Semper, Gottfried

Semper, Gottfried

(gôt`frēt zĕm`pər), 1803–79, German architect. Semper was among the most influential architects of the 19th cent. In his book Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Künsten (2 vol., 1860–63), he argued for a functional approach to modern architecture based on the study of the industrial arts. He taught (1834–49) architecture at the Dresden Academy and became (1855) director of the architectural section of the Polytechnische Schule, Zürich. Like most of his 19th-century contemporaries, he designed in a variety of revivalist modes, mainly Renaissance-Baroque. His works include the Synagogue (1938) and the Hoftheater (1871) in Dresden; the Zürich Polytechnic School (begun 1859); and (with Karl von Hasenauer) the Burgtheater and the great museums in Vienna (1874–88).
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Semper, Gottfried


Born Nov. 29, 1803, in Hamburg; died May 15, 1879, in Rome. German architect and art theoretician.

Semper studied in Munich from 1825 to 1826 and in Paris from 1826 to 1828. He was a professor at the Academy of Arts in Dresden from 1834 to 1849. A participant in the Dresden Revolt of 1849, Semper was forced to flee to Paris. He later worked in London (1851), Zurich (1855), and Vienna (1871–76). Semper’s buildings are rationally organized and employ eclectic decorative motifs from Italian Renaissance and baroque art. His buildings in Dresden include the Opera House (1838–41 and 1871–78) and the Semper (picture) Gallery (1847–49). In collaboration with K. von Hasenauer, he designed two museum buildings (1872–81), the Burgtheater (1874–88), and the New Hofburg (1881–1913) in Vienna.

Semper’s theoretical views, influenced by positivism, are expressed in his articles, lectures, and the treatise Style in Technical and Tectonic Art, or Practical Aesthetics (vols. 1–2, 1860–63). Semper criticized the capitalistic division of labor and its consequences. He attributed the decadence of 19th-century architecture and artistic crafts to the separation of art from technology and of decoration from construction. Viewing style as an organic historical phenomenon, he strove to restore the stylistic wholeness of the practical arts. He related laws of form (manifested in symmetry, proportionality, and tectonics) to the materials and techniques employed in creating a work of art and to the work’s ultimate function. Semper’s theory combines the principles of verisimilitude and expedience with an understanding of art as the symbolic “clothing” of constructions and materials. His views influenced many concepts of architecture, artistic crafts, and design at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.


Prakticheskaia estetika. Moscow, 1970, (Translated from German.)


Quitzch, H. Die ästhetischen Anschauungen G. Sempers. Berlin, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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2 Semper, Gottfried Der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen Kunsten oder praktische Aesthetik.