CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


Spring fountains, plays of water and hydraulic technology: Appreciation in China and Europe

Session 4 Appreciation and Utility

Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max Planck Institute for Art History, Rome.


The paper studies 16th to 18th century European-kind spring fountains, plays of water and hydraulic technology and how they have been appreciated and valued in such different cultural environments like China, where they were imported by the Emperors, and in Europe itself. The paper investigates how the oscillating of the water features between artwork (water sculpture and architecture) and artifact (hydraulic technology) was addressed and how the dichotomy of hiding technology and creating a spectacle of it was tackled. What is similar and different in the appreciation in East and West? Supposedly serving hydraulic technology was a symbol for the power of the French King, the Chinese Emperor contemplated it in poems. How and why machines and piping played this highest possible social role? And what does this mean for the term ‘utility’? The paper will examine water features in Versailles and Herrenhausen (Hanover, begun 1676, fountain 1720) and the Western buildings and plays of water, built from 1747 onwards in Beijing (cooperation project between THID, Tsinghua University, Beijing and the author). Basis is the study of figurative representations and written sources (poems, descriptions). Through the example of the Western water features the paper tries to shed new light on appreciation mechanisms and on the term ‘utility’.



Hermann Schlimme PD Dr., Architectural Historian, Research Associate at the Bibliotheca Hertziana, Max Planck Institute for Art History, Rome. Since 2014 Guest Professor in History of Architecture at Vienna University of Technology.

Schlimme studied Architecture and Art History at the Technische Universität Braunschweig and the Universities of Edmonton and Florence. MSc Architecture (Dipl.-Ing.), Braunschweig 1994. Doctor (PhD) History of Architecture, Braunschweig 1998. Teaching Assistant. Society of Architectural Historians Annual Meeting Fellowship 2001. Since 2002 direction of the research program Epistemic History of Architecture at the Bibliotheca Hertziana (cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin). Edoardo Benvenuto Prize 2006. Member of the Scientific Committees of the “International Congresses on Construction History”, Cambridge 2006, Cottbus 2009, Paris 2012 and Chicago 2015. Cultural Advisor at the CIPA-ICOMOS-Workshop, September 2014 in Beijing. Co-editor of Construction History. International Journal of the Construction History Society (peer-reviewed). 2015 habilitation (right to lecture/venia docendi) for the field of expertise History of Architecture at Vienna University of Technology.

Schlimme’s research focuses on the history of architecture in Early Modern Italy, Epistemic History of Art and Architecture, Construction History and the 20th Century Architecture. Currently Hermann Schlimme conducts a research project on the Western Buildings in the Old Summer Palace Yuanmingyuan in Beijing (cooperation with Tsinghua University, Beijing).