George L. Hersey

George Hersey is Emeritus Professor of Art History at Yale University. He is the author of numerous books, including The Evolution of Allure: Sexual Selection from the Medici Venus to the Incredible Hulk (MIT Press, 1996) and The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture: Speculations on Ornament from Vitruvius to Venturi (MIT Press, 1988).

  • The Monumental Impulse

    The Monumental Impulse

    Architecture's Biological Roots

    George L. Hersey

    A highly original view of the relationship between architecture and the biological sciences.

    We humans owe an immense architectural debt to many other species. Indeed, the first hexagons humans saw may have been in honeycombs, the first skyscrapers termitaries (termite high-rises), and the first tents those of African weaver ants. In The Monumental Impulse, art historian George Hersey investigates many ties between the biological sciences and the building arts. Natural building materials such as wood and limestone, for example, originate in biological processes. Much architectural ornament borrows from botany and zoology. Hersey draws striking analogies between building types and animal species. He examines the relationship between physical structures and living organisms, from bridges to mosques, from molecules to mammals. Insects, mollusks, and birds are given separate chapters, and three final chapters focus on architectural form and biological reproduction. Hersey also discusses architecture in connection with the body's interior processes and shows how buildings may be said to reproduce, adapt, and evolve, like other inanimate or "nonbiotic" entities such as computer programs and robots. The book is both learned and entertaining, and is abundantly illustrated with fascinating visual comparisons.

    • Hardcover $15.75
    • Paperback $28.00
  • The Evolution of Allure

    The Evolution of Allure

    Sexual Selection from the Medici Venus to the Incredible Hulk

    George L. Hersey

    The beauty of the human body has found a daring beholder in art historian George Hersey, who for the first time brings modern Darwinian theories of sexual selection (mate competition, attractor manipulation, and the like) into the history of art. The Evolution of Allure shows how Western art has channeled mate choice, exploiting the cosmetics, clothes, muscles, organs, and ornaments that showcase the body. From the Medici Venus to Vitruvius, Leonardo, Durer, and the phone-sex goddesses of D-Cup Superstars, Hersey¹s lively, erotically charged text shows that the formulas set forth by the Greek sculptor Polykleitos have established a Western canon of human gestures and proportions and may have influenced human evolution. Victorian teachings wrapped this Polykleitan vision in Aryan racial theories and in aspects of early modern physical anthropology. Chapters on Francis Galton, Cesare Lombroso, Max Nordau, W. H. Sheldon and his infamous "posture pictures," and the Nazi theorist Paul Schultze-Naumburg deal with the biological decline that "degenerate" artists like Rembrandt, Rodin, and Whistler would supposedly help bring about. Hersey concludes with an excursus on the current hyperdevelopment, in both sexes, of breasts and muscles, as exemplified in the likes of body builders, Batman, and the Incredible Hulk.

    • Hardcover $45.00
    • Paperback $18.95
  • Possible Palladian Villas

    Possible Palladian Villas

    (Plus a Few Instructively Impossible Ones)

    Richard Freedman and George L. Hersey

    The villas of Andrea Palladio have been among the most influential buildings in history. Drawing on the architect's original published legacy of forty-odd designs, George Hersey and Richard Freedman reveal the rigorous geometric rules by which Palladio conceived these structures. Where most earlier attempts to analyze the villas are mere lists of numbers and ratios that ignore space distribution, the present rules produce actual designs. Using a computer, the authors test each rule in every possible application, establishing a degree of validity not possible in ad hoc analyses. Progressing from the architect's most obvious to his subtlest ideas, the computer ultimately creates villa plans and facades that are stylistically indistinguishable from those of Palladio himself. Possible Palladian Villas opens the way to similar analyses of other such "paradigmatic" designs, whether Chinese screens, Greek temples, baroque churches, or Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Houses. In fact a new approach to architectural history emerges: we can study designs that a given master might have produced but did not. Palladio's actual buildings, along with those of his generations of imitators, are set into the context not only of a new theory but of a new type of theory. Along with the Macintosh disk that runs the program, Possible Palladian Villas will fascinate the design community and students of architectural style, symmetry, and geometry. It will fill architectural historians with bracing dismay.

