Caryatid: Architecture and the Framing of Bodies

Date of Award

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Aureli, Pier Vittorio


What is the relationship between architecture and the human body? The earliest known text about architecture begins by paralyzing bodies in stone, inventing architectural history in the likeness of caryatids: columns shaped like the "slave women" of a conquered state. Of course, the Roman writer Vitruvius was wrong about this and many other things. Nevertheless, the bond between buildings and bodies endures. From Buddhist temples to Teotihuacan pyramids and Central African thrones, architecture and the framing of bodies is a topic of global interest that remains relatively unstudied and widely misunderstood. The following pages deeply re-situate the body in architectural history, raising questions about gender, race, sexuality, and architectural form. To do so, the term frame is considered beyond its literal connotations to describe apparatuses for the abstraction of bodies. Examples are studied thematically according to the two primary ways that abstracting frames work. Included are buildings that represent bodies as architectural figures, on the one hand, and buildings that present bodies as architectural subjects, on the other. The former includes chapters about caryatids and colossi; the latter includes scaffolds and stages. In common, all chapters interrogate buildings that have been conspicuously marginalized by architectural historians; deemed too idiosyncratic for the canon. Thus, one chapter is dedicated each to the Erechtheion maiden porch, the Statue of Liberty, Le Gibet de Montfaucon, and the Orgies Mysteries Theatre; all situated by a constellation of references that inform this novel approach. The method of study is critical figurative analysis. In short, this means that objects are chosen thematically rather than chronologically or territorially. Then, their histories are analyzed to assess the emergence of subjectivation, to foreground moments of resistance in the face of architectural power. The primary query of this dissertation is whether the framing of bodies challenges the modern notion of a diffused mass subjectivity—of amorphous populations—the common ground for both autonomy and ideology. Does architecture provide evidence for the persistence of the body when all others have rendered it dead? Only caryatids can say.

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