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Architecture - The Historic Styles

( Originally Published 1917 )


" Deal worthily with the History of Architecture and it is worthy to take its place with the History of Law and of Language."—FREEMAN.

THE History of Architecture is a record of continuous evolution, beginning with the simple and constantly repeated forms of Egypt, followed by the more highly developed temple-building of Greece ; passing through the complex types of Imperial Rome, with her multitudinous public needs, and also through the ages of Christendom, when Mediaevalists reared cathedrals and castles, until the men of the Renaissance reverted to the Classic types for the varied buildings of this great period in human development. The Tree of Architecture (p. iii) represents the evolution or growth due to the six influences—geographical, geological, climatic, religious, social, and historical—from the earliest times to the present day. Architecture, striding down the ages, was evolved, moulded, and adapted to meet the changing needs of nations in their religious, political, and domestic development. A glance along the perspective of past ages reveals architecture as a lithic history of social conditions, progress, and religion, and of events which are landmarks in the history of mankind ; for as architecture is in all periods intimately connected with national life, the genius of a nation is unmistakably stamped on its architectural monuments, whether they are Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Mediaeval, or Renaissance. Throughout the history of the human race, architecture, the mother of all arts, has supplied shrines for religion, homes for the living, and monuments for the dead. It is well described in Longfellow's verses :

"Ah, to build, to build!
That is the noblest art of all the arts.
Painting and Sculpture are but images,
Are merely shadows cast by outward things
On stone or canvas, having in themselves
No separate existence. Architecture,
Existing in itself, and not in seeming
A something it is not, surpasses them
As substance shadow."

The architecture of Egypt is characterised by massive walls and sturdy, close-spaced columns carrying stone lintels which, in their turn, support the flat roof. Farther back we have not yet penetrated, and the Sphinx at Gizeh stands as a sentinel between us and those hidden stages of evolution which preceded the dawn of the historical styles. The Pyramids, which are amongst the oldest monuments, were religious in origin and were the outcome of that insistent belief in a future life which was the governing idea of the religion of the Egyptians, who also believed. that the preservation of the body was essential to secure the immortality of the soul. The Pharaohs therefore reared, as royal fortresses for their mummified bodies, those stupendous mounds of masonry which, even in these days of engineering skill, remain a wonder to the world. Herodotus records that the dwelling-house was regarded as a temporary lodging, and the tomb as the permanent abode. Pyramids and mastabas reveal the Egyptian belief in a future state ; while temples, with their courts guarded by enclosing walls, are the outward and material expression of the domination of a powerful priesthood with its traditional and mysterious religious rites. Temples, approached along imposing avenues of sphinxes, alike in their mysterious plans, forbidding aspect, and mystic hieroglyphics, tell of the exclusiveness of the Egyptian religion ; for they were not places of worship for the people, but rather sanctuaries for kings and priests. These colossal monuments reveal not only the religious faith, but also the social and industrial conditions of the land of the Pharaohs in those far-off days ; for such massive buildings would have been impossible without a despotic government and the forced labour of a vast population of slaves and captives.

The architecture of Western Asia equally reflects national characteristics and indicates that the Assyrians and Persians were warriors and huntsmen, more concerned with material than with spiritual matters ; thus they erected lordly palaces decorated with pictures of hunting and fighting, in preference to stupendous temples and tombs for guarding spiritual mysteries. Here, again, the colossal nature of building under-takings points to the social conditions that prevailed; for the thousands of prisoners taken in battle raised those enormous platforms on which the palaces of Nineveh, Babylon, and Persepolis were placed, together with the temple observatories which rose in diminishing stages to the summit from which astrologer-priests consulted the starry vault of heaven. The development of brick construction in Babylonia, due to the absence of stone, had resulted in the evolution of the arch and vault in place of the simpler trabeated style, and the combined influence of Egypt and Assyria on the architecture of Greece is easily traceable.

