An Apologetical Essay: In defense of the Egyptian and Tuscan Architecture

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No one, I believe, in reading in the front of these my designs: Divers manners of ornamenting, chimneys and all other parts of houses, taken from the Egyptian, Tuscan and Grecian Architecture, will imagine that these designs, which I give to the public, are really taken from chimneys, which were in use among the Egyptians, the Tuscans, the Greeks, and Romans, whoever should think so would be much mistaken. I am well apprized that it has been warmly deputed among the learned whether the ancients had chimneys in the manner of ours, and I am acquainted with the arguments used by the antiquarians on both sides of the question, I know that Barbaro held the affirmative, and that Ferrari was still more positive, and that others in greater number both before and after the two above mentioned, have maintained the negative. The Marquis Maffei has collected the reasons on both sides, and left the question undecided, and it shall remain undecided for me, for I will not undertake to be umpire in this dispute; I will however affirm that it is a strong presumption against the first, that no undoubted monument has yet been discovered to prove it. Among the numerous ruins of ancient buildings which I have seen, and examined in Rome, and throughout all Latium, and other parts of this state, I have not only not

found any chimney in the manner of ours, but not even the smallest hint in favour of this opinion. I am ignorant whether others, and in particular the searchers of the ancient city of Herculanum have been more happy in this: but be it as it will, I repeat it again, I will not undertake to be umpire in this dispute. What I pretend by the present designs is to show what use an able architect may make of the ancient monuments by properly adapting them to our own manners and customs. I propose showing the use that may be made of medals, cameos, intaglios, statues, bafforelieves, paintings, and such like remains of antiquity, not only by the critics and learned in their studies, but likewise by the artists in their works, uniting in an artful and masterlyly manner all that is admired and esteemed in them: whoever has the least introduction into the study of antiquity must plainly see how large a field I have by this laid open for the industry of our artists to work upon: and such as have not that advantage will easily comprehend it on casting an eye over the following plates. I flatter myself that the great and serious study, I have made upon all the happy remains of ancient monuments, has enabled me to execute this useful, and if I may be allowed to say it, even necessary project. The study of Architecture, having been carried by our ancestors to the highest pitch of perfection, seems now on the decline, and returning again to barbarism. What irregularities in columns, in architraves, in pediments, in cupolas; and above all what extravagance in ornaments one would think that ornaments are used in works of architecture, not to embelish them, but to render them ugly. I know indeed that in this the caprice of those, for whom the buildings are made, has often more part then the architect who makes the design.

A military man will have arms and instruments of war everywhere, whether they be proper or not. A sea-faring man will have ships, Tritons, Dolphins, and shells. An antiquarian will have nothing but ruins of ancient Temples, broken Columns, Statues of Gods, and Emperors. Let them have their will, for no curb ought to be put on such caprices of men, but then let them be executed according the rules of art. Let Tritons and fish be placed on chimneys, if it be so required, but let them not so cover the frame as entirely to hide it, or take away its character. Let the architect be as extravagant

as he pleases, so he destroy not architecture, but give to every member its proper character. Let the artist be free to drape a statue, or figure in painting as he likes best, let him adjust the folds and garments with the greatest variety he is able; but let it be always so that it may appear a human body and not a block covered with drapery. Let all the variety of graces be given to architecture that can be desired, but let them be such as agree with it. This the ancients had in view: we ought to follow their manner, and observe the kinds of ornaments used by them, the manner in which they disposed them to make them harmonise with the whole, and the modifications by which the Egyptian and Tuscan manners were adapted to another species of architecture. But this knowledge is not to be acquired but by a long frequenting of the ruins and remains of ancient buildings. And I am sorry that the want of this study has deprived even the greatest men of a certain abundance of Ideas; whence many of their works are wanting in that uniformity of character and style, which so much pleases. Some who excelled in the great parts of architecture, are wanting in the small ones; others have boldly raised themselves, and showed the greatness of their genius in the daring flights they have taken in imitation of the ancients, but they have not always been able to sustain themselves, but have lost sight of the antique, to give themselves up to the bad taste of the times in which they lived. Who for instance is more noble than Palladio, when the question is concerning works of magnificence? Yet this great man is not equally happy in the internal ornaments of houses, which either show a poverty of ideas, or a want of knowledge, hence there is a sameness in the doors, windows, and chimneys; or there is no correspondance and the thread is broken, as may be seen in the panels of the ceilings, which do not correspond with the external design, and are far from the good taste of the ancients. What can be more wonderful than some things in Balthasar of Siena, particularly in the palace of Maffimi built by him? But whoever shall attentively examine his conduct with regard to the internal ornaments of that palace, will certainly agree with me, that he has broken the thread, and does not keep up his credit in what he proposed to himself at first. The same may be said of Pirro Ligorio: let the small house situate at the Belvedere be examined, many beautiful endeavours will be seen in imitation of the ancients, and many things taken from the antique,

