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centres of luxury and display, artists will be rewarded and honored. The
pride of a commercial metropolis is in those material wonders which
appeal to the senses, and which wealth can purchase. A rich merchant can
give employment to the architect, when he would be disinclined to reward
the critic or the historian. Even where liberty and lofty aspirations
for truth and moral excellence have left a state, the arts suffer but
little decline. The grandest monuments of Rome date to the imperial
regime, not to the republican sway. When the voice of a Cicero was mute,
the Flavian amphitheatre arose in its sublime proportions. Imperial
despotism is favorable to the adornment of Paris and St. Petersburg,
even as wealth and luxury will beautify New York. When the early lights
of the Church were unheeded in the old capitals of the world, new
temples and palaces were the glory of the state. Art was the first to be
revived of the trophies of the old civilization, and it will be the last
to be relinquished, by those whom civilization has enriched. Art excites
no dangerous passions or sentiments in a decaying monarchy, and it is a
fresh and perpetual pleasure, not merely to the people, but to the
arbiters of taste and fashion. The Popes rewarded artists when they
crushed reformers, and persecuted inquiring genius. The developments of
art appeal to material life and interests rather than to the spiritual
and eternal. St. Paul scarcely alludes to the material wonders of the
cities he visited, even as Luther was insensible to the ornaments of
Italy in his absorbing desire for the spiritual and moral welfare of
society. Art is purely the creation of man. It receives no inspiration
from Heaven; and yet the principles on which it is based are eternal and
unchangeable, and when it is made to be the handmaid of virtue, it is
capable of exciting the loftiest sentiments. So pure, so exalted, and so
wrapt are the feelings which arise from the contemplation of a great
picture or statue, that we sometimes ascribe a religious force to the
art itself, while all that is divine springs from the conception of the
artist, and all that is divine in his conception arises from sentiments
independent of his art, as he is stimulated by emotions of religion, or
patriotism, or public virtue, and which he could never have embodied had
he not been a good man, rather than a great artist, or, at least,
affected by sentiments which he learned from other sources. There can be
no doubt that, through the vehicle of art, the grandest and noblest
sentiments may be expressed. Hence artists may be great benefactors; yet
sometimes their works are demoralizing, as they appeal to perverted
taste and passions. This was especially true in the later days of Rome,
when artists sought to please their corrupt but wealthy patrons. The
great artists of Greece, however, had in view a lofty ideal of beauty
and grace which they sought to realize without reference to profit, or
worldly advantage, or utilitarian necessities. Art, when true and
exalted, as it sometimes is, and always should be, has its end in
itself. Like virtue, it is its own reward. Michael Angelo worked,
preoccupied and wrapt, without the stimulus of even praise, even as
Dante lived in the visions to which his imagination gave form and
reality. Art is therefore self-sustained, unselfish, lofty. It is the
soul going forth triumphant over external circumstances, jubilant and
melodious even in poverty and neglect, rising above the evils of life in
its absorbing contemplation of ideal loveliness. The fortunate accidents
of earth are nothing to the true artist, striving to reach his ideal of
excellence, - no more than carpets and chairs are to a great woman pining
for sympathy or love. And it is only when there is this soul-longing to
reach the excellence it has conceived for itself alone that great works
have been produced. The sweetest strains of music sometimes come from
women where no one listens to their melodies. Nor does a great artist
seek or need commiseration, if ever so unfortunate in worldly
circumstances. He may be sad and sorrowful, but only in the profound
seriousness of superior knowledge, in that isolation to which all genius
is doomed.

[Sidenote: Great artists labor from inspiration.]

We have reason to believe that the great artists of antiquity lived, as
did the Ionic philosophers, in their own glorious realms of thought and
feeling, which the world could neither understand nor share. Their ideas
of grace and beauty were realized to the highest degree ever known on
earth. They were expressed in their temples, their statues, and their
pictures. They did not live for utilities. When art became a utility, it
degenerated. It became more pretentious, artificial, complicated,
elaborate, ornamental even, but it lacked genius, the simplicity of
power, the glory of originality. The horses of the sun cannot be made to
go round in a mill. The spiritual must keep within its own seclusion, in
its inner temple of mystery and meditation.

[Sidenote: Grecian art consecrated to Paganism.]

