§1. THERE is a marked likeness between the virtue of man and the enlightenment of the globe he inhabits the same diminishing gradation in vigour up to the limits of their domains, the same essential separation from their contraries the same twilight at the meeting of the two: a something wider belt than the line where the world rolls into night, that strange twilight of the virtues; that dusky debateable land, wherein zeal becomes impatience, and temperance becomes severity, and justice becomes cruelty, and faith superstition, and each and all vanish into gloom.
Nevertheless, with the greater number of them, though their dimness increases gradually, we may mark the moment of their sunset; and, happily, may turn the shadow back by the way by which it had gone down: but for one, the line of the horizon is irregular and undefined; and this, too, the very equator and girdle of them all Truth; that only one of which there are no degrees, but breaks and rents continually; that pillar of the earth, yet a cloudy pillar; that golden and narrow line, which the very powers and virtues that lean upon it bend, which policy and prudence conceal, which kindness and courtesy modify, which courage overshadows with his shield, imagination covers with her wings, and charity dims with her tears. How difficult must the maintenance of that authority be, which, while it has to restrain the hostility of all the worst principles of man, has also to restrain the disorders of his best which is continually assaulted by the one and betrayed by the other, and which regards with the same severity the lightest and the boldest violations of its law! There are some faults [54/55] slight in the sight of love, some errors slight in the estimate of wisdom; but truth forgives no insult, and endures no stain.
Aphorism 7. The guilt and harm of well-meaning lying.1
We do not enough consider this; nor enough dread the slight and continual occasions of offence against her. We are too much in the habit of looking at falsehood in its darkest associations, and through the color of its worst purposes. That indignation which we profess to feel at deceit absolute, is indeed only at deceit malicious. We resent calumny, hypocrisy and treachery, because they harm us, not because they are untrue. Take the detraction and the mischief from the un truth, and we are little offended by it; turn it into praise, and we may be pleased with it. And yet it is not calumny nor treachery that do2* the largest sum of mischief in the world; they are continually crushed, and are felt only in being con quered. But it is the glistening and softly spoken lie; the amiable fallacy;3 the patriotic lie of the historian, the provident lie of the politician, the zealous lie of the partizan, the merciful lie of the friend, and the careless lie of each man to him self, that cast that black mystery over humanity, through which any man who pierces, we thank as we would thank one who dug a well in a desert; happy in that the thirst for truth [55/56] still remains with us, even when we have wilfully left the fountains of it.
It would be well if moralists less frequently confused the greatness of a sin with its unpardonableness. The two characters are altogether distinct. The greatness of a fault depends partly on the nature of the person against whom it is committed, partly upon the extent of its consequences. Its pardonableness depends, humanly speaking, on the degree of temptation to it. One class of circumstances determines the weight of the attaching punishment; the other, the claim to remission of punishment: and since it is not always easy for men to estimate the relative weight, nor always possible for them to know the relative consequences, of crime, it is usually wise in them to quit the care of such nice measurements, and to look to the other and clearer condition of culpability, esteeming those faults worst which are committed under least temptation. I do not mean to diminish the blame of the injurious and malicious sin, of the selfish and deliberate falsity; yet it seems to me, that the shortest way to check the darker forms of deceit is to set watch more scrupulous against those which have mingled, unregarded and unchastised, with the current of our life. Do not let us lie at all. Do not think of one falsity as harmless, and another as slight, and another as unintended. Cast them all aside: they may be light and accidental; but they are an ugly soot from the smoke of the pit,4 for all that; and it is better that our hearts should be swept clean of them, without over care as to which is largest or blackest.
