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The Great Styles Of Architecture

( Originally Published 1920 )



BY RUSSELL STURGIS.

MANY centuries before the Christian era there grew up in Egypt, on the banks of the great river Nile, a wonderful architecture. The buildings which remain to us are of sandstone in some cases, of limestone in other cases, with granite used in a few instances only. There are tombs, some excavated in hill-sides or even wholly underground, and others built upon the surface; and these, though without exterior effect, are beautiful within-richly carved on walls and ceilings and elaborately painted. There are also still greater tombs, the famous pyramids, of which traces of fifty or more exist still along the western bank of the Nile; and of these three are of great celebrity-the famous pyramids of Ghizeh. The pyramids, however, have seldom any architectural character more than that given to them by their vast size; they are imposing as a hill is imposing, and not as works of art. There are also very wonderful temples, and these are the most important things for us in all very ancient Cart, because they are often admirably preserved, with beautiful colonnades, and stately halls with their roofs still in place and their decorations hardly injured. The dates of all these are difficult to fix: but we know very nearly the dates of the most beautiful and the best preserved temples. Near the modern villages of Luxor and Karnak, on the eastern bank of the Nile, are groups of temples, and smaller separate shrines, and these were built from 2200 to 1500 B.C. Again, on the western bank, are the buildings called the Ramesseum, from its builder, Rameses II, and the temple near Medinet-Habou : and all these, on both shores, are included in the vast ruined city which we Call Thebes, following the Greek travellers of much later times. Much more recent temples are at Edfu and at Denderah, farther up the Nile: and of all the temples that of Edfu is in the most admirable preservation. Some of these buildings are of the time when the Grecian dynasty of the Ptolemies governed Egypt : others again were built under Roman emperors, when Egypt was a province of the Empire: but the marvellous thing is that the ancient Egyptian style remained, almost unaffected by foreign influence, while everywhere else in the Mediterranean lands the Roman style of building had complete control.

The Egyptian buildings are of astonishing beauty, and their extraordinary preservation makes them most worthy to engage our attention. This preservation they owe to their system of building, for upright piers, walls, and columns all carry horizontal lintels, beams, and flat ceilings made of stone slabs, and this method of construction assures the greatest possible stability. In fact, nothing can injure such buildings as these, except earthquakes and the violence of man when a temple is used as a quarry by later inhabitants of the soil, even its solid structure will not last long.

The same general system of building was used by the Greeks, those famous inhabitants of the little peninsula called the Peloponnesus or the Morea, and of about as much land north of it, reaching to the mountains of Thessaly. The Greeks were colonizers, which the Egyptians never were; and wherever a city was built by people of Grecian blood, temples arose worthy to compare with those of the mother country itself. In Sicily, both on the northern and on the southern shore, and again on the straits of Messina; in southern Italy on the western coast near Naples, and on the southern coast facing the Gulf of Taranto; in Asia Minor along that mountainous coast, facing westward, which was known formerly as the Ionian coast from the number of Greeks of that race that were settled there, in the islands of the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, those beautiful temples remain for us in very great numbers, and with enough of their early character to give us most striking and most interesting ruins, although so much of their original character is gone. They are nearly always less complete than the best preserved of the much older Egyptian temples. Their sculpture has been taken away and put in museums; their painting, which was once very elaborate and rich, has disappeared with time; their roofs, which were of wood, are completely gone, so that authorities differ as to the real nature of these roofs; and no one temple has preserved its interior arrangements intact. Their refinement and beauty of design are still visible; and are of especial importance because the Roman conquerors of the Mediterranean world shaped their own architecture very largely upon the models set by the Greeks; and because modern artists down to our own time have agreed in considering the Greek work as the type of all perfection. Of these buildings the most famous is the Parthenon, which stands on the lofty, isolated, rocky hill in Athens which we call the Acropolis. This temple is of the Doric style or of the Doric order, though that term applies more accurately to the system of the columns and the structure upon them than to the building itself-its shape or character. The majority of the famous temples which remain to us are Doric, also; generally less splendid and varied than the Parthenon must have been, but no less valuable in an architectural sense. The best preserved are in Athens (the Theseion) ; at the place called Pesto, a few miles south of Naples, where stood the Roman town of Ptestum; and at Selinunte in Sicily.

