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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/171

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Bk. I. Ch. V.
139
GREEK AND ROMAN PERIOD.

before the Arab conquest, not a trace of it was left in any form. What had stood the vicissitudes of 3000 years, and was complete and stable under Hadrian, had vanished when Constantine ascended the throne.

If, however, their civilization passed so suddenly away, their buildings remain to the present day; and taken altogether, we may perhaps safely assert that the Egyptians were the most essentially a building people of all those we are acquainted with, and the most generally successful in all they attempted in this way. The Greeks, it is true, surpassed them in refinement and beauty of detail, and in the class of sculpture with which they ornamented their buildings, while the Gothic architects far excelled them in constructive cleverness; but with these exceptions no other styles can be put in competition with them. At the same time, neither Grecian nor Gothic architects understood more perfectly all the gradations of art, and the exact character that should be given to every form and every detail. Whether it was the plain flat-sided pyramid, the crowded and massive hypostyle hall, the playful pavilion, or the luxurious dwelling—in all these the Egyptians understood perfectly both how to make the general design express exactly what was wanted, and to make every detail, and all the various materials, contribute to the general effect. They understood, also, better than any other nation, how to use sculpture in combination with architecture, and to make their colossi and avenues of sphinxes group themselves into parts of one great design, and at the same time to use historical paintings, fading by insensible degrees into hieroglyphics on the one hand, and into sculpture on the other—linking the whole together with the highest class of phonetic utterance. With the most brilliant coloring they thus harmonized all these arts into one great whole unsurpassed by anything the world has seen during the thirty centuries of struggle and aspiration that have elapsed since the brilliant days of the great kingdom of the Pharaohs.