Aphorism 8. Truth cannot be persisted in without pains; but it is worth them.5
Speaking truth is like writing fair, and comes only by practice; it is less a matter of Truth cannot be will than of habit, and I doubt if any occasion be trivial which permits the practice and formation of such a habit. To speak and act truth with constancy and precision is nearly as difficult, and perhaps as meritorious, as to speak it under intimidation [56/57] or penalty; and it is a strange thought how many men there are, as I trust, who would hold to it at the cost of fortune or life, for one who would hold to it at the cost of a little daily trouble. And seeing that of all sin there is, perhaps, no one more flatly opposite to the Almighty, no one more " wanting the good of virtue and of being," than this of lying, it is surely a strange insolence to fall into the foulness of it on light or on no temptation, and surely becoming an honourable man to resolve, that, whatever semblances or fallacies the necessary course of his life may compel him to bear or to believe, none shall disturb the serenity of his voluntary actions, nor diminish the reality of his chosen delights.6
§ 2. If this be just and wise for truth's sake, much more is it necessary for the sake of the delights over which she has influence. For, as I advocated the expression of the Spirit of Sacrifice in the acts and pleasures of men, not as if thereby those acts could further the cause of religion, but because most assuredly they might therein be infinitely ennobled themselves, so I would have the Spirit or Lamp of Truth clear in the hearts of our artists and handicraftsmen, not as if the truthful practice of handicrafts could far advance the cause of truth, but because I would fain see the handicrafts themselves urged by the spurs of chivalry: and it is, indeed, marvellous to see what power and universality there are in this single principle, and how in the consulting or forgetting of it lies half the dignity or decline of every art and act of man. I have before7 endeavoured to show its range and power in painting; and I believe a volume, instead of a chapter, might be written on its authority over all that is great in architecture. But I must be content with the force of few and familiar instances, believing that the occasions of its manifestation may be more easily discovered by a desire to be true, than embraced by an analysis of truth. [57/58]
Only it is very necessary in the outset to mark clearly wherein consists the essence of fallacy, as distinguished from fancy.8*
Aphorism 9. The nature and dignity of imagination.9
§ 3. For it might be at first thought that the whole kingdom of imagination was one of deception also. Not so: the action of the imagination is a voluntary summoning of the conceptions of things dignity of ima- absent or impossible; and the pleasure and nobility of the imagination partly consist in its knowledge and contemplation of them as such, i.e. in the knowledge of their actual absence or impossibility at the moment of their apparent presence or reality. When the imagination deceives, it becomes madness. It is a noble faculty so long as it confesses its own ideality; when it ceases to confess this, it is insanity. All the difference lies in the fact of the confession, in their being no deception. It is necessary to our rank as spiritual creatures, that we should be able to invent and to behold what is not; and to our rank as moral creatures, that we should know and confess at the same time that it is not.10
§ 4. Again, it might be thought, and has been thought, that the whole art of painting is nothing else than an endeavour to deceive. Not so: it is, on the contrary, a statement of certain facts, in the clearest possible way. For instance: I desire to give an account of a mountain or of a rock; I begin by telling its shape. But words will not [58/59] do this distinctly, and I draw its shape and say, “This was its shape.” Next: I would fain represent its colour: but words will not do this either, and I dye the paper, and say, “This was its colour.” Such a process may be carried on until the scene appears to exist, and a high pleasure may be taken in its apparent existence. This is a communicated act of imagination, but no lie. The lie can consist only in an assertion of its existence (which is never for one instant made, implied, or believed), or else in false statements of forms and colours (which are, indeed, made and believed to our great loss, continually). And observe, also, that so degrading a thing is deception in even the approach and appearance of it, that all painting which even reaches the mark of apparent realization is degraded in so doing. I have enough insisted on this point in another place.11
§ 5. The violations of truth, which dishonour poetry and painting, are thus for the most part confined to the treatment of their subjects. But in architecture another and a less subtle, more contemptible, violation of truth is possible; a direct falsity of assertion respecting the nature of material, or the quantity of labour. And this is, in the full sense of the word, wrong; it is as truly deserving of reprobation as any other moral delinquency; it is unworthy alike of architects and of nations; and it has been a sign, wherever it has widely and with toleration existed, of a singular debasement of the arts; that it is not a sign of worse than this, of a general want of severe probity, can be accounted for only by our knowledge of the strange separation which has for some centuries existed between the arts and all other subjects of human intellect, as matters of conscience. This withdrawal of conscientiousness from among the faculties concerned with art, while it has destroyed the arts themselves, has also rendered in a measure nugatory the evidence which otherwise they might have presented respecting the character of the respective nations among whom they have [59/60] been cultivated; otherwise, it might appear more than strange that a nation so distinguished for its general uprightness and faith as the English, should admit in their architecture more of pretence, concealment, and deceit, than any other of this or of past time.
They are admitted in thoughtlessness, but with fatal effect upon the art in which they are practised. If there were no other causes for the failures which of late have marked every great occasion for architectural exertion, these petty dishonesties would be enough to account for all.12 It is the first step, and not the least, towards greatness, to do away with these; the first, because so evidently and easily in our power. We may not be able to command good, or beautiful, or inventive, architecture; but we can command an honest architecture: the meagreness of poverty may be pardoned, the sternness of utility respected; but what is there but scorn for the meanness of deception?
