The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 45, July, 1861 online

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the convenience of an unartistic age, and there is no individual love or
aspiration in it.

Virtually, the Roman orders died in the first century of the Christian
era. We all know how, when the authority of the Pagan schools was gone
and the stern Vitruvian laws had become lost in the mists of antiquity,
these orders gradually fell from their strict allegiance, and imbibed a
new and healthy life from that rude but earnest Romanesque spirit, as in
Byzantium and Lombardy. And we know, too, how, in after Gothic times,
the spirit of the forgotten Aphrodite, Ideal Beauty, sometimes
lurked furtively in the image of the Virgin Mary, and inspired the
cathedral-builders with somewhat of the old creative impulse of Love.
But the workings of this impulse are singularly contrasted in the
productions of the Greek and Mediaeval artists. Nature, we have seen,
offered to the former mysterious and oracular Sibylline leaves,
profoundly significant of an indwelling humanity diffused through all
her woods and fields and mountains, all her fountains, streams, and
seas. Those meditative creators sat at her feet, earnest disciples,
but gathering rather the spirit and motive of her gifts than the gifts
themselves, making an Ideal and worshipping it as a deity. But for the
cathedral-builder, Dryads and Hamadryads, Oreads, Fauns, and Naiads did
not exist, - the Oak of Dodona uttered no oracles.

"A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more."

To him Nature was an open book, from which he continually quoted with a
loving freedom, not to illustrate his own deep relationships with her,
but to give greater glory to that vast Power which stood behind her
beautiful text and was revealed to him in the new religion from
Palestine. He loved fruits and flowers and leaves because they were
manifestations of the Love of God; and he used them in his Art, not as
motives out of which to create abstract forms, out of which to eliminate
an ideal humanity, but to show his intense appreciation of the Divine
Love which gave them. Had he been a Pantheist, as Orpheus was, it is
probable he would have idealized these things and created Greek lines.
But believing in a distinct God, the supreme Originator of all things,
he was led to a worship of sacrifice and offerings, and needed no Ideal.
So, with a lavish hand, he appropriated the abundant Beauty of Nature,
imitating its external expressions with his careful chisel, and
suffering his sculptured lines to throw their wayward tendrils and
vagrant leaflets outside the strict limits of his spandrels. The life of
Gothic lines was in their sensuous liberty; the life of Greek lines
was in their intellectual reserve. Those arose out of a religion of
emotional ardor; these, out of a religion of philosophical reflection.
Hence, while the former were wild and picturesque, the latter were
serious, chaste, and very human.

Doubtless the nearest approach to ideal abstractions to be found in
Mediaeval Art is contained in that remarkable and very characteristic
system of foliations and cuspidations in tracery, which were suggested
by the leaf-forms in Nature. In this adaptation, when first it was
initiated in the earliest phases of Gothic, there is something like
Greek Love. The simple trefoil aperture seems a fair architectural
version of the clover-leaves. But the propriety of the use of these
clover-lines was hinted by a constructive exigency, the pointed arch.
The inevitable assimilation of the natural forms of leaves with this
feature was too evident not to be improved by such active and ardent
worshippers as the Freemasons. Thus originated Gothic tracery, which
afterwards branched out into such sumptuous and unrestrained luxury as
we find in the Decorated styles of England, the Flamboyant of France,
the late Geometric of Germany. Thus were the masons true to the zealous
and passionate enthusiasm of their religion. They used foliations, not
on account of their subjective significance, as the Greek artists did,
but on account of their objective and material applicability to the
decoration of their architecture. But no natural form was ever made
use of by a Greek artist merely because suggested by a constructive
exigency. It was the inward life of the thing itself which he saw, and
it was his love for it which made him adopt it. This love refined and
purified its object, and never would have permitted it to grow into any
wild and licentious Flamboyant under the serene and quiet skies of the

And so the Greek lines slept in patient marble through the long Dark
Ages, and no one came to awaken them into beautiful life again. No one,
consecrated Prince by the chrism of Nature, wandered into the old land
to kiss the Sleeping Beauty into life, and break the deep spell which
was around her kingdom.

