« AnteriorContinuar »
wide, while the central vault of the basilica of Maxentius stretches across no less a space than 83 feet. The architect proceeded with well-considered science. His side aisles each consist of three compartments, which he covered with three cylindrical vaults. The mouths of the tunnels were turned to the middle aisle, and the dark transverse divisions on the plan show the walls upon which the vaults were built. The intervals in the divisions were arched openings in the wall, and allowed the concourse to move freely from compartment to compartment without the necessity of passing into the body of the basilica. The side vaults do not, as in the temple at Nîmes, run parallel with the central aisle, but they are placed at right angles to it, instead of forming an uninterrupted longitudinal abutment to the large middle vault. The Roman had hit upon a new device. The main hall of the basilica was 120 feet high, which Mr. Fergusson says is less than the nave of some French and German cathedrals, but is not equalled by any cathedral in England. As with the cathedral nave, the centre rose above the aisles. The arches of the windows in the clerestory sprung from lofty Corinthian columns that stood upon the floor with their backs against the partitions of the lateral compartments.
From these upper arches proceeded cylindrical vaults, as if to cross the hall in the direction of its breadth ; but similar vaults were thrown from column to column at the ends, as if to go down the hall in the direction of its length. The longitudinal vault was thus intersected by the transverse vaults, and the junction produced the diagonal curves on the roof, which are marked by straight lines on the plan. The footing of the arches was confined to eight small bases, and the oblique thrusts were concentrated upon the side-aisle partitions, which acted the part of deep buttresses. The problem was solved of roofing vast rectangular spaces with concrete, brick, or stone, without requiring a continuous wall on which to found the sides of the vault. The backs of the lateral compartments and the corresponding intervals in the clerestory had nothing to sustain. Nearly the whole of the elevation could be devoted to windows, as was done by the Gothic architects, who seized on the principle and turned it to splendid account. The very columns at last are consistently used. They are made supports to the clerestory arches, seem to the eye to uphold the vaults, and have a real but subordinate share in the work. The horizontal entablature is not carried from column to column, but is only retained upon the top of the capital, where it has the ridiculous look of one capital on another. The difficulty of freeing architecture from traditional trammels is attested by too many instances to permit us to wonder that this senseless disfiguring remnant should have been kept. The repetition of arches, which gave majesty and apparent size to the exterior of the Colosseum, was not adopted in the vaulted basilicas, and the fewness and largeness of their parts are said by Mr. Fergusson to be their chief defect. In the noble fabric of Maxentius a length exceeding 250 feet is spanned by three arches, with a diameter of 72 feet each. Not only is there no succession of objects to give distance to the view, but the boundaries of the building are revealed in every direction, and we have staring wall in place of the vistas, the intricacy and half-concealed outlines which beguile the imagination in Egyptian temples and Gothic cathedrals. Even the massive construction fails to tell with such wide-set piers and arches. It has more of heaviness than grandeur.
The Maxentian basilica was hardly completed when Constantine, about A.D. 330, removed the seat of empire to Byzantium. Rome was stocked with public edifices. The new capital was poorly supplied, and the architects and artificers went off to the favoured city where their services were required. Their earliest works have been swept away, and there is a gap in the development of Roman architecture at Constantinople till we come to the reign of Justinian, A.D. 527. A few years after he ascended the throne he commenced the celebrated church of St. Sophia. There we find that another great step had been gained, and the innovation belonged to the same department with all the other contributions of the Romans to the builder's art. A cylinder, like the Pantheon, would not compose well with accessory parts. There were no flat faces for the adjuncts, and, unless it could be hung upon a polygon, the dome would not enter with advantage into a complex plan. In the palace of Diocletian, at Spalatro, which belongs to about A.D. 300, the easy course was adopted of circumscribing an octagon about the drum, and filling in the angles with solid wall. Subtler expedients were tried, but they were distanced by the famous device in the church of Justinian. The well of the great dome is a square, the sides of which consist of open arches with piers at the corners. The cylindrical base is formed aloft, at the top of the well, by curvilinear triangles, called pendentives, which are built, with their summits downwards, into the upper angles of the square, and convert it into a circle. Upon these jutting foundations is laid a dome, which equals in diameter the dome of St. Paul's. The Byzantine style had its peculiarities of design and decoration, but its one important constructive novelty was the overhanging base or pendentives, which poised its domes as it were in air. A contemporary writer records the exulting language of Justinian at the completion of his church. Glory be to God,' he exclaimed, who hath thought me worthy to
accomplish accomplish so great a work; I have vanquished thee, O Solomon.' * Yet how dull,' says Gibbon, “is the artifice, how insignificant is the labour, if it be compared with the formation of the vilest insect that crawls upon the wall of the temple.'