§ 6. Architectural Deceits are broadly to be considered under three heads: —
1st. The suggestion of a mode of stnicture or support, other than the true one; as in pendants of late Gothic roofs.
2d. The painting of surfaces to represent some other material than that of which they actually consist (as in the marbling of wood13), or the deceptive representation of sculptured ornament upon them.
3d. The use of cast or machine-made ornaments of any kind.
Now, it may be broadly stated, that architecture will be noble exactly in the degree in which all these false expedients are avoided. Nevertheless, there are certain degrees of them, which, owing to their frequent usage, or to other causes, have so far lost the nature of deceit as to be admissible; as, for [60/61] instance, gilding, which is in architecture no deceit, because it is therein not understood for gold; while in jewellery it is a deceit, because it is so understood, and therefore altogether to be reprehended. So that there arise, in the application of the strict rules of right, many exceptions and niceties of conscience; which let us as briefly as possible examine.
§ 7. 1st., Structural Deceits.14* I have limited these to the determined and purposed suggestion of a mode of support other than the true one. The architect is not bound to exhibit structure; nor are we to complain of him for concealing it, any more than we should regret that the outer surfaces of the human frame conceal much of its anatomy; nevertheless, that building will generally be the noblest, which to an intelligent eye discovers the great secrets of its structure, as an animal form does, although from a careless observer they may be concealed. In the vaulting of a Gothic roof it is no deceit to throw the strength into the ribs of it, and make the intermediate vault a mere shell. Such a structure would be presumed by an intelligent observer, the first time he saw such a roof; and the beauty of its traceries would be enhanced to him if they confessed and followed the lines of its main strength. If, however, the intermediate shell were made of wood instead of stone, and whitewashed to look like the rest, this would, of course, be direct deceit, and altogether unpardonable.15
There is, however, a certain deception necessarily occurring in Gothic architecture, which relates, not to the points, but to the manner, of support. The resemblance in its shafts and ribs to the external relations of stems and branches, which has been the ground of so much foolish speculation, necessarily induces in the mind of the spectator a sense or [61/62] belief of a correspondent internal structure; that is to say, of a fibrous and continuous strength from the root into the limbs, and an elasticity communicated upwards, sufficient for the support of the ramified portions. The idea of the real conditions, of a great weight of ceiling thrown upon certain narrow, jointed lines, which have a tendency partly to be crushed, and partly to separate and be pushed outwards, is with difficulty received; and the more so when the pillars would be, if unassisted, too slight for the weight, and are supported by external flying buttresses, as in the apse of Beauvais, and other such achievements of the bolder Gothic. Now, there is a nice question of conscience in this, which we shall hardly settle but by considering that, when the mind is informed beyond the possibility of mistake as to the true nature of things, the affecting it with a contrary impression, however distinct, is no dishonesty, but, on the contrary, a legitimate appeal to the imagination.17 For instance, the greater part of the happiness which we have in contemplating clouds, results from the impression of their having massive, luminous, warm, and mountain-like surfaces; and our delight in the sky frequently depends upon our considering it as a blue vault. But, if we choose, we may know the contrary, in both instances; and easily ascertain18 the cloud to be a damp fog, or a drift of snow-flakes; and the sky to be a lightless abyss. There is, therefore, no dishonesty, while there is much delight, in the irresistibly contrary impression. In the same way, so long as we see the stones and joints, and are not deceived as to the points of support in any piece of architecture, we may rather praise than regret the dexterous artifices which compel us to feel as if there were fibre in its shafts and life in its branches. Nor is even the concealment of the support of the external buttress reprehensible, so long as the pillars are not sensibly inadequate to their duty. For the weight of a roof is a [62/63] circumstance of which the spectator generally has no idea, and the provisions for it, consequently, circumstances whose necessity or adaptation he could not understand. It is no deceit, therefore, when the weight to be borne is necessarily unknown, to conceal also the means of bearing it, leaving only to be perceived so much of the support as is indeed adequate to the weight supposed. For the shafts do, indeed, bear as much as they are ever imagined to bear, and the system of added support is no more, as a matter of conscience, to be exhibited, than, in the human or any other form, mechanical provisions for those functions which are themselves unperceived.
