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

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We see on some stones certain horizontal orders one under the other, divided in the middle by as many lifiels, in the compartments of which strings of buttons are somtimes seen, somtimes bars pointed and hollowed out. These in my opinion, were certainly not Symbols, but in fact the meer ornaments of those stones, which rather belonged to architecture, than to any thing else.

Neither ought we to attribute to mystery certain forms of utensils executed with taste, and adorned with flutings, twisting meanders, roses, triglyps, tetraglyps intersperfed with pateras, or somthing like them. These are not mysteries, but caprices of the Egyptian artists.

Lastly the very images, and statues, with the arms, and the rest of the body disposed in the same manner on both sides, could not make an agreeable harmony, except in architecture which requires similar parts, and such as have a correspondant symmetry.

But this may sussice to answer this first objection, let us come to the second which will furnish us with a more ample field to reason upon. The Egyptian and Tuscan architecture, in the opinion of many, has no other characteristic but the bold and the stiff. Such will certainly condemn the use I have made of both the one and the other in these designs for the ornamenting of cabinets, in which nothing should have place but the graceful and the delicate. They will require reasons for the many pieces which I have united together in these Egyptian chimneys, the greatest part of which, if not all, having been used as symbols do not seem properly applied as to their signification. Now, with regard to the first part of their question, I answer that even the grotesque has its beauty, and gives pleasure; and that, tho the Chinese manner be as far distant from the Grecian, and perhaps more so than theEgyptian and Tuscan, we are delighted to have our rooms and apartments fitted up after the Chinese manner. Mankind is too fond of variety to be always pleafed with the same decorations: we are alternately pleased with the gay and the serious, and even with the pathetic, nay the horror of a battle has its beauty, and out of fear springs pleasure.

But is the character of the Egyptian works so hard as it is generally thought to be? Is not this accusation the effect of a certain prevention, which many people are in, that in the arts, the Egyptians have had the advantage of inventing, but have

not been able to bring them to that perfection to which they were carried by the Greeks; I know the answer which is usually made: that is, that the Egyptian monuments speak of themselves; to be convinced of which it is enough to call an eye upon them: they show us perfecly well the greatness of genius, the boldness, and courage of that people. Obelisks of a stupendous height, immense pyramids, ruins of vast buildings. But where is there a statue, or basso-relievo, in which is to be seen that elegance, that beautiful proportion, and all those graces which ravish us in the Grecian works? One must be blind not to see in those of the Egyptians a shocking hardness; arms glued to the body, legs joined close together, neither motion, nor sentiment. This is the usual language with regard to the Egyptian architetcure; perhaps, I repeat it again, it proceeds from a spirit of prevention, and for want of an adequate knowledge of the thing. But if we would reflect a little we should find that we often accuse of hardness what is only a solidity required by the quality of the architecture. The ancients, as well as the moderns, made statues, and images of all that is to be seen in nature, some to be confidered in themselves, and others for the embellishement of architecture, and to be attached to buildings: in the first they were exact in imitating nature, and in giving to each the proportion and graces which were proper to them: not so in regard to the second: these were to be subjected to the laws of architecture, and so receive such modifications as it requires. Now these modifications are what many call hardnesses, and they are brought as proofs of the inexperience of the artificers. On seeing for instance a human figure with the face and neck straight and meager, those members swelled which are slender in nature, and those slender which in truth ought to be swelled, with a habit of which the folds are generally hanging and uniform; they condemn it without reflecting that it was perhaps part of a pike? Or that sustaining some weight, it imitated the lightness and purity of columns. So when they see an eagle carved upon a building, they will praise the invention of the artist, and the use he has made of it for the advantage of that part of the architecture; but they will be displeased that the talons and head are made too large, which however agrees so well with the majesty of the building; and with the feathers of the displayed wings, disposed like the reeds of the shepherd's pipe, which so well

agree with the horizontal and perpendicular lines of architecture.

From the slightest inspection into the works of the ancients, it is easy to be seen, that the intention of the artists was to have little regard to nature, when their art required otherwife. Of this I could bring many proofs: but I will content myself with mentioning only two capitals one of which is in the villa Borgese, the other in England, in the possession of M. Adams a celebrated architect. (see Plate XIII. of the magnificence and architecture of the Romans.) Let the two winged spinxes which are upon them be observed, and let the majestic feathers of their wings be confidered, which besides being extended horizontally, and disposed like the reeds of the shepherds pipe, are likewise turned up, and bent contrary to nature, to make an agreeable contrast with the Ionic volutes of thete two capitals which are twisted downwards.

Why instead of the Ionic, and Corinthian volutes were so often applied the heads of rams? It will be answered that they were placed as symbols of the sacrifices made in the temples: perhaps so; but perhaps, and more probably, in my opinion, by reason of the disposition which the horns of this animal have to form the volutes, by extending and twisting them a little more than they are in nature. This custom, and attention has introduced more monsters into architecture, than the most heated imagination of poets ever did into poetry. It would be a long undertaking to describe all the anonymous monsters, which are to be met with in the ancient works of architecture. Besides griffins, centaurs, Hippogryss, Syrens, chimeras, and other similar productions of a poetic imagination, there are an infinity of others noless capricious and extravagant, which owe their being to the necessity in which the artists found themselves of adapting the ornaments to the gravity of the architecture. For the same reason we see waves running upon a staight line in an equal direction, and loose their nature of waves: the stems of a shrub or flower inclosed and twisted between two paralell lines, and seem no more either flowers or shrubs: shoots of vines covered with artificial leaves, and allways twisted in the same manner, so as fo loose their nature. Art, seeking after new inventions, borrowed, I may say, from nature ornaments, changing and adapting them as necessity required. Whether the artists are praise-worthy for this;

