Missing 500-Years of Loggias, Porticos Described

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Using texts and images, a University of Arkansas researcher has for the first time reconstructed the time when the use of porticos -- roof-covered structures supported by columns -- gave way to loggias, or recessed porticos.

In an article in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, architecture professor Kim Sexton accounts for the time between the 7th and 12th centuries when there are no surviving porticos. In European history, loggias represented more than just interesting architectural features. They also served important cultural functions.

"It's important because we had porticos in Roman times, and then they come back in the Renaissance," she said. "It's unaccounted time -- what happened in between?"

Sexton argues that they returned to prominence because different ethnic groups used them "to display their judicial systems." As court proceedings were held outdoors, "they used different styles to frame that." At times there was German law and at other times, Roman law, and certain loggia announced each style.

"In this competitive kind of culture, they start to use the portico again," Sexton said. "From there it comes back into prominence in the Renaissance and late medieval Italy."

Loggias were "used to display activities that were kind of new, and maybe people felt unsure about their value. So that they wanted to display there was something good about the justice system." She compares it to television today, as a powerful medium that can influence behavior.

Loggias and porticos have long interested Sexton. "They seem at once so transparent in their function because they seem like simple shelters," she said. "But then, why did they come to be built with such magnificent architecture by some of the best architects of the Renaissance?"

Sexton discovered images in several medieval sources -- the center of a gem, illustrations of the book of Psalms, illuminations from law codes and encyclopedias. The article's most important image, which is in color on the journal's cover, shows the only known instance of a king in a loggia where a trial is actually in progress.

"If you see them empty, you're not getting what it's about," she said of loggias. "You have to see it when they're full of activity."

Sexton is associate professor of architecture, Fay Jones School of Architecture, University of Arkansas.

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