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Is there nothing better to do than to turn away with the verdict: Perfect, but too perfect; simple, but too easily understood; grand, but not grandiose enough; entirely lovely, which is a fault; exquisitely complete, but therefore unexciting?
Gothic kinds, and that in its kind it stands unsurpassed, unrivaled, unapproached. If we put ornamentation out of the balance and judge for constructive beauty alone, it is one of the two or three great churches of the worldpartly because of its singular completeness, but largely for more intrinsic reasons.
It is not a new idea of my own that if a classic Greek could come back to life he might like Salisbury better than any other medieval building. But it came to me as a new idea when I first saw the church, and the It is well to say at once, however, that in fact is perhaps worth citing as a line of thus estimating the merits of Salisbury I have
evidence in a significant direction. If this building would seem exceptionally perfect and lucid to the eye of a Greek, if we should choose it as the first to show him when explaining what medieval builders understood by a temple of their faith,- if this is true or can by any colorable license be construed as truth, is not Salisbury magnificently praised? Meat that is fit for the gods must be good, though to our jaded appetites there may seem little spice in the dish.
I do not wish to be understood as saying that Salisbury is the most beautiful church in the world or in England, or even as saying that so it seems to me. Moods change, and with them estimates of perfection. Architectural beauty is of many kinds, and even within the limits of the Pointed styles we may judge for different virtues with differing priorities as the result. All I mean is that Salisbury's kind of beauty is the most purely lovely among
left its west front out of mind. This front is, indeed, one of the best of its kind, but its kind is indisputably bad.
The west façades of England offer a curious subject for study. Norman builders loved dominant central towers and English builders always persisted in this love. Across the Channel it was soon suppressed by a desire for lofty ceilings, and the west front profited by the change. Its towers became of chief importance, and their combination with the principal door-ways and with the great height of wall-curtain, which was justified by the high nave-walls behind, resulted in designs of extraordinary force and splendor-in designs which, as elevations, are by far the finest works of medieval genius. In England, where the western towers remained subordinate to the central, and where the body of the church was low and narrow, no such magnificence of front was logically possible. But great beauty
INTERIOR OF CLERE-STORY WINDOW, NORTH TRANSEPT.
of simulated windows. Three porches exist, but they are much too small for the artistic or the expressional dignity which their place demands. It hardly needs the corroborating evidence of the great porch on the north side of the church to make them seem a mere concession to the precepts of tradition or of foreign practice; and the façade as a whole is palpably an attempt to imitate under hopeless conditions the majestic variety of French designs. It is not a true factor in the general scheme of the building, truly completing the parts which lie behind it. It is a screen whose purpose is to make the church look larger than the truth. From one point of view it accomplishes this task, but from every other the cheat is of course apparent. Strictly judged for the underlying architectural idea, it has no greater merit than a thing we may see any day in any little American town a house-front a couple of stories in height surmounted by another sham story or two of blank wall, behind which, when we stand a little aside, we see the roofs sloping away. They were a singular race, these English architects. Sometimes they seem to possess, in the highest measure, constructive genius, architectural imagination, æsthetic feeling; sometimes they design like children who have been impressed by a certain object but have no appreciation of what factors really make its beauty; and sometimes they show both phases of their character in the same building and at the same epoch. Such is strikingly the case at Salisbury. The east end, the tower and spire, and the long reaches of nave and transepts look like the work of angel builders inspired by a supernal idea to a supernatural perfection of result, while the west front-built by the same men, or at least by their sons shows a lack of the first principles of good art which we should condemn in a generation that had been fed on blunders only. Yet the result is as characteristically
English in the one case as in the other. Neither for the supreme success nor for the crude mistake was there any foreign precedent.
The more we look at this façade the more its faults as a design appear, though there is much to delight us in its details of execution. The wings are too wide for the central division, and the middle window is too large for its place; the cornices are deplorably weak, and the rows of blank windows are a cheap device to give the wall a semblance of utility. It is less to be called a composition than a mechanical assemblage of individually attractive features. But it is far more elaborate than any other part of the church, and must at least have had great decorative charm when its multitudinous figures were intact. Time and the Reformation ruined them however, and the modern hand which replaced them was not a great sculptor's.
IT is a pleasure to turn from the front of Salisbury to the tower and spire, which call for nothing but unstinted praise. The upper parts are just a century later than the lower and belong to the Decorated period. But appropriate proportioning has been observed in the shape of the windows, and the richer decoration seems entirely harmonious with the simplicity below. The tower groups and assorts with the body of the church as a blown rose groups and assorts with buds-it seems but the same idea brought to a richer, fuller development. And the work is as intrinsically beautiful as it is appropriate. Not size alone makes this steeple so famous; not merely the lowness of the roof beneath makes it so splendidly impressive. No other spire in the world is so exquisitely noble in proportions, so aspiring in expression, so graceful in outline, so felicitous in the arrangement of its parts. The angle-turrets are of just the right size, the stories of the tower and the bandings of the spire are of just the right height, the transition from tower to spire-from the four-sided to the eight-sided body-is beautifully managed, and the decoration is applied so well that we cannot dissever it in thought from the constructive forms it accents. Salisbury's spire has few rivals in the world and, to my mind, no equal. The far greater elaboration of Strasburg's is dearly purchased by a loss of purity in outline and of buoyancy of spring. The same is true with even greater emphasis of Antwerp's and of Mechlin's, whence the spire-like effect has almost entirely vanished. If the open lace-work of Freiburg's great pinnacle has a greater picturesqueness, we may still prefer the solid, pure, and noble slightness of the great English work; and in all of Europe there is no
other spire of similar altitude and beauty which stands like this as the completing central feature of a great and perfect composition.
It is supposed that the builders of the church intended to carry their tower much higher than the single stage they completed. But their foundations, set on spongy soil, showed signs of weakness, and the recent fall of the great neighboring tower of Winchester warned against temerity. Strong abutments were added in the upper stages of the church, and by the aid of these the fourteenth-century architect raised his upper stories and his spire. The construction of the latter is singularly daring and scientific. To a height of twenty feet its walls are two feet thick, but above that they are only nine inches thick, while the scaffoldings which served the builders still remain within them, hung to the capstone of the spire by iron rods and serving by their crossbars to brace the fabric. But even thus the soil refused to bear the enormous load with steadiness, and in the fifteenth century great braces were inserted between the four supporting piers to prevent them from bulging outward to their fall. The point of the spire is now twenty-three inches out of the perpen
dicular, but the fact is scarcely perceptible; and though signs of settlement show far more plainly within the church, they have not increased for centuries, while modern skill has done its best to guard against further movement. It is probable that the original constructors did not think of adding so lofty a finish to their tower; but their successors' thought was a happy one and, as time has proved, it was not altogether over-daring.
THE interior of the cathedral, despite its size and unity, impresses and charms us much less than the exterior. The features of its design please us best when individually considered. The plan of the great pillars is a welding together of eight circular shafts, four of larger and four of smaller size. The arches between them are sharply pointed and their moldings show that infinitude of beautifully contrasting hollows, ridges, and rolls which is the distinctive mark and the greatest merit of EarlyEnglish work. The clere-story openings are divided into coupled lights and filled with simple, strong, yet graceful traceries; and the triforium lights are in groups of three or five.