and very happily applied in that work: but if the whole be considered: oh heavens! Gold and silver are confounded with lead, and other baser metals. A more profound study of antiquity would have furnished these great men with a greater abundance of ideas, and the finest architecture would have been of a piece with the great. If our present architects shall apply to this study, they will not need to be afraid of being upbraided for want of erudition, when called upon to work after the manner of the ancients, if they answer not the expectation and wishes of those who employ them. But let us lay aside these and other reflections of the same kind: it is therefore after having long frequented the ruins and remains of ancient buildings, after a long study of the ancient monuments, and after having collected a considerable quantity of designs of all kinds of furniture and ornaments, that I expose these plates to the public, in which may be seen the manners, already mentioned, with which the ancients adorned their architecture. I hope that many will think themselves obliged to me for this labour: but I do not for that flatter myself that I shall escape the censures of many others who, by reason of an inclination to criticism, or a turn of mind never to be satisfied, find fault with every thing. But whoever puts himfelf in the tank of authors ought so to arm his soul as not to dread the censures of such men. But there are sometimes reasonable and discreet critics who, out of a love to truth, and for the public good, make use of that equitable freedom, which every man has, of examining whatever is exposed to the public view, of exposing its defects, and marking out its imperfections. To despise the opinions of such, would be a self-sufficiency and presumption not to be suffered. To avoid a fault of that kind I will endeavour to obviate some of the objections which I foresee will be made against me. It will be said, for instance, that I have loaded these my designs with too many ornaments; others again will find fault, that in ornamenting cabinets, where the agreeable, the delicate, and the tender ought only to have place, that I have employed the Egyptian and Tuscan manners, which are, according to the common opinion, bold, hard, and stiff. I will answer these two objections; in regard of the first, I shall answer it in a few words, as the subject seems to require no more; but I shall expatiate more on the second, which deserves it more.

It will perhaps appear to some people, the poorness of whose

ideas renders them above measure lovers of simplicity, that these my designs are overloaded with ornaments, and the saying of Montesquieu will once more be objected to me, that a building loaded with ornaments is an enigma to the eyes as a confused poem is to the mind; and I again answer that I am as much an enemy to enigmas and confufion as Montesquieu or any one else, and that I am as much as any one, against a multiplicity of ornaments; but what kind of multiplicity? Such as for want of order and dispofition troubles and confounds the eye. Whoever thinks that it is the multiplicity of ornaments that offends the eye, and confounds it, is much mistaken, in the same manner as he would be mistaken, who should attribute the confusion and stunning of the ears in a bad concert to the multiplicity of voices and instruments, and not to the ignorance of the composer or the badness of the musicians. In the same manner precisely, what offends and confounds the eye, in a work of architecture, is the want of the high and low which constitutes as well in art as nature a certain variety of degrees, and preeminence of merit, so that some parts appear principal, and others serve only to accompany the first. Let the architects artfully make use of this precaution, and I am certain that a multiplicity of ornaments will not present to the eye a confusion of objects, but a graceful and pleasing disposition of things. Who for instance would be offended at the richness and variety of ornaments on the pedestal of the Trajan column? Yet if the injures of time had not in a great measure defaced it, we chould see the cornice sustaining at the four angles as many eagles in the action of gathering their wings, from which festoons of laurel, both to the right and left, fall down and rest upon the cornice. Not only the four sides of the pedestal are covered with as many trophies of war and arms, but on these very arms and trophies, are placed other trophies and other arms, and all this not only does not offend, but on the contrary gives pleasure to the eye. But it will perhaps be said that if the eye is not offended at the multitude of ornaments heaped on the above pedestal, that this happens because the projections are there so insensibile, that they rather seem delineated than in relievo. And this is precisely what I was saying, to wit, that it is not the multiplicity of ornaments which offends

