A.D. 328 TO ABOUT 1400.
I HAVE written more in detail concerning Ancient architecture than I shall do of that of later times, because it is best to be thorough in studying the beginnings of things; then we can make an application of our knowledge which helps us to understand the results of what has gone before, just as we are prepared for the full-blown rose after we have seen the bud. Or, to be more practical, just as we use the simplest principles of arithmetic to help us to understand the more difficult ones; sometimes we scarcely remember that in the last lessons of the book we unconsciously apply the first tables and rules which were so difficult to us in the beginning.
I shall not try, because I have not space, to give a connected account of Christian architecture, but I shall endeavor to give such an outline of its rise and progress in various countries as will make a good foundation for the knowledge you will gain from books which you will read in future.
The architecture of Italy in the period which followed the conversion of the Emperor Constantine is called the Romanesque order. As the Christians were encouraged under Constantine and became bold in their worship, many basilicas were given up for their use. The bishops held the88 principal place upon the platform formerly occupied by the king and his highest officers, and the priests of the lower orders were ranged around them. The same altars which had served for the heathen sacrifices were used for the worship of the true God, and from this cause the word basilica has come to signify a large, grand church, in the speech of our time.
Among the early basilicas of Rome which still remain none are more distinguished than that of San Paolo fuori della Mura, or St. Paul’s without the Walls. It was ancient, and splendid in design and ornament. In 1823 it was burned, and has been rebuilt with great magnificence, but the picture above shows it as it was before the fire (Fig. 69). It was built about 386 A.D. under the Emperors Valentinian II. and Theodosius.
89 This basilica had four rows of Corinthian columns, twenty in each row; many of these pillars were taken from more ancient edifices, and were composed of very beautiful marbles, forming by far the finest collection of columns in the world. The bronze gates were cast at Constantinople; the fine paintings and magnificent mosaics with which it was decorated added much to its splendor. Tradition taught that the body of St. Paul was buried beneath the high altar.
Before the Reformation the sovereigns of England were protectors of this basilica just as those of France were of St. John Lateran; this gives it a peculiar interest for British people, and the symbol of the Order of the Garter is still seen among its decorations. On account of its associations, San Paolo was the most interesting, if not the most beautiful, of the oldest Christian edifices in Rome.
In the early days there were many circular churches throughout Italy; some of these had been built at first for tombs. The Christians used churches of this form for baptisms, for the sacrament for the dying, burials, and sometimes for marriage.
The circular temple of Vesta is very beautiful. It had originally twenty Corinthian columns; nineteen of which still remain. This temple is not older than the time of Vespasian, and is not the famous one mentioned by Horace and other ancient writers, in which the Palladium was preserved—that temple no longer exists. It is probable that many of the earliest churches built by Christians in Italy were circular in form, and numbers of these still remain in various Italian cities; but they differed from the ancient temples of this form in their want of exterior decoration. The ancient Romans had used columns, peristyles, and porticoes; the Christians used the latter only in a few instances, but even these were soon abandoned.
The beautiful Baptistery at Florence was originally the90 cathedral of the city. It is octagonal, or eight-sided, and this form is not infrequent in buildings of the fourth and following centuries. It is said that this Baptistery was built by Theodolinda, who married Autharis, King of the Lombards in 589.
This king had proposed to Garibald, King of Bavaria, for the hand of his daughter, and had been accepted. Autharis grew impatient at the ceremonies of the wooing, and escaping from his palace joined the embassy to the King of Bavaria.
When they reached the court of Garibald and were received by that monarch, Autharis advanced to the throne and told the old king that the ambassador before him was indeed the Minister of State at the Lombard Court, but that he was the only real friend of Autharis, and to him had been given a charge to report to the Italian king concerning the charms of Theodolinda. Garibald summoned his daughter, and after an admiring gaze the stranger hailed her Queen of Italy and respectfully asked that she should, according to custom, give a glass of wine to the first of her future subjects who had tendered her his duty. Her father commanded her to give the cup, and as Autharis returned it to her he secretly touched her hand and then put his finger on his own lips. At evening Theodolinda told this incident to her nurse, who assured her that this handsome and bold stranger could have been none other than her future husband, since no subject would venture on such conduct.
The ambassadors were dismissed, and some Bavarians accompanied the Lombards to the Italian frontier. Before they separated Autharis raised himself in his stirrups and threw his battle-axe against a tree with great skill, exclaiming, “Such are the strokes of the King of the Lombards!” Then all knew the rank of this gallant stranger. The approach of a French army compelled Garibald to leave his92 capital; he took refuge in Italy, and Autharis celebrated his marriage in the palace of Verona; he lived but one year, but in that time Theodolinda had so endeared herself to the people that she was allowed to bestow the Italian sceptre with her hand. She had converted her husband to the Catholic faith. She also founded the cathedral of Monza and other churches in Lombardy and Tuscany, all of which she dedicated to St. John the Baptist, who was her patron saint.
