In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, northern Europeans witnessed remarkable experiential transformations in their secular architecture resulting from the proliferation of a once rare material: transparent, colourless window glass. This essay traces the aesthetic effects occasioned by the new relationship between early modern glazed spaces and their surrounding environments, introducing the concept of synthetic vernacularism to describe the dynamic geographical factors that shaped the local use of this industrial material in northern Europe. By allowing builders in frigid climates to simulate the open, light-suffused spaces found in classical architecture, glass facilitated the site-specific reinvention of a foreign style. It also fed the ever-growing thirst for interior illumination in bustling commercial cities, which in turn engendered culturally specific modes of visual perception and expression. Before the global triumph of architectural modernism, the localized application of glass constituted a regional ecology in the early modern built environment.
Taking the case of a late Renaissance treatise on Huguenot architecture, this essay explores the potentials of collage as an expression of confessional contestation in the wake of the French Wars of Religion. The book’s hybrid imagery bears a formal language of cutting, removal, and addition, which evokes the confessional violence that precipitated in this period at the scale of the built environment. Illustrated plates depict open-plan temples with their ceilings and floors cut away, as if to pictorially reenact the dismantling of rood screens and liturgical furnishings in Catholic churches during episodes of iconoclastic purification. The same pages feature Calvinist Psalms and pious sayings that were once chanted and sung by French Protestants, as well as inscribed and layered in abundance on the walls of their churches and homes. In this mixed verbal-visual form, the medium of early modern collage was operative in a plurality of sensory registers and at disparate physical scales.
Cartography’s ascendance in the early modern period as a universal form of visual communication profoundly destabilized earlier modes of literary and iconographic expression. Milton’s Paradise Lost, as this essay demonstrates, was a poetic response to this representational upheaval. More than offering an ekphrastic rendition of contemporary pictorial practices, Milton structurally “remapped” both scripture and classical epic to produce a literary work that accorded with new standards of representational authenticity. Close analysis of the poet’s long-neglected cartographic sources, alongside key passages of Paradise Lost, reveals such visual–textual exchanges at two perceptual scales. On the global scale of its narrative form, the poem exhibits a fantastically nonlinear temporal structure that mirrors the complex display of information on English bible maps. On a closer descriptive scale, Milton’s rich depictions of Edenic abundance draw from new standards of estate surveying to present Adam’s garden as the original prototype for rural property.