But the moment that the conditions of weight are comprehended, both truth and feeling require that the conditions of support should be also comprehended. Nothing can be worse, either as judged by the taste or the conscience, than affectedly inadequate supports suspensions in air, and other such tricks and vanities.19*
§ 8. With deceptive concealments of structure are to be classed, though still more blameable, deceptive assumptions of it, the introduction of members which should have, or profess [63/64] to have, a duty, and have none.20 One of the most general instances of this will be found in the form of the flying buttress in late Gothic. The use of that member is, of course, to convey support from one pier to another when the plan of the building renders it necessary or desirable that the supporting masses should be divided into groups; the most frequent necessity of this kind arising from the intermediate range of chapels or aisles between the nave or choir walls and their supporting piers.
The Evolution of the Gothic Buttress, 1170-1220 with English Examples. From Banister
Fletcher's A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method (1905).
The natural, healthy, and beautiful arrangement is that of a steeply sloping bar of stone, sustained by an arch with its spandrel carried farthest down on the lowest side, and dying into the vertical of the outer pier; that pier being, of course, not square, but rather a piece of wall set at right angles to the supported walls, and, if need be, crowned by a pinnacle to give it greater weight. The whole arrangement is exquisitely carried out in the choir of Beauvais. In later Gothic the pinnacle became gradually a decorative member, and was used in all places merely for the sake of its beauty. There is no objection to this; it is just as lawful to build a pinnacle for its beauty as a tower; but also the buttress became a decorative member; and was used, first, where it was not wanted, and, secondly, in forms in which it could be of no use, becoming a mere tie, not between the pier and wall, but between the wall and the top of the decorative pinnacle, thus attaching itself to the very point where its thrust, if it made any, could not be resisted. The most flagrant instance of this barbarism that I remember, (though it prevails partially in all the spires of the Netherlands,) is the lantern of St. Ouen at Rouen, where the pierced buttress, having an ogee curve, looks about as much calculated to bear a thrust as a switch of willow; and the pinnacles, huge and richly decorated, have evidently no work to do whatsoever, but stand round the central tower, like four idle servants, as they are heraldic supporters, that central tower being merely a hollow crown, which needs no more buttressing than a basket does. In fact, [64/65] I do not know any thing more strange or unwise than the praise lavished upon this lantern;21 it is one of the basest pieces of Gothic in Europe; its flamboyant traceries being of the last and most degraded forms:22* and its entire plan and decoration resembling, and deserving little more credit than, the burnt sugar ornaments of elaborate confectionery. There are hardly any of the magnificent and serene methods of construction in the early Gothic, which have not, in the course of time, been gradually thinned and pared away into these skeletons, which sometimes indeed, when their lines truly follow the structure of the original masses, have an interest like that of the fibrous framework of leaves from which the substance has been dissolved, but which are usually distorted as well as emaciated, and remain but the sickly phantoms and mockeries of things that were; they are to true architecture what the Greek ghost was to the armed and living frame; and the very winds that whistle through the threads of them, are to the diapasoned echoes [65/66] of the ancient walls, as to the voice of the man was the pining of the spectre.23*
§ 9.Perhaps the most fruitful sources of these kinds of corruption which we have to guard against in recent times, is one which, nevertheless, comes in a “questionable shape,”24 and of which it is not easy to determine the proper laws and limits; I mean the use of iron. The definition of the art of architecture, given in the first Chapter, is independent of its materials. Nevertheless, that art having been, up to the beginning of the present century, practised for the most part in clay, stone, or wood, it has resulted that the sense of proportion and the laws of structure have been based, the one altogether, the other in great part, on the necessities consequent on the employment of those materials; and that the entire or principal employment of metallic framework would, therefore, be generally felt as a departure from the first principles of the art. Abstractedly there appears no reason why iron should not be used as well as wood; and the time is probably near when a new system of architectural laws will be developed, adapted entirely to metallic construction. But I believe that the tendency of all present25* sympathy and association is to limit the idea of architecture to non-metallic work; and that not without reason. For architecture being in its perfection the earliest, as in its elements it is necessarily the first, of arts, will always precede, in any barbarous nation, the possession of the science necessary either for the obtaining or the management of iron. Its first existence and its earliest laws must, therefore, depend upon the use of materials accessible in quantity, and on the surface of the earth; that is to [66/67] say, clay, wood, or stone: and as I think it cannot but be generally felt that one of the chief dignities of architecture is its historical use, and since the latter is partly dependent on consistency of style, it will be felt right to retain as far as may be, even in periods of more advanced science, the materials and principles of earlier ages.