The architecture of Greece reflects each stage of Greek history with remarkable accuracy. Buildings of the Minoan and Mycenaean periods indicate the sturdy and primitive character of the early inhabitants. The Hellenic period, however, ushered in the most refined architecture and sculpture the world has ever seen, and this was concurrent with similar developments in literature and political institutions. Greece has, indeed, been the source of the highest artistic inspiration, and her architecture has influenced all styles down to our own day. The religion of the Greeks naturally engendered a desire to erect stately temples, and the national exultation at the final defeat of the Persians at Marathon and Salamis found expression in the building of so many fine temples in the fifty years following the overthrow of their enemies. The world-famous buildings on the Acropolis were completed during the rule of Pericles (B.C. 444-429), a period which marked the climax of Athenian prosperity, art, and culture. Whereas Egyptian temples were royal monuments with high forbidding walls to hide the mysterious halls from the public gaze, Greek temples, on the other hand, were public monuments with only a small naos for the god, surrounded by open colonnades set out with all the beauty of column, entablature, and sculptured pediment in full view of the common people. Egyptian temples were a royal prerogative, Greek temples were the peoples' patrimony. Greek national games and festivals encouraged literature, music, and the .drama, and these were responsible for the erection of stadia, palaestra, and theatres. The record in architecture of historical events can also be traced beyond the confines of Greece and her colonies even to Northern India, where the influence of Hellenic art is manifest in the architecture, which in its turn influenced Saracenic art. The Greek type of architecture is generally considered to have been an evolution from the wooden hut of upright posts supporting beams and sloping rafters. The theory is that this primitive timber architecture was reproduced in stone, and remained simple in character until the qualities inherent in stone resulted in further developments. Some authorities are, however, of opinion that Greek architecture is developed entirely from an early stone type ; while others hold that it may have been evolved from a combined use of stone columns and timber beams. The subtle artistic sense of the Greeks led them to make full use of the clear, shining atmosphere and fine-grained marble of their native country to produce delicacy of outline, while their technical skill is seen in the perfect proportions and refined treatment which are the distinguishing characteristics of that marvellous architecture which has never since been equalled. The Greek love of beauty and variety gradually elaborated different types of column and entablature—Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian (p. 72)—known as the " Orders of Architecture." When in B.C. 146 Greece became a Roman province, her architecture, as a national style, died with her independence ; although, like her civilisation, it continued to influence Roman and all later art.

The architecture of Rome was largely influenced by indigenous Etruscan art, so that a complex type resulted from blending the Greek column with the Etruscan arch. Though the Romans initiated the use of column and entablature as decorative facings to piers with semicircular arches, they still used columns constructively, as in the magnificent colonnades of fora, palaces, and temples. Social and political development among the Romans is displayed in the variety and monumental nature of their buildings, for, in addition to stately temples adorned with fine sculpture, there were public buildings of complicated construction designed for many purposes. Imperial palaces on an immense scale tell of the magnificence and luxury of the Roman court ; while superbly decorated private houses, as at Pompeii, indicate the importance of the home under the patria potestas, which was the basis of Roman law. The Roman love of justice is also evident in the numerous basilicas or courts of law; while theatres-indicate a different idea of the drama from that of the Greeks. Amphitheatres were a new departure built for contests between men and wild beasts, and they bear witness to that coarseness yet strength of character which enabled the Romans to bring the whole of the then-known world under their domination ; while the great thermae " are evidences of the luxury which contributed to the decline and fall of the Empire. The great Roman roads and triumphal arches in various parts of Europe are permanent expressions of Roman power and dominion. Further, by the use of the newly invented concrete and by the employment of arch, vault, and dome, the Romans were largely independent of local building methods, and thus the architecture of Rome was reproduced in all parts of her Empire, and became the foundation of all European architecture. The decadence of Rome, faithfully portrayed in her later architecture, culminated in her final loss of world power ; thus was closed a great chapter both in civilisation and architecture.

