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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/55

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Sect. VIII.

for clerestories of gigantic height, which should appear internally mere walls of painted glass divided by mullions. This could only be effected either by encumbering the floor of the church with piers of inconvenient thickness or by a system of buttressing outside. The latter was the expedient adopted; but notwithstanding the ingenuity with which it was carried out, and the elegance of many of the forms and ornaments used, it was singularly destructive of true architectural effect. It not only produces confusion of outline and a total want of repose, but it is eminently suggestive of weakness, and one cannot help feeling that if one of these props were removed, the whole would tumble down like a house of cards.

This was hardly ever the case in England: the less ambitious dimensions employed in this country enabled the architects to dispense in a great measure with these adjuncts, and when flying buttresses are used, they look more as if employed to suggest the idea of perfect security than as necessary to stability. Owing to this cause the French have never been able to construct a satisfactory vault: in consequence of the weakness of their supports, they were forced to stilt, twist, and dome them to a most unpleasing extent, and to attend to constructive instead of artistic necessities. With the English architects this never was the case; they were always able to design their vaults in such forms as they thought would be most beautiful artistically, and, owing to the greater solidity of their supports, to carry them out as at first designed.[1]

It was left for the Germans to carry this system to its acme of absurdity. Half the merit of the old Round arched Gothic cathedrals on the Rhine consists in their solidity and the repose they display in every part. Their walls and other essential parts are always in themselves sufficient to support the roofs and vaults, and no constructive contrivance is seen anywhere; but when the Germans adopted the pointed style, their builders—they can hardly be called architects—seemed to think that the whole art consisted in supporting the widest possible vaults on the thinnest possible pillars, and in constructing the tallest windows with the most attenuated mullions. The consequence is, that though their constructive skill still excites the wonder of the mason or the engineer, the artist or the architect turns from the cold vaults and lean piers of their later cathedrals with a painful feeling of unsatisfied expectation, and wonders why such dimensions and such details should produce a result so utterly unsatisfactory.

So many circumstances require to be taken into consideration, that

  1. It may be suggested that the glory of a French clerestory filled with stained glass made up for all these defects, and it may be true that it did so; but in that case the architecture was sacrificed to the sister art of painting, and is not the less bad in itself because it enabled that art to display its charms with so much brilliancy.