Then came the Renaissance in the fifteenth century. But - alas that we
must say it! - it was fundamentally a Renaissance of error rather than of
truth. It was a revival of Roman Art, and not of Greek. The line which
we call Hogarth's, but which in reality is as old as human life and its
passions, was the key-note of it all. So wanton were the wreaths it
curled in the sight of the great masters of that period, that they all
yielded to its subtle fascinations and sinned, - sinned, inasmuch as they
devoted their vast powers to the revival and refinement of a sensuous
academic formalism, instead of breathing into all the architectural
forms and systems then known (a glorious material to work with) the pure
life of the Ideal. Had such men as Michel Angelo, San Gallo, Palladio,
Scamozzi, Vignola, San Michele, Bernini, been inspired by the highest
principles of Art, and known the thoughtful lines of Greece, so catholic
to all human moods, and so wisely adapted to the true spirit of
reform, - had they known these, all subsequent Art would have felt the
noble impulse, and been developed into that sphere of perfection
which we see rendering illustrious the primitive posts and lintels of
antiquity, and which we picture to ourselves in the imaginary future of
Hope as glorifying a far wider scope of human knowledge and ingenuity.

The Gothic architecture of the early part of the fifteenth century
was ripe for the spirit of healthy reform. It had been actively
accumulating, during the progress of the age of Christianity, a
boundless wealth of forms, a vast amount of constructive resources, and
material fit for innumerable architectural expressions of human power.
But in the last two centuries of this era the Love which gave life to
this architecture in its earlier developments gradually became swallowed
up in the Pride of the workman; and the luscious and abandoned luxury of
line led it farther and farther astray from the true path, till at last
it became like an unweeded garden run to seed, and there was no health
in it. In the year 1555, at Beauvais, the masonic workmen uttered their
last cry of defiance against the old things made new in Italy. Jean Wast
and François Maréchal of that town, two cathedral-builders, said, - "that
they had heard of the Church of St. Peter at Rome, and would maintain
that their Gothic could be built as high and on as grand a scale as the
antique orders of this Michel Angelo." And with this spirit they built a
wonderful pyramid over the cross of their cathedral. But, alas! it fell
in the fifth year of its arrogant pride, and this is the last we hear of
Gothic architecture in those times. Over the wild and picturesque ruins
the spirits of the old conquerors of Gaul once more strode with measured
tread, and began to set up their prevailing standards in the very
strongholds of Gothic supremacy. These conquerors trampled down the true
as well as the false in the Mediaeval _régime_, and utterly extinguished
that sole lamp of knowledge which had given light to the Ages of
Darkness and had kindled into life and beauty the cathedrals of Europe.

This was the error of the Renaissance. Its apostles would not recognize
the capacities existing in the great architecture they displaced,
for opening into a new life under the careful culture of a revived
knowledge. But they rooted it out bodily, and planted instead an exotic
of the schools. It was the re-birth of an Art _system_, which in its
former existence had developed in an atmosphere of conquest. It taught
them to kill, burn, and destroy all that opposed the progress of its
triumph. It was eminently revolutionary in its character, and its reign,
to all those multitudinous expressions of life and thought which had
arisen under the intermediate and more liberal dynasty, was one of
terror. Truly, it was a fierce and desolating instrument of reform.

It would be a tempting theme of speculation to follow in the imagination
the probable progress of a Greek, instead of a Roman Renaissance, into
such active, but misguided schools as those of Rouen and Tours in the
latter part of the fifteenth century, - of Rouen, with its Roger Arge,
its brothers Leroux, who built the old and famous Hôtel Bourgtheroulde
there, its Pierre de Saulbeaux, and all that legion of architects and
builders who were employed by the Cardinal Amboise in his castle of
Gaillon, - of Tours, with its Pierre Valence, its François Marchant, its
Viart and Colin Byart, out of whose rich and picturesque craft-spirit
arose the quaint fancies of the palaces of Blois and Chambord, and the
playfulness of many an old Flemish house-front. Such a Renaissance
would not have come among these venial sins of _naïveté_, this sportive
affluence of invention, to overturn ruthlessly and annihilate. Its
mission would inevitably have been, not to destroy, but to fulfil, - to
invest these strange results of human frailty and human power with that
grave ideal beauty which nineteen centuries before had done a good work
with the simple columns and architraves on the banks of the Ilissus, and
which, under the guidance of Love, would have made the arches and vaults
and buttresses and pinnacles of a later civilization illustrious with
even more eloquent expressions of refinement. For Greek lines do not
stand apart from the sympathies of men by any spirit of ceremonious and
exclusive rigor, as is undeniably the case with those which were adopted
from Rome. They are not a _system_, but a _sentiment_, which, wisely
directed, might creep into the heart of any condition of society, and
leaven all its architecture with a purifying and pervading power without
destroying its independence, where an inflexible system could assume a
position only by tyrannous oppression.

