Ruins and the Expression of Romanticism

If we analyze the relationship between the perception of landscape and architecture in the history of European cultural forms, we encounter ruins which have lost their original formal meaning long ago, and also buildings that no longer accord with their original purpose and use. The aforementioned buildings have subsequently become follies, incorporated into the tradition of the ruins and other structures, buildings with no particular purpose, but built primarily for decoration and creating vistas within the prevailing changes initially of eighteenth century garden architecture and thereafter created Romantic environments. It appeared originally as a picturesque idea (first coined by William Gilpin, in 1782) that ruins are beautiful in themselves, and that they did not need a utilitarian meaning. This aesthetic was further inaugurated through paintings of ruins of Gothic churches and monasteries, notably by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) in Germany, and artists like William Turner (1775-1851) and Thomas Girtin (1775-1802) in England. It spread throughout the entirety of Europe, bringing a suggestion of ancient ruins to places where the Roman Empire had either never existed or left at most only residual traces. However, contrary to the spread of references to Ancient Rome, Orientalist architectural forms arrived so that in Parc de Belleville, Paris, we find a Hindu pagoda/temple or conversely a mosque in Potsdam. And, perhaps the most famous contemporary follies are located in the Parc de la Villette, in Paris. These were designed by the Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi (b. 1944), as a de-constructed mixture of sculptural geometric forms and structures, converting the idea of buildings without purpose into the question about the meaning of architecture itself. I have realized the artistic project Ruins and Expressions of Romanticism based on a history of actual ruins and follies. The project consists of eight drawings of different ruins. The drawings are made on canvases, 100 x 150 cm, using an acrylic technique and refer to the historical representations of ruins in European art, that is from the engravings of the Croatian-born artist Martin Rota Kolunić (1532-83) to the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, selected by the continuous key of dramatic landscapes, one that unites archetypal forms, such as a city surrounded by walls, hollow of an oak, plains, gentle hills and mountain peaks. The drawings were created as a form of a pictorial itinerary, developed from fieldwork in South Wales, in Velebit Mountains, Croatia, and from the slopes of the Himalayas. Dramatic ruins have been used as spectacular historical film scenery as in South Wales, while in the Velebit Mountains and foothills are ruins of Liburni and Templar fortresses. On the lower slopes of the Himalayas at 2,082 meters, in the town of McLeod Ganj, now a suburb of Dharamshala, there is a Gothic church from the time of the British colonial administration. Due to a rapid deterioration over time this church has in turn become a folly-like ruin. First realized because of the pleasant mountain climate this small town was a popular resort during the British administration in India. Th future ruin of McLeod Ganj therefore doubles the paradigm, since it was not built to be a folly or fiction, but is the remains of an actual church. First dictated by the decree of the British Empire, it has now lost its meaning and purpose with the Empire’s passing away, becoming therefore artificial and beautiful in itself. I have transformed my personal artistic handwriting or markmaking with such interdisciplinary approaches, developing them into a form of scientific research. The project was created as my dedication to a single fictional oriental ruin in Croatia, the ruin of Hindu pagoda, located in the the city of Zadar’s Queen Jelena Madijevka’s Gardens, near the Square of Five Wells. It was created in the nineteenth century under the influence of Romanticism, before being destroyed by the bombing of Zadar in Second World War. Inspired jointly by ‘pagodas’ and study of Tibetan thangka painting in Dharamsala, I have interpreted the mythical figures of Tibet’s sacred heritage in two drawings, and in this way I have closed the circle between my own Romantic childhood and its further realization through the expression of a researcher.

Artist statement, Josip Zanki