Style, Nation, Historiographies

No Need of Styles: Building up Architectural Historiography.

Author: Carmen Popescu, École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Bretagne


If styles, as an operative category, lost impetus, if not entirely vanished from the practical and intellectual methodology of art historiography, in the (parallel) field of architecture they were rejected earlier more firmly. One might consider that this more radical positioning (particularly in terms of epistemological tools) constituted the very reason of the undeclared but yet consumed divorce between the two disciplines. Attempting to define its specificity but also the autonomy of the discipline, architectural historiography appeared to follow a less virtuous (that is, less philosophical) path, closer to materiality and technicity. My lecture will analyze how architectural historiography built up its idiosyncrasy, shifting from morphology (the founding unit of all taxonomic classification, to start with the biological evolutionist diagrams) to typology and further on to more specific architectural categories, like function and appropriateness. In order to do so. I will explore several major historiographical writings (Quatremère, Seroux d'Agincourt, Semper Fletcher), which explicitly dealt with styles, while struggling some more than others to grasp a more adapted concept to address the essence of architecture. This is how space will come to occupy a central place in the architectural historiography, as an ultimate epistemological (but also practical) notion. But I will also look into the discourse of Universal Exhibitions, which displayed architectures mainly as identitarian resources, thus reinforcing their understanding in terms of style. If their contribution was crucial for a taxonomic thinking, contributing massively to the birth of national styles. This comparison will lead me to consider, eventually, modernist historiography (Giedeon, Pevsner), as the most consummate image of architectural idiosyncrasy.


Art and architectural historian, trained in Romania and France. Carmen Popescu has always had double (if not multiple) identities. Perhaps this is the reason she enjoys working on several parallel topics. However, she follows a leading thread which weaves her work be it about identity or historiography around matters of politics and ideology. In the past years, she started to work on transgression as a possible new paradigm. In November 2021, she will be the general chair of a themed BAHN conference, organized jointly with the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Bretagne (Rennes, France), whose title borrows directly from this theme: TRANSGRESSION A NEW PARADIGM? She wrote extensively on architectural historiography. Among her latest publications:

  • “Distance as Space. Casting Marginality Out”, in Proceedings of SAHASA. vol. 36 (2020).
  • “Critical Regionalism : A Not So Critical Theory”, in Sebastiaan Loosen, Yves Schoonjans. Rajesh Heynickx et Hilde Heynen (eds.), The Figure of Knowledge: Conditioning Architectural Theory. 196X-199X, Leuven: Leuven University Press (2020).
  • “Space versus lime: Flattening History. An Architectural History Perspective”, Architectural Histories, to be published by the end of 2021.

Carmen Popescu is Professor PhD Hab. of Architectural History at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Bretagne (Rennes, Prance)

The “Russian Style” in 19th-century Russia: concept, forms, perception

Author: Karina Pronitcheva, St. Petersburg Institute of History (RAS)


The National Revival, a social and cultural phenomenon that occurred in different European countries over 19th century, had taken, in the Russian Empire, the form of a heterogeneous movement called the “Russian style”. Born in the 1820s and inspired mainly by the architectural aesthetics of medieval Russia, the “Russian style” actively developed until the early 20th century, while its concept and its forms had been evolving over time. Various versions of the “Russian style” — the “Russian Byzantine style”, the “Pseudo-Russian style”, and the “Neo-Russian style” — caused vibrant debates on the national identity, its origins and visual expressions among Russian scholars, but also European intellectuals (Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, Russian Art, its Origins, its Constituent Elements, its Zenith, its Future, 1877). The recognition of the Russian School as a distinctive school of art by 19th-century Russian society accompanied and fueled discussions about the “Russian style” and its being national. The conference focuses on the concept of “Russian style” and its evolution in 19th-century Russia, from the official doctrine “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality” (1833) adopted under Emperor Nicholas I, to the artistic manifestations of the Abramtsevo Circle in the 1880s-1890s. The emphasis will be on the term of “Russian style”, on how it was perceived within 19th-century Russian society, as well as on the distinction between the “Russian style” strictly speaking and the “Russian theme” in Russian art of the time.


Having Master’s degrees in Art History (University of St. Petersburg, 2006), in Modern Literature (Paris 4-Sorbonne University, 2007), and in Museum Studies (School of the Louvre, 2010), Karina Pronitcheva completed her Ph. D. thesis in Museum Studies conjointly at the Paris 3-Sorbonne nouvelle University and at the School of the Louvre (2016). Her thesis, The French Perfume industry in museums: between public and private sectors, holds on exhibitions of commercial products in museums and examines the interactions between luxury brands, public authorities and museum institutions in France from the 1920s to the 2010s. After having worked as Collection Curator at Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia (2016-2018), she joined as a Researcher the St. Petersburg Institute of History (RAS), and studies by now Russian Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs between 1851 and 1900.


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