Yet when we examine the works of the Renaissance, after the system had
become more manageable and acclimated under later Italian and French
hands, we cannot but admire the skill with which the lightest fancies
and the most various expressions of human contrivance were reconciled to
the formal rules and proportions of the Roman orders. The Renaissance
palaces and civil buildings of the South and West of Europe are so full
of ingenuity, and the irrepressible inventive power of the artist moves
with so much freedom and grace among the stubborn lines of that revived
architecture, that we cannot but regard the results with a sort of
scholastic pride and pleasure. We cannot but ask ourselves, If the
spirit of those architects could obtain so much liberty under the
restrictions of such an unnatural and unnecessary despotism, what would
have been the result, if they had been put in possession of the very
principles of Hellenic Art, instead of these dangerous and complex
models of Rome, which were so far removed from the purity and simplicity
of their origin? Up to a late day, the great aim of the Renaissance has
been to interpret an advanced civilization with the sensuous line; and
_so far as this line is capable of such expression_, the result has been

Thus four more weary centuries were added to the fruitless slumbers
of Ideal Beauty among the temples of Greece. Meanwhile, in turn, the
Byzantine, the Northman, the Frank, the Turk, and finally the bombarding
Venetian, left their rude invading footprints among her most cherished
haunts, and defiled her very sanctuary with the brutal touch of
barbarous conquest. But the kiss which was to dissolve this enchantment
was one of Love; and not Love, but cold indifference, or even scorn,
was in the hearts of the rude warriors. So she slept on undisturbed in
spirit, though broken and shattered in the external type, and it was
reserved for a distant future to be made beautiful by her disenchantment
and awakening.

In 1672, a pupil of the artist Lebrun, Jacques Carrey, accompanied the
Marquis Ollier de Nointee, ambassador of Louis XIV., to Constantinople.
On his way he spent two months at Athens, making drawings of the
Parthenon, then in an excellent state of preservation. These drawings,
more useful in an archaeological than an artistic point of view, are
now preserved in the Bibliothèque Impériale of Paris. In 1676, two
distinguished travellers, one a Frenchman, Dr. Spon, the other an
Englishman, Sir George Wheler, tarried at Athens, and gave valuable
testimony, in terms of boundless admiration, to the beauty and splendor
of the temples of the Acropolis and its neighborhood, then quite unknown
to the world. Other travellers followed these pioneers in the traces of
that old civilization. But in 1687 Königsmark and his Venetian forces
threw their hideous bombshells among the exquisite temples of the
Acropolis, and, igniting thereby the powder-magazine with which the
Turks had desecrated the Parthenon, tore into ruins that loveliest of
the lovely creations of Hellas. It was not until the publishing of the
famous work of Stuart and Revett on "The Antiquities of Athens," in
1762, that the world was made familiar with the external expressions
of Greek Architecture. This publication at once created a curious
revolution in the practice of architecture, - a revolution extending in
its effects throughout Europe. A fever arose to reproduce Greek temples;
and to such an extent was this vacant and thoughtless reproduction
carried out, that at one time it bid fair to supplant the older
Renaissance. The spirit of the new Renaissance, however, was one of mere
imitation, and had not the elements of life and power to insure its
ultimate success. No attempt was made to acclimate the exotic to suit
the new conditions it was thus suddenly called upon to fulfil; for the
_sentiment_ which actuated it, and the Love with which it was created,
were not understood. It was the mere setting up of old forms in new
places; and the Grecian porticos and pediments and columns, which were
multiplied everywhere from the models supplied by Stuart and Revett,
and found their way profusely into this New World, still stare upon us
gravely with strange alien looks. The impetuous current of modern life
beats impatiently against that cumbrous solidity of peristyle which
sheltered well in its day the serene philosophers of the Agora, but
which is now the merest impediment in the way of modern traffic and
modern necessities. But presently the spirit of formalism, engendered by
the old Renaissance, took hold of the revived Greek lines, and
stiffened them into acquiescence with a base mathematical system, which
effectually deprived them of that life and reproductive power which
belong only to a state of artistic freedom. They were reduced to rule
and deadened in the very process of their revival.

