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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/57

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Sect. IX.
25
INTRODUCTION.

The four great Renaissance cathedrals, at Rome, Florence, London, and Paris, enumerated in this list, have quite sufficient strength for architectural effect, but the value of this is lost from concealed construction, and because the supports are generally grouped into a few great masses, the dimensions of which cannot be estimated by the eye. A Gothic architect would have divided these masses into twice or three times the number of piers used in these churches, and by employing ornament designed to display and accentuate the construction, would have rendered these buildings far more satisfactory than they are.

In this respect the great art of the architect consists in obtaining the greatest possible amount of unencumbered space internally, consistent in the first place with the requisite amount of permanent mechanical stability, and next with such an appearance of superfluity of strength as shall satisfy the mind that the building is perfectly secure and calculated to last for ages.


IX.—Forms.

It is extremely difficult to lay down any general rules as to the forms best adapted to architectural purposes, as the value of a form in architecture depends wholly on the position in which it is placed and the use to which it is applied. There is in consequence no prescribed form, however ugly it may appear at present, that may not one day be found to be the very best for a given purpose; and, in like manner none of those most admired which may not become absolutely offensive when used in a manner for which they are unsuited. In itself no simple form seems to have any inherent value of its own and it is only by combination of one with another that they become effective. If, for instance, we take a series of twenty or thirty figures, placing a cube at one end as the most solid of angular and a sphere at the other as the most perfect of round shapes, it would be easy to cut off the angles of the cube in sucessive gradations till it became a polygon of so many sides as to be nearly curvilinear. On the other hand by modifying the sphere through all the gradations of conic sections, it might meet the other series in the centre without there being any abrupt distinction between them. Such a series might be compared to the notes of a piano. We cannot say that any one of the bass or treble notes is in itself more beautiful than the others. It is only by a combination of several notes that harmony is produced, and gentle or brilliant melodies by their fading into one another, or by strongly marked contrasts. So it is with forms: the square and angular are expressive of strength and power; curves of softness and elegance; and beauty is produced by effective combination of the right-lined with the curvilinear. It is always thus in nature. Rocks and all the harder