The cathedral of Monza is very interesting from its historical associations. Here is deposited the famous iron crown which was presented to Theodolinda by Pope Gregory I. This crown is made of a broad band of gold set with jewels, and the iron from which it is named is a narrow circlet inside, said to have been made from one of the nails used in the crucifixion of Christ, and brought from Jerusalem by the Empress Helena. This crown is kept in a casket which forms the centre of the cross above the high altar in the cathedral of Monza; it was carried away in 1859 by the Austrians; at the close of the Italo-Prussian war, in 1866, the Emperor of Austria gave it to Victor Emmanuel, then King of Italy. This crown has been used at the coronation of thirty-four sovereigns; among them were Charlemagne, Charles V., and Napoleon I. The latter wore it at his second coronation as King of the Lombards in 1805. He placed it on his head himself, saying, “God has given it to me, woe to him who touches it!”
There are few secular buildings of this period remaining in Italy, and Romanesque architecture endured but a short time, for it was almost abandoned at the time of the death of Gregory the Great, in 604. During the next four and a half centuries the old styles were dying out and the Gothic order was developing, but cannot be said to have reached any high degree of perfection before the close of the eleventh century.
It is difficult to speak concisely of Gothic architecture because there is so much that can be said of its origin, and then it has so extended itself to all parts of the world as to render it in a sense universal. Perhaps Fergusson makes it as simple as it can be made when he divides Europe by a line from Memel on the shores of the Baltic Sea to Spalatro on the Adriatic, and then carries the line westward to Fermo and divides Italy almost as the forty-third parallel of latitude divides it. He then says that during the Middle Ages, or from about the seventh to the fifteenth centuries, the architecture north and west of these lines was Gothic; south and east it was Byzantine, with the exception of Rome, which always remained individual, and a rule unto herself.
There was a very general belief in all Christian lands that the world would end in the year 1000 A.D., and when this dreaded period had passed without that event happening, men seem everywhere to have been seized with a passion for erecting stone buildings. An old chronicler named Rodulphe Glaber, who died in 1045 A.D., relates that as early as the year 1003 A.D. so many churches and monasteries of marble were being erected, especially in France and Italy, “that the world appeared to be putting off its old dingy attire and putting on a new white robe. Then nearly all the bishops’ seats, the churches, the monasteries, and even the oratories of the villages were changed for better ones.”
Such a movement could not fail to have a great influence upon architecture, and it was at this time that the Gothic style began to be rapidly developed; and, indeed, so far as any particular time may be fixed for the beginning of the Gothic order, it would fall in the tenth and eleventh centuries.94 The classic forms, with their horizontal cornices and severe regularity, were then laid aside, and a greater freedom and variety than had ever obtained before began to make itself felt in all architectural designs.
We must first try to understand what are the distinguishing features of Gothic architecture. Perhaps the principal one may be called constructiveness; which is to say, that in Gothic architecture there is far greater variety of form, and the power to make larger and more complicated buildings than had been possible with the orders which preceded it. During the Middle Ages the aim was to produce large edifices, and to build and ornament them in a way that would make them appear to be even larger than they were. The early Gothic buildings are so massive as to have a clumsy effect, because the architects had not yet learned how to make these enormous masses strong and enduring, and yet so arranged as to be light and graceful in their appearance.
A second striking difference between the ancient orders and the Gothic, is that in the former enormous blocks of stone or marble were used and great importance was attached to this. Many ancient works are called Cyclopean for this reason. It does not make a building more beautiful to have it massive, but it does make it grand. Even in a less colossal mode of building a column is more effective when it is a monolith, and an architrave more beautiful when its beams are not joined too frequently. But in the Gothic order the use of massive blocks is largely given up, and the endeavor is to so arrange smaller materials as to display remarkable constructive skill.
A third and a very important feature of the Gothic order is the use of the arch. The much-increased constructive power of which we have spoken depended very largely upon this. The ancients knew the use of the arch, but did not like it because they thought that it took away from the95 repose of a building. Even now the Hindoos will not use it; they say, “An arch never sleeps,” and though the Mohammedan builders have used it in their country, the Hindoos cannot overcome their dislike of it. In the Gothic order, however, the use of arches, both round and pointed, is unending. The results are very much varied, and range all the way from a grand and impressive effect to a sort of toy-like lightness which seems more suited to the block-houses made by children than to the works of architects. The earlier Gothic arches were round, although pointed96 arches are occasionally found in very ancient buildings. The picture (Fig. 71), however, gives a just idea of the form of arch most used until the introduction of the pointed arch, which occurred in France during the twelfth century. Of this form the doorways of the next cut present a fine example (Fig. 72).
An important characteristic of Gothic architecture was the fact that every part of the building was so made as to show its use. Instead of hiding the supports they were made prominent. If a pier or buttress was to stand a perpendicular strain, even the lines of decoration were generally made to run in that direction; if extra supports were needed, they were not concealed, but built in so as to show, and even to be prominent. In the details the same feeling was often shown in a very marked degree; the hinges and nails and locks of Gothic buildings were made to be seen, and whatever was needed for use was treated as if it were of value as an ornament. The spouts by which the water was carried over the eaves were made bold and comparatively large, and carved into those curious shapes of animals and monsters called gargoyles, which are seen on so many mediæval edifices. Many of these details of Gothic buildings are very elegant, and serve to-day as models for modern workmen. (See Figs. 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79.)
