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Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/73

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Sect. XV.

XV.—Imitation of Nature.

The subject of the imitation of Nature is one intimately connected with those mooted in the preceding paragraphs, and regarding which considerable misunderstanding seems to prevail. It is generally assumed that in architecture we ought to copy natural objects as we see them, whereas the truth seems to be that we ought always to copy the processes, never the forms of Nature. The error apparently has arisen from confounding together the imitative arts of painting and sculpture with the constructive art of architecture. The former have no other mode of expression than by copying, no more or less literally, the forms of Nature; the latter, as explained above, depends wholly on a different class of elements for its effect; but at the same time no architect can either study too intently, or copy too closely, the methods and processes by which Nature accomplishes her ends; and the most perfect building will be that in which these have been most closely and literally followed.

To take one prominent instance: So far as we can judge, the human body is the most perfect of Nature's works; in it the groundwork or skeleton is never seen, and though it can hardly be said to be anywhere concealed, it is only displayed at the joints or more prominent points of support, where the action of the frame would be otherwise unintelligible. The muscles are disposed not only where they are most useful, but so as to form groups gracefully rounded in outline. The softness and elegance of these are further aided by the deposition of adipose matter, and the wvhole is covered with a skin which with its beautiful texture conceals the more utilitarian construction of the internal parts. In the trunk of the body the viscera are disposed wholly without symmetry or reference to beauty of any sort—the heart on one side, the liver on the other, and the other parts exactly in those positions and in those forms by which they may most directly and easily perform the essential functions for which they are designed. But the whole is concealed in a perfectly symmetrical sheath of the most exquisitely beautiful outline. It may be safely asserted that a building is beautiful and perfect exactly in the ratio in which the same amount of concealment and the same amount of disptlay of construction is preserved, where the same symmetry is shown as betweeen the right and left sides of the human body—the same difference as between the legs and arms, where the parts are applied to different purposes, and where the same amount of ornament is added, to adorn without interfering with what is useful. In short, there is no principle involved in the structure of man which may not be taken as the most absolute standard of excellence in architecture.

It is in Nature's highest works that we find the symmetry of