Left two: Two views of Rouen Cathedral's Iron Spire. Right: John Dobson's Trainshed, Central
Station (1847-50), Newcastle — the first covered station in the world.
§ 10. But whether this be granted me or not, the fact is, that every idea respecting size, proportion, decoration, or construction, on which we are at present in the habit of acting or judging, depends on presupposition of such materials: and as I both feel myself unable to escape the influence of these prejudices, and believe that my readers will be equally so, it may be perhaps permitted to me to assume that true architecture does not admit iron as a constructive material,26* and that such works as the cast-iron central spire of Rouen Cathedral, or the iron roofs and pillars of our railway stations, and of some of our churches, are not architecture at all. Yet it is evident that metals may, and sometimes must, enter into the construction to a certain extent, as nails in wooden architecture, and therefore, as legitimately, rivets and solderings in stone; neither can we well deny to the Gothic architect the power of supporting statues, pinnacles, or traceries by iron bars; and if we grant this, I do not see how we can help allowing Brunelleschi his iron chain around the dome of Florence,27 or the builders of Salisbury28* their elaborate iron binding of the central tower. If, however, we would not fall [67/68] into the old sophistry of the grains of corn and the heap, we must find a rule which may enable us to stop somewhere.
Aphorism 10. The proper structural use of iron.29
This rule is, I think, that metals may be used as a cement, but not as a support. For as cements The proper ther kinds are often so strong that the stones structural use may easier be broken than separated, and the wall becomes a solid mass, without for that reason losing the character of architecture, there is no reason why, when a nation has obtained the knowledge and practice of iron work, metal rods or rivets should not be used in the place of cement, and establish the same or a greater strength and adherence, without in any wise inducing departure from the types and system of architecture before established; nor does it make any difference, except as to sightliness, whether the metal bands or rods so employed be in the body of the wall or on its exterior, or set as stays and cross-bands; so only that the use of them be always and distinctly one which might be superseded by mere strength of cement; as for instance if a pinnacle or mullion be propped or tied by an iron band, it is evident that the iron only prevents the separation of the stones by lateral force, which the cement would have done, had it been strong enough. But the moment that the iron in the least degree takes the place of the stone, and acts by its resistance to crushing, and bears superincumbent weight, or if it acts by its own weight as a counterpoise, and so supersedes the use of pinnacles or buttresses in resisting a lateral thrust,30 or if, in the form of a rod or girder, it is used to do what wooden beams would have done as well, that instant the building ceases, so far as such applications of metal extend, to be true architecture.31* [68/69]
§ 11. The limit, however, thus determined, is an ultimate one, and it is well in all things to be cautious how we approach the utmost limit of lawfulness; so that, although the employment of metal within this limit cannot be considered as destroying the very being and nature of architecture, it will, if extravagant and frequent, derogate from the dignity of the work, as well as (which is especially to our present point) from its honesty. For although the spectator is not informed as to the quantity or strength of the cement employed, he will generally conceive the stones of the building to be separable; and his estimate of the skill of the architect will be based in great measure on the supposition of this condition, and of the difficulties attendant upon it:32 so that it is always more honourable, and it has a tendency to render the style of architecture both more masculine and more scientific, to employ stone and mortar simply as such, and to do as much as possible with their mere weight and strength, and rather sometimes to forego a grace, or to confess a weakness, than attain the one, or conceal the other, by means verging upon dishonesty.33 [69/70]
Nevertheless, where the design is of such delicacy and slightness as, in some parts of very fair and finished edifices, it is desirable that it should be; and where both its completion and security are in a measure dependent on the use of metal, let not such use be reprehended; so only that as much is done as may be, by good mortar and good masonry; and no slovenly workmanship admitted through confidence in the iron helps; for it is in this license as in that of wine, a man may use it for his infirmities, but not for his nourishment.
