Open main menu

Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/42

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Part I.

Notwithstanding all that has been pointed out already, and the advantages of its central position among the sister arts, combined with its own intrinsic merits. Architecture would never have attained to the high position it now occupies had it not been fitted with an aim which raised it far above all utilitarian feelings. In all ages, though certainly not among all nations. Architecture has been employed as one of the principal forms of worship. The desire to erect a temple to their Gods worthy to be their dwelling-place has exalted even the rude arts of savages into something worthy of admiration, and when such a nation as the Egyptians were inspired with the same desire, they produced, even in the earliest ages, temples which still excite feelings of admiration and of awe. Had the practice of architecture been restricted to supplying only the ordinary wants of mortals, it never would have risen to be the noble art it now is. Neither the palaces of the greatest kings, nor the wants of the proudest municipalities, nor the emporia of the richest commerce would have supplied that lofty aim which is indispensable for any great intellectual effort. But when freed from all trammels of use or expense, the object is to erect a casket worthy to enshrine the sacred image of a god whom men feared but adored, the aspiration elevates the work far beyond its useful purpose. It is when men seek to erect a hall in which worshippers may meet to render that homage which is their greatest privilege and their highest aspiration, when all that man can conceive that is great and beautiful is enlisted to create something worthy of the purpose, that temples have been erected which rank among the most successful works man has yet produced. Had any exigencies of use or economy controlled the design of the Parthenon, or of any of our Mediaeval cathedrals, they must have taken a much lower place in the scale than they now occupy. Their architects were, however, in fact as free from any utilitarian influences as the poets who composed the "Iliad" or "Paradise Lost."

III.—Definition of Architecture.

If what has just been said above is understood, it may be sufficient to make it possible to give a more definite answer than has usually been done to two questions to which hitherto no satisfactory reply has been accorded in modern times. "What," it is frequently asked, "is the true definition of the word Architecture, or of the Art to which it applies?" "What are the principles which ought to guide us in designing or criticizing Architectural objects?"

Fifty years ago the answers to these questions generally were, that Architecture consisted in the closest possible imitation of the forms and orders employed by the Romans; that a church was well designed