving and stone architecture more common on the European continent. Introduction Stave churches are the most famous medieval buildings in Norway and are admired for their unique architecture and beautiful decorations. They are named after the staves or masts that hold up the main structure of the church. Only 28 stave churches are[…]

Architecture of Great Churches and Cathedrals since Late Antiquity

The earliest large churches date from Late Antiquity. Different styles of architecture developed and their fashion spread. Introduction The architecture of cathedrals and great churches is characterised by the buildings’ large scale and follows one of several branching traditions of form, function and style that derive ultimately from the Early Christian architectural traditions established in[…]