What happens when the landmarks we use to orient ourselves within an urban landscape are unrecognizable, no longer there, or obscured by new construction? And what if it’s not the year 2014, but 1314 or 1414, long before cartographers considered turning their attention to the mapping of city streets? These are some of the questions that art historian Niall Atkinson explored on Saturday, November 1 in “Lost in the Renaissance,” the 2014 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Lecture on Architecture at the Chicago Humanities Festival. Atkinson is the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. He spoke of his fascination with these historical instances of disorientation to a standing-room-only crowd at the Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center. A gifted storyteller, Atkinson drew from examples of Late Medieval and Renaissance Italian literature to recount treacherous and hilarious tales of wayward travelers and earnest tradesmen, duped by mischievous pranksters and befuddled by unexpected architectural transformations. The rapt audience traveled, in space and time, with Atkinson to Venice, Florence, Naples and Rome, and through some choice writings of Brunelleschi and Petrarch. Atkinson’s current research is on early modern travel, guidebooks, and ads representing unfamiliar places and is the basis for his interest in what it means to get lost. For the last five years, the Driehaus Foundation has been pleased to support an annual lecture on the intersection of architecture, culture, and society at the Chicago Humanities Festival.
The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Lecture on Architecture at the Chicago Humanities Festival: Niall Atkinson