[Sidenote: Greatness and beauty of Grecian art.]

[Sidenote: Grecian admiration of art.]

Grecian art was consecrated to Paganism, and could not therefore soar
beyond what Paganism revealed. It did not typify those exalted
sentiments which even a Gothic cathedral portrayed - sacrifice; the man
on the cross; the man in the tomb; the man ascending to heaven. Nor did
it paint, like Raphael, etherial beauty, such as was expressed in the
mother of our Lord, her whom all generations shall bless, _regina
angelorum, mater divinae gratiae_. But whatever has been reached by the
unaided powers of man, it reproduced and consecrated, and it realized
the highest conceptions of beauty and grace that have ever been
represented. All that the mind and the soul could, by their inherent
force, reach, it has attained. Modern civilization has no prouder
triumphs than those achieved by the artists of Pagan antiquity in those
things which pertain to beauty and grace. Grecian artists have been the
schoolmasters of all nations and all ages in architecture, sculpture,
and painting. How far they themselves were original we cannot decide,
although they were probably somewhat indebted to the Assyrians and
Egyptians. But they struck out so new a style, and so different from the
older monuments of Asia and Egypt, that we consider them the great
creators of art. But whether original or not, they have never been
surpassed. In some respects their immortal productions remain objects of
hopeless imitation. In the realization of ideas of beauty which are
eternal, like those on which Plato built his system of philosophy, they
reached absolute perfection. And hence we infer that art can flourish
under Pagan as well as Christian influences. We can go no higher than
those ancient Pagans in one of the proudest fields of civilization; for
art has as sincere and warm admirers as it had in Grecian and Roman
times, but the limit of excellence has been reached. It is the mission
of our age to apply creative genius to enterprises and works which have
not been tried, if any thing new is to be found under the sun. Nor was
it the number and extent of the works of art among the Greeks and
Romans, nor their perfection, which made art so distinguishing an
element of the old civilization. It was the spirit of the age, the
absorption of the public mind, the great prominence which art had in the
eyes of the people. Art was to the Greeks what tournaments and churches
were to the men of the Middle Ages, what the Reformation was to Germany
and England in the sixteenth century, what theories of political rights
were to the era of the French Revolution, what mechanical inventions to
abridge human labor are to us. The creation of a great statue was an
era, an object of popular interest - the subject of universal comment. It
kindled popular inspirations. It was the great form of progress in which
that age rejoiced. Public benefactors erected temples, and lavished upon
them the superfluous wealth of the State. And public benefactors, in
turn, had statues erected to their memory by their grateful admirers.
The genius of the age expressed itself in marble histories. And these
histories stand in the mystery of absolute perfection - the glory and the
characteristic of a great and peculiar people.

[Sidenote: Principles of art.]

[Sidenote: Devotion of the Greeks for Art.]

Much has been written on those principles upon which art is founded, and
great ingenuity displayed. But treatises on taste, on beauty, on grace,
and other perceptions of intellectual pleasure, are not very
satisfactory, and must be necessarily indefinite. In what does beauty
consist? Do we arrive at any clearer conceptions of it by definitions?
Whether beauty, the chief glory of the fine arts, consists in certain
arrangements and proportions of the parts to a whole, or in the fitness
of means to an end, or is dependent on associations which excite
pleasure, or is a revelation of truth, or is an appeal to sensibilities,
or is an imitation of Nature, or the realization of ideal excellence, it
is difficult to settle and almost useless to inquire. "Metaphysics,
mathematics, music, and philosophy have been called in to analyze,
define, demonstrate, and generalize." [Footnote: Cleghorn, _Ancient
and Modern Art_, vol. i. p. 67.] Great writers have written ingenious
treatises, like Burke, Alison, and Stewart. Beauty, according to Plato,
is the contemplation of mind; Leibnitz maintained it consists in
perfection; Diderot referred beauty to the idea of relation; Blondel
asserted it was harmonic proportions; Peter Leigh speaks of it as the
music of the eye. Yet everybody understands what beauty is, and that it
is derived from Nature, agreeable to the purest models which Nature
presents. Such was the ideal of Phidias. Such was it to the minds of the
Greeks, who united every advantage, physical and mental, for the
perfection of art. Nor could art have been so wonderfully developed had
it not been for the influence which the great poets, orators,
dramatists, historians, and philosophers exercised on the inspiration of
the artists. Phidias, being asked how he conceived the idea of his
Olympian Jupiter, answered by repeating a passage of Homer. We can
scarcely conceive of the enthusiasm which the Greeks exhibited in the
cultivation of art. Hence it has obtained an ascendency over that of all
other nations. Roman art was the continuation of the Grecian. The Romans
appreciated and rewarded Grecian artists. They adopted their
architecture, their sculpture, and their paintings; and, though art
never attained the estimation and dignity in Rome that it did in Greece,
it still can boast of a great development. But, inasmuch as all the
great models were Grecian, and appropriated and copied by the Romans, -
inasmuch as the great wonders of the "Eternal City" were made by
Greeks, - we cannot treat of Roman art in distinction from Grecian. And
as I wish to show simply the triumph of Pagan genius in the realm of
art, and most of the immortal creations of the great artists were
transported to Rome, and adorned Rome, it is within my province to go
where they were originally found.