A change was now gradually initiated by the introduction of Christianity, a new force in the world's history. The Christian faith was first spread throughout the Roman Empire by means of the military highways, and the Christian propaganda was carried from its birthplace in Judea, first to Rome and then out from this centre to the extremities of the civilised world. The establishment of Christianity as the State religion resulted in the construction in Rome of over thirty churches of the basilican type. These churches, while retaining pagan architectural features, were gradually modified to meet the requirements of the new religion. A new direction was given to architectural development by the transference of the capital from Rome to Byzantium, when a style was evolved known as Byzantine, which reached its culmination in S. Sophia, Constantinople, and became the official architecture of the Eastern or Greek Church. This style, like the orthodox faith it serves, has remained strangely unchanged even to the present day.

There was a pause in architectural development in Western Europe from the break-up of the Roman Empire till Charlemagne revived the arts in the eighth century, and thus cathedrals, churches, monasteries, and castles were erected, especially during the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries, by the new nations of Europe in a style which was an evolution from late Roman architecture, and is therefore called Romanesque.

The religious enthusiasm, manifested in the Crusades, gave an impetus to the marvellous architectural developments of the Mediaeval period, which were in their turn evolved from Romanesque architecture, and to which the name of Gothic has since been given. The wealth and power of the clergy and the Monastic Orders made the Church the one great avenue for advancement in the Middle Ages, and this, aided by popular religious fervour, was responsible for the outburst of church-building in the thirteenth century, when all classes of craftsmen worked continuously on these Gothic churches. A new method of construction was evolved in which small stones were held together in equilibrium, and the pointed arch is the outstanding feature of the style. The pointed " rib and panel " vaults, over lofty church naves, were now held in position by surrounding buttresses and flying buttresses, weighted by pinnacles ; these buttresses took the thrust of the roof, and the walls, no longer required to support it, could be replaced with huge windows of stained glass. The development of the style in England clearly shows the power of priests as exemplified in the plain and somewhat ascetic character of the Early English or thirteenth-century style ; the dominance of the nobles in the more florid treatment of the Decorated style, and the rise of merchants in the matter-of-fact yet ornamental nature of the Perpendicular or fifteenth-century style, characteristics which were surprisingly similar in all countries of Europe, as each of these classes became the dominant power. Gothic cathedrals hold a unique place in the national life of the countries of Europe as faithful exponents of Medieval civilisation ; for they served as schools, free libraries, museums, and picture-galleries, and in the absence of printed matter they formed the history books, sacred and profane, of the period. Sculpture and stained-glass windows not only presented incidents of Bible history from the Creation to the Redemption, but were also chronicles of the doings of kings and nobles, priests and people, knights and commoners. Periodical pilgrimages to the shrines of relics and saints, the veneration of the Virgin Mary, besides changes of ritual, influenced church plans by such additions as processional aisles and chapels. The magnificence of Mediaeval cathedrals was largely due to the concentration on them of the artistic energy of the period instead of ' its being spread, as nowadays, over a variety of buildings. On the secular side, the fortified and frowning castles of the nobles form an eloquent, though silent, testimony to the power of the feudal system, as also to the unsettled condition of Europe. By the commencement of the sixteenth century Gothic architecture, like the Mediaeval civilisation which it accompanied, had run its course and was overthrown by a succession of events which altered the face of Europe.

European architecture up to this period may be divided into three main types, differentiated by important constructive principles, viz.: (I) The 'Greek or trabeated style, consisting of column and beam. (2) The Roman or composite style combining column and semicircular arch. (3) The Gothic or arcuated style, in which the pointed arch prevailed.

