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Architecture After The Renaissance

( Originally Published 1915 )



We have now examined the chief types of architecture. We need not, all at once, make up our minds which kind of architecture we like best. When we visit Egypt we may be greatly awed by the majestic size of her pyramids and temples. In Greece we must be made happy by the simple and perfect beauty of her temples. We may, for the time, " feel Greek," and know a quiet joy we had not felt before. As we look down the dim aisles of Milan Cathedral, or of Notre Dame, or gaze on the outward beauties of Reims, or Rouen, and other Gothic cathedrals, we may feel a sort of rapture or spiritual elevation, not like the inspiration of Greece or of Egypt. In Rome the Renaissance dome of St. Peter's, or the rich facades of the Florentine palaces may give us a glad surprise, while in Venice we may be entirely carried away by the oriental, almost barbaric, splendor of St. Mark's.

But, afterwards, as we go about our daily lives, remembering all these things, we shall probably find that one or the other of these great monuments has a greater hold upon our real selves than any of the rest. To one of them something in us will respond with an unfailing love and devotion. This will be an index to our character; and, if the response rings true, let us keep to our own choice. Let us emulate the freedom of the Renaissance and be ourselves. For, whichever is our choice, we have doubtless chosen well. They are all noble and beautiful forms, worthy of all the love we can give them ; and they are great precisely because they can inspire good thoughts in our minds, and fine feelings in our hearts.

Since the Renaissance there has been no new type. Indeed, as we saw, the Renaissance itself was a revival and making-over of classic style. So, instead of any distinctively new type of building, modern times have given us revivals Greek revivals, and Gothic revivals chiefly.

Professor Hamlin has said: " Architects are learning that the important element is no longer the style-label on the details, but the inherent excellence of the composition; of its distribution of voids and solids, of light and shade, its proportions, masses, and outlines ; and thus, freed from the bondage of a formula, they dress their compositions in whatever garment of details seems most appropriate." The Paris Opera House may be taken as an illustration of this.

Like the preceding styles, the Renaissance finally ran its course and degenerated into showiness, and over-ornamentation instead of strength, until people became tired of the vulgarity of the Rococo. By the middle of the eighteenth century (1750) it became evident that the vigor and power of the Renaissance was dead. The re-action was to go back to the simple Roman, copied in exact imitation of the old facades.

About 1850 came a Gothic revival in France, but it produced no famous buildings. Under Napoleon III the Louvre was completed with great skill and taste. The Pavilion of Richelieu, by Visconte Lefuel, and the remodeling of the Pavilion de Flore and de Marsan, are in this style.

One of the most famous buildings of the world,the New Opera House of Paris, by Garnier (1863-75), ranks as a great national monument.

The greatest of architecture after the Renaissance depends rather upon its adaptation to use and skilful planning, than upon the borrowing of the details of classic styles. Expression of character and refinement in detail also characterize the best of it.

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