( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The invention of architecture, as I have already observed, was probably in the first instance derived from the imitation by those who lived in the rudest ages of society in natural caverns, which were adopted as their primitive residence,—in the construction of their original artificial habitations, and which constituted the sustaining medium of the art itself. Groves were also resorted to for this purpose, in which the upright trunks and bending over of the branches would strikingly assimilate to the architecture of some of our cathedrals even at the present day. From imitation of the general interior effect of these groves, it is probable that early temples were formed ; and as in the case of individuals, the character imbibed in youth continued to develope itself in more advanced life, so that the resemblance is perhaps more complete in many instances now than it was then.
According to Hesiod, indeed, temples were first constituted of the hollow trunks of large trees, in which rude images, supposed to represent, or rather typify, the Deity of the temple were placed, and to which custom, it is said, may be traced the origin of placing statues in niches.
Architectural forms in their original construction, invention, and development appear to me to be influenced and determined mainly by the seven following causes :—the quality of the materials employed in the work, the nature of the tools made use of, the nature and character of the country where the building is erected, the character of the climate, the habits and mode of life of the people who are to inhabit the edifice, the intellectual character and taste of the people who build it, the architectural styles already adopted in different structures around.
Several orders of architecture are said to have been invented from the circumstances already mentioned. And not only were the general forms of caverns and groves copied in early buildings, but there is probably hardly a form or any part of a regular architectural edifice, which was not originally suggested by or derived from some type in nature. Vitruvius, indeed, supposed that the Greeks invented the various orders of architecture to typify the different sexes and ages of mankind; that the Ionic volute was in imitation of female curls, and that the bases of pillars represented the modes of shoeing peculiar to those times.
In the case of a column the general form was copied from that of the trunk of a tree, the fluted surface was suggested by the indentations of the bark, the smooth surface by trunks stripped of the bark. On some of the Egyptian columns may be seen represented the whole plant of the lotus, palm, or papyrus, whose calyx flower or tuft of leaves, bound together at the pinnacle, form the capital. Nearly all the flowers and leaves peculiar to Egypt will be found to be copied here, frequently exhibiting the most delicate and minute parts of the plant, such as the petals, capsules, pistils, and seeds ; and not only the shape but the colour of these leaves and flowers has occasionally been portrayed. The base of the Grecian column is but an imitation of the stone into which the trunk was fixed, and the capitals and cornices are copies of the form early resorted to in fixing the trunks.* The Corinthian column, crowned with a wreath of leaves, is said to have originated in the trunk of a tree placed for a pillar at the head of the grave of a Grecian virgin, at the foot of which an acanthus was planted, and sprang up and entwined itself in the mode represented. In a corresponding manner also, in Egyptian architecture, the lotus constituted the type of another form or feature in the art. The zigzag mouldings in one order of architecture are supposed to have had their original model in the form produced by the stringing together of the teeth of fishes. The tent may also have sup-plied the type for the shape of several early buildings, and parts of buildings of different kinds ; thus the pyramid was probably taken from it, as also the circular temple.
Belzoni, however, conjectures that the shape of the rocks in the plains near the pyramids, which resemble so many pyramids of various sizes, and some of which appear to be about two hundred feet high, first suggested to the Egyptians the form of the pyramids themselves. The shape of flame, spiral and pointing upwards, is also supposed by some to have constituted the model of the pyramid. The plain roof may have had its type in the hanging canvas of the tent thrown over a pole, and the verandah-like indented roof appears to have been copied from the form of a tent constructed of canvas supported by a horizontal straight beam. Possibly too, the bending of a pliable branch or pole into the shape of a bow, which was to constitute the support of building materials to be placed over it, may have originally suggested the arch. The cone has been conjectured to be the earliest form adopted in architectural construction from its being the simplest, or rather perhaps from its being that which would most readily be obtained from the materials used, which were poles or branches of trees stuck in the ground, meeting at the top, and covered with the skins of wild beasts, of which some of the primeval artificial habitations of mankind are believed to have been made. Another reason given for the adoption of this form is the supposed imitation of the nests of birds. From the shape of the cone was The type or model of imitation in some of the mouldings in Gothic architecture may be discovered in the forms of willow-rods, which in ancient structures, immediately preceding the period of Gothic architecture were used in certain buildings, and the shapes produced by which suggested the mouldings in stone which were then invented, and which are still continued. So the peaks and pinnacles of mountains, as in the case of Mont Blanc (more especially as mountains were them-selves early resorted to as places for public worship), may have supplied the types of the pinnacles of temples, and their conical heads the type of the dome. The shape of the heart is said to have suggested that of the urn, and the form of certain fishes may have been imitated in that of some windows. In the general outline of the cathedral, and of several churches, that of man may perhaps be not indistinctly traced as the model of imitation ; the altar corresponding with the brain, the choir with the head and neck, the transept with the arms, the body with the trunk, and the western aisles with the legs. And as regards the interior of the structure, the aisles of a Gothic cathedral are thought by some to have been suggested by the form created by an avenue of trees, especially where this consisted of four rows, the interlacing boughs of which closely resemble the mouldings of the arches.
In the forms adopted with regard to the general outline of tombs, imitation may here also be traced, which is probably of a treble kind ; being that of the form of the body of the man which has been there interred, that of the form of the coffin which contains his body, and that of the form of the hillock or grave, whether oblong or circular, raised over his re-mains. The vigorous application of original genius, however, as regards the extension both of ornament and of use in the case of each of these structures, so entirely changed their appearance and general character that their original form and type were quite forgotten.
Architecture may be defined to be the art which directs us how to erect buildings of different kinds with becoming taste and beauty, so as to render them, like the objects which nature .upraises, and which are here imitated, and both as regards their external and internal appearance, ornamental as well as useful. It is not, indeed, the act of merely erecting edifices, which belongs to building quite independent of architecture, and is the effort rather of science than of art ; but it is the art of constructing them in accordance with the principles of taste. A cathedral may be strong and spacious and suitable for its end, but owe nothing to architecture, and may be at variance with its principles. Architecture is to building what eloquence is to language.
Works of art should follow those of nature, in combining in the same object both the useful and the ornamental, as in the case of trees and animals, which please us as much by their beauty as they are valued for their utility, and their strict adaptation to their appointed ends. Moreover, as in each object in nature, so in each work of art, its outward characteristic should be conformable to the purpose it is intended to serve ; castles, for instance, should appear strong and durable, cathedrals solemn and dignified and grand.
Architecture, as I have already stated, would be very early invented, inasmuch as, so far at least as regards the practical pursuit or sustaining medium of the art, it is one of the first which the necessities of mankind would lead them to contrive, as it is also one for which nature would afford them the most direct and appropriate models.
One writer, however, of great genius and possessing profoun d knowledge of his subject,* contends with considerable ardour against the notion of styles of architecture having been invented from an imitation of the forms of trees ; and adduces as conclusive against this theory, that the older gothic architectural re-mains least of all resemble their supposed objects of imitation.
In many other of the arts it will, nevertheless, be found that their earliest efforts least resemble the undoubted objects of their imitation. This is the case not only in sculpture, but in music also; yet no one would deny the imitative object or origin of these arts, merely because the mechanical skill exerted in their earlier efforts was inefficient to exhibit plainly the type which was adopted.