The eleventh edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of
Architecture on the Comparative Method published in 1943,
which was my student copy bought second hand about five
years later, does not list Balthasar Neumann’s Vierzehnheiligen
or the Assam Brothers’ S. Johannes Nepomuk Church in
Munich, to take two exuberant examples of South German
Baroque. Ever since the first edition of 1896, these buildings
were clearly not considered sufficiently significant to be included.
The twentieth and centenary edition of 1996 describes both
churches and moreover devotes space to illustrations. The
earlier editions also made a clear distinction between two
curiously labelled divisions: the historical styles derived from
Egypt and the classical world of the Mediterranean and the non historical
styles which embraced any non-European architecture.
The latest edition makes no such distinction and takes a
much more global view. Such a change in approach owes as
much to politics and an awareness of where the market is to be
found as to art history.
All buildings have meanings that are deeply enmeshed
with their appearance. That can surely be taken as axiomatic.
But that appearance is itself read differently at different times
and to some extent depends on what we want to see, what our
eye expects to have presented.
In 1938 – 39 Sigfried Giedion delivered the Charles Eliot
Norton lectures at Harvard which were subsequently published
in his highly influential Space,Time and Architecture: the growth
of a new tradition. The third and enlarged edition of 1954 gives
considerable emphasis to the baroque both in architecture and
urban planning. Francesco Borromini, Guarino Guarini and
Balthasar Neumann are prominent. Vierzehnheiligen, for example,
is discussed in terms of the control of clear light on curved
surfaces, and in the relation of architecture, sculpture and
decoration. The main reason for its inclusion, as of the other
examples from the baroque, is, however, that there is a freedom
of planning and an exploitation of non-euclidean geometry.