or whether they have done well or ill, I will leave to be examined and decided by others: it is sussicient for me to show that those things, which many call hard in architecture, are not so in effect, and that they do not show either a want of art or knowledge. It suffices that I have grounds to affirm that many of the Egyptian statues which remain, being of this kind, they cannot be brought as an argument to discredit the Egyptians, of whom the world would perhaps have conceived a better opinion, if time had preserved to us a greater number of their monuments. The few which remain are not, in my opinion, sufficient to make us form a just idea of what the Egyptians knew, or were ignorant of. And the more so as those which we have are either divinities or symbols, on which, I think Buonarroti observed very properly (offer, su madagl. page 215-216). That is, that if they seem to us rude, it is not for want of art, but out of a veneration to antiquity, and out of the great respect which the Egyptians had to the sacred things: as likewise to imitate those most ancient idols of rude sculpture, which they saw in their temples. For I do not think, continues the same Author, that the artists of that nation remained always so rude, as not to be able to arrive at perfectioning the taste of their statues, there being, many excellent things in them, tho always of a manner particular to themselves: in the same manner as in our days each country has had now and then masters of particular styles, tho all good, which are well known and distinguished from one another. So Buonarroti, who could see in the Egyptian monuments that merit which many either cannot or would not find in them: And yet, in my opinion, they would find it, if they would consider with a due attention those few works of them that remain. Among these there are even some, which I cannot attentively consider, without seeing in them, not as others pretend, useful efforts to imitate nature, but those beauties of nature modified and corrected; I mean reduced to other artificial beauties more adapted to architecture. I observe in them that the figures of men and other animals have not that elasticity which is natural to them, and this not from any negligence, but that they might correfpond, as I have already said, with that majesty and gravity which characerizes the architecture of the Egyptians.

To be persuaded of this truth, it is enough to consider in

these statues the parts which have not undergone the above mentioned modifications; and then let it be said, if possible, that they are not perfect imitations of beautiful nature. Afterwards let the modifications and art made use of in their execution be observed, and it will appear that the charafter which was given them, did not proceed from any want or ignorance in the Egyptians, nor from their having stopped short in the way to perfection, but from mature confideration, and from their having passed that perfection, which is denied them.

I have in view, among other works of theirs, the two Lions or Leopards which serve to adorn the fountain of the Felician aqueduct in Rome, together with two others studiously copied, both as to action and design from nature, that is, worked after the Grecian manner. What majesty in the Egyptian ones, what gravity and wisdom! What union, and modification of parts! How artfully are those parts set of which are agreeable to architecture, while those are suppressed, which are not advantageous to it! Those other lions on the contrary, which are exactly copied from nature, and to which the artist capriciously gave what attitude he pleased, what have they to do there? They only serve to diminish the great effect which the Egyptian ones give to the architecture of that fountain; which however is not one of the most elegant.

To modify therefore with so much wisdom and knowledge those forms which nature has given to men and beasts, to render in fine those forms, when executed in stone, not only natural, but likewise harmonic parts of such or such a building, was it not necessary for them to know whatever is good or beautiful in nature? Now how could they have known it if they had not sometimes copied it in their statues? How would they have dared to depress it, if they had not first seen the bad accord which images perfectly conformable to nature made with architecture. Let the sphinx carved on the famous obelisk in the Campus Martius be considered, which I had almost forgot, and then let it be said whether this piece of Egyptian antiquity does not prove that the carver of it had a perfect knowledge of all that is good and beautiful in nature. I am certain that an understanding eye will see in it not only the grand and the majestic, which no one denies to the Egyptians, but likewise that delicacy, that freshness, and that palpableness, which is suppofed to have been known only to the Greeks, and never to the Egyptians. But far from being ignorant of it, they knew it

even long before the Greeks, since whoever tHis Sesostris was under whose reign this obelisk was made, and in whatsoever time he lived, according to the common consent of the most learned chronologers, he reigned long before the Olympiads, that is to say, many ages before the Grecian sulpture was brought to perfection. I therefore conclude that the Egyptians also brought the statuary art to perfection, and that they were acquainted with an infinite number of ornaments proper to embellish architecture without taking away from its gravity. Now after having defended the Egyptians from the accusations which are unjustly made against them, and having showed how great things this nation has been able to produce with its own architecture both as to the great and small parts of it, it is but just that I say something of the Tuscans, whose works lie under the same aspersions, and serve as a motive to many to tax the Tuscans with a want of knowledge in the fine arts. But it will perhaps first be asked me how those chimneys are to be distinguished, which are said to be made in the Tuscan manner, from those which are made in the Greek and Roman. To which I answer that it is not easy to assign the distinctive character of each as clearly as the Egyptian architecture is distinguished from all the rest.

The Roman and Tuscan were at first one and the same, the Romans learned architecture from the Tuscans, and made use of no other for many ages; they afterwards adopted the Grecian, not on account that the Tuscan was deficient either in parts, ornaments, or beauty; but because novelty and merit rendered agreeable certain elegances and graces peculiar to the Greeks, as each nation has its own; the Tuscan and Grecian were mixed together, the graces and beauties of the one became common to the other, and the Romans found means to unite them both in one and the same work. This is what I likewise have pretended to do in these chimneys, which are not after the Egyptian manner, to unite the Tuscan, or what is the same, the Roman with the Grecian, and to make the beautiful and elegant of both united subservient to the execution of my defign. The connoisseurs will easiiy dillinguish what belongs to the Greeks, and what to the Tuscans.

But this beautiful and elegant of the Tuscans is what will be contested with me, and this is what precisely I take upon me here to defend.




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