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Review - Book - Antiquity: Origins, Classicism and the New Rome

By John McKean

Antiquity: Origins, Classicism and the New Rome.
By Christopher Tadgell. Phaidon, 2007. 840pp. £65

I must admit to an interest in the idea of an architectural history of everything. As I struggle with completely rewriting Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture, two other valiant attempts have already appeared this year.

First up was A Global History of Architecture, from Francis Ching, Mark Jarzombek and Vikramaditya Prakash, which brilliantly reworks Banister Fletcher’s formula. On to Ching’s well-known draughtsmanship are hung myriad short tales in a 700-page, non-Eurocentric, chronological gallery of key buildings. Imperial tombs of Qin China and Rome rub shoulders with the holy mountains of Sanchi in India and Teuchitlàn in Mexico, and original, clear texts inform these juxtapositions.

Now Christopher Tadgell presents his more ambitious scheme. He plans to divide the cake into five: the Ancients (this volume, up to Byzantium), Moderns (since the Enlightenment) and between them East, West and Islam. And academic publisher Routledge – whose fare is usually 250 pages with 50 grey images and a £75 price tag – has discovered design. With bright colour on all its many pages, the book is great value.

Of well over 1,000 images, only 19 are credited. Are the rest the author’s own, often very fine, shots – a reminder of Banister Fletcher’s claim that he visited every building he included? Here they add a real vitality, while the many snaps of models in museums are great.

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