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The most perfect structure in this, or any style, was the Parthenon, which was completed B.C. 438. There is little extant to illustrate the gradual advances from the clumsy example at Corinth to the masterpiece at Athens, where solidity preponderates without the destruction of grace. The Egyptian temples were the embodiment of power, but of power which retained much that was crude and uncouth. The Greek temples are not the embodiment of physical might, but of intellectual beauty.
Sculpture and painting were blended with architecture in the Parthenon, and constituted an integral part of the design. Notwithstanding the lavish employment of sculpture on and around their buildings the Egyptians improved little upon their early attempts. Their bas-reliefs are remarkable for an utter defiance of the laws of composition and perspective. The figures are almost always represented in profile, and the entire eye is given, though only half is visible in nature. Portions of the body which would be seen on a side view are often omitted, and parts which would only be seen in front are introduced. The human form is traced by a few rigid lines, and the artist never aspired to copy the markings and undulations of bones and muscles. The uniform countenances all exhibit the same impassive stillness, and neither pain nor passion disturbs the calm which reigns supreme. The limbs do not fare much better than the face. They are constantly inactive when in action, and appear to be destitute of strength or motion. With these glaring defects the sculptures have signal merits. The movement in some of the figures is admirably rendered. The national type is depicted in the countenances, devoid as they usually are of a separate individuality, and Mr. Fergusson says of the animals that the characteristic peculiarity of each species is seized with a power of generalisation seldom if ever surpassed.' The colossal statues have the faults of the bas-reliefs. They only aim to indicate the human shape in the mass, and are deficient in details, exactness, and animation, but they possess, in compensation, a majestic repose which speaks to the feelings with much greater force than myriads of works produced in an advanced state of art. The Assyrians strove to imitate nature more closely than the Egyptians. Their genius, nevertheless, was inferior, and the unideal, plebeian Assyrian sculptures have the stamp of lower and coarser minds, of a people whose conceptions were less exalted and their tastes less pure. The Greek was the scholar both of the Assyrian and the Egyptian, and when he had soared high above his teachers the one conspicuous element which he retained from his early instructors in sculpture was his partiality for the solemn dignified calm expressed in the statues of Egypt.
There is indubitable evidence that the Greeks, like the Assyrians and Egyptians, enriched their architecture with colour, but the extent to which they used it is a subject of conjecture and controversy. Mr. Fergusson believes that it was applied all those parts of the Parthenon which from form or position were protected from the rain, and that the portions exposed to the weather were kept plain. He thinks it cannot be questioned that the whole of the interior was painted, and that on the exterior it was customary to relieve the sculptures in the pediment and on the frieze by highly-coloured back-grounds, as well as to paint the sculptures themselves. He is of opinion that the brush was employed to adorn the work of the chisel on the echinus or moulding of the capital, and that the walls beneath the colonnade were covered throughout with pictures illustrative of the divinity to whom the temple was dedicated. The face of the architrave he supposes to have been left bare, or merely ornamented with metal shields or inscriptions, and the shafts of the columns to have been slightly stained at most, to tone down the glare of the white Pentelic marble. The whole of the Parthenon was constructed of this fine material, which the Greek valued for its durability, and for the texture which lent itself to delicacy of finish. His taste was too artistic and complete to allow him to indulge in the vulgar pride of parading the marble when he could heighten its effect by coating the surface. The prejudice against the system is produced by the false ideas derived from modern house-painting, and the impossibility of extemporising in imagination the subtle beauties devised by ages of transcendent genius. The Greeks did not reach the goal at a bound. They took generations to mature their architecture and sculpture, and their skill in painting did not advance in a more rapid ratio. When it reached its acme their refinement upon Egyptian colour would not have fallen behind their refinement in the sister arts, and we may safely assume that the final achievement was superb. The severity of the sculpture and architecture forbid the conclusion that the creators of such intellectual and consummate designs could have straightway deformed them with barbaric tawdriness.
