Originating as a doctoral dissertation and first published in 1926, Ernst Kris’s The Rustic Style is a pioneering inquiry into the relationship between art and nature in early modern decorative arts and garden design. This precocious study—by a young Viennese museum curator who would subsequently make his name as a leading psychoanalyst—was an attempt to define the character of late-sixteenth-century naturalism. It put scientific observation at the service of elite artistic production, and the result was an ambivalent blend of lifelike plasticity, organic texturing, and material richness in which the use of advanced technologies, such as life casting, deliberately blurred the boundary between products of natural processes and human craft. This hybrid aesthetic, which Kris described as the “rustic style,” was championed by the two main protagonists of his essay, the goldsmith Wenzel Jamnitzer and the ceramist Bernard Palissy. It found a broader characteristic expression in the design of Renaissance grottos, where classical iconography and all’antica ornamentation often came to encode the environmental knowledge of the age.
This Ex Horto edition of The Rustic Style, accompanied by introductory essays by Robert Felfe and Anatole Tchikine, is made available in English for the first time in a masterly translation by Linda B. Parshall. A long overdue tribute to Kris’s pathbreaking scholarship, this lavishly illustrated book should appeal to anyone interested in the intersections of early modern art and natural history.