"Tu, regere imperio populos, Romane, memento!
Hae tibi erunt artes."

[Sidenote: Art first impressive in achitecture.]

The first development of art was in architecture, not merely among the
Greeks, but among the older nations. Although it refers, in a certain
sense, to all buildings, yet it is ordinarily restricted to those
edifices in which we recognize the principle of beauty, such as
symmetrical arrangement, and attractive ornaments, like pillars,
cornices, and sculptured leaves.

The earliest buildings were houses to protect men from the inclemencies
of the weather, and built without much regard to beauty; but it is in
temples for the worship of God, that architecture lays claim to dignity.
It was the result of devotional feelings; nor is there a single instance
of supreme excellence in art being reached, which was not sacred, and
connected with reverential tendencies. In the erection and decoration of
sacred buildings there was a profound sentiment that they were to be the
sanctuaries of God, and genius was stimulated by pious emotions. In
India, in Egypt, in Greece, in Italy, the various temples all originated
in blended superstition and devotion. Nor did the edifice, erected for
religious worship, reach its culminating height of beauty and grandeur
until that earnest and profoundly religious epoch which felt as injuries
the insults offered to the tomb which covered the remains of the Saviour
of the world. Then arose those hoary and Gothic vaults of Cologne and
Westminster, the only modern structures which would probably have called
out the admiration of an ancient Greek.

[Sidenote: Egyptian architecture.]

[Sidenote: Monuments of Egypt.]

[Sidenote: Temple of Carnack.]

[Sidenote: Features of Egyptian art.]