The Greek architecture is inferior to the Gothic in grandeur. Its few and simple parts, its low proportions and horizontal lines cannot compete with the lofty aisles, the long perspective, the multiplicity of arches, windows, and tracery, which, in a mediæval cathedral, lift up the mind to heaven. But for the perfection which it reached within its own sphere the Greek temple stands alone. There is nowhere a Gothic building which a skilful architect could not improve. The Parthenon appears faultless
faultless both in execution and design. The attempts to imitate it in modern times convey but a faint idea of its glory. The matchless sculptures cannot be reproduced, and the very aspect of temple-painting in its supremacy has vanished past recall. If painting and sculpture could be rivalled, half their beauties would be lost without the transparent atmosphere and glowing sun of Greece. Indeed, as Mr. Fergusson remarks, the exterior paintings are only suited for a brilliant and cloudless climate, where they are relieved against the deep azure of the sky. The foreigner can bring away little beyond the architectural forms, and, admirable as they are in themselves, the denuded and often sombre copy must not be accepted for a representation of the chaste but festal combination of arts which cheered Athenian eyes. Styles can seldom be transplanted in their integrity. It is in remodelling them to suit our purposes that we learn to compete with them, and attain to merits as excellent though not the
'It was with imperial Rome,' says Mr. Fergusson, that the ancient world perished; it was in her dominions that the new and Christian world was born. To Rome all previous history tends; from Rome all modern history springs.' 'What is true of her general history is true of her architecture. She appropriated the dissimilar styles of the nations around her, and from her, as a central point, have proceeded, with trifling exceptions, all the subsequent styles of Europe. Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, and their derivatives, own Rome for their parent, and to be properly understood must be traced back to her. Her destiny, in this respect, is singular, for the Romans were not an artistic people. They found the Etruscans settled in Italy, and many great works were executed while they were under the dominion of Etruscan kings. The kings were expelled, and in the five centuries of the republic which succeeded there is not, says Mr. Fergusson, 'a tradition of a monument worthy of the city of a tenth part of its power and magnitude.' There can hardly be more conclusive evidence that architecture was not a spontaneous product of the soil. With the Empire building revived, and Augustus could boast that he found Rome brick and left it marble. Splendid edifices became a necessary appurtenance to the dazzling display of imperial pomp. The aptitude of the nation for war and government, which rendered enormous territories tributary to the conqueror, supplied a prodigality of hands and means. They were used without stint. 'It seems,' says Mr. Fergusson, an almost indisputable fact that during the three centuries of the Empire more and larger buildings were erected in Rome and her dependent cities than ever were erected in
a like period in any part of the world.' The combination of variety, massiveness, and size, was unique. The monumental structures of Egypt were tombs and temples. Those of Greece were temples alone. The remaining edifices of Greece and Egypt were slight in comparison, and have almost entirely perished. The Romans, on the contrary, reared gigantic buildings of every kind, and, in addition to temples and tombs, Mr. Fergusson enumerates theatres, amphitheatres, baths, palaces, triumphal arches, pillars of victory, gates, bridges, and aqueducts, as all equally objects of architectural skill.' In their attempts to satisfy these diversified requirements the designers struck out noble and fertile ideas, but their finest efforts were marred by incongruous admixtures that showed the incurable obtuseness of their æsthetic perceptions. Their genius was much more practical than artistic, and they shone less in the decorative than in the utilitarian and constructive portion of their buildings. The Romans,' said Strabo, 'have surpassed the Greeks by attending to what they neglected, such as the making of roads and aqueducts, and sewers capable of conveying the whole drainage of the city into the Tiber.' He lauds the hills levelled and hollows filled up, till waggons could draw along the level track a load sufficient for a vessel. He vaunts the sewers, which were sometimes large enough to permit the passage of a hay-cart, and the aqueducts like rivers that furnished a never-failing fountain to the houses. The Romans were here in their proper domain, and when they contrived structures of a strictly architectural kind, it was still the science of the builder which usually predominated over the taste of the artist. They were so unfortunate, in truth, in their intended adornments that they constantly violated taste and science together.
The Flavian amphitheatre or Colosseum, which dates between A.D. 70 and A.D. 80, may be adduced as a typical example of the Roman style of architecture. It is an ellipse, of which the greatest diameter is 620 feet and the lesser 513, or, what will give a more precise idea of its size to many, it covers nearly six acres of ground. The arena in the centre for the beasts and combatants was 287 feet by 180, and there was then space left on the surrounding benches for the accommodation of 40,000 spectators, allotting 5 square feet to each person. This, Mr. Fergusson says, is the allowance in modern places of amusement, and even 6 square feet is found necessary at the Crystal Palace. The height of the elevation was 157 feet, and the only roof was a moveable awning. Apart from the shape, size, and solidity, which could not fail to be imposing, the building was an unequal medley of jarring styles. The prominent
feature in the works of the Etruscans was the arch. They were the first instructors of the Romans, who had become imbued with the Etruscan system long before they strove to naturalize the architecture of Greece. The elevation of the Colosseum is accordingly Etruscan in its essential parts, and three storeys of arches are reared one upon the other. A fourth storey unarched, and loftier than the rest, is placed above them, and it is surprising that the most untutored eyes could tolerate the top-heaviness produced by its disproportionate height, and by the solid wall piled over the voids. The edifice would have been structurally complete with the arches alone; but the Romans were ambitious of joining Grecian to Etruscan design, and securing the beauties of both. This was impossible without extensive modifications, for the two architectures proceeded upon irreconcileable principles. The supports of a building cannot fitly consist of arches conjoined with columns bearing a lintel of stone; for if the arch upheld the wall above the openings the lintel became superfluous. The Romans did not trouble themselves to select and vary the portions which were capable of being blended into an harmonious scheme. They took the Grecian columns and entablature in the lump, and stuck them upon the face of their arched elevation. The piers between the arches of the Colosseum have three-quarter columns attached to them, and upon the capitals of the columns rests an entablature that divides each tier of arches from the tier above. The whole was an unmeaning and ill-contrived excrescence. The entablature of the Greek temple carried the roof, and the object of its crowning overhanging cornice was to throw off the rain. The entablatures of the Colosseum had ceased to have a structural purpose, and the absurdity was committed of inserting members suggestive of a roof into the middle of a wall. If the arrangement had been appropriate, the false proportions would yet have presented a painful contrast to the Grecian model. The width from column to column was too great for an architrave of stone, and the projecting mass looks insufficiently propped. The character of the Greek temple was strength and repose, the character of the poor imitation appended to the Colosseum is weakness and instability. Bad in themselves, the entablatures are injurious to the fine effect of the storied arches. Mr. Fergusson dwells on the apparent increase of height or length which is gained by dividing a given space into compartments. The nave of the medieval cathedral looked loftier because it was separated into ground-storey, triforium, and clerestory, and longer because the arches of its aisles were repeated again and again. The dimensions of St. Peter's at Rome are dwarfed by the adoption of the opposite principle.