Sunday, 4 February 2007

Basilica and city: San Lorenzo Maggiore, Milan

The city of Milan's pre-eminence as a western capital throughout the fourth century has left significant early christian remains buried within the fabric of the modern industrial city. Most prominent amongst them is the basilca of San Lorenzo, to the south west of the centre. The basilica, unlike the rectangular hall from which the term derives, is a complex of polygonal structures gathered around a central domed space and is a product of the period when the city was dominated by the personality of Ambrose, bishop of Milan between 374 and 397. His involvement in the theological disputes of the period, and in the struggles regarding the relationship of the emperor and the church would dominate different aspects of urban life, but would have an enduring impact through the establishment of significant churches, such as that in which his body lies, Sant’ Ambrogio, and San Lorenzo. The precise origins of the latter church, either as a product of Ambrose’s party, or of the pro-imperial group to which he was opposed remains difficult to determine. Richard Krautheimer has speculated that it was the latter, with the subsiduary chapel of San Aquilino planned as an imperial mausoleum. Whatever the precise truth, the complex of adjacent churches, chapels and towers, with no significant religious relics, was approached via a great atrium with a portico of fluted corinthian columns which survive adjacent to the present-day tram lines. The presence of an arch in the centre of this colonnade has been considered a sign of its imperial origins, and the magnificent scale and geometrical complexity of what was built continued the design strategies of late imperial residences, but here devoted to the more popular and public use of the new religion.

Adjacent to the basilica the Diesel Wall uses a similar strategy to provide a display space for contemporary art. The artworks on the Diesel Wall employ their various means of surface treatment to provoke, in accordance with the preferred attitude of the youth market to which the products are aimed, but that provocation restricts itself to the display surface, above the reach of anyone who might want to interact. The surface of human occupation, directly in the form of the restaurant at its base, is unaffected, activity neither hindered nor enhanced, just placed in a form of hybrid artistic and commercial context.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails