John Lord.

The Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization online

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elegant proportions of the Athenian structures, like the Parthenon and
Temple of Theseus, show the perfection of the Doric architecture.
Although the general style of all the Doric temples is so uniform, yet
hardly two temples were alike. The earlier Doric was more massive; the
latter were more elegant, and were rich in sculptured decorations.
Nothing could surpass the beauty of a Doric temple in the time of
Pericles. The stylobate or pedestal, from two thirds to a whole diameter
of a column in height, was built in three equal courses, which gradually
receded from the one below, and formed steps, as it were, of a grand
platform on which the pillars rested. The column was from four to six
diameters in height, with twenty flutes, with a capital of half a
diameter supporting the entablature. This again, two diameters in
height, was divided into architrave, frieze, and cornice. But the great
beauty of the temple was the portico in front, a forest of columns,
supporting the pediment, about a diameter and a half to the apex, making
an angle at the base of about 14 degrees. From the pediment projects the
cornice, while, at the apex and at the base of it, are sculptured
ornaments, generally, the figures of men or animals. The whole outline
of columns supporting the entablature is graceful, while the variety of
light and shade arising from the arrangement of mouldings and capitals
produce a grand effect. The Parthenon, the most beautiful specimen of
the Doric, has never been equaled, and it still stands august in its
ruins - the glory of the old Acropolis, and the pride of Athens. It was
built of Pentelic marble, and rested on a basement of limestone. It was
two hundred and twenty-seven feet in length, and one hundred and one in
breadth, and sixty-five in height, surrounded with forty-eight fluted
columns, six feet and two inches at the base, and thirty-four feet in
height, while within the peristyle, at either end, was an interior range
of columns, standing before the end of the cella. The frieze and the
pediment were elaborately ornamented with reliefs and statues, while the
cella, within and without, was adorned with the choicest sculptures of
Phidias. The grandest was the colossal statue of Minerva, in the eastern
apartment of the cella, forty feet in height, composed of gold and
ivory; while the inner walls were decorated with paintings, and the
temple itself was a repository of countless treasure. But the Parthenon,
so regular, with its vertical and horizontal lines, was curved in every
line, with the exception of the gable, - pillars, architrave,
entablature, frieze, and cornice, together with the basement - all arched
upwards, though so slightly as not to be perceptible, and these curved
lines gave to it a peculiar grace which cannot be imitated, as well as
solidity.

[Sidenote: The Acropolis.]

Nearly coeval with the Doric was the Ionic order, invented by the
Asiatic Greeks, still more graceful, though not so imposing. The
Acropolis is a perfect example of this order. The column is nine
diameters in height, with a base, while the capital is more ornamented.
The shaft is fluted with twenty-four flutes and alternate fillets, and
the fillet is about a quarter the width of the flute. The pediment is
flatter than of the Doric order, and more elaborate. The great
distinction of the Ionic column is a base, and a capital formed with
volutes, with a more slender shaft. Vitruvius, the greatest authority
among the ancients in architecture, says that, "the Greeks, in inventing
these two kinds of columns, imitated in the one the naked simplicity and
dignity of a man, and in the other, the delicacy and ornaments of a
woman; the base of the Ionic was the imitation of sandals, and the
volutes of ringlets."

[Sidenote: Temple of Minerva.]

The Corinthian order exhibits a still greater refinement and elegance
than the other two, and was introduced toward the end of the
Peloponnesian war. Its peculiarity is columns with foliated capitals,
and still greater height, about ten diameters, with a more ornamented
entablature. Of this order, the most famous temple in Greece was that of
Minerva at Tegea, built by Scopas of Paros, but destroyed by fire four
hundred years before Christ.

Nothing more distinguished Greek architecture than the variety, the
grace, and the beauty of the mouldings, generally in eccentric curves.
The general outline of the moulding is a gracefully flowing cyma, or
wave, concave at one end, and convex at the other, like an Italic
_f_, the concavity and convexity being exactly in the same curve,
according to the line of beauty which Hogarth describes.

[Sidenote: Architecture among the Greeks seen in greatest perfection in
temples.]