Among the inventions of Gothic architects the division of the interior into three aisles, with the centre one much the highest, was very important. By this arrangement the space was made to appear longer and higher than it really was, and what was lost in the effect of width was more than made up in a certain elegance of form which is very pleasing. The three central aisles of the next cut illustrate this arrangement (Fig. 80).
The Gothic builders gave loftiness to their edifices by the use of spires and towers. They became very skilful in constructing them with buttresses below and pinnacles99 above, so that the spires should not detract from the apparent size of the buildings to which they were attached (Fig. 81).
In the matter of design in ornament the Gothic order had no fixed method, except so far as its forms were symbolic. Every form of vegetable design was employed; vines and leaves were abundant. As a rule the use of human forms or animals as supports to columns or other weights was avoided. If they were introduced the animals were not reproductions of such as exist, but the imaginary griffin or other monster, and at times dwarfs or grotesque human beings, were represented as if for caricatures.
Sculptured figures were usually placed upon a pedestal either with or without niches for them, and were not made to appear to be a part of the building itself. The deep recesses of Gothic portals, the pinnacles and niches gave100 opportunities to display exterior sculpture to great advantage (Fig. 82). The interiors were also appropriate for any amount of artistic ornament in bas-reliefs or figures that could be lavished upon them.
The most original and effective feature of ornament, however, which was introduced by Gothic architects is that of painted glass. To this they devoted their best talent. It is not necessary to say how beautiful and decorative it is; we all know this, and our only wonder is that it was left for the Gothic architects to apply it to architectural uses. We do not know precisely when stained or painted glass was invented, but we know that it existed as early as 800, and came into very general use in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
Before painted glass was used windows were made very small, and it was some time before the large, rich style was101 adopted. The following cut from Notre Dame, at Paris, gives the three stages of the change, and it is interesting to see them thus in one church (Fig. 83).
On the left are the undivided windows without mullions or dividing supports; next, at the right, the upper window shows the form with one perpendicular mullion and a circular or rose window above the centre; lastly, on the right of the lower story we see a full traceried window.
The window became one of the most important and characteristic features of Gothic buildings. These large102 open spaces gave opportunity for elegant shapes and splendid colors, both the form of the opening and the dividing ribs, or tracery, as it was called, being made with the utmost beauty and grace. The round windows, called rose windows and wheel windows, were often exquisitely designed, as the following example shows (Fig. 84).
The window is illustrative of the influence which climate may have on the development of architectural style. In warm countries where spaces were left open, window forms and painted glass were, of course, never employed; but in more northern lands they became one of the most marked features in important edifices.
A whole book might be written about these windows and be very interesting also, but we can give no more space to them here.
Gothic architecture gradually extended from the centre of Italy to the most northern bounds of civilization, and though practised by so many nations, was as much the architectural expression of a religion as the architecture of a single ancient nation had been the outgrowth of its peculiar religious belief. During the Middle Ages the priests and monks preserved learning in the midst of general darkness and ignorance, and were the chief patrons of all art which survived the decline of the time. They built up the Christian faith by every means in their power. The monks were missionaries. They went to various countries, and selecting favorable spots they founded abbeys; around these abbeys a poor population settled; gradually churches103 were built, and it frequently happened that the monks not only planned the work to be done, but also executed it with their own hands. Many of them were masons and builders, and several bishops were architects. St. Germain, Bishop of Paris, designed the church in that city now called by his name, and was also sent to Angers to build another church, and to Mans to erect a monastery.
The finest buildings being thus made for religious purposes and under the direction of the clergy, they must have been as full an expression of Christianity as were the temple-palaces of Egypt an expression of the religion of Osiris and Isis, when the kings were both priests and sovereigns, and dwelt in these palaces. And this was true as long as Gothic art was in the hands of the clergy and used almost entirely for religious purposes.
104 Later on, when it was employed for civic edifices erected under the direction of laymen, it became an expression of political independence also. The freedom of thought which came with the decline of the feudal system inspired new aspirations and imaginations in the hearts and minds of men, and these found expression in all the arts, and very especially in architecture. If we cannot always admire the manner in which Gothic art was made to express these lofty desires, we can fully sympathize with the sentiment which was behind it.
The Gothic order held undisputed sway west and north of the geographical line of which we have spoken until the fifteenth century. Then a revival of classical literature took place, and with this there arose also a revival of classic art and architecture; this revival is known as the Renaissance, or the new birth, and the period of time is spoken of as that of the Renaissance. The effect of this classic reaction was very great upon all the educated classes of Europe, and its influence may be said to have endured through about three centuries.
Again, during the eighteenth century, Gothic art was revived. A reverence has grown up for the good that wrestled with the darkness of the Middle Ages and survived all their evils. The rough, strong manhood of that time is now justly appreciated. Perhaps the feeling in this direction is too much exaggerated. While our regard for a rude and weather-stained monument of the spirit and architecture of the past may be natural and proper, the imitation of it which is made in our day may easily become absurd, and is very rarely suited to our purposes.
