Civilised models

February 28, 2003

Your review of Pevsner on Art and Architecture: The Radio Talks (Books, THES, February 21) reminded me of attending Nikolaus Pevsner's Slade lectures as a sixth-former in the mid-1960s.

The lectures consisted of endless slides of friezes and capitals. Only as a Gastarbeiter at the University of Leipzig did I understand their significance.

Pevsner studied at Leipzig and must have been influenced by cultural historian Karl Lamprecht, who argued that from the repeating motifs in architecture the cognitive stage of a civilisation could be inferred. This link has been missed by most architectural historians. Pevsner's slides included many medieval German churches. With a sigh, he would name the airforce that destroyed them.

One lecture, to my schoolboy delight, was devoted to the depiction of naked Adam and Eves and the first appearance of pubic hair in western art. I cannot remember what stage of civilisation this epiphanic Hefner moment was meant to indicate.

Sam Whimster
Max Weber Studies

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