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Progress In Other Countries

( Originally Published 1910 )



OUR studies have led us up to this point along the central line of progress, from Byzantium to Athens, thence to Rome, northward into France, and so onward. Only one offshoot or back-water have we followed — that of the Byzantine into Russia—and the others must be disposed of now.

In travelling, either in Spain on the one hand or in Germany and the North countries on the other, one finds so much of interest and beauty in the old examples that it is difficult to realize these works are not within the main line of growth, and not vital or even participating in the development of architectural styles that have meaning for us today.

Spain developed individually and with some distinction in a style somewhat muddied by her Arab invaders. It was this Saracenic control which kept her out of the main current of progress, and while it created for itself on its own account, there are not those elements in it vital to ourselves or to our times. Saracenic, or Moorish, architecture and decoration is seen in this country often enough to be familiar to most of us, but it is always an exotic and never quite fit or at home. In later times America borrowed from Spain a style made familiar in the old Spanish missions of Texas and California, which is now being used extensively. Even this style is distinctly foreign, especially in the North, and in the consideration of the great European movement which we have been watching it has no essential part.

Spain itself, however, has architecture of more interest. After it had driven out the Moors, the pure-blooded Spaniards—who called themselves blue-blooded, to indicate their freedom from Moorish ancestry or black blood—began the development of their country's meteoric commercial career. The gold from its possessions in the New World began pouring in, and with its geographical position between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean in the line of the new trade routes, Spain became immensely rich and powerful. The Spanish army and navy were the strongest and the most feared in the world.

Here was certainly the basic element for architectural creation, and yet we do not find it. Instead, we discover a period of imitation and copying. Here we have no national concentration on the ideal. The time for creation had passed; the stimulus was lacking, and therefore even the adaptations lacked the beauty and force of the originals. This condition is partially due to Spain's slowness in joining the movement, already well developed in France and England, for real nationalization, and to the corrupt and selfish rulers of Church and State. These men may be said to have had their hands on the throat of Spain, and she could not shake them off, as France, England, and the German states were doing. The fanaticism of the Church under the power of its rulers drove the Jews from the country, and the loss of those keen traders, with their wonderful and far-reaching inter-national affiliations, an element corresponding to our banking institutions, seriously retarded development. Then the Inquisition and the Society of Jesus drove out the thinkers and creators, because they could not be made to conform to the dictates of the established Church. So we find Spain bereft of two vital elements—the trader and banker, who was also manufacturer and craftsman, and the creator, who was scientist or artist. There remain the peasant, and the noble and priest who lived on the peasant and produced nothing, nor suffered others to. So, in another way, we see our early formula or law again proved. Spain, in losing the control of trade, that subdues the wilderness, and science, that builds temples to the ideal, lost every hope of greatness. Her downfall was inevitable, and the lack of cohesion or continuity in the growth of style here shown is another most striking illustration of the value of architecture as an index to national conditions.

Spain's cathedrals were borrowed from France, and both the Romanesque and Gothic were drawn upon. The church at Salamanca was late Romanesque (1120 to 1178), with a dome at the intersection of nave and transept. It is, however, not to he compared with the French cathedrals.

Seville has the largest mediaeval cathedral in the world, built between 1401 and 1520. The architecture is Gothic, but liberties were taken with those forms which in France were the direct results of utilitarian requirement, and therefore true and lawful. For instance, classic moldings and details were borrowed and used with the Gothic forms, not with a clear and definite ideal, but arbitrarily and inconsistently. In the same way various localisms were introduced and grafted on the borrowed style without due reason. So with a corrupt ideal we have a corruption of its expression, for the bizarre Spanish, despite its bigness and impressive qualities, does not reach anything like high-water mark.