Spain is one of the countries which are on the Gothic side of the geographical line we have drawn, and among the many splendid edifices in that country some of the finest are of the Gothic order. There is no national architecture there, for though the Spaniards love art and its expression105 passionately, they have themselves invented almost nothing which is artistic.
But while it is true that the Spaniards invented no styles, they did modify those which they adopted, and there are peculiarities in the Spanish use and arrangement of the Gothic order which give it new elements in the eyes of those who understand architecture scientifically. To the uneducated also it appears to have a personality of its own, something that is suited to Spain and the Spaniards; so that, while we know that Spanish Gothic architecture was borrowed from France and Germany, we yet feel that if the cathedrals of Paris and Cologne were to be put down in Valencia or Madrid they would look like strangers, and not at all well-contented ones at that; and if the churches of Toledo or Burgos were copied precisely in any other106 country, they would have an air of being quite out of keeping with everything around them (Fig. 85).
We call the architecture of Spain before 1066 the “Early Spanish,” and from that time the Gothic order prevailed during nearly three centuries.
Meantime in the south of Spain the Moresco or Moorish order had sprung up, of which Fig. 86 gives an example. It was gradually adopted to a limited extent, until finally some specimens of it existed in almost every province of the country. The Gothic order was affected by it, inasmuch as the richness of ornament of the Moorish order so pleased the taste of the Spaniards that their architects allowed themselves to indulge in a certain Moorish manner of treating the Gothic style. We cannot describe these differences in words, but Figs. 86 and 87 will make it plain.
As has been said, the interior decoration of all Gothic churches was very rich and abundant. It is also true that all church furniture was made with great care; the matter of symbolism was carefully considered, and each design made to indicate the use of the article for which it was intended. No altar, preaching-desk, stall, chair, or screen107 was made without due attention to every detail, and the endeavor to have it in harmony with its use and its position in the church. The following cut shows a rood-screen, which was the kind of screen that was placed before the crucifixion over the high altar (Fig. 88).
The fantastic sculptures and wealth of ornament in Gothic decorations produce a confusing effect on the brain and the eye if we look at the whole carelessly; but when we remember that each separate design has its especial meaning we are interested to examine them, and we find that the variety of forms is almost innumerable. Where there are trailing vines and lions, faith is indicated; roses and pelicans are the symbols of mercy and divine love; dogs and ivy, of truth; lambs, of gentleness, innocence, and submission; fishes are an emblem of water and the rite of baptism; the dragon, of sin and paganism; a serpent, too, typifies sin, and when wound around a globe it indicates the power of evil over the whole world; a hind or hart signifies solitude; the dove, purity; the olive, peace; the palm, martyrdom; the lily, purity and chastity; the lamp, lantern, or taper, piety; fire and flames, zeal and the sufferings108 of martyrdom; a flaming heart, fervent piety and spiritual love; a shell, pilgrimage; a standard or banner, victory; and so on, and on, we find that meaning and thought were worked out in every bit of Gothic ornament, and that what at first appears so wild and hap-hazard is full of a method which well repays one for the study of it.
The Gothic order was also used in building municipal109 edifices, palaces, and even for the purposes of domestic architecture. The finest remains of this kind are in Germany, the most interesting of them all being the castle on the Wartburg. This castle is large, grand, and imposing. It is also well preserved. A few years ago it was discovered that many windows and arched galleries, of very beautiful style, had been filled up, and that frescoes and other decorations110 had been covered. The Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar caused its restoration, and the ancient halls are now quite in their original state. (See Fig. 89.)
There are very interesting legends and historical facts connected with this castle of Wartburg. As early as 1204 to 1208, when Hermann, Count of Thuringia, dwelt there with his wife, the Countess Sophia, it is related that the “War of the Minstrels” occurred. This was a contest between several of the wandering minstrels or Minnesingers of that time as to who should excel, and he who failed was to suffer death. The penalty fell on Henry of Ofterdingen; in his despair he begged the Countess to gain him a respite so that he could go for his master, Klingsor. Her prayer was granted, and in the end Henry of Ofterdingen saved his head, though the legend says that Satan aided him. This story is without doubt founded on truth, but has much of fancy mingled with it.
The next remarkable story connected with Wartburg is the residence here of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, as she is called. This wonderful woman was the daughter of the King of Hungary, and when four years old she was betrothed to Prince Louis, son of Count Hermann, mentioned above. At this tender age she was given to his family. Her life at Wartburg was very remarkable, and I advise you to read about it, for it is too long to be given here. At last, her husband having died in Jerusalem, where he had gone with the Crusaders, his brother Henry drove her out with her children to seek a home where she could. She suffered much, and supported herself by spinning wool. But when the knights who had gone with her husband returned, they obliged Henry to give the son of Elizabeth his rights. She received the city of Marburg as her dower, but she did not live long. Miraculous things are told of her, and she is often represented by painters and sculptors.
Again, Wartburg was the residence of a remarkable111 person; for Luther dwelt there after escaping from the Diet at Worms. He was called Ritter George, and the room where he wrote and spent much of his time is shown to travellers who visit the castle.