All along the Ionian coast the great temples were of the Ionic style, and these were still larger than the largest Doric temples (with one remarkable exception) and even more elaborate in their sculptured adornments and in their cost and splendor. They are all in ruins, generally from the effect of earthquakes; but they have been most carefully studied by modern archaeologists, and trustworthy plates of them as they are, and as they were in their perfection, drawn out and published. Still, however, the most beautiful ruins of an Ionic building that we have is that of the small double temple on the Athenian Acropolis, known as the Erechtheion. As to the Corinthian style, with its splendid capitals covered with leafage studied from the acanthus, a kind of thistle which grows freely in Greece, there were very few buildings of pure Grecian type built in that style, although it was surely invented by the Greeks. It was left for the Romans, those diligent pupils of the Greeks, to perfect that rich and splendid style of antiquity.

Grecian houses are but little known to us : and even the public buildings, other than temples, have disappeared for the most part. Therefore we are very ignorant as to some important matters. Did the Greeks use windows? Did they know what a fireplace was? a chimney? They were ingenious as well as intellectual; and if they had lived in a cold and rainy land those things would have been created; but life on the Mediterranean shore was less exacting.

In the course of the second century B.C. the Roman republic be-came all-powerful in Greece; and from that time on, until the empire declined in power and significance, five hundred years later, Grecian thought was the leading influence in philosophy, poetry, and art throughout the western world. The Roman State seemed to have taken upon itself the task of preserving and spreading the knowledge of Greek achievement in the intellectual field. In the world of politics the Greeks had little skill, while the Romans were at home in it; and in military matters, of course, the feeble states of Greece were of no importance; but in abstract thought and in thought applied to literature and art they were recognized as supreme.

In architecture, as in all the arts, the Greeks were considered supreme. Here, however, the Roman world had need of buildings of many kinds and many ways of building never asked for by the Greeks; and moreover the Etruscans, a people of northern Italy, had taught the Romans to build freely with the arch-a thing neither Egyptians nor Greeks had ever used except for underground drains and the like-never for monumental buildings. The buildings in Italy and in the provinces of the Empire came thus to have a twofold character; they were built freely, with arches for doorways, with masonry vaults for the roofs, even of very large halls, with buildings several stories in height, with great diversity of plan, having windows to light small and large rooms-all of these being foreign to the Grecian ideas of building. But these structures of novel form and purpose were decorated by the columnar architecture of the Greeks. This fact of the mingled character of Roman architectural design removes it from the list of complete and exemplary architecture. All very great architecture is simple, its construction and its design springing from the same source; and we cannot class Roman art with that of Egypt, of Greece, of the Gothic architects as described below. And yet the great skill shown by the Roman engineers and their ready dexterity as builders and, as employers of painters, sculptors, mosaic workers, caused that one style to spread over the whole Mediterranean world, From that time to the present the people of Europe and of European descent have been copying and recopying Roman models either consciously or unwittingly.

Important Roman buildings which have preserved their general form and character are found as far as the Syrian desert, as at Baalbek, where are two vast temples, with great courts and colonnades; as at Gerasa, as at Damascus, and even in the desert itself, as at Palmyra. They are rather numerous in Asia Minor, and especially on the coast of Western Asia; although the magnificent buildings of the later Greek princes, the successors of Alexander the Great, made it less important that the Roman governors should build. In Egypt alone are there no monuments of Roman style of any consequence. The overwhelming artistic strength of that Egyptian architecture preserved it almost intact, in spite of Roman political and social control. In Greece, however, the Roman engineers built freely, some-times rebuilding ancient structures of Greek foundation, sometimes carrying out the orders of public-spirited Roman princes. Instances of this are seen in Athens itself, where the great temple of the Olympian Zeus, begun six centuries before and never completed, was now built anew in a completely Romanized form in the second century; and again in the musical theatre (Odeion) which, though due to the liberality of an Asiatic monarch, is that of the Roman period and of Roman design.

