Thursday, April 5, 2007

Genius Loci and Art History

Genius Loci

There is an opposition between space and place.

A space is a field of possibilities.
A place is the part of the space where the space has a different meaning.

We organize our world according special places we know from our memory.
We can find places with the same function on every level or scale:

Some examples

The secret place
The forbidden place
The chaotic place
The dangerous place
The safe place
Meeting point

In nature there are different places:

the well
the lake
the open place in the wood
the top of a mountain
the cave
sacred wood

In culture

The marketplace
Grave yard
railway station

modern places

the parking lot
border of the city

A special place has three elements:

The place itself
form, material, borders, colors,

The myth of a place,
the stories which are told about a place, because of what happened there or
what could happen there

The scenario
The design of what can happen in the future and the changes in the place to
make that possible.

Genius Loci:
Walking through the landscape of Greece, Turkey or Italy I can recognise the
special places, guarded by the different gods, ghosts or nymphs. It is the
world of the stories by Ovidius. Gods are everywhere.

Middle Ages
Inside/ outside
The closed church. Inside it is a holy place and safe, outside is evil
Inside the walls of te city it is safe
The closed garden, ³Hortus Conclusus², as a symbol of the soul.
³Paradise² means ³closed garden².
God is inside; outside there is the devil.

Renaissance/Baroque perspective:
Every point is part of a geometric construction. It means that every point is equal. There is only space, no places. The space is constructed geometrically and filled with architecture from
Antiquity: Doric, Jonic and Corinthian order. Man is everywhere. He is able to make a controlled space.

Eighteenth century
Beginning of the Romantic era
People do not believe in the geometric space anymore: Love for ruins. The English garden is a Romantic copy of nature, not geometric anymore. At last we see the empty void of a huge landscape with only one lonely traveller. The landscape is rough and dangerous. Man loves nature but looses control.

Nineteenth century
People try to fill the empty space of the new landscape as quickly as
possible with cities, buildings and things. Urbanism is developing. The age
of the metropole. Man tries to get control by making a completely artificial space: The modern

Twentieth century
Till 19th century every place or town had a different time. From 1908 in the Netherlands a legal time. (Same moment as the theory of relativity of Einstein) new concept of space: Space-time. The space seen while we are in movement. We do not see a building anymore, standing in front of it. We move along and get a vague impression. The city becomes a Cubist collage. Culture, artificial space becomes the new nature for mankind, the new wilderness.

Christian Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci, towards a phenomenology of
architecture, New York, 1980
Important book

Geoffrey and Susan Jellicoe, The landscape of man, London 1987
Much illustrations

Martin Warnke, Political Landscape, London 1994

Simon Schama, Landscape and memory, London 1995
Beautifull book, especially the first chapter about the wood.

David Seamon en Robert Mugerauer (ed.), Dwelling, Place and Environment, New
York, 1985
Herein there is: R. Murray Schafer, about the sound of a place. Murray
Schafer is the inventor of the concept of 'soundscape'.

More ideas you can get on the website of the HKU. (Academy of Utrecht)

The concept art geography as they use it in Utrecht and I explained in my lesson is more or less my invention. I worked at the HKU for ten years. But afterwards it turned out to be a concept which was used also in politics and art history of Germany before the second world war, and used in Nazi ideology, which we did not know. That was the reason people wanted to forget
it and did not want to use it. Norberg Schultz is important because he re-invented the concept genius loci after the war.
Not knowing anything about that history we started to use the term 'artgeography' in the eighties in Utrecht, influenced by my professor Van de Waal from Leiden. He declared art geography as a theoretical possibility, but never developed it.

The addres of the HKU site is:


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