Not all books have been unpacked yet, but the Wilhelm Salber Library, which is being built in these weeks, already shows a number of interesting departments and groupings. We take this as an opportunity to open a new series on this website: "Reports from the private library Wilhelm Salbers". In loose intervals colleagues will take one or more books and introduce them briefly. In time, this will provide an overview of this unique and valuable collection, which represents the cultural universe of its former owner.

Unsteady edges
A contribution from Dr. Wolfram Domke

Strictly speaking, the visit to Wilhelm Salber's library began several weeks ago in Guatemala and Mexico on a tour of the ancient Mayan empire. Again and again there were impressive buildings to visit, which had been uncovered in the past 150 years from the overgrown jungle. While marvelling at the architecture of a long lost soul culture, the old book "Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe" by Heinrich Wölfflin suddenly came back to my mind after a long period of immersion. And this with the question repeatedly asked on site: "Why are ruins picturesque?" Strangely enough, I had remembered that Wölfflin had said something about this phenomenon. Later, when I looked at the book, my memory was confirmed:

The first edition of "Kunstgeschichtliche Grundbegriffe" from Wilhelm Salbers private library

For the same reasons there is a picturesque beauty of the ruin. The rigidity of the tectonic form is broken and as the wall crumbles, holes and cracks appear and plants grow, a life develops that spreads over the surface like a shower and shimmer. And now, when the edges become restless and the geometric lines and orders disappear, the building can form a bond with the freely moving forms of nature, with trees and hills, to form a painterly whole, as is denied to non-painting architecture.

The 'restless edges' of which Wölfflin speaks here are thus a phenomenon of refraction between the architectural cultural form and the transformative power of jungle nature. The painterly results from the development of a whole of effects, whose internal orders allow eventful life to shimmer through. And the painterly does not result from the fact that this transition is artificially halted at a certain point and preserved 'beautifully' for future times. The latter would be a concept of the painterly that is already close to kitsch. In contrast, Wölfflin's concept of the painterly tends to focus on vivid and restless metamorphoses.

This is what makes his book so interesting from a morphological point of view. For although the title suggests a rather dry textbook of art history, its content surprises us with an experiential description of what structurally constitutes the style epochs of the Renaissance and Baroque. An impact analysis at its finest, which with its five, non-judgmental polarities (linear-painting / depth of area / closed-open / unity of multiplicity / clarity-movement) has become a real standard - not only in art history, but also in art psychology. The book was on the examination list of the Salber Chair when the main diploma in this subject was chosen. But the fact that one could choose it at all says a lot about psychological morphology, which sees art as a kind of royal road to understanding the soul. In today's university calendars, you can probably hardly find the subject of Art Psychology any more. The prevailing doctrine does not like holes and cracks that might crumble its object walls and make its edges unsteady.

Back to the Mayans. From Frederick Catherwood, one of the founders of modern Maya research, there are famous, 'picturesque' drawings. They depict the buildings as he and his research colleague John Lloyd Stephens found them on their expeditions in the middle of the 19th century: half showing the decaying tectonic form, half the overgrown jungle. I wouldn't be surprised if a book with these drawings in the unpacked boxes of the Wilhelm Salber Library is waiting to be rediscovered.

Three works by Wölfflin in the library