We come back now to Italy, the country we left when we passed from the Romanesque to Gothic architecture. In the north of Italy where the Gothic order had prevailed after the eleventh century, it had been modified by the Romanesque influences and Roman traditions, in some such degree as the Moors had influenced the Gothic order in Spain. But, on the whole, the mediæval buildings of Northern Italy were Gothic in style.
Rome, as we said, was individual, and her art remained Roman or Romanesque up to the date of the Renaissance. In Southern Italy, as we shall see, the architecture was of the Byzantine order.
Among the most interesting edifices of the Middle Ages are the Italian towers. They were frequently quite112 separate from the churches and were built for various purposes. Some of them were bell towers, and such a tower was called a campanile. Others were in some way associated with the civic power of the cities which built them; but the largest number were for religious uses.
The campanile is always square at the bottom and for some distance up, and then is frequently changed to an octagonal or circular form and finished with a slender spire or ornamental design.
Fig. 90 shows one of the finest square towers in all Italy. It was built in 1296 to commemorate a peace after a long war. It is three hundred and ninety-six feet high. It has little beauty in the lower two thirds; above that it is more pleasing, but the two parts do not look as if they belonged together. The tower of Italy, however, which is most beloved and most famous is that of Giotto, beside the cathedral of Florence. (See Fig. 102.)
Another striking feature of Gothic art in Northern Italy is seen in the porches attached to the churches. They are commonly on the side, and as they were usually added after the rest of the church was finished, and frequently do not correspond to the rest in style, they look as if they were parts of some other churches and had come on a visit to those beside which they stand. In Italy the main portion of these porches always rested on lions.
A porch at Bergamo is one of the finest, and certainly its details are exquisite, and the whole structure is beautiful when it is considered separately; but as a part of the church it loses its effect, and seems to be pushed against it as a chair is placed beside the wall of a room.
Some of the mediæval town-halls are still well preserved, and a few of them are truly beautiful. Perhaps the Broletto at Como is as fine a remnant of civic architecture as exists in Northern Italy. It is not very large and is faced with party-colored marbles.
114 The architecture of Venice and the Venetian Province must be treated almost as if it were outside of Italy, because it differs so much from that of other portions of that country. During the Middle Ages it was the most prosperous portion of Italy. Its architecture was influenced by the Byzantine and Saracenic orders, but is not like them; neither is it like that of Northern Italy; in fact, it is Venetian, being Gothic in principle, but treated with Eastern feeling and decorated in Oriental taste; and this was quite natural since the Venetians had extensive traffic and intercourse with the nations of the East.
There are few places in the world, of no greater extent, about which so many interesting associations cluster as about the Piazza of St. Mark’s in Venice. On one side stands the great basilica, and not far away are the campanile and the clock-tower; the ancient Doge’s Palace, and the beautiful Library of St. Mark, of later date, are near by, with their treasures of art and literature to increase the value of the whole. It is a spot dear to all, and especially so to English-speaking people, since the poetry of Shakespeare has given them a reason for personal interest in it under all its varying aspects. At some hours of the day St. Mark’s seems as if it were the very centre of the earth, to which men of all nations are hastening; again this bustle dies away, and one could fancy it to be forgotten and deserted of all mankind, though its silence is eloquent in its power to recall the great events of the Venice of the past. (See Figs. 91, 105, and 106.)
St. Mark’s Basilica is called Byzantine in its order, and in a general way the term is applicable to it; but on careful examination there are so many differences between it and a purely Byzantine church that it would be more properly described by the name Italian or Venetian Byzantine. Its five domes were added to its original form late in the Middle Ages, and though there are many Eastern mosques115 with this number, they are not arranged like those of St. Mark’s, and so have quite a different appearance. The portico with its five entrances is not European in form, but the details of these deep recesses are more like the Norman architecture than like anything Byzantine.
It is scarcely profitable to carry this examination farther, for, in a word, the whole effect of St. Mark’s is very impressive from the exterior, and the interior is so beautiful in its subdued light and shadow that one is satisfied to enjoy it without criticising it, and many critics consider it one of the finest interiors of Western Europe.
The same difficulty which one finds in defining or classing the architecture of Venice is met in that of Southern Italy, which is Byzantine and not Byzantine, but, in fact, is that order so changed that the name of Byzantine-Romanesque seems better suited to it than any other term could be. We shall mention but a single example of this order, and pass to the true Byzantine style.
The church of San Miniato, which overlooks the city of Florence, was built in 1013, and is one of the most perfect as well as one of the earliest of the churches of the Byzantine-Romanesque order in Italy. It is not large, but the116 proportions are so good as to make it very pleasing; the pillars are so nearly classic in design that they were probably taken from some earlier building, and the effect of colored panelling both within and without is very satisfactory to the eye. (See Fig. 92.)
There arose in Sicily in the eleventh century, and after the Norman Conquest, a remarkable style of architecture. It belongs to Christian art because it was used by Christians to construct places of Christian worship; but, in truth, it was a combination of Greek spirit with Roman form and Saracenic ornament. It makes an interesting episode in the study of architecture. I shall give one picture of a church117 built by King Roger for Christian use as late as 1132, which, except for the tower, might well be mistaken for a purely Oriental edifice (Fig. 93).