But architecture is conventional, and demands a knowledge of its system
and a mind informed as to the principles on which it depends for beauty.
Hence, in the oldest temples of India and Egypt, there was probably
vastness, without elegance or even embellishment. But no nation ever
left structures that, in extent and grandeur, can compare with those of
ancient Egypt; and these were chiefly temples. Nothing remains of the
ancient monuments of Thebes but the ruins of edifices consecrated to the
deity - neither bridges, nor quays, nor baths, nor theatres. It was when
the Israelites were oppressed by Pharaoh that the great city of
Heliopolis, which the Greeks called Thebes, arose, with its hundred
gates, and stately public buildings, and magnificent temples. The ruins
of these attest grandeur and vastness. They were built of stone, in huge
blocks, and we are still at a loss to comprehend how such heavy stones
could have been transported and erected. All the monuments of the
Pharaohs are wonders of science and art, especially such as appear in
the ruins of Carnack - a temple formerly designated as that of Jupiter
Ammon. It was in the time of Sesostris, or Rameses the Great, the first
of the Pharaohs of the nineteenth dynasty, that architecture in Egypt
reached its greatest development. Then we find the rectangular cut
blocks of stone in parallel courses, and the heavy piers, and the
cylindrical column, with its bell-shaped capital, and the bold and
massive rectangular architraves extending from pier to pier and column
to column, surmounted by a deep covered coping or cornice. But the
imposing architecture of Egypt was chiefly owing to the vast proportions
of the public buildings. It was not produced by beauty of proportion, or
graceful embellishments. It was designed to awe the people, and kindle
sentiments of wonder and astonishment. So far as this end was
contemplated, it was nobly reached. Even to this day the traveller
stands in admiring amazement before those monuments which were old three
thousand years ago. No structures have been so enduring as the Pyramids.
No ruins are more extensive and majestic than those of Thebes. The
temple of Carnack and the palace of Rameses the Great, were probably the
most imposing ever built by man. This temple was built of blocks of
stone seventy feet in length, on a platform one thousand feet long and
three hundred wide, with pillars sixty feet in height. But this and
other structures did not possess that unity of design, which marked the
Grecian temples. Alleys of colossal sphinxes form the approach. At
Carnack the alley was six thousand feet long, and before the main body
of the edifice stand two obelisks commemorative of the dedication. The
principal structures do not follow the straight line, but begin with
pyramidical towers which flank the gateways. Then follows, usually, a
court surrounded with colonnades, subordinate temples, and houses for
the priests. A second pylon, or pyramidical tower, now leads to the
interior and most considerable part of the temple, a portico inclosed
with walls, which only receives light through the entablature or
openings in the roof. Adjoining to this is the cella of the temple,
without columns, inclosed by several walls, often divided into various
small chambers, with monolith receptacles for idols or mummies or
animals. The columns stand within the walls. The Egyptians had no
perpetual temples. The colonnade is not, as among the Greeks, an
expansion of the temple; it is merely the wall with apertures. The
walls, composed of square blocks, are perpendicular only on the inside,
and beveled externally, so that the thickness at the bottom sometimes
amounts to twenty-four feet, and thus the whole building assumes a
pyramidical form, the fundamental principle of Egyptian architecture.
The columns are more slender than the early Doric, are placed close
together, and have bases of circular plinths; the shaft diminishes, and
is ornamented with perpendicular or oblique furrows, but not fluted like
Grecian columns. The capitals are of the bell form, ornamented with all
kinds of foliage, and have a narrow but high abacus, or bulge out below,
and are contracted above, with low, but projecting abacus. They abound
with sculptured decorations, borrowed from the vegetation of the
country. The highest of the columns of the temple of Luxor is five and a
quarter times the greatest diameter. [Footnote: Muller.]

[Sidenote: The Pyramids.]

But no monuments have ever excited so much curiosity and wonder as the
Pyramids, not in consequence of any particular beauty or ingenuity, as
from their immense size and unknown age. None but sacerdotal monarchs
would ever have erected them - none but a fanatical people would ever
have toiled upon them. They do not indicate civilization, but despotism.
We do not know for what purpose they were raised, except as sepulchres
for kings. They do not even indicate as high a culture as the temples of
Thebes, although they were built at a considerable period subsequently,
even several generations after Sesostris reigned in splendor. The
pyramid of Cheops, at Memphis, covers a square whose side is seven
hundred and sixty-eight feet, and rises into the air four hundred and
fifty-two, and is a solid mass of stone, which has suffered less from
time than the mountains near it. And it is probable that it stands over
an immense substructure, in which may yet be found the lore of ancient
Egypt, and which may even prove to be the famous labyrinth of which
Herodotus speaks, built by the twelve kings of Egypt. According to this
author, one hundred thousand men worked on this monument for forty
years. What a waste of labor!

The palaces of the kings are mere imitations of the temples, and the
only difference of architecture is this, that the rooms are larger and
in greater numbers. Some think that the labyrinth was a collective
palace of many rulers.

Such was the massive grandeur of Egyptian antiquities: at the best
curiosities, but of slight avail for moral or aesthetic culture, they yet
indicate a considerable civilization at a very remote period - proving
not merely by architectural monuments, but by their system of writing,
an original and intellectual people. [Footnote: Muller, _Ancient
Art_; Wilkinson, _Topog. of Thebes_; Champollion, _Lettres Ecrites
d'Egypt_; _Journal des Sav._ 1836; _Encyclopedia Britannica_;

[Sidenote: Babylonian architecture.]

Of Babylonian architecture we know but little, beyond what the
Scriptures and ancient authors allude to in scattered notices. But,
though nothing survives of ancient magnificence, we feel that a city
whose walls, according to Herodotus, were eighty-seven feet in
thickness, three hundred and thirty-seven in height, and sixty miles in
circumference, and in which were one hundred gates of brass, must have
had considerable architectural splendor. The Tower of Belus, the Palace
of Nebuchadnezzar, and the Obelisk of Semiramis, were probably wonderful
structures, certainly in size, which is one of the conditions of
architectural effect.

