Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Gothic cusps and foliations ; but as Mr. Ruskin, though he gives a most ingenious account of the constructive origin of the cusp, says little about its decorative effect, and as these features form no part of the kind of expression which we undertook to investigate, namely, that which owes its existence to main constructional peculiarities, we forego the discussion of this point, and hasten to make a few remarks on the claims of · Italian Gothic.'

Here we must take part with Hope, Gally Knight, Willis, Lord Lindsay, and others, against Mr. Ruskin. The Italians evidently adopted the forms of pointed architecture from the North with great reluctance; they systematically deprived those forms of their expressional powers, in order to subdue them, as far as possible, to a compatibility with the characteristic effects of the preceding style. Shafts and mouldings were maimed in their upward Hight by horizontal bands of colour. Arch mouldings, in the North always plain and uninterrupted, sometimes received a further check by being carved and jointed, and by the marking of their separate voussoirs. The pointed arch was constantly mixed up with or enclosed by the semicircle and other figures which destroyed its natural expression. The Northern improvements on the Lombard bases and capitals were not admitted. Low roofs and low pediments, the detachment of the campanile from the body of the church; decoration by rich and various material, rather than by pure form; and many other means of anti-Gothic effect, conspired to spoil · Italian Gothic' for temple architecture, and to make us regret its substitution for the noble and consistent Lombard style. · But out of this secularisation, if we may so call it, of the Northern Gothic, arose, perhaps, the most beautiful style of palatial architecture that the world has seen. Its purest and loveliest examples are the ancient palaces of Venice. Although we believe that Mr. Ruskin has greatly overrated the relative importance of these buildings in the scale of architectural merit, he has no doubt done very valuable service by calling attention to them; and we are glad to know that he has already awakened a lively interest upon the subject among practical men. We believe that a façade, like that of the Palazzo Foscari, the Ca' d'Oro, or the Palazzo Pisani, would meet with a degree of sympathy and appreciation from the dwellers in the North, which will never be awarded by them to any Greek, Roman, or Renaissance house-architecture, however admirable such architecture may have been in its time and climate.

Let us, however, before concluding, put forth a plea or two for the practitioners of what Mr. Ruskin calls the pestilent art of the Renaissance.'

which wilce house been in it

ture may havuse-architectures them to any Green the North,

1851.

Renaissance Architecture.

399

Mr. Ruskin treats the Italian Renaissance architects as if they were the inventors of the various barbarisms' with which he charges their style; the truth is, that they found all the most outrageous and particular barbarisms to which he alludes already invented in the remains of late Román work; and that they adopted them in the blind belief, prevalent at the time, that to be Roman and to be perfect was one and the same thing. It is also to be remembered, that these men were totally ignorant of pure Greek art. Consequently they must have been at an enormous disadvantage, as compared with ourselves, if ever they were sufficiently heterodox to endeavour to form an estimate of the real merits or demerits of the corrupted reminiscences of it in Roman art: and they could thus build, and the people enjoy what beauty their buildings possessed, without being shocked, as we continually are, by having the absent and exquisite chastity of Greek architecture everywhere suggested by misapplied Greek details. When the architects of this school dared to be original, they often succeeded in producing very noble works. It would be difficult to speak too bighly of the excellent good sense and true feeling of Palladio. There is a degree of beauty, about some of his designs, for which, as in all works of real genius, we are at a loss fully to account; and it must be confessed, that his constructive barbarisms, - such as rusticated shafts, brackets in the form of triglyphs, strongly expressed voussoirs, with no weight above them to justify their emphasis, generally constitute parts of a harmony, which we are disposed to value far above the irreproachable and uninteresting accuracies of some of our modern purists.

Of all the complaints — some of them very just — which Mr. Ruskin brings against this school, none are so vehement, and, we think, so ill-founded, as that which he urges against the system of wall decoration' by ` rustic-work. As this is a point to which the Renaissance architects attached great importance, and one to which modern critics have paid little attention, we may be allowed to detain the reader with a few words of explanation and defence. There are three principal kinds of rustication, called technically “frosted,'' vermiculated,' and chamfered.' The two former and least important consist merely in leaving or making rough the visible surfaces of the stones, except at the margins, where they are chiselled smooth; by the last method, the stones, whether rough or smooth, are bevelled, or chamfered,' at their edges. All these devices have one main end, which is to exhibit the structure of the walls, by marking the junctions of the stones ; and, to this end, the third

mode adds a capacity to express, by the depth or shallowness of the bevelling, different degrees of thickness in the wall; since, the beholder naturally and instantly concludes that its thickness is always great enough to render insignificant the loss of power which is produced by cutting away the edges of its stones. Now there is no end to the variety of interest, though it may not be very high, and of expression, though not, perhaps, of the most subtle kind, which the Renaissance architects produced by this last species of rustic-work in wall surfaces, more especially in those of the basement stories, of which the masonry is obviously required to be strongest, and where, therefore, the chamfered mode is most appropriate. Most Renaissance basements are elaborately and successfully studied for this special object. The nature of a basement excluded, for the most part, the barbarous traditional decorations which were apt to disfigure the bel étage; thus freer scope was left in it for dwelling on intelligent arrangeinent, and for displaying the living powers of gravitation and resistance in the stones. In the basement of the Palace of Charles the Fifth in the Alhambra, built by the • Spanish Michel Angelo,' Alonzo Berruguette, every stone has its distinct office, and is unlike the one next to it; yet the whole is simple in effect, and capable of being comprehended at a glance. The basement of the Strozzi Palace, Florence, is divided by apertures into eight equal surfaces of wall, numbering in no case more than seven blocks, yet each differing from all the others in arrangement. It would require a volume to go through the constructive problems visibly solved in the exhibited masonry of the Renaissance. The practice of Rustication would, we think, have been sufficiently justified had it stopped at the production of this excellent and essentially architectural effect; but the exhibition of masonry answered another and even more important end, -- one which was considered by the Greek architects of the best time as worth obtaining at a very large expense of labour. They polished the edges of the frustra of shafts so carefully, that the junctions became literally invisible; but they were just as careful to mark the horizontal layers of the wall masonry, and 80 to obtain those lines, which, on the Bank,' Mr. Ruskin says,