The contributions of the Roman to architecture are well defined, and it must be admitted that he bequeathed a magnificent legacy to his successors. The Greek was a pure artist
. In construction he discovered nothing, and was content with the primitive plan of a cross-bar laid upon upright posts for his elevation, and a triangle for his roof. The Roman, on the contrary, was an indifferent artist, but he was a first-rate constructor. His region was the arch, the dome, and the vault; and he used them with a rare originality and power. His domes and intersecting vaults were glorious feats of mechanic skill, and there is little in the constructive marvels of the mediæval builders which was not either actually anticipated by the Romans, or was an easy deduction from the principles they had established. Their architecture was immeasurably more prolific of results than the architecture of Greece. The Greeks perfected a single rigid form, which would be intolerably monotonous when often repeated, and which was not suited to the growing demands of the world. The contrivances of the Romans were equal to every exigency, and admitted of infinite modifications and developments. The stereotyped temple could not contend with the fertile, plastic devices which could be applied to all shapes curved or straight, and adapted to all edifices public or private, secular or religious, low or lofty, great or small. In mere beauty of design the Roman was sometimes eminently successful. His domes are grand, and by such elevations as the Colosseum he taught modern Europe the way to bestow expression, dignity, and elegance upon her storied civil buildings. His taste, however, was fitful at best; and he seldom got through his task without perpetrating some offensive solecism or marring the whole by some glaring inequality in the parts. He would have committed fewer faults if he had not been encumbered with the Greek façades which were outside his system, and which he failed to incorporate with it. He was fast emancipating himself from the thraldom when art declined with the Empire, and stopped him in his career. “Had Rome,' says Mr. Fergusson, * retained her power and pre-eminence a century or two longer, a style might have been elaborated as distinct from that of the ancient world, and as complete in itself, as our pointed Gothic, and perhaps more beautiful.' The Roman would certainly have improved upon the hybrid compound which for generations bad led him astray. He might probably have combined his domical
and rectangular vaulting, the Pantheon and Maxentian basilica, and have furnished a framework for the Middle Ages, which might have been wrought into still more august structures than the finest existing cathedral. But it may be doubted whether the Roman himself could have matured a style to rival the Gothic. The mediæval architects first in Europe united the constructive and artistic faculty in a high degree, and the coexistence of the double talent produced a more captivating mixture of the vast and the ethereal, of engineering science and poetic forms, of religious solemnity and jewelled richness than could have proceeded from the gross and one-sided Roman mind.
The smaller works of the Romans, their pillars of victory and triumphal arches, have been so often repeated that they might be supposed to be exceptions to the general failure of their decorative efforts ; but they are among their faultiest productions, and the numerous copies must be ascribed to the poverty of modern invention, much more than to the merit of the antique examples. “The Romans,' says Mr. Fergusson, when speaking of the pillars of victory, 'never rose above the idea of taking a column of construction, magnifying it, and placing it on a pedestal without any attempt to modify its details, or hide the original utilitarian purpose for which the pillar was designed.' They perceived, nevertheless, that an isolated pillar without a function would be ludicrous, and, in order to invest it with the semblance of a purpose, they put upon it a portrait statue which, by being perched aloft where it was barely visible, involved a senseless contradiction. In Trajan's Column there was the further absurdity of a spiral bas-relief twisted about the shaft like a bandage, and representing the incidents of his wars against Decebalus. The curious spectator who desired to profit by the sculptures had to walk round and round the corkscrew composition, endeavouring with confused and aching eyes to follow the winding procession. The Roman never understood that what is repugnant to reason cannot satisfy taste. With him to enrich a surface was to adorn it. The triumphal arches have the germs of beauty, but none of the Roman specimens are satisfactory. A rectangular block is not the best form, and the heavy attics on the top are clumsy and oppressive. The ornamentation, as might be expected, is not in keeping with the construction. The inevitable columns are set on tall pedestals to support a line of entablature, which breaks round the capitals; and the design, as Mr. Fergusson observes, is frittered away by this ostentatious envelope of useless props and cut-up cornices
. These persistent errors of the Roman style have led many critics to condemn it in
the mass, but its great and original qualities fairly justify its renown.
Already in the time of Constantine the arts were tending to decay. The rise of Byzantium hastened their downfall at Rome. Imperial wealth in the Western capital was no longer devoted to rearing imperial edifices. The business of building passed over to the Christians, who pursued it with humbler aspirations, with diminished means, and with inferior workmen. They had neither the science nor the money with which to construct colossal domes and vaults, and their architecture is not the continuation and expansion of the style immediately preceding. The heathen temples were their quarries, and the character of their buildings was determined by the nature of their ready-made materials, by the degree of skill in their artisans, and by the amount of funds at their command. They both retrograded and advanced, and the combined effects produced a new phase of the Roman style, which Mr. Fergusson terms Romanesque. In violation of sound nomenclature, the appellation has sometimes been given to the early round-arched Gothic, which never took root at Rome, and was not invented by Romans. It was fashioned by a new people, in a new country, into new forms; and if our Norman is to be named after Rome, because in its origin it was an off-set from Roman architecture, the Parthenon,' says Mr. Fergusson, ought to be called Egyptianesque, and the Ionic temple at Ephesus Assyrianesque.' When architecture assumes a distinct national style, its title should be in accordance with the fact, and not imply that it was a mere appendage to some previous type.
The Romans, following in the wake of the Etruscans, erected circular tombs. Originally, says Mr. Fergusson, the sepulchral chamber bore but a small proportion to the solid mass which surrounded it. The interiors were gradually enlarged, and in the age of Constantine they had grown to be miniature Pantheons.' Mr. Fergusson remarks that there was a natural association between the monuments of the dead and a religion which had been nurtured in persecution and martyrdom. The tombs were the pattern for many primitive churches, and Mr. Fergusson is of opinion that there alone, at the outset, were performed the public sacred rites; that there the noviciates were baptised; that there the brethren partook of the Supper of the Lord ; and that there the burial service was read over departed saints. In the history of architecture these circular edifices are of subordinate interest. They were not the principal Christian buildings at Rome; they did not retain their exclusive prerogative as churches; and they did not become the model for future ages. They have