The most beautiful application of Grecian architecture was in the
temples, which were very numerous, and of extraordinary grandeur, long
before the Persian war. Their entrance was always to the west or the
east. They were built either in an oblong or round form, and were mostly
adorned with columns. Those of an oblong form had columns either in the
front alone, in the fore and back fronts, or on all the four sides. They
generally had porticoes attached to them. They had no windows, receiving
their light from the door or from above. The friezes were adorned with
various sculptures, as were sometimes the pediments, and no expense was
spared upon them. The most important part of the temple was the cella,
where the statue of the deity was kept, and was generally surrounded
with a balustrade. Beside the cella was the vestibule, and a chamber in
the rear or back front in which the treasures of the temple were kept.
Names were applied to the temples, as well as the porticoes, according
to the number of columns in the portico at either end of the temple,
such as the tetrastyle with four columns in front, or hexastyle when
there were six. There were never more than ten columns in front. The
Parthenon had eight, but six was the usual number. It was the rule to
have twice as many columns along the sides as in front, and one more.
Some of the temples had double rows of columns on all sides, like that
of Diana at Ephesus, and of Quirinus at Rome. The distance between the
columns varied from a diameter and half of a column to four diameters.
About five eighths of a Doric temple were occupied by the cella, and
three eighths by the portico.

[Sidenote: Simplicity of Grecian temples.]

That which gives so much simplicity and harmony in the Greek temples,
which are the great elements of beauty in architecture, is the simple
outline, in parallelogrammic and pyramidal forms, in which the lines are
straight and uninterrupted through their entire length. This simplicity
and harmony are more apparent in the Doric than in any of the other
orders, and pertain to all the temples of which we have knowledge. Nor
can any improvement be made upon them, or any alteration which does not
conflict with established principles. The Ionic and Corinthian, or the
Voluted and Foliated orders, do not possess that harmony which pervades
the Doric, but the more beautiful compositions are so consummate that
they will ever be taken as models of study.

[Sidenote: Matchless proportions of the Grecian temples.]

It is not the magnitude of the Grecian temples and other works of art
which most impresses us. It is not for this that they are important
models. It is not for this that they are copied and reproduced in all
the modern nations of Europe. They were generally small compared with
the temples of Egypt, or the vast dimensions of Roman amphitheatres.
Only three or four would compare in size with a Gothic cathedral, like
the Parthenon, the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, and the Temple of Diana at
Ephesus. Even the Pantheon at Rome is small, compared with the later
monuments of the Caesars. The traveler is always disappointed in
contemplating their remains, so far as size is concerned. But it is
their matchless proportions, their severe symmetry, the grandeur of
effect, the undying beauty, the graceful form which impress us, and make
us feel that they are perfect. By the side of the Colosseum they are
insignificant in magnitude. They do not cover acres like the baths of
Caracalla. Yet who has copied the Flavian amphitheatre? Who erects an
edifice after the style of the Thermae? But all artists copy the
Parthenon. That, and not the colossal monuments of the Caesars, reappears
in the capitals of Europe, and stimulates the genius of a Michael Angelo
or a Christopher Wren.

The flourishing period of Greek architecture was during the period from
Pericles to Alexander - one hundred and thirteen years. The Macedonian
conquest introduced more magnificence and less simplicity. The Roman
conquest accelerated the decline in severe taste, when different orders
were used indiscriminately.

[Sidenote: Beginning of Roman art.]

[Sidenote: Romans copied the Greeks.]