[Sidenote: Tyrian monuments.]

The Tyrians must have carried architecture to considerable perfection,
since the Temple of Solomon, one of the most magnificent in the ancient
world, was probably built by Phoenician artists. It was not remarkable
for size; it was, indeed, very small; but it had great splendor of
decoration. It was of quadrangular outline, erected upon a solid
platform of stone, and having a striking resemblance to the oldest Greek
temples, like those of aegina and Paestum. The portico of the temple, in
the time of Herod, was one hundred and eighty feet high, and the temple
itself was entered by nine gates thickly coated with silver and gold.
The inner sanctuary was covered on all sides with plates of gold, and
was dazzling to the eye. The various courts and porticoes and palaces
with which it was surrounded, gave to it a very imposing effect.

[Sidenote: Early Doric monuments.]

[Sidenote: The principles of Doric architecture.]

[Sidenote: The features of the Doric order.]

[Sidenote: The Parthenon.]

Architecture, however, as the expression of genius and high
civilization, was perfected only by the Greeks. Egyptian monuments were
curiosities to the Greek and Roman mind, as they are to us objects of
awe and wonder. And as we propose to treat of the arts in their
culminating excellence chiefly, - to show what the Pagan intellect of man
could accomplish, unaided by light from heaven, we turn to the great
teacher of the last two thousand years. It was among the ancient
Dorians, who descended from the mountains of Northern Greece eighty
years after the fall of Troy, that art first appeared. The Pelasgi,
supposed to be Phoenicians, erected cyclopean structures fifteen hundred
years before Christ, as seen in the giant walls of the Acropolis,
[Footnote: _Dodwell's Classical Tour_, Muller.] constructed of huge
blocks of hewn stone, and the palaces of the princes of heroic times,
[Footnote: Homer's description of the palace of Odysseus.] like the
Mycenaean treasury, the lintel of the doorway of which is one stone
twenty-seven feet long and sixteen broad. [Footnote: Mure, _Tour in
Greece_.] But these edifices, which aimed at splendor and richness
merely, were deficient in that simplicity and harmony which have given
immortality to the temples of the Dorians. In this style of architecture
every thing was suitable to its object, and was grand and noble. The
great thickness of the columns, the beautiful entablature, the ample
proportion of the capital; the great horizontal lines of the architrave
and cornice, predominating over the vertical lines of the columns; the
severity of geometrical forms, produced for the most part by straight
lines, gave an imposing simplicity to the Doric temple. How far the
Greek architects were indebted to the Egyptian we cannot tell, for
though columns are found amid the ruins of the Egyptian temples, they
are of different shape from any made by the Greeks. In the structures of
Thebes we find both the tumescent and the cylindrical columns, from
which amalgamation might have been produced the Doric column. The Greeks
seized on beauty wherever they found it, and improved upon it. The Doric
column was not, probably, an entirely new creation, but shaped after the
models furnished by the most original of all the ancient nations, even
the Egyptians. The Doric style was used exclusively until after the
Macedonian conquest, and was chiefly applied to temples. The Doric
temples are uniform in plan. The columns were fluted, and were generally
about six diameters in height. They diminished gradually from the base,
with a slight convexed swelling downward. They were superimposed by
capitals proportionate, and coming within their height. The entablature
which the column supported is also of so many diameters in height. So
regular and perfect was the plan of the temple, that, "if the dimensions
of a single column, and the proportion the entablature should bear to
it, were given to two individuals acquainted with the style, with
directions to compose a temple, they would produce designs exactly
similar in size, arrangement, and general proportions." Then the Doric
order possessed a peculiar harmony, but taste and skill were
nevertheless necessary in order to determine the number of diameters a
column should have, and, accordingly, the height of the entablature. The
Doric was the favorite order of European Greece for one thousand years,
and also of her colonies in Sicily and Magna Graecia. The massive temples
of Paestum, the colossal magnificence of the Sicilian ruins, and the more

Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 12 of 50)