the eyes of the spectator but the bad disposition of them: if the artist knows how to order them in such a manner that those above make no confusion with those which are under, and to give to the relievos that just projection which is proper to each, the whole will appear graceful, and no wise offend the eye.

But letting aside these and other such like reflections, and passing over in silence, that an hundred different ideas are often required from an architect upon one single subject, which indeed would require to be particularly considered, I would have these critics to determine to what bounds the variety of ornaments ought to be confined, and what is the precise point which ought not to be passed. This undertaking is perhaps more difficult than they are aware of. It is easy to say that the right consists in keeping the medium between the too little and too much; but to determine this medium hoc opus, hic labor est; and might not what Martial says on another occassion be properly applied to this?

Nothing is long from which wo nought can take.
But too long distics you, Cosconius, make.

That is, the multiplicity of ornaments ought not so much to be measured by their quantity and number, as by the quality of the works they are employed in. This is my opinion, and I look upon the harness in which coach horses are now a days wraped up, like children in swathing cloths, as a proof of it. The ancients practiced the reverse, they wisely thought that the most beautiful ornament of a horse is the horse himself. All these trappings, however sumptuous and gaudy, load, but do not beautify the object.

Now if the nature of the works, which are to be adorned, is what ought in the first place to decide with regard to the quantity of ornaments, and to fix what is too much, and what too little, some requiring more and others less, I am confident that these designs, which I present to the public, in the following plates, cannot with justice be accused of being over loaded with ornaments: since their objects are more susceptible, than any others, of a variety and multiplicity of embelishments. And with regard to chimneys, I cannot be of the opinion of thoee, who would have no other ornaments on them but euch as are proper to a door, or to the front of a portico, I mean, the

base, the jambs, the lintel and cornice, when they represent a door: or columns, or pilasters with their capitals sustaining an architrave, a freeze, a cornice, and pediment, if it be thought proper, when the chimneys represent the front of a portico. I cannot, I said, be of the opinion of such: they are mistaken, and do not see the impropriety of such an opinion. Either the height of the door is proportioned to the wideness, in which case the chimney would be monstrous and inconvenient, or if the width be made in proportion to the height, it would be too small, and would have the appearance of a furnace, rather than of a chimney; unless those people should fancy that chimneys ought to represent the doors of prisons, which are generally made lower and narrower than usual. But the idea of the portico is no less extravagant, and no less subject to the same inconveniencies: Befides some people in certain countries have their chimneys in the angles of their rooms, which places are not susceptible either of doors, or porticos, and it would be ridiculous to represent a door or a portico in the angle of a room; if it were necessary for chimneys to resemble any thing, I should think they ought rather to be made in resemblance of a cup board, or chest of drawers, than of a door or front of a portico. But neither does this idea, to say the truth, satisfy me, for I am rather inclined to think that chimneys form a particular class in architecture by themselves, which class has its own particular laws, and proprieties, and is susceptible of all the embellishments, and variety which the small architecture can furnish, and of more than would be proper for a door, or the front of a portico: since Varro speaking of buildings and furniture in general says (ling.lat.lib.VIl.) that in them we not only seek to provide for our necessities, but also to find in them pleasure and enjoyment: Hence it is that in dress we not only seek, to be defended from cold, but also to make a decent appearance, and we will not only have houfes for our security and to cover us, but likewise to dwell in with pleasure: and we are not satisfied mith vases which are only fit for the use of our tables, but they must be of an elegant form and of exquifite workmanship, for there is a difference between what the necessities of man absolutely require and what is proper for a man of rank and education. I am of opinion that this may be applied particularly to the chimneys of our cabinets, they ought not only to serve to warm us; but likewise to please the eye by the elegance and variety of their ornaments; and as they are placed, I may say to harmonize