So the Greek Ideal, though strangely transplanted thus into the noise of
modern streets, was not awakened from its long repose by the clatter and
roaring of our new civilization. As regarded the uses of life, it still
slept in petrifactions of Pentelic marble. And when those petrifactions
were repeated in modern quarries, it was merely the shell they gave; the
spirit within had not yet broken through.

Greek lines, therefore, owed their earliest revival to the vagaries of a
capricious taste, and the desire to give zest to the architecture of the
day by their novelty. It was not for the sake of the new life there was
in them, and of that pliable spirit of refinement so suited to the wise
re-birth of ancient Love in Art. It is not surprising that some of the
more modern masters of the old Renaissance, with whom that system had
become venerable, from its universal use as the vehicle by which
the greatest artists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had
expressed their thoughts and inspirations, regarded with peculiar
distrust these outlandish innovations on the exclusive walks of their
own architecture. For they saw only a few external forms which the
beautiful principles of Hellenic Art had developed to fit an old
civilization; the applicability of these primary principles to the
refinement of the architectural expressions of a modern state of society
they could not of course comprehend. About the year 1786, we find Sir
William Chambers, the leading architect of his day in England, in his
famous treatise on "The Decorative Part of Civil Architecture," giving
elaborate and emphatic expression to his contempt of that Greek Art,
which had presented itself to him in a guise well suited to cause
misapprehension and error. "It must candidly be confessed," he says,
"that the Grecians have been far excelled by other nations, not only in
the magnitude and grandeur of their structures, but likewise in point of
fancy, ingenuity, variety, and elegant selection." A heresy, indeed!

Two distinguished German artists - the one, Schinkel of Berlin, born in
1781, - the other, Klenze of Munich, born in 1784 - were children when
Chambers uttered these treasonable sentiments concerning Greek Art.
Later, at separate times, these artists visited Greece, and so filled
themselves with the feeling and sentiment of the Art there, so
consecrated their souls with the appreciative study of its divine Love,
that the patient Ideal at last awoke from its long slumbers, entered
into the breathing human temples thus prepared for it by the pure rites
of Aphrodite, _and once more lived_. Thus in the opening years of the
nineteenth century was a new and reasonable Renaissance, not of an
antique type, but of a spirit which had the gift of immortal youth, and
uttered oracles of prophecy to these chosen Pythians of Art.

Through Schinkel, the pure Hellenic style, only hinted at previously in
the attempts of less inspired Germans, such as Langhaus, who embodied
his crude conceptions in the once celebrated Brandenburg Gate, was
fairly and grandly revived in the Hauptwache Theatre and the beautiful
Museum and the Bauschule and Observatory of Berlin. He competed with
Klenze in a series of designs for the new palace at Athens, rich with a
truly royal array of courts, corridors, saloons, and colonnades. But the
evil fate which ever hangs over the competitions of genius was baleful
even here, and the barrack-like edifice of Gütner was preferred. His
latest conception was a design of a summer palace at Orianda, in the
Crimea, for the Empress of Russia, where the purity of the old Greek
lines was developed into the poetry of terraces and hanging-gardens and
towers, far-looking over the Black Sea. Schinkel was called the Luther
of Architecture; and the spiritual serenity which he breathed into the
pomp and ceremonious luxury of the Art of his day seems to give him some
title to this distinction. Yet, with all the freedom and originality
with which he wrought out the new advent, he was perhaps rather too
timid than too bold in his reforms, - adhering too strictly to the
original letter of Greek examples, especially with regard to the orders.
He could not entirely shake off the old incubus of Rome.