In this state the art passed into the hands of the masters of the world,
and they inaugurated a new era in architecture. The art was still
essentially Greek, although the Romans derived their first knowledge
from the Etruscans. The Cloaca Maxima was built during the reign of the
second Tarquin - the grandest monument of the reign of the kings. It is
not probable that temples and other public buildings were either
beautiful or magnificent until the conquest of Greece, when Grecian
architects were employed. The Romans adopted the Corinthian style, which
they made even more ornamental, and by the successful combination of the
Etruscan arch with the Grecian column, laid the foundation of a new and
original style, susceptible of great variety and magnificence. They
entered into architecture with the enthusiasm of their teachers, but, in
their passion for novelty, lost sight of the simplicity which is the
great fascination of a Doric Temple. "And they deemed that lightness and
grace were to be attained not so much by proportion between the vertical
and the horizontal, as by the comparative slenderness of the former.
Hence we see a poverty in Roman architecture in the midst of profuse
ornament. The great error was a constant aim to lessen the diameter,
while they increased the elevation, of the columns. Hence the massive
simplicity and severe grandeur of the ancient Doric disappear in the
Roman, the characteristics of the order being frittered down into a
multiplicity of minute details." [Footnote: Memes, _Sculpture and
Architecture._] And when they used the Doric at all, they used the
base, which was never done at Athens. They also altered the Doric
capital, which cannot be improved. Again, most of the Grecian Doric
temples were peripteral, that is, were surrounded with pillars on all
the sides. But the Romans did not build with porticoes even on each
front, but only on one, which had a greater projection than the Grecian.
They generally are projected three columns. Many of the Roman temples
are circular, like the Pantheon, which has a portico of eight columns
projected to the depth of three. Nor did the Romans construct hypaethral
temples, or uncovered, with internal columns, like the Greeks. The
Pantheon is an exception, since the dome has an open eye; and one great
ornament of this beautiful structure is in the arrangement of internal
columns placed in the front of niches, composed with antae, or pier-
formed ends of walls, to carry an entablature round under an attic on
which the cupola rests. They also adopted coupled columns, broken and
recessed entablatures, and pedestals, which are considered blemishes.
They again paid more attention to the interior than to the exterior
decoration of their palaces and baths, as we may infer from the ruins of
Adrian's villa at Tivoli, and the excavations of Pompeii.

The Roman Corinthian, like the Greek orders, consisted of three parts,
stylobate, column, and entablature, but the stylobate was much loftier,
and was not graduated, except in the access before a portico. The column
varied from nine and a half to ten diameters, and was always fluted with
twenty-four flutes and fillets. The height of the capital is a diameter
and one eighth; the entablature varies from one diameter and seven
eighths to two diameters and a half. The portico of the Pantheon is one
of the best specimens of the Corinthian order. The entablature of the
temple of Jupiter Stator, like that of the Pantheon, is two diameters
and one half. The pediments are steeper than those made by the Greeks,
varying in inclination from eighteen to twenty-five degrees. The
mouldings used in Roman architectural works are the same as the Grecian
in general form, although they differ from them in contour. They are
less delicate and graceful, but were used in great profusion. Roman
architecture is overdone with ornament, every moulding carved, and every
straight surface sculptured with foliage or historical subjects in
relief. The ornaments of the frieze consist of foliage and animals, with
a variety of other things. The great exuberance of ornament is
considered a defect, although when applied to some structures it is
exceedingly beautiful. In the time of the first Caesars architecture had
a character of grandeur and magnificence. Columns and arches appeared in
all the leading public buildings, columns generally forming the
external, and arches the internal construction. Fabric after fabric
arose on the ruins of others. The Flavii supplanted the edifices of
Nero, which ministered to debauchery, by structures of public utility.

[Sidenote: Changes made by the Romans.]

[Sidenote: Invention of the arch.]

[Sidenote: Uses of the arch.]