This term strictly belongs to the order which arose in the East after Constantinople was made the Roman capital. It is especially the order of the Greek Church as contrasted with the Latin or Roman Church. It would make all architectural writing and talking much clearer if this fact were kept in mind; but, unfortunately, wherever some special bit of carving in an Oriental design or a little colored decoration is used—as is frequently done in the modern composite styles of building—the term Byzantine is carelessly applied, until it is difficult for one not learned in architecture to discover what the Byzantine order is, or where it belongs.
We have spoken of its influence and partial use in Italy. Now we will consider it in its home and its purity. Before the time of Constantine the architecture used at Rome was employed at Jerusalem, Constantinople, and other Eastern cities which were under Roman rule and influence. Between the time of Constantine and the death of Justinian, in A.D. 565, the true ancient Byzantine order was developed. The church of St. Sophia, at Constantinople, was the greatest and the last product of the pure old Byzantine style.
From that time the order employed may be called the Neo-Byzantine. This was a decline of art as much as the history of Greece and the Eastern Empire during the same period (about 600 to 1453) was the history of the decline and extinction of a power that had once been as great among governments as St. Sophia (Fig. 94) was among churches.
The chief characteristic of Byzantine architecture is the use of the dome, which is the most important part of its119 design. A grand central dome rises over the principal portion of the edifice, and just as in other orders courts and colonnades were added to the simpler basilica form in the ground plan of the churches, so in the Byzantine order lesser domes and cupolas were added above until almost any number of them was admissible, and they were placed with little attention to regularity or symmetry of arrangement.
As domes were the chief exterior feature, so the profuse ornamentation was most noticeable in the interior. The walls were richly decorated with variegated marbles; the vaulted ceilings of the domes and niches were lined with brilliant mosaics; the columns, friezes, cornices, door and window-frames, and the railings to galleries were of marbles, and entirely covered with ornamental designs (Figs. 95 and 96).
The historian Gibbon describes the building of St. Sophia and its decorations. He tells us that the emperor went daily, clad in a linen tunic, to oversee the work. The architect was named Anthemius; he employed ten thousand workmen, and they were all paid each evening. When it was completed and Justinian was present at its consecration, he exclaimed, “Glory be to God, who hath thought120 me worthy to accomplish so great a work; I have vanquished thee, O Solomon!”
Paul Silentiarius was a poet; he saw St. Sophia in all its glory and describes it with enthusiasm. It was very rich in variegated marbles. He mentions the following: 1. The Carystian, pale with iron veins. 2. The Phrygian, two sorts, both of a rosy hue; one with a white shade, the other purple with silver flowers. 3. The Porphyry of Egypt, with small stars. 4. The green marble of Laconia. 5. The Carian, from Mount Iassis, with oblique veins, white and red. 6. The Lydian, pale, with a red flower. 7. The African or Mauritanian, of a gold or saffron hue. 8. The Celtic, black, with white veins. 9. The Bosphoric, white, with black edges. There were also the Proconnesian, which made the pavement; and the Thessalian and Molossian in different parts.
This array of marbles was made even more effective by the beautiful columns brought from older temples. The mosaics were rich in color, and numerous, and many parts of the church were covered with gold, so that the effect was dazzling.
Those objects that were most sacred were of solid gold and silver, while such as were less important were only covered with gold-leaf. In the sanctuary there was altogether forty thousand pounds of silver; the vases and vessels used about the altar were of pure gold and studded with gems. Its whole cost was almost beyond belief. At the close of his description Gibbon says: “A magnificent122 temple is a laudable monument of taste and religion, and the enthusiast who entered the dome of St. Sophia might be tempted to suppose that it was the residence or even the workmanship of the Deity. Yet how dull is the artifice, how insignificant is the labor, if it be compared with the formation of the vilest insect that crawls upon the surface of the temple!”
Of course, individual taste must largely influence the opinion regarding the beauty of any work of art, but to me St. Sophia, which is the chief example of Byzantine architecture, is far less beautiful and less grand than the finest Gothic cathedrals. Comparatively little attention was paid to the elegance and decoration of the exterior in the Eastern edifices, while the interiors, in spite of all their riches, have a flat and unrelieved effect. Probably the chief reason for this is that color is substituted for relief—that is to say, in Gothic architecture heavy mouldings and panellings, though of the same color as the walls themselves, yet produce a marvellous effect of light and shadow, and even lend an element of perspective to various parts of the building. In the place of these mouldings flat bands of color are often used in the Byzantine order, and the whole result is much weakened, though a certain gorgeousness comes from the color. Another cause of disappointment in St. Sophia is the absence of painted glass. At the same time, and in spite of these defects, St. Sophia is grand and beautiful—but not solemn and impressive in comparison with the dim cathedral aisles of many Gothic churches in other parts of the world. (See Fig. 97.)
The Romanesque and Byzantine styles came at last to be so mingled that it would be folly to attempt to separate their influence, but the Byzantine had much more originality, and left a far wider mark.
Among the most noted examples of the latter style, beside St. Sophia and St. Mark’s, are the church of St.123 Vitale at Ravenna, the cathedral at Aix-la-Chapelle, supposed to have been built by Charlemagne about 800 A.D., and the church of the Mother of God at Constantinople.
