(R. P. S.)
The beginning of the 19th century may be considered to mark the beginning of the modern era in architecture. The 19th century is the period par excellence of architectural “revivals.” The great Renaissance movement in Italy already described was something more than a mere revival. It was a new spirit affecting the whole of art and literature and life, not an architectural movement only; and as far as architecture is concerned it was not a mere imitative revival. The great Italian architects of the Renaissance, as well as Wren, Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor in England, however they drew their inspiration from antique models, were for the most part original architects; they put the ancient materials to new uses of their own. The tendency of the 19th-century revivals, on the other hand, except in France, was distinctly imitative in a sense in which the architecture of the great Renaissance period was not. Correctness of imitation, in the English Gothic revival especially, was an avowed object; and conformity to precedent became, in fact, except with one or two individual architects, almost the admitted test of excellence.
Fig. 85.—Bank of Ireland, Dublin.
The earliest classical London building of note in the 19th century is Soane’s Bank of England, which as a matter of date belongs in fact to the end of the 18th century; but its architect lived well into the 19th century, and the bank Classical
tecture. may be classed with this section of the subject. Soane had to make something architectural out of the walls of a very extended building of only one storey, in which external windows were not admissible; and he did so by applying a classical columnar order to the walls and introducing sham window architraves. The latter are indefensible, and weaken the expression of the building; the columnar order was the received method at the time of making a building (as was supposed) “architectural,” and the building has grace and dignity, and could hardly be taken for anything except a bank, although a more robust and massive treatment would have been more expressive of the function of the building, as a kind of fortress for the storage of money. It was only some years later that the Greek revival took some hold of English architects (the Bank of England is rather Roman than Greek); the impetus to it was probably given by the “Elgin marbles”; Stuart and Revett’s great work on the Antiquities of Athens had been issued a good while previously, the three first volumes being dated respectively 1762, 1787 and 1794; but the appearance of the fourth volume in 1816 was no doubt influenced by the transportation to London of the Elgin marbles, and the sensation created by them. One of the first architectural results was the erection, at an immense cost in comparison with its size, of the church of St Pancras in London (1819-1822), designed by Inwood, who published a fine and still valuable monograph on the Erechtheum, and showed his enthusiasm for Greek architecture by copying the Erechtheum order and doorways for his façade, and erecting over it a tower composed of the Temple of the Winds with an octagonal imitation of the monument of Lysicrates imposed above it. This use of Greek monuments was architecturally absurd, though at the time it was no doubt the offspring of a genuine enthusiasm.
A better use was made of the study of Greek architecture by William Wilkins (1778-1839), who was in his way a great architect, and whose University College (1827-1828), as designed by him, was a noble and dignified building, of which he only carried out the central block with the cupola and portico. The wings were somewhat altered from his design but not materially spoiled, but the university authorities permitted the vandalism of erecting a low building as a partial return of the quadrangle on the fourth side, for the purposes of a mechanical laboratory, which ruined the appearance of the building. Wilkins’s other well-known work is the National Gallery (1832-1838), which he was not allowed to carry out exactly as he wished, and in which the cupola and the “pepperpots” are exceedingly poor and weak. But his details, especially the profiles of his mouldings, are admirably refined, and show the influence of a close study of Greek work. Among other prominent English architects of the classic revival in England are Sir Robert Smirke and Decimus Burton (1800-1881). To Burton we owe the Constitution Hill arch and the Hyde Park screen. The latter is a very graceful erection of its kind; the arch has never been completed by the quadriga group which the architect intended as its crowning feature, though for many years it was allowed to be disfigured by the colossal equestrian statue of Wellington, completely out of scale and crushing the structure. Smirke is kept in memory by his fine façade of the British Museum, which has been much criticized for its “useless” colonnades and the wasted space under them. The criticism is hardly just; for classic colonnades have at least some affinity with the purposes of a museum of antique art, and it conveys the impression of being a frontispiece to a building containing something of permanent value and importance. The early classic revival set its mark also, in a very fine and unmistakable manner, on the capital of the sister island. Dublin is almost a museum of fine classic buildings of the period, among which the most remarkable is the present Bank of Ireland (fig. 85), originally begun as the Parliament House. The beginning of the building belongs to the 18th
- Wilkins made two designs for the whole building; one leaving the quadrangle entirely open on the fourth side, towards the street the other showing a low open colonnaded screen connecting the ends of the two wings. He never for a moment contemplated closing in the quadrangle by buildings on the fourth side.