This lecture is presented in conjunction with the Museum Society’s upcoming trip to Southern Italy with Professor Puay-peng Ho. All are welcome to attend.
It is natural to associate Italy with the grandeur of its stately architecture, exquisite paintings of great masters, or magnificent sculpture adorning churches and public spaces. We flock to the likes of Florence, Rome, Milan or Venice and enjoy immersing in works by great Renaissance artists, architects and sculptors. However, these great works are all found in Northern Italy. In the south, in contrast, art and architecture are more rudimentary; they are raw but nevertheless powerful. There are also many works that reflect the rich and varied history of the southern half of the peninsula in vernacular form and local adaptation. This lecture will weave through the art and architecture of Southern Italy and highlight their characteristics vis-à-vis those from the north and outside cultures in similar period.
Before the Romans extended power into the south, Apulia and Sicilia were colonized as part of Magna Graecia in the 8th century BCE. Greek art and architecture populated south Italy and the three Doric temples at Paestum dating to 6th to 5th century BCE testify to the majesty of the Greek culture. These buildings and other Greek remains must have inspired Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (c. 80-15 BCE) to compose De architectura upon which Renaissance architects formulated the rules for the elegant buildings serving the church, the powerful and the wealthy. The Romans extended their power to the south in 326 BCE and ruled till 476 CE. Through the excavations of the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum that were submerged after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, the richness of Roman residences in these commercial towns can be uniquely experienced.
Southern Italy existed as a loose alliance of city states since the breakup of the Roman Empire. Much of the art and architecture from this period – from the humble stone trulli of Alberobello to the sumptuous 17th century façade of Santa Croce in Lecce – illustrate the rich influence of various outside cultures on the local practices. In modern history, Southern Italy was only integrated with the north in 1861 by King Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy. Despite that, much of modern buildings in the south were adaptation of architectural design first seen in Germany, Austria and Northern Italy. With the overview of development of Southern Italian art and architecture over more than two millennia, the lecture will conclude by emphasizing the power of innovation in synthesizing various influences with vernacular traditions.
Professor Puay-peng Ho is currently the Head of the Department of Architecture at the National University of Singapore. Previously he was Professor of Architecture at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He received his First Class Honours degree in Architecture from the University of Edinburgh and a Ph.D. in Art History from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His thesis was focused on Buddhist art and architecture of the Tang dynasty. Dr. Ho is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Society of Architectural Historians. His research interests and publications are in the areas of Chinese art and architectural history, vernacular architecture, and architectural theory.