may be considered as typical of accounts,' but which, in any other position, he regards in the light of mere disfigurements. The Greek architect did this in order to render the wall a foil to the all-important columns, by depriving it of all chance of being supposed to share in their activity. Now Renaissance rustication performs the same office of contrasting the naturally active expression of the shafts, by the naturally passive expres

1851.

Renaissance Architecture.

401

sion of the wall; but the wall-lines are commonly much broader and deeper than in the Greek, and are also perpendicular as well as horizontal, because the wall itself has an independent power and importance, which in Greek architecture it had not. Mr. Ruskin objects against the system of displayed masonry, that Nature leaves her mountain bases smooth. Now, if we were prepared to receive this doctrine, of requiring antitypes in Nature for all that the architect expresses by his work, we should still hold that the Renaissance architects were not thereby condemned in their common practice, which was to justify any unusual lowness in their edifices, by an appearance of unusual massiveness, obtained by increasing the force of the chamfered rustication. We readily admit, however, that the Renaissance method of giving expression to the wall is gross and tautological, when compared with the Lombard system of wall decoration. The baldest wall is far better than a surface badly or unnecessarily rusticated, as it often was, in imitation of some Roman example or other, by the Renaissance architects, and as it commonly is, with no such excuse, by modern builders.

In closing this brief and very imperfect elucidation of certain sources of effect in the principal styles of architecture, we must remind our readers that we have noted only the points of difference between Mr. Ruskin and ourselves. The points upon which we heartily coincide with him would have occupied, in their enumeration, far more space than we can afford to devote to them. The · Seven Lamps' and the Stones of Venice' are works abounding in interest and value, for the general reader as well as for architects. The latter will do well to forego, for once, their customary scorn of non-professional criticism, and to remember, that a work is not necessarily worthless and unlearned because much that it teaches has never been taught before; and that it is not necessarily impractical, because it chiefly busies itself about the deep and half-forgotten foundations, which are common to all arts, and are therefore best discovered and discoursed of by a man who is devoted to no one of them in particular.

It is to civil architecture, especially that of Venice, that Mr. Ruskin has given his chief attention and warmest sympathy; and it is, we believe, to civil architecture that criticism ought at present to be chiefly devoted. Ecclesiastical architecture is taking among us its own course. Some persons doubt whether it is on the best path; yet it is now so far gone in it, that criticism has no longer much chance of seriously affecting it. Church builders do at last adhere to certain general principles. We might complain, that for the most part, - like the PreRaphaelites we have heard so much of, — they choose to imi

tate the buds instead of the blossoms of mediæval Gothic, preferring that which is generally, though with questionable right, called the Early English,' and even in some instances retrograding still further into the late Lombard style. But mediæval architecture, of one sort or another, is at present the fixed ecclesiastical mode; and architects of late years are become fervent in the study, not only of ancient examples, but also of the principles by which their designers, consciously or unconsciously, were guided. It would be a great thing for civil architecture if the same unity and zeal could be awakened in its professors; and we confess that we do not share the despondency which Mr. Ruskin seems to feel, and which it is the fashion to express, concerning the prospects of this department of the art. It is quite true that new conditions of feeling and perception, in the people as well as in architects, are indispensable to a revival of the art. These conditions have arisen, in some faint but real degree, in the case of church architecture; but, in spite of some great exceptions, the civil branch of this noble art remains almost as lifeless and insipid as ever. People cannot at once resolve to perceive and feel; and, as the excellent maxim, omnis boni principium intellectus cogitabundus,' is one of the truths which are at present fallen into disuse, there exists little faith in the utility of critical efforts to bring the public and architects to feel and perceive. That, however, which has been done by criticism in one case may be done by it in the other. In church architecture, what we have been taught to understand we have come to feel, and through feeling, in some measure, to create anew.

It is the present custom to underrate the value of artistical criticism, as much as in the days of our fathers there was a tendency to overrate it. The word 'inspiration, as applied to art and the artist, has been subjected to the grossest misuse. Many people would persuade themselves and others, that all true artists have been the wildest of fanatics. If you give Shakspeare or Michel Angelo credit for having known something of what they were about when they produced their works, you are accused of degrading art into handicraft. It is not enough to allow that the modesty and simplicity of the great artist, together with the consciousness of the ease with which he has worked, may generally have prevented him from knowing how excellent and unapproachable his work would appear to others; he must also have been wholly unaware of the laws by which he has worked, if, indeed, it will be admitted by objectors of this class that works of art are produced according to any laws at all. Every thing which is known of art and artists goes to contradict this way of thinking. Most men, if not all,

new

« AnteriorContinuar »