The whole of the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, the whole of the Spanish peninsula, the whole of Gaul from the Pyrenees to the Baltic, southern Britain, western Germany, the whole Balkan peninsula where now are the Turkish empire and some minor states, and the southern districts of Hungary and Transylvania, are all dotted thickly with the remains of Roman buildings, many of which were almost perfect in times not very distant, while some of them remain recognizable and imposing at the present day. In Italy itself and particularly in the neighborhood of Rome, these remains are especially numerous, more perhaps because of the less rapid advance of modern Italy in the ways of industrial progress than from the comparative abundance of the buildings in antiquity. It has been the principal hindrance to our study of the architecture of the past that modern wealth and modern energy sweep away the buildings which remain to us, or if they spare them here and there, still alter them out of recognition.

In the fourth century A.D. the strong hold of the Grecian orders over the Roman designers was much shaken. In the time of Augustus (governed 31 B.C. to 14 A.D.), and of Hadrian (governed 117 to 138 A.D.), a stately doorway would be built by means of an arch springing from two pilasters, and an elaborate piece of columnar architecture-two or four great columns carrying an entablature-enclosing and adorning this doorway. There was always a tendency to break away from this "Roman Order" and to spring arches from the capitals of pilasters or the capitals of columns, completing the design in this way and abandoning altogether the larger columns and their en-tablature. In the time of Diocletian (governed 284 to 305 A.D.) this tendency is more strongly marked, and the building constantly cited as showing it in the most marked way is the great palace built by that prince on the shores of the Adriatic near the ancient town of Salona. The modern Spalato (or Spalatro) is built within and around the remains of that great structure. We may call this, if we please, the beginning of Romanesque architecture; for the word Romanesque means simply that which would be Roman if it could-imitation Roman-or at best nearly Roman. This is in no way a reflection upon that most attractive and beautiful style, or group of styles, which prevailed throughout Europe from the fifth to the twelfth century; but the name reflects very exactly the feeling of the people who created that style. The builder of a Roman basilica like that of St. Agnes outside the walls, or St. Clement in the city, or of a half-eastern basilica like either of the two churches of St. Apollinare at Ravenna, or the round church of St. Costanza at Rome, or that in the little town of Nocera in southern Italy, may be considered-every one of them-as attempts to build as the Romans of the great Empire had built. The very different conditions, the poverty of the little States into which Europe was divided, the small power and energy of nobles and princes, the loss of engineering and technical skill, all acted together to compel the introduction of a new style, while the builders were most earnest in their desire to retain the old. Even the thick walls which we moderns admire come of the feebleness of the builders, for they did not know how to make a thin wall strong, nor did they know what their successors in the thirteenth century found out for themselves, how to throw the weight of their stone roofs upon piers and pilasters, leaving the walls merely to serve as screens against the weather.

The great Byzantine style is really that form of Romanesque which arose in the East-within the limits of that Byzantine empire which carried on the traditions of the Roman world even until the fifteenth century. This style is so important in itself and has such strong characteristics that we seldom think of it when we say "Romanesque"-the name Byzantine is dignified enough. The great distinction between the styles, at least to one who is considering the plan and appearance of the buildings rather than their structure, is this-that the Romanesque church of western Europe was long and narrow, divided lengthwise by rows of columns, and having its roof of wood except where the bishop was strong and energetic enough to have it vaulted in stone; whereas the Byzantine building was roofed with domes and had therefore what we call a central plan-that is to say, it radiated from a great cupola in the middle and had often smaller cupolas covering the four arms of a cross. Where the roof was not a cupola it was almost of necessity a wagon vault tunnel vault or barrel vault, as it is often called; so that the whole church would be roofed with masonry, generally of brick and mortar. Then, the Byzantine churches were rich in color, the inner facing being of richly veined marble and mosaics of small cubes of glass or stone; while the western churches were much plainer, and had for their adornment generally paintings on the surface of plaster or wood. In the East and the West alike the exterior was, before the twelfth century, of little importance as compared with the inside effect. Bell towers, indeed, interested the church builders; and they used them for defense against roving plunderers or pirates landing on the coast. The tower itself protected the single entrance to the church. In the twelfth century the use of sculpture had gained such strength and freedom, especially in what is now France, but also in the British Isles, in Spain and in Rhenish Germany, that the western front of a great church was often a wonderful display of sacred subjects in carving of human and animal forms mingled with vegetation. This carving would seem grotesque if we should take one piece at a time and compare it with Greek, or with Roman, or with fine modern sculpture; but its effect as a part of the architecture is wonderful, and no modern design can approach it for a moment.