    • Hardcover $60.00
    • Paperback $20.00
  • The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture

    The Lost Meaning of Classical Architecture

    Speculations on Ornament from Vitruvius to Venturi

    George L. Hersey

    Why do architects still use the classical orders? Why use forms derived from ancient Greek temples when ancient Greek religion has been dead for centuries and when the way of life they expressed is extinct? And why decorate a contemporary courthouse with the bones, eggs, darts, claws, and garlands that an ancient Greek would recognize as the trappings of animal sacrifice? With these provocative questions George Hersey begins his recovery of the meaning of classical architecture. For the last four centuries, he shows, philology and formalism have drained architecture of its poetry. By analyzing this poetry—the tropes founded on the Greek terms for ornamental detail—he reconstructs a classical theory about the origin and meaning of the orders, one that links them to ancient sacrificial ritual and myth.

    In doing so, Hersey reinterprets key tales and taboos that were part of the cultural memory of the ancient Greeks. His touchstone is Vitruvius, author of the only surviving classical treatise on architecture, whose stories about Dorus, Ion, and the Corinthian maiden, and about the Caryaean women and Persian soldiers, describe the orders as records or remembrances of sacrifice.

    Hersey finds revivals of this consciousness in the Italian Renaissance and throws new light on the works of the architectural theorists Francesco di Giorgio and Ceasare Cesariano, and also on Raphael's Disputá, Michelangelo's tomb of Julius 11 and Medici Chapel, and Hugues Sambin's handbook on termini.

    • Hardcover $20.00
    • Paperback $29.95
  • Architecture, Poetry, and Number in the Royal Palace at Caserta

    Architecture, Poetry, and Number in the Royal Palace at Caserta

    George L. Hersey

    Although Vanvitelli was one of the most notable architects of his century, as Caserta was one of its major buildings, this study by a leading scholar of Baroque and Neapolitan architecture is the first book in English on the architect and his masterpiece.

    The great palace of Caserta, near Naples, probably the largest building erected in Europe in the eighteenth century, became an archetypal expression of absolute monarchy. It was begun in 1752 for Carlo di Borbone, King of the Two Sicilies, who worked closely with its chief architect, Luigi Vanvitelli. Although Vanvitelli was one of the most notable architects of his century, as Caserta was one of its major buildings, this study by a leading scholar of Baroque and Neapolitan architecture is the first book in English on the architect and his masterpiece. The book offers a new view of the palatial and megapalatial in architecture. Although the monarch for whom it was built never spent a night under its roof, Caserta was designed to provide the royal family and the court with a grand residence and more. It was also intended to house the offices of the government bureaucracy, barracks, a national library, a university, and a national theater - not only to symbolize but to contain the organs of a large modern state. Caserta influenced much that came after: plans by Boullée for a new Versailles to return pride of size to France, buildings in both Imperial and Soviet Russia, palaces of the later British Empire, even the Pentagon. As Hersey notes, "if Carlo di Borbone could return from the grave and rule the United States, he would move the seat of executive power from the White House to the Pentagon." The book also provides intriguing insights into the relationships between poetry - painted and sculptured allegories - and number - architectural planning that has become a geometrical game. It sketches the intellectual background of Carlo's conception, emphasizing the king's mythical forebears and his love of mathematical order. It shows that the Neapolitan poet and philosopher, Giambattista Vico, influenced the king to incorporate such mythic figures as Hercules and Aeneas into his genealogy and Vanvitelli to introduce their likenesses into Caserta's art, which is in turn integrated with the geometry of the palace's gardens and the numerical sequences of its rooms.

    • Hardcover $58.00