§ 12. And, in order to avoid an over use of this liberty, it would be well to consider what application may be conveniently made of the dovetailing and various adjusting of stones; for when any artifice is necessary to help the mortar, certainly this ought to come before the use of metal, for it is both safer and more honest. I cannot see that any objection can be made to the fitting of the stones in any shapes the architect pleases; for although it would not be desirable to see buildings put together like Chinese puzzles, there must always be a check upon such an abuse of the practice in its difficulty; nor is it necessary that it should be always exhibited, so that it be understood by the spectator as an admitted help, and that no principal stones are introduced in positions apparently impossible for them to retain, although a riddle here and there, in unimportant features, may sometimes serve to draw the eye to the masonry, and make it interesting, as well as to give a delightful sense of a kind of necromantic power in the architect. There is a pretty one in the lintel of the lateral door of the cathedral of Prato34 (Plate IV. fig. 4); where the maintenance of the visibly separate stones, alternate marble and serpentine, cannot be [70/71] understood until their cross-cutting is seen below. Each block is, of course, of the form given in fig. 5.
Aphorism 11. The inviolability of Divine Law not of necessity but of ordinance.35
§ 13. Lastly, before leaving the subject of structural deceits, I would remind the architect who thinks that I am unnecessarily and narrowly limiting his resources or his art, that the highest greatness and the highest wisdom are shown, the first by a noble submission to, the second by a thoughtful providence for, certain voluntarily admitted restraints.36 Nothing is more evident than this, in that supreme government necessity but of which is the example, as it is the centre, of all ordinance others. The Divine Wisdom is, and can be, shown to us only in its meeting and contending with the difficulties which are voluntarily, and for the sake of that contest?37 admitted by the Divine Omnipotence: and these difficulties, observe, occur in the form of natural laws or ordinances, which might, at many times and in countless ways, be infringed with apparent advantage, but which are never infringed, whatever costly arrangements or adaptations their observance may necessitate for the accomplishment of given purposes. The example most apposite to our present subject is the structure of the bones of animals. No reason can be given, I believe, why the system of the higher animals should not have been made capable, as that of the Infusoria is, of secreting flint, instead of phosphate of lime, or, more naturally still, carbon; so framing the bones of adamant at once. The elephant and rhinoceros, had the earthy part of their bones been made of diamond, might have been as agile and light as grasshoppers, and other animals might have been framed, far more magnificently colossal than any that walk the earth. In other worlds we may, perhaps, see such creations; a creation for every element, and elements infinite. But the architecture [71/72] of animals here is appointed by God to be a marble architecture, not a flint nor adamant architecture; and all manner of expedients are adopted to attain the utmost degree of strength and size possible under that great limitation. The jaw of the ichthyosaurus is pieced and riveted,38 the leg of the megatherium is a foot thick, and the head of the mylodon39 has a double skull; we, in our wisdom, should, doubtless, have given the lizard a steel jaw, and the mylodon a castiron headpiece, and forgotten the great principle to which all creation bears witness, that order and system are nobler things than power. But God shows us in Himself, strange as it may seem, not only authoritative perfection, but even the perfection of Obedience an obedience to His own laws: and in the cumbrous movement of those unwieldiest of His creatures, we are reminded, even in His divine essence, of that attribute of uprightness in the human creature; “that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.”40
§ 14. 2d. Surface Deceits. These may be generally defined as the inducing the supposition of some form or material which does not actually exist; as commonly in the painting of wood to represent marble,41 or in the painting of ornaments in deceptive relief,42 &c. But we must be careful to observe, that the evil of them consists always in definitely attempted deception and that it is a matter of some nicety to mark the point where deception begins or ends.
Thus, for instance, the roof of Milan Cathedral is seemingly covered with elaborate fan tracery, forcibly43 enough painted to enable it, in its dark and removed position, to deceive a careless observer. This is, of course, gross degradation; it destroys much of the dignity even of the rest of the building, and is in the very strongest terms to be reprehended. [72/73]
The roof of the Sistine Chapel has much architectural design in grissaille mingled with the figures of its frescoes; and the effect is increase of dignity.
In what lies the distinctive character?
In two points, principally: — First. That the architecture is so closely associated with the figures, and has so grand fellow ship with them in its forms and cast shadows, that both are at once felt to be of a piece; and as the figures must necessarily be painted, the architecture is known to be so too. There is thus no deception.
Aphorism 12. Great painting never deceives. (Compare and add tot his aphorism as part of it, the fourth paragraph of this chapter.44
The second, that so great a painter as Michael Angelo would always stop short in such minor parts of his design, of the degree of vulgar force which would be necessaiy to induce the supposition of their reality; and, strangely as it may sound, would never paint badly enough to deceive.