In speaking of Saracenic architecture I will first explain that it is one with the Moresco or Moorish order of which I spoke in connection with Spain. The only difference is that the earliest Mohammedan conquerors of Spain are said to have come from ancient Mauri or Mauritania and were called Moors, while the name of Saraceni, which means “the Easterns,” was also given to them. Thus the Mohammedan architecture in Spain is called both Moresco, or Moorish, and Saracenic. Again, it is also called Arabian, but I think this is the least correct, since the Easterns who went to Spain were not so universally Arabian as to warrant this name. When we speak of Moresco or Moorish architecture we speak of Spain; but the term Saracenic is used for Mohammedan architecture in all countries where it is found, and is a just term, for they are Eastern or Oriental lands.
In absolute fact, Saracenic architecture is that of the followers of “the Prophet,” as Mohammed is called, and would be more suitably named if it were called Mohammedan architecture, or the architecture of Islam.
Mohammed was born at Mecca A.D. 570, but it was not until 611 that he was commissioned, as he believed, to build up a new faith and a new church. At first his followers were so few and so mingled with other sects and tribes in their outward life that they had no distinctive art. It was not until A.D. 876, when the ruler Ibn-Touloun commenced his splendid mosque at Cairo, that the Mohammedans could claim any architecture as their own. It is very interesting to know that there were pointed arches in this mosque,124 probably two centuries, at least, earlier than they were used in England, for it is generally believed that they were first used there in the rebuilding of Canterbury Cathedral after it was burned in 1174. When, however, the Saracenic order was fully established it was so individual and so different from all other architecture that there is no mistaking it for that of any other religion or nation than that of Mohammed and his followers.
125 The picture of the mosque of Kaitbey shows one of the finest and most elegant mosques of the East. It is just outside the walls of Cairo, and is quite modern, having been built in 1463. This view of it gives an excellent idea of the appearance of a fine mosque and shows the minaret or tower, which is so important in a mosque, to good advantage (Fig. 98).
These minarets are constantly used for the many calls to prayer which are made throughout the day and night. The person who makes these calls is styled “the Muezzin,”126 and is usually blind. Several times during the day he ascends the minaret and calls out in a loud and melodious tone, “God is most great; there is no God but Allah, and I testify that Mohammed is Allah’s prophet! Come to prayer! Come to security! Prayer is better than sleep!” This is several times repeated and is called the Adan.
The form of words used for the night varies a little, ending, “There is no God but Allah. He has no companion! To Him belongs dominion, etc.;” this is called the Ula. The call made an hour before day is the Ebed, and praises the perfection of God. When one is sleeping near enough to a minaret to hear the muezzin’s voice it is a pleasant sound and helps one to realize that the care of God is ever about him; the clear, Christian bell can be heard by more people, and this was originally intended as a call to prayer. (See Fig. 99.)
The principal homes of Saracenic architecture are Syria, Egypt, Mecca, Barbary, Spain, Sicily, Turkey, Persia, and India. There are many very interesting mosques and minarets that might be mentioned had we space, but I can speak only of the mosque of Cordova, which is universally admitted to be the finest Saracenic edifice in the world (Fig. 100), and shall quote a part of the interesting description of it given by De Amicis in his delightful book called “Spain and the Spaniards.”
This mosque was commenced by the Caliph Abd-er-Rahman in 786, and was completed by his son Heshâm, who died 796. The great Caliph declared that he would build a mosque which should exceed all others in the world and be the Mecca of the West. De Amicis, after describing the garden which surrounds the mosque, enters, and then goes on as follows: “Imagine a forest, fancy yourself in the thickest portion of it, and that you can see nothing but the trunks of trees. So, in this mosque, on whatever side you look, the eye loses itself among the columns. It127 is a forest of marble whose confines one cannot discover. You follow with your eye, one by one, the very long rows of columns that interlace at every step with numberless other rows, and you reach a semi-obscure background, in which other columns still seem to be gleaming. There are nineteen naves, which extend in every direction, traversed by thirty-three others, supported (among them all) by more than nine hundred columns of porphyry, jasper, breccia, and marbles of every color. Each column upholds a small pilaster, and between them runs an arch (see plate above), and a second one extends from pilaster to pilaster, the latter placed above the former, and both of them in the shape of a horseshoe; so that, in imagining the columns to be the trunks of so many trees, the arches represent the branches, and the similitude of the mosque to a forest is complete…. How much variety there is in that edifice128 which at first sight seems so uniform! The proportions of the columns, the designs of the capitals, the forms of the arches change, one might say, at every step. The majority of the columns are old, and were taken from the Arabs of Northern Spain, Gaul, and Roman Africa, and some are said to have belonged to a temple of Janus, on the ruins of which was built the church that the Arabs destroyed in order to erect the mosque. Above several of the capitals one can still see traces of the crosses that were cut on them, which the Arabs broke with their chisels…. I stopped for a long time to look at the ceiling and walls of the principal chapel, the only part of the mosque that is quite intact. It is a dazzling gleam of crystals of a thousand colors, a network of arabesques, which puzzles the mind, and a complication of bas-reliefs, gildings, ornaments, minutiæ of design and coloring, of a delicacy, grace, and perfection sufficient to drive the most patient painter distracted…. You might turn a hundred times to look at it, and it would only seem to you, in thinking it over, a mingling of blue, red, green, gilded and luminous points, or a very intricate embroidery changing continually, with the greatest rapidity, both design and coloring. Only from the fiery and indefatigable imagination of the Arabs could such a perfect miracle of art emanate…. Such is the mosque of to-day. But what must it have been in the time of the Arabs? It was not surrounded by a wall, but open, so that one could catch a glimpse of the garden from every part of it; and from the garden one could see to the end of the long naves, and the air was full of the fragrance of oranges and flowers. The columns which now number less than a thousand were then fourteen hundred; the ceiling was of cedar-wood and larch, sculptured and enamelled in the finest manner; the walls were trimmed with marble; the light of eight hundred lamps, filled with perfumed oil, made all the crystals in the mosaics gleam, and produced on the pavements, arches, and129 walls a marvellous play of color and reflection. ‘A sea of splendors,’ sang a poet, ‘filled this mysterious recess; the ambient air was impregnated with aromas and harmonies, and the thoughts of the faithful wandered and lost themselves in the labyrinth of columns which gleamed like lances in the sun.’”