The Romanesque of western Europe would be of more consequence also in its own capacity, were it not for the extraordinary style which grew out of it as its natural culmination. This is the style which we call, by a universally accepted fiction, Gothic. The name was applied to it when the architects of the fifteenth century wished to return to what they thought would prove a Roman way of design, and the name was chosen as meaning barbarous (much as we speak of vandal-ism, from the Vandals, so the fifteenth century men spoke of Gothic, from the Goths-these two being the two most formidable enemies of classical civilization). But there is nothing barbarous about the style except in its diversity and picturesqueness, in which, indeed, it is strongly contrasted with the calm majesty of Grecian work. The origin of Gothic is this-that the vaulted roofs of churches were found easier to build by the simplest process of building, first, strong ribs of stone. Each of these ribs was an independent arch; or at least was half an arch, because in many cases a rib would spring from the capital of a column and rise to a ring or keystone in the middle of the space to be roofed; and four or five or six of these ribs might combine in such a way that no one could say where a single complete arch was found. These ribs, then, divided up the space to be covered into triangles, and any one of these triangles could be vaulted by any village mason. Few of these triangles were too large to allow of a wooden centring for the vault, such a centring as might be built by a village carpenter; while the master stone-cutter himself knew enough from the teaching of his apprenticeship and his earlier practice to show the carpenters how to build and the masons how to shape their stones. In this way vaults of the most extraordinary shapes were built with perfect ease. This discovery dates from the years 1165-1200, during which time it was elaborated chiefly in the art of northern central France not very far from Paris, though the people of Normandy also took a pleasure in the work. The results of it were certainly unexpected in their variety and in their beauty. The builders were led to build with a lightness never before attempted, for their skill as stone-cutters grew with every day's experience; and as their purpose was to include the greatest interior space possible, they naturally pushed their arches higher and their vaulted roofs higher still, one town vying with another, each bishop seeking to outdo the bishop of the neighboring diocese, until the vaults, 130 feet above the church floor in Amiens Cathedral and even more than that in a few other churches, were reached; and although the nave of such a church is less than one-third of its height, yet to the nave is to be added the width of aisles, one on each side and often more than one. These buildings have proved themselves perfectly durable, always provided that they are cared for; but they have this one weak point-that the vaults must be protected from the weather. A wooden roof covered with lead must needs conceal and cover the vault of every nave, choir, aisle, or chapel, under penalty of the rain destroying the cohesion and the strength of the stone vault. This is the one inferiority of the Gothic work to, for instance, the Roman building in which, in the best examples, the vault is perfectly homogeneous, its outside shedding the rain water or bearing the burden of snow, while the inside forms the rich ceiling within.

Gothic architecture reached its culmination of constructional and artistic merit toward the close of the thirteenth century; but for two hundred years more it followed a glorious development; though, as always happens in such a case, this development led away from severe good taste and in the direction of great richness and variety. The latest buildings which can still be called Gothic, like the famous town halls of Belgium (Ypres, Brussels, Louvain, Tournai, and Courtrai) ; the Palace of Justice at Rouen, Normandy; the church of Brou near Bourg in French Savoy; the chapel of King's College in Cambridge, England; and scores of other buildings worthy to be named with these, are buildings which may be classed together as Florid Gothic. This style had admirable features peculiar to itself. Thus in England the fan vaulting of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in France the flamboyant tracery in which the window-bars took the shapes suggestive of flames or clouds, the rich statuary which covered the Flemish and other northern buildings, and the magnificent lace-work of the tracery everywhere, as in the porch of Albi Cathedral in the south, and the flank of Beauvais in the far north of France, are open to the charge of excess in richness; but this does not prevent their being of wonderful interest. The most curious thing about all this is that at the very time that northern Europe was going wild in its joy over this excess of picturesqueness, in Italy the world was turning from its medieval course of thought and going back as near to the high Roman fashion as their minds and their conditions would allow.

