Presentation / Talk

"Använd dina ögon". Ragnar Östberg's Italian travel. February 1897- March 1898

Ragnar Östberg’s "stipendieresian" (Eng. research travel,1896-1899) coincided with a transition from the traditional 18th-century aristocratic Grand Tour to a more contemporary style of bourgeois travel. One significant change is captured by E. Cornell's injunction quoted in the headline. (Eng. "use your eyes" in "Ragnar Östberg. Svensk Arkitekt, 1965). Virtually retracing Clason’s steps, he left Stockholm in the early months of 1896 and included some pioneering and unconventional itineraries which broadened his interest in other architectural ages: Renaissance buildings and their continuity with Latin and Greek works of architecture, mediaeval town-halls and churches. Architecture without architects figures foremost among Östberg’s travelogues and sketchbooks. He succeeded in overlapping often a personal taste to academic studies. As he travelled from South to North, at first glance he found the classical temples and theatres inaccessible with their timeless principles and values (L. Ortelli, 1999). In Latium, Umbria, Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, Venetia and Lombardy he paid particular attention to Medieval city-halls and noble palaces and their relation with urban dynamics. He noted down certain Renaissance features, especially how an entrance façade tended to divide into three, and how the entrance itself was designed. Östberg’s sketches convey his interest in sculpture: he would sketch details or entire mausoleums. Travelling through Latium and Umbria, he made evocative foreshortenings in which he inserted a human figure – the implication being that architecture is a human creation built for people. In Bologna, Ferrara, Faenza, Imola, Cesena he became fascinated with the brickwork, the skillfully crafted cornices and arches, as he previously studied on the L. Runge's handbook. His "resenskissen" (Eng. sketches) contain comparative analytical drawings (jämförelserna) featuring various cities, his attention caught by works of architecture as a whole and by the smallest detail. Coming from a country where nature plays an important role in the design process, Östberg explored not only Italian architecture, but its relation to nature. One notes how he cycled round some regions of Italy in order to have closer contact with architecture and nature. Östberg did not draw entire buildings in the manner of Prix d’ Émulation drawings using orthogonal projection, but carefully selected whatever features particularly struck him. His selection process seems to have been dictated by four reading approaches: typological, technical, material and aesthetic. Following this personal point of view, he would decide how to depict the detail, ground plan, façade and landscape. One also observes how many disparate sketching styles he employed, from outlined ink sketches to watercolours, from crayon to charcoal. He drew on separate sheets of paper, tracing-paper or sketchbooks. On his return to Stockholm he was able to synthesize this whole travel input into a personal idiom that embodied a Swedish character. Östberg’s aim was to refound Swedish architecture against the cosmopolitan background that had arisen in Sweden during the 19th century. He must stand as a key figure at that Swedish architectural turning-point.


  • There is no available fulltext. Please contact the lab or the authors.

Related material


EPFL authors