The famous palace of the Alhambra is so well known that I cannot leave this part of our subject without one picture and one bit of description of it from the same author, De Amicis.
The Alhambra was built about four centuries ago, and the wall which inclosed it was four thousand feet long by twenty-two hundred feet wide. Within this there were gardens, fountains, kiosks, and many beautiful, fanciful structures, all of which doubtless cost as much as the more necessary parts of the edifice. The roofs of the different parts of the palace were supported by forty-three hundred columns of precious marbles; eleven hundred and seventy-two of these were presented to Abd-er-Rahman (for he was also the founder of the Alhambra) by sovereigns of other countries, or else brought by him from distant shores for the decoration of this splendid, fairy-like place. All the pavements were of beautiful marbles; the walls, too, were of the same material, with friezes arranged in splendid colors; the ceilings were of deep blue color, with figures in gilding and interlacing designs running over all. In truth, nothing that could be imagined or wealth buy to make this palace beautiful was left out; and yet we are told that the palace of Zahra which was destroyed was still finer. All this leads one to almost believe that the “Arabian Nights” are no fanciful tales, but quite as true as many more serious sounding stories.
The Court of the Lions is called “the gem of Arabian art in Spain,” and of this our author says: “It is a forest of columns, a mingling of arches and embroideries, an indefinable130 elegance, an indescribable delicacy, a prodigious richness, a something light, transparent, and undulating like a great pavilion of lace; with almost the appearance of a building which must dissolve at a breath; a variety of lights, views, mysterious darkness, a confusion, a capricious disorder of little things, the majesty of a palace, the gayety of a kiosk, an amorous grace, an extravagance, a delirium, the fancy of an imaginative child, the dream of an angel, a madness, a nameless something—such is the first effect produced by the Court of the Lions!” (Fig. 101.)
This court is not large; the ceiling is high, and a light portico runs round it upheld by white marble columns in clusters of two, three, or more, so arranged as to resemble trees coming up from the ground. Above the columns the designs almost resemble curtains, and there are little graceful suggestions like ribbons and waving flowers. “From the middle of the shortest sides advance two groups of columns, which form two species of square temples of nine arches each (see cut) surmounted by as many colored cupolas. The walls of these little temples and the exterior of the portico are a real lace-work of stucco, embroideries, and hems, cut and pierced from one side to the other, and as transparent as net-work, changing in design at every step. Sometimes they end in points, in crimps, in festoons, sometimes in ribbons waving round the arches, in kinds of stalactites, fringes, trinkets, and bows which seem to move and mingle with each other at the slightest breath of air. Large Arabic inscriptions run along the four walls, over the arches, around the capitals, and on the walls of the little temples. In the centre of the court rises a great marble basin, upheld by twelve lions (see cut), and surrounded by a little paved canal…. At every step one takes in the court that forest of columns seems to move and change place, to form again in another way; behind one column, which seems alone, two, three, or a row will spring out;132 others separate, unite, and separate again…. We remained for more than an hour in the court, and it passed like a flash; I, too, did what almost all people do, be they Spanish or strangers, men or women, poets or not. I ran my hand along the walls, touched all the little columns, and passed my two hands around them, one by one, as around the waist of a child; I hid among them, counted them, looked at them on a hundred sides, crossed the court in a hundred ways, tried if it were true that in saying a word, sotto voce, into the mouth of one lion, one could hear it distinctly from the mouths of all the others; I looked on the marbles for the spots of blood of poetic legends, and wearied both brain and eye over the arabesques…. In all my life I have never thought, nor said, nor shall I say, so many foolish, stupid, pretty, senseless things as I said and thought in that hour.”
The study of Saracenic architecture in Turkey, Persia, and India is very interesting, but our space warns us that we must hasten to leave this dreamy, fairy-like part of our subject and come down to later times and more realistic matters.