Because for Kant architecture was the least natural of all the arts, its unique role among them was to "exhibit concepts of things that are possible only through art, things whose form does not have nature as its determining basis, but instead has a chosen purpose, and of doing so in order to carry out that aim and yet also with aesthetic purposiveness."13 Working from the implications of this self-reflexive program for architecture, as well as the desire for a priori categories for aesthetic judgment comparable to those attributed by Kant to the faculties of understanding and reason, several figures associated with neo-Kantianism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries attempted to formulate new models for interpreting the knowledge contained by the arts, including architecture. While Kant had come to the conclusion that there were no a priori categories for beauty, that its judgment depended in the end on genius, Conrad Fiedler in the 1880s proposed that art was a mode of cognition, like language, and that it constituted, rather than imitated, reality. For Fiedler, "The relation between thinking and speaking is to be understood such that thinking, which presents itself in language, comes into being only in and with language, not only indissolubly tied to speech, but identical with it."14 And focusing on logical rather than linguistic forms, the prominent Berlin philosopher Alois Riehl popularized the view that "the universal forms of knowledge treated by transcendental philosophy are logical, not psychological forms. Logical forms, however, originate in thought-intercourse; they have an historical, not a purely biological origin."15
Following from neo-Kantians like Fiedler and Riehl, the art historians Heinrich Wölfflin and Aloïs Riegl sought to "discover" through empirical observation and comparative analysis, the underlying structures or forms of representation specific to historical periods. Wiiilfflin, for instance, discerned that the ways of seeing and representing during the Renaissance and neo-Classicism were "linear"--favoring closed, clear, pavillionated, and dead forms--in contrast to the "painterly" mode of the Baroque with its open, enlivened, unclear, and melded-together forms. Wölfflin's first version of this distinction in Renaissance and Baroque (1888) employed the analogy between buildings and bodies, familiar in classical theory, in a new way that was informed by psychology, especially the theories of empathy. Having posed the question, "What can be expressed by means of architecture at all ?" Wölfflin elaborated a response around the notion that architecture expresses the fundamental temper or mood of the age through the seemingly unmediated (or immediate) projection of inner feelings into objects. "We always project a corporeal state conforming to our own."16 On this assumption, Wölfflin was able to characterize the difference between Renaissance and Baroque architecture in highly evocative corporeal terms :
[T]he slender, well-articulated figures of the Renaissance have been replaced by massive bodies, large, awkward, with bulging muscles and swirling draperies (the herculean)....Flesh is less solid, softer and flabbier than the taut muscles of the Renaissance figure. Limbs are not loosened, not free or mobile, but awkward and imprisoned; the figures do not progress beyond a state of mute compactness.17
13. Ibid., Ak. 51, 191.
14. Conrad Fiedler, "Aphorismen, #106," in Schriften zur Kunst II (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1971), 75-77. [my translation]
15. Alois Reihl, Introduction to the Theory of Science and Metaphysics, Arthur Fairbanks, trans. (1887; London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1894), 78.
16. Heinrich Wölfflin, Renaissance and Baroque, Kathrin Simon, trans. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1961), 77.
17. Ibid., 80.