But though right and wrong are thus found broadly opposed in works severally so mean and so mighty as the roof of Milan and that of the Sistine, there are works neither so greeat nor so mean, in which the limits of right are vaguely defined, and will need some care to determine; care only, however, to apply accurately the broad principle with which we set out, that no form nor material is to be deceptively represented.
§ 15. Evidently, then, painting, confessedly such, is no deception: it does not assert any material whatever. Whether it be on wood or on stone, or, as will naturally be supposed, on plaster,45 does not matter. Whatever the material, good painting makes it more precious; nor can it ever be said to deceive re specting the ground of which it gives us no information. To cover brick with plaster, and this plaster with fresco, is, there fore, perfectly legitimate; and as desirable a mode of decoration as it is constant in the great periods.[73/74] Verona and Venice are now seen deprived of more than half their former splendour; it depended far more on their frescoes46 than their marbles. The plaster, in this case, is to be considered as the gesso ground on panel or canvas. But to cover brick with cement, and to divide this cement with joints that it may look like stone, is to tell a falsehood; and is just as contemptible a procedure as the other is noble.47
It being lawful to paint then, is it lawful to paint everything? So long as the painting is confessed yes; but if, even in the slightest degree, the sense of it be lost, and the thing painted be supposed real no. Let us take a few instances. In the Campo Santo at Pisa, each fresco is surrounded with a border composed of flat coloured patterns of great elegance no part of it in attempted relief. The certainty of flat surface being thus secured, the figures, though the size of life, do not deceive, and the artist thenceforward is at liberty to put forth his whole power, and to lead us through fields, and groves, and depths of pleasant landscape, and soothe us with the sweet clearness of far-off sky, and yet never lose the severity of his primal purpose of architectural decoration.48
In the Camera di Correggio of San Lodovico at Parma,49 the trellises of vine shadow the walls, as if with an actual arbour; and the groups of children, peeping through the oval openings, luscious in colour and faint in light, may well be expected every instant to break through, or hide behind the covert. The grace of their attitudes, and the evident greatness of the whole work, mark that it is painting, and barely redeem it from the charge of falsehood; but even so saved, it is utterly unworthy to take a place among noble or legitimate architectural decoration. [74/75]
In the cupola of the duomo of Parma the same painter has represented the Assumption with so much deceptive power, that he has made a dome of some thirty feet diameter look like a cloud-wrapt opening in the seventh heaven, crowded with a rushing sea of angels.50 Is this wrong? Not so: for the subject at once precludes the possibility of deception. We might have taken the vines for a veritable pergola, and the children for its haunting ragazzi; but we know the stayed cloud and moveless angels must be man's work; let him put his utmost strength to it, and welcome; he can enchant us, but cannot betray.
We may thus apply the rule to the highest, as well as the art of daily occurrence, always remembering that more is to be forgiven to the great painter than to the mere decorative workman; and this especially, because the former, even in deceptive portions, will not trick us so grossly; as we have just seen in Correggio, where a worse painter would have made the thing look like life at once. There is, however, in room, villa, or garden decoration, some fitting admission of trickeries of this kind, as of pictured landscapes at the extremities of alleys and arcades, and ceilings like skies, or painted with prolongations upwards of the architecture of the walls, which things have sometimes a certain luxury and pleasureableness in places meant for idleness, and are51 innocent enough as long as they are regarded as mere toys.
§ 16. Touching the false representation of material, the question is infinitely more simple, and the law more sweeping; all such imitations are utterly base and inadmissible.52 It is melancholy to think of the time and expense lost in marbling the shop fronts of London alone, and of the waste of our resources in absolute vanities, in things about which no mortal cares, by which no eye is ever arrested, unless painfully, and [75/76] which do not add one whit to comfort, or cleanliness, or even to that great object of commercial art conspicuousness. But in architecture of a higher rank, how much more is it to be condemned! I have made it a rule in the present work not to blame specifically; but I may, perhaps, be permitted, while I express my sincere admiration of the very noble entrance and general architecture of the British Museum,
The British Museum, by Sir Robert Smirke. 1823-47.