And so, though in a less degree, with Klenze. When, in 1825, Louis of
Bavaria came to the throne, he was appointed Government Architect, and
in this capacity gave shape to the noble dreams of that monarch, in the
famous Glyptothèque, the Pinacothèque, the palace, and those civil and
ecclesiastical buildings which render Munich one of the most monumental
cities of Europe. It was his confessed aim to take up the work of the
Renaissance artists, having regard to our increased knowledge of that
antique civilization of which the masters of the sixteenth century could
study only the most complex developments, and those models of Rome which
were farthest removed from the pure fountain-head of Greece. "To-day,"
he said, "put in possession of the very principles of Hellenic Art,
we can apply them to all our actual needs, - learning from the Greeks
themselves to preserve our independence, and at the same time to be duly
novel and unrestrained according to circumstances." These are certainly
noble sentiments; and one cannot but wish, that, when, in 1830, Klenze
was called upon to prepare plans for the grand Walhalla of Bavaria, he
had remembered his sublime theory and worked up to its spirit, instead
of recalling the Parthenon in his exterior and the Olympian temple of
Agrigentum in his interior. The last effort of this distinguished artist
was the building of three superb palaces for the museum of the Emperor
at St. Petersburg, finished in 1851.

The seed thus planted fell upon good ground and brought forth a
hundred-fold. Then, throughout Germany, the scholastic formalism of the
old Renaissance began to fall into disrepute, and a finer feeling for
the eloquence of pure lines began to show itself. The strict limitations
of the classic orders were no longer recognized as impassable; a
sentiment of artistic freedom, a consciousness of enlarged resources,
a far wider range of form and expression, were evident in town and
country, in civil and ecclesiastical structures; and with all this
delightful and refreshing liberty was mingled that peculiar refinement
of line which was revived from Greece and was the secret of this change.
It was not over monumental edifices alone that this calm and thoughtful
spirit was breathed, but the most playful fancies of domestic
architecture derived from it an increased grace and purity, and the
study of Love moved over them, elegant and light-footed as Camilla.

"The flower she touched on dipped and rose,
And turned to look at her."

This revival of Hellenic principles is now infusing life into modern
German designs; and so well are these principles beginning to be
understood, that architects do not content themselves with the mere
reproduction of that narrow range of motives which was uttered in the
temples of heroic Greece, but, under these new impulses, they gather in
for their use all that has been done in ancient or modern Italy, in the
Romanesque of Europe, in the Gothic period, in Saracenic or Arabic Art,
in all the expressions of the old Renaissance. By the very necessity
of the Greek line, they are rendered catholic and unexcluding in their
choice of forms, but fastidious and hesitating in their interpretation
of them into this new language of Art. Thus the good work is going on in
Germany, and architecture _lives_ there, thanks to those two illustrious
pilgrims who brought back from the land of epics, not only the
scallop-shells upon their shoulders, but in their hearts the
consecration of Ideal Beauty.

According to the usual custom, in the year 1827, a scholar of the École
des Beaux Arts in Paris, having achieved the distinguished honor of
being named _Grand Pensionnaire_ of Architecture for that year, - was
sent to the Académie Française in the Villa Medici at Rome, to pursue
his studies there for five years at the expense of the Government. This
scholar was Henri Labrouste. While in Italy, his attention was directed
to the Greek temples of Paestum. Trained, as he had been, in the
strictest academic architecture of the Renaissance, he was struck by
many points of difference between these temples and the Palladian
formulae which had hitherto held despotic sway over his studies. In
grand and minor proportions, in the disposition of triglyphs in the
frieze, in mouldings and general sentiment, he perceived a remarkable
freedom from the restraints of his school, - a freedom which, so far from
detracting from the grandeur of the architecture, gave to it a degree of
life and refinement which his appreciative eye now sought for in vain
among the approved models of the Academy. Studying these new revelations
with love and veneration, it was not long before the pure Hellenic
spirit, confined in the severe peristyles and cellas of the Paestum
temples, entered into his heart, with all its elastic capacities, all
its secret and mysterious sympathies for the new life which had sprung
up during its long imprisonment in those stained and shattered marbles.

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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 45, July, 1861 → online text (page 13 of 21)