The Romans invented no new principle in architecture, except the arch,
which was not known to the Greeks, and carried out by them to greater
perfection than by the Romans; but this, for simplicity, harmony, and
beauty, has never been surpassed in any age, or by any nation. The
Romans were a practical and utilitarian people, and needed for their
various structures greater economy of material than large blocks of
stone, especially for such as were carried to great altitudes. The arch
supplied this want, and is perhaps the greatest invention ever made in
architecture. No instance of its adoption occurs in the construction of
Greek edifices, before Greece became a part of the Roman Empire. Its
application dates back to the Cloaca Maxima, and may have been of
Etrurian invention. It was not known to Egyptians, or Persians, or
Indians, or Greeks. Some maintain that Archimedes of Sicily was the
inventor, but to whomsoever the glory of the invention is due, it is
certain that the Romans were the first to make a practical application
of its wonderful qualities. It enabled them to rear vast edifices into
the air with the humblest materials, to build bridges, aqueducts,
sewers, amphitheatres, and triumphal arches, as well as temples and
palaces; its merits have never been lost sight of by succeeding
generations, and it is at the foundation of the magnificent Gothic
cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Its application extends to domes and
cupolas, to arched floors and corridors and roofs, and to various other
parts of buildings where economy of material and labor is desired. It
was applied extensively to doorways and windows, and is an ornament as
well as a utility. The most imposing forms of Roman architecture may be
traced to a knowledge of the properties of the arch, and as brick was
more extensively used than any other material, the arch was invaluable.
The imperial palace on Mount Palatine, the Pantheon, except its portico
and internal columns, the temples of Peace, of Venus and Rome, and of
Minerva Medica, were of brick. So were the great baths of Titus,
Caracalla, and Diocletian, the villa of Adrian, the city walls, the
villa of Maecenas at Tivoli, and most of the palaces of the nobility;
although, like many of the temples, they were faced with stone. The
Colosseum was of travertine faced with marble. It was the custom to
stucco the surface of the walls, as favorable to decorations. In
consequence of this invention, the Romans erected a greater variety of
fine structures than either the Greeks or Egyptians, whose public
edifices were chiefly confined to temples. The arch entered into almost
every structure, public or private, and superseded the use of long stone
beams, which were necessary in the Grecian temples, as also of wooden
timbers, in the use of which the Romans were not skilled, and which do
not really pertain to the art of architecture. An imposing building must
always be constructed of stone or brick. The arch also enabled the
Romans to economize in the use of costly marbles, of which they were
very fond, as well as of other stones. Some of the finest columns were
made of Egyptian granite, very highly polished.

The extensive application of the arch doubtless led to the deterioration
of the Grecian architecture, since it blended columns with arcades, and
thus impaired the harmony which so peculiarly marked the temples of
Athens and Corinth. And as taste became vitiated with the decline of the
Empire, monstrous combinations took place, which were a great fall from
the simplicity of the Parthenon, and the interior of the Pantheon.

[Sidenote: Magnificence of Roman architecture.]

But whatever defects marked the age of Diocletian and Constantine, it
can never be questioned that the Romans carried architecture to a
perfection rarely attained in our times. They may not have equaled the
severe simplicity of their teachers, the Greeks, but they surpassed them
in the richness or their decorations, and in all buildings designed for
utility, especially in private houses and baths and theatres.

[Sidenote: The effect of columns in architecture.]

The Romans do not seem to have used other than semicircular arches. The
Gothic, or Pointed, or Christian architecture, as it has been variously
called, was the creation of the Middle Ages, and arose nearly
simultaneously in Europe after the first Crusade, so that it would seem
to be of Eastern origin. But it was a graft on the old Roman arch, - in
the shape of an ellipse rather than a circle. Aside from this invention,
to which we are indebted for the most beautiful ecclesiastical
structures ever erected, we owe every thing in architecture to the
Greeks and Romans. We have found out no new principles which were not
equally known to Vitruvius. No one man was the inventor or creator of
the wonderful structures which ornamented the cities of the ancient
world. We have the names of great architects, who reared various and
faultless models, but they all worked upon the same principles. And
these can never be subverted. So that in architecture the ancients are
our schoolmasters, whose genius we revere the more we are acquainted
with their works. What more beautiful than one of those grand temples
which the heathen but cultivated Greeks erected to the worship of their
unknown gods: the graduated and receding stylobate as a base for the
fluted columns, rising at regular distances, in all their severe
proportion and matchless harmony, with their richly carved capitals,
supporting an entablature of heavy stones, most elaborately moulded and
ornamented with the figures of plants and animals, and rising above
this, on the ends of the temple, or over a portico several columns deep,
the pediment, covered by chiseled cornices, with still richer ornaments
rising from the apices and at the feet; all carved in white marble, and
then spread over an area larger than any modern churches, making a
forest of columns to bear aloft those ponderous beams of stone, without
any thing tending to break the continuity of horizontal lines, by which
the harmony and simplicity of the whole are seen. So accurately squared
and nicely adjusted were the stones and pillars of which these temples
were built, that there was scarcely need of even cement. Without noise
or confusion or sound of hammers did those temples rise, since all their
parts were cut and carved in the distant quarries, and with mathematical
precision. And within the cella, nearly concealed by the surrounding
columns, were the statues of the gods, and the altars on which incense
was offered, or sacrifices made. In every part, interior and exterior,
do we see a matchless proportion and beauty, whether in the shaft, or
the capital, or the frieze, or the pilaster, or the pediment, or the
cornices, or even the mouldings - everywhere grace and harmony, which
grow upon the mind the more they are contemplated. The greatest evidence
of the matchless creative genius displayed in those architectural
wonders is that, after two thousand years, and with all the inventions
of Roman and modern artists, no improvement can be made, and those
edifices which are the admiration of our own times are deemed beautiful
as they approximate the ancient models which will forever remain objects
of imitation, No science can make two and two other than four. No art
can make a Doric temple different from the Parthenon without departing
from the settled principles of beauty and proportion which all ages have
endorsed. Such were the Greeks and Romans in an art which is one of the
greatest indices of material civilization, and which by them was derived
from geometrical forms, or the imitation of Nature.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Perfection of Grecian sculpture.]

