OLD ENGLISH, 'ALTDEUTSCH'. SOME NINETEENTH CENTURY APPROPRIATIONS OF A 'HOMELY' PAST
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This article deals with the way in which two European countries tried to appropriate elements of their past into their contemporary design. The first point to be made is that this 'past' was not just there, waiting to be taken on board, but had to be discovered, that is, a certain 19th century frame of mind and certain a 19th century way of seeing were projected onto that past. Key was the word 'old', it entailed a sharp juxtaposition between modern, the present-day, and a state of the past which was deemed to have been very different, and yet in some ways appropriate to, or adaptable for contemporary life. Which periods of the past were chosen as the model 'old' period and why? For Germans and for English antiquarians the old was for a long time epitomized by the Gothic style. But by the 1830s to 1850s it had become clear that this was really an European style which had originated in France. So England and Germany settled, the first by 1830, the second by 1870 on the styles that occurred between medieval and full-blown classical, the stylistic span that ranged from Tudor to Jaboethan in England's case, and from early 16th century late Gothic to very early Baroque in Germany's case. Th key term for England was 'Elizabethan', for Germany it was the Deutsche Renaissance; and these were now equivalent to 'Old English' and 'altdeutsch'. A major issue was the social level at which these styles should be pitched: they were not useful for grand public buildings, neither for churches, but were applied chiefly to all kinds of domestic design. Old English and 'altdeutsch' were popular styles; their models were the houses and interiors of the landed gentry as well cottage dwellers, or the Buergers of the old towns. These styles were to some extent vernacular modes, in the degree of their sophistication they ranged below the level of the high styles. And yet, the most eminent avantgarde architects of the period, Richard Norman Shaw from London and Gabriel von Seidl from Munich took on this purposely 'primitive' mode of design. This article draws many parallels between the Old English revival and the 'altdeutsche' revival. What differed radically was their fate after thy ceased to be fashionable. In England it continued as the popoular/touristy 'ye Olde...'; in Germany it was roundly condemned by all Modernists and continues only in the 'traditional' design of the Munich Bierkeller and, to some extent, in the Bavarian/Alpine chalet.
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