There now came a break in the orderly evolution of architectural fowls ; but we can trace the influences which paved the way for the " Renaissance," that great revival of old Roman architecture, which naturally commenced in Italy. The new movement had its birth in the prosperous commercial city of Florence, where it was fostered by the Medici, and by the writings of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio ; while it was further strengthened by the newly discovered Greek and Latin authors, foremost among which were the writings of Vitruvius. Many important factors contributed to freedom of thought and action in an age ripe for change. The invention of printing aided the diffusion of knowledge ; the use of gunpowder helped to change methods of warfare ; the mariner's compass opened up the New World, and the immigration of Greeks into Europe after the fall of Constantinople in A.D. 1453 was also not without its influence. All this thought and activity affected artists, such as Della Robbia, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Alberti, Donatello, Bramante, Peruzzi, Sangallo, Raphael, Vignola, Michelangelo, Sansovino, Palladio, and a host of others. The character of the architecture of new churches and palaces faithfully reflects these changes in favour of Classic traditions by the use, in modified forms, of the Roman Orders of Architecture, circular domes and other Classic features, instead of pointed arches, intersecting vaults, and vertical features of the Gothic period. This movement spread from Italy through France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and England, though variously delayed by distance from the fountain-head.

In France the new style was grafted upon the native Gothic architecture, in a most delightful and picturesque fashion, in royal palaces, town halls, and country houses, rather than in ecclesiastical buildings, for the churches built in the Middle Ages long sufficed for the religious needs of the people. The influence of Italy upon France was the more pronounced because, on the return of Charles VIII and Francis I from their campaigns in Italy, artists and craftsmen followed in their train.

In Germany and the Netherlands the Reformation accompanied or even preceded a fresh building era, but the existence of independent states prevented any such national effort as in France; although ecclesiastical, commercial, and municipal buildings reflect the flourishing condition of some of the principal towns of this part of Europe.

In Spain, after the fall of Granada in A.D. 1492, and the expulsion of the Moors, the country was unified under Ferdinand and Isabella, and the new style took root, although the Moorish tradition adds special richness and intricacy in architectural decoration.

In England the Renaissance synchronised with the Reformation, and was brought about by many historical events, such as the meeting of Henry VIII with the French king on the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and the subsequent introduction into England of Italian and French architects. The suppression of monasteries (A.D. 1536–40) had brought about the distribution of vast revenues amongst the courtiers of Henry VIII, and had led to the erection of mansions, and also to the building of grammar schools and colleges. The Elizabethan period, when England had become Protestant, is marked by the influx, not only of Huguenot, but also of Flemish and German Protestant craftsmen, who influenced the design of numerous mansions. The Renaissance style, however, in accordance with traditional English methods, was only slowly adopted, and the new mansions retained many features of the castles and manor houses, such as the great hall, long gallery, and mullioned windows. They were designed on generous lines illustrating the scale of hospitality which obtained in the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth. The later Renaissance period came more definitely under Classical influence, owing to the study of Italian art by Inigo Jones, and to the work of Sir Christopher Wren in the latter half of the seventeenth century. After the Great Fire of London, numerous Renaissance churches were erected for the Protestant religion, which demanded a great central preaching space, rather than processional aisles. The Georgian or eighteenth-century period is chiefly remarkable for the number of public and domestic buildings, indicative of the changing social order in England.

In the nineteenth century traditional architecture received many shocks, and suffered many changes. This was an era of revivals of past styles, due to many and varied causes, but chiefly to the predilection of individual architects, and this led to what is known as " the Battle of the Styles." Nevertheless, architecture still continues to reflect the thought of the day, the needs and aspirations of the people, and is an index of the social forces at work, as shown in the erection of museums, elementary schools, public libraries, markets, hospitals, swimming baths, drill halls, colleges, picture and art galleries, and scientific and benevolent institutions. Architecture is now hardly likely to return to any one systematised style ; for from the tree of knowledge of past periods architects can cull their fancy of the moment. Moreover, the increasing variety of national developments—civic, commercial, industrial, and social—together with the use of such new building materials as ferro-concrete, will always make for modifications of any standard style to suit the requirements of changed conditions, and this inevitable adaptation of artistic style to practical purpose is nowhere more conspicuous than in the recent public buildings, business premises, and private houses of America.

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