The genius displayed by the ancients in sculpture, is even more
remarkable than in architecture. It was carried to perfection, however,
only by the Greeks. But they did not originate the art, since we read of
sculptured images from the remotest antiquity. The earliest names of
sculptors are furnished by the Old Testament. Assyria and Egypt are full
of relics to show how early this art was cultivated. It was not carried
to perfection as early, probably, as architecture; but rude images of
gods, carved in wood, are as old as the history of idolatry. The history
of sculpture is in fact identified with that of idols. It was from
Phoenicia that Solomon obtained the workmen for the decoration of his
Temple. But the Egyptians were probably the first who made considerable
advances in the execution of statues. They are rude, simple, uniform,
without beauty or grace, but colossal and grand. Nearly two thousand
years before Christ, the walls of Thebes were ornamented with sculptured
figures, even as the gates of Babylon were of sculptured bronze. The
dimensions of Egyptian colossal figures surpass those of any other
nation. The sitting figures of Memnon at Thebes are fifty feet in
height, and the Sphinx is twenty-five, and these are of granite. The
number of colossal statues was almost incredible. The sculptures found
among the ruins of Carnac must have been made nearly four thousand years
ago. [Footnote: Wilkinson's _Ancient Egyptians_.] They exhibit
great simplicity of design, but without much variety of expression. They
are generally carved from the hardest stones, and finished so nicely
that we infer that the Egyptians were acquainted with the art of
hardening metals to a degree not known in our times. But we see no ideal
grandeur among any of the remains of Egyptian sculpture. However
symmetrical or colossal, there is no expression, no trace of emotion, no
intellectual force. Every thing is calm, impassive, imperturbable. It
was not until sculpture came into the hands of the Greeks that any
remarkable excellence was reached. But the progress of development was
slow. The earliest carvings were rude wooden images of the gods, and
more than a thousand years elapsed before the great masters were
produced which marked the age of Pericles.

It is not my object to give a history of the development of the plastic
art, but to show the great excellence it attained in the hands of
immortal sculptors.

[Sidenote: Admiration for sculpture among the Greeks.]

[Sidenote: High estimation of sculpture among the Greeks.]

The Greeks had an intuitive perception of the beautiful, and to this
great national trait we ascribe the wonderful progress which sculpture
made. Nature was most carefully studied, and that which was most
beautiful in Nature became the object of imitation. They ever attained
to an ideal excellence, since they combined in a single statue what
could not be found in a single individual, as Zeuxis is said to have
studied the beautiful forms of seven virgins of Crotona in order to
paint his famous picture of Venus. Great as was the beauty of Thryne, or
Aspasia, or Lais, yet no one of them could have served for a perfect
model. And it required a great sensibility to beauty in order to select



Online LibraryJohn LordThe Old Roman World, : the Grandeur and Failure of Its Civilization → online text (page 13 of 50)