with the rest of the cabinet, of which they are part, they ought to present to us an elegant and pleasing symmetry. It is for this reason precisely that in my designs of chimneys, I have not only given that of the chimney, but likewise of the ornaments of the walls against which it is placed. But if any one should be shocked, imagining that I would have a cabinet covered from top to bottom with basso-relievos, he would be much mistaken; these ornaments which serve to make the whole uniform may be executed in painting, as I have done those of the English coffee-house after the Egyptian taste, and those in the apartments of the Senator of Rome after the Grecian and Tuscan manners.

But it may be objected, that tho a multiplicity of ornaments be not vicious with regard to the works, which they serve to adorn, it may be so in regard of the character and manner which is pretended to be imitated. Each nation has its own, from which it is not lawful to deviate. Now what proof is there that the Egyptians chose to have in their works of architeaure such a quantity of ornaments, as we see in these plates, which are said to be made after the Egyptian taste? Those immense edifices, the ruins of which still remain, present to us a very different idea. No other ornaments are seen on them but hieroglyphics, certain statues leaning against walls, or placed in lieu of columns, as also ceilings spangled with stars of gold on an azure ground.

Whoever speaks after this manner, does not perhaps reflect, that he is discoursing of these buildings not only many thousands of years after they were erected, but likewise after they had been damaged by fire and ruined in the most barbarous manner by Cambyses and others, who fought to destroy all that was magnificent and sumptuous in Egypt. Strabo speaks of it as follows, Geog. lib.XVII. This city (Heliopolis) is now entirely disinhabited: there still remains however a most ancient temple built after the Egyptian manner, which bears several manifest marks of the fury and sacriledge of Cambyses; for it was he who sacked these temples with fire and sword, mutilating, destroying, and burning them. To those devaluations of Cambyses and those committed by Ochus some ages after, and it will be found that no argument can be drawn from the present scarcity and poverty of the ornaments of the Egyptian temples and buildings; to decide of the taste of that nation it would be necessary to have seen

them in their primitive state before they had suffered the devastations of time and of men.

Tho less might suffice, let us observe how rich of ornaments are some Egyptian statues, which yet remain, and those capitals, those obelisks, and bases, those lions and sphinxes, which have been brought from Egypt to Rome, and are not yet entirely destroyed, let us observe the Bembine table, and the ornaments found in the villa of Adrian and other places, and from these a judgement may be formed of the genius of that nation.

Neither ought I to be reproached for having taken ornaments from urns, bases, and other such like works, and transferred them to walls; for since I see the very ornaments of the bases, for instance, applied to urns, and statues which are works of a quite different nature, I may reasonably suppose that they are like wise applicable to walls, where they could be so much more properly deposed, and that they were cut and carved on the walls by the Egyptians. Let us observe the Egyptian goals which indeed represent so many little walls, with their inclined planes, adorned not only with a single statue, or mummy, but with a composition of many different works, for instance with a vail, or banner worked like lace, which falls from the round top of the goal, and on which is carved a head of a character between the human and that of the lion, covered with a horned cap: a stiff statue with four faces under the banner with a kind of obelisk on each side, on the top of each of which fits a bird on a festoon, a dypteric ovolo, or with two wings expanded under the festoon, and lastly the Tau, or something resembling that letter, adorned with two horizontal triglyps, which descend from the traverses. Now from whence could fuch a dispofition of things on this goal take its rise? From the artists intention of representing a mystery, or of delighting the eye with ornaments? All the figures as well human, as of brutes, and monsters, which we see in the action of sustaining different things, somtimes with the hands, somtimes with the head, and the stones for the most part cut by ovolos, rows of pearls, flowers, plants, or herbs of various sorts, were these things made to stand detached from the enormous and gigantic of the Egyptian architecture, or to enrich those walls of palaces, and temples, which are now, according to travellers, left void of ornaments?




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