The Italians had never really cared for Gothic architecture. That style is essentially the work of the northern masons, and the Italians, though for two hundred years they built with pointed arches and ribbed vaults, never used the style with hearty freedom. They were ready, as soon as the revival of learning had well begun, and there were scholars to teach them how to read Latin and Greek manuscripts and printers to print them, to turn to the study of that classical art which was everywhere in Italy; and then much more perfect than now. So it was that what the Italians call the Risorgimento, and the French the Renaissance, began about 1420 A.D. The first building recognizable as being of the classical revival is the chapel of the Pazzi attached to the church of Santa Croce (or Holy Cross) in Florence. This Italian Renaissance style flourished in a moment all over Italy, its most attractive early buildings being found even now in towns as far from one another as Venice in the far northeast and Palermo in Sicily. In its full early development it is as charming as any style can be, for the huge mass and weight of the Roman buildings are not -could not be-copied, and were replaced by lightness and grace of design. The lesson learned of the later Romanesque and the Gothic styles combines the charm of the north and of the south-the charm of combined mediaeval variety and classical purity of taste. Buildings of this character are the church of San Zaccharia, and the dwelling house of Ca'Dario in Venice; the famous front of the church in the Certosa (Carthusian monastery), near Pavia in Lombardy; and churches and palazzi (large private town houses, as of wealthy nobles) in the cities of Lombardy and Venetia, Tuscany, Umbria, and all the country to the southern points of the peninsula as well as in Sicily.

There were exceptions, however, for the FIorentine style was more grave and massive, and the Neapolitan style had a peculiar richness of sculptured legend, reminding us strongly of the Gothic sculpture of two centuries earlier. The style went on to a richer and statelier development, producing in the seventeenth century magnificent buildings of less charm perhaps, but of superior dignity; and contemporaneous with these was the building up in the north of a style. founded partly upon the Italian Renaissance and partly upon the independent study of the architectural styles by the northern architects themselves. Thus in France such palaces as those of Ecouen and Bussy, and the famous manor-house at Warengeville in Normandy, are of the years between 1525 and 1575, and therefore are contemporaneous with such stately Italian buildings as the library of St. Mark's in Venice and the famous palace designed by Paladio in Vicenza. These buildings belong to what is called in Italy the Classicismo, or the completed neo-classical epoch; and they are grave and sedate, somewhat cold in effect, and as nearly Roman as modern Italians could make them. The French buildings are comparatively picturesque in treatment. By the beginning of the eighteenth century or, even as early as 1675, this revived classical style had spread over the whole continent, and western Europe, from Edinburgh to Naples and Vienna, was building in nearly the same general style of architecture.

This was the latest of the great styles. A noble gravity inspired the better buildings of the eighteenth century, and although there was a great deal of what is called rococo and even what is called baroque in much of their decorative design, it is easy enough to find most interesting buildings even as late as the reign of Louis XV (reigned 1715-1774) in France, which were free from this fault. It is the latest great style; because since that time there has been no prevalent way of designing strong enough to control an epoch, or a nation, or a body of artists. The French Revolution (beginning 1789) scattered and disarranged the thoughts of Europe, and since the close of the Napoleonic wars (1815) there has been no prevalent style any-where. Any architect has been free to design in any one of the styles which we have passed in brief review, studying them from books, and nowadays from photographs, more commonly than from the buildings themselves. Even such outlying schools as those of Asia, great in themselves but foreign to European requirements and European habits of thought, have been dragged into service, and it has been a fancy at different times to build in what was thought to be the Chinese or the Indian manner-experiments which end in nothing but confusion. Our own time, with its immense expenditure upon costly commercial buildings, great State houses and legislative palaces, knows no way of designing these great edifices other than by the copying of the work of more fortunate epochs. We build a Gothic church, a Roman State capitol, and a Romanesque business building side by side, trying in each case to preserve some of the vanished spirit of the ancient work we are copying; while the great business buildings of the cities are carried up through twenty stories and to three hundred feet of height and cost millions in their completion, without having as yet developed any system of design which saves them from the commonplace.

WHEN we build let us think that we build for ever. Let it not be for the present delight nor for the present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone on stone, that a time is to come when these stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them, "See this our fathers did for us."-J. Ruskin.

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