In the countries north and east of France we find the same failures of great achievement but from different causes. The great trade routes of this region (now comprising the German and Austrian empires and the Netherlands) were the Rhine, which flows northward from the Alps to the North Sea, and the Danube, flowing southward and eastward to the Black Sea. With these trade routes open, as in former times, the Eastern trade with the North and West belonged to these Eastern Franks, and there was every prospect of their supremacy. With Constantinople closed by the Turks, however, the trade tide swung to the westward, leaving the Eastern Europeans to fight back the Mongolian hordes, while the Western people, thus protected, went about the business of development. The Easterners, of course, joined with England and France in the Crusades, and they had their share of the constant internecine wars, fighting alternately with the Lombards, with their own German princelets, and with the pope and his bishops.

Then the German kings dreamed that splendid dream of a world empire by conquest, the same dream that had possessed Alexander, Caesar, and Charlemagne, partly fulfilled by each in turn, resulting each time in weakness and disintegration. While the kings of France and England remained at home attending to the small but effective business of overthrowing both feudal barons and the peasantry, the German king, as the successor of Charlemagne, was nursing a triple sovereignty over all his own vast and incorrigible domain—over Germany, Italy, and the Holy Roman empire. The great plan did not succeed. The triple-crowned king was defeated by the feudal lords at home, and Germany remained without any large or cohesive national spirit, until the impetus which France had got out of the union of religious revolt and of national pride had driven her well into the lead.

Some authorities have claimed that the Gothic inspiration of France came from this Eastern source. You remember that Charlemagne brought architects north from Ravenna in Italy to build the cathedral of Aix (796 to 814). This had an undoubted influence, but that it was fundamental in giving us the Gothic I decidedly question. The theory I have enunciated of architectural style development, following trade under the inspiration of political and religious conflict and progress, too plainly operates in the case of France to permit the acceptance of such tenuous hypotheses.

The architectural supremacy of France over Germany was hardly apparent during the Romanesque period. The churches of this style in Saxony and the other German countries are not greatly inferior or different from those in the south of France, except as local tradition and the available materials show their influence. The most not-able variations are the addition of apses to both the ends of the church, and also at the ends of the transepts, and in the form of the tower roofs. These have steep gables on each of the four sides, with a ridge starting from the apex of each gable and running to the apex of the tower at a steep angle. A crude spire, peculiar to these North countries, is the not altogether imposing result.

The Romanesque forms continued to dominate architecture in Germany until the thirteenth century, but even they did not show the progress that was going on in France. Then in 1273 the house of Hapsburg succeeded to the German crown under Rudolph, and Gothic was introduced from France. But again the impetus that had driven the French churches skyward in such a dazzling burst of creative ecstasy was lacking, and though notable copies were made, nothing was added to the rich discoveries of the Norman Frenchman. Cologne cathedral, begun among the first, is the best-known example of Gothic architecture in Germany. It is an. adaptation, almost a copy, of the great cathedral at Amiens.

During the Renaissance period the German people made their own investigation of the laws of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and developed their own translations. But the court and the language of France shows its influence, coloring more or less the architectural expression of the nations as far north as the barbarian Russian; until in modern times we find a nation, an empire, having passed through the fires of religious revolt and internecine war, creating for herself an ideal which was destined to dominate and to force scientific or art creation independent of the old laws and codes, and another distinct and dominating style in architecture.

We have seen a nation of Greeks, cohesive, of one blood and race - proud, followed by a mediaeval France with pride of race, of power, and of national idealism, creating for themselves and for us the only complete and distinctive expressions of idealism and science in the life story of the races. And now the German people, having served as a bulwark against the invasion of the barbarian, and having solved for herself her own national problem, has taken unto herself one religion and one nation.

Commercialism and trade is for the Fatherland. Science is creating for the idealism of the Fatherland; and another nation, cohesive, concentrated, and nation-proud, is climbing toward that apex which has been reached so rarely in the history of style

The East must in time succumb to the Teuton, and out of this Fatherland of style and symbolism, coupled with the independence and creative force of an intense idealism, will come, if it is not already on the way, a new and a distinctive method of expression. It would seem necessary, therefore, in considering broadly the question of the proper approach to the knowledge of architecture, that one should remember our axiom.

To know architecture is to know the fundamental human or national idealism.

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