to express also my regret that the noble granite foundation of the staircase should be mocked at its landing by an imitation, the more blameable because tolerably successful.53 The only effect of it is to cast a suspicion upon the true stones below, and upon every bit of granite afterwards encountered. One feels a doubt, after it, of the honesty of Memnon54 himself. But even this, however derogatory to the noble architecture around it, is less painful than the want of feeling with which, in our cheap modern churches, we suffer the wall decorator to erect about the altar frameworks55 and pediments daubed with mottled colour, and to dye in the same fashion such skeletons or caricatures of columns as may emerge above the pews: this is not merely bad taste; it is no unimportant or excusable error which brings even these shadows of vanity and falsehood into the house of prayer. The first condition which just feeling requires in church furniture is, that it should be simple and unaffected, not fictitious nor tawdry. It may not be in our [76/77] power to make it beautiful, but let it at least be pure; and if we cannot permit much to the architect, do not let us permit anything to the upholsterer; if we keep to solid stone and solid wood, whitewashed, if we like, for cleanliness' sake, (for whitewash has so often been used as the dress of noble things that it has thence received a kind of nobility itself,) it must be a bad design indeed, which is grossly offensive. I recollect no instance of a want of sacred character, or of any marked and painful ugliness, in the simplest or the most awkwardly built village church, where stone and wood were roughly and nakedly used, and the windows latticed with white glass. But the smoothly stuccoed walls, the flat roofs with ventilator ornaments, the barred windows with jaundiced borders and dead ground square panes, the gilded or bronzed wood, the painted iron, the wretched upholstery of curtains and cushions, and pew heads, and altar railings, and Birmingham metal candlesticks, and, above all, the green and yellow sickness of the false marble disguises all, observe; falsehoods all who are they who like these things? who defend them? who do them? I have never spoken to any one who did like them, though to many who thought them matters of no consequence. Perhaps not to religion; (though I cannot but believe that there are many to whom, as to myself, such things are serious obstacles to the repose of mind and temper which should precede devotional exercises;) but to the general tone of our judgment and feeling yes; for assuredly we shall regard, with tolerance, if not with affection, whatever forms of material things we have been in the habit of associating with our worship, and be little prepared to detect or blame hypocrisy, meanness, and disguise in other kinds of decoration, when we suffer objects belonging to the most solemn of all services to be tricked out in a fashion so fictitious and unseemly.
§ 17. Painting, however, is not the only mode in which material may be concealed, or rather simulated; for merely to conceal is, as we have seen, no wrong. Whitewash, for instance, though often (by no means always) to be regretted as a concealment, is not to be blamed as a falsity. It shows itself [77/78] for what it is, and asserts nothing of what is beneath it. Gilding has become, from its frequent use, equally innocent. It is understood for what it is, a film merely, and is, therefore, allowable to any extent: I do not say expedient: it is one of the most abused means of magnificence we possess, and I much doubt whether any use we ever make of it, balances that loss of pleasure, which, from the frequent sight and perpetual suspicion of it, we suffer in the contemplation of any thing that is verily of gold. I think gold was meant to be seldom seen, and to be admired as a precious thing; and I sometimes wish that truth should so far literally prevail as that all should be gold that glittered, or rather that nothing should glitter that was not gold. Nevertheless, Nature herself does not dispense with such semblance, but uses light for it; and I have too great a love for old and saintly art to part with its burnished field, or radiant nimbus; only it should be used with respect, and to express magnificence, or sacredness, and not in lavish vanity, or in sign painting. Of its expedience, however, any more than that of colour, it is not here the place to speak; we are endeavouring to determine what is lawful, not what is desirable. Of other and less common modes of disguising surface, as of powder of lapis lazuli, or mosaic imitations of coloured stones, I need hardly speak. The rule will apply to all alike, that whatever is pretended, is wrong; commonly enforced also by the exceeding ugliness and insufficient appearance of such methods, as lately in the style of renovation by which half the houses in Venice have been defaced, the brick covered first with stucco, and this painted with zigzag veins in imitation of alabaster.56 But there is one more form of architectural fiction, which is so constant in the great periods that it needs respectful judgment. I mean the facing of brick with precious stone.
§ 18. It is well known, that what is meant by a church's being built of marble is, in nearly all cases, only that a veneering of marble has been fastened on the rough brick wall, built [78/79] with certain projections to receive it; and that what appear to be massy stones, are nothing more than external slabs.
Aphorism 13. (Expanded afterwards in “Stones of Venice”) The facing brick with marble only a great form of Mosaic, and perfectly acceptable.58
Now, it is evident, that, in this case, the question of right is on the same ground as in that of gilding. If it be clearly understood that a marble facing "stones of does not pretend or imply a marble wail, there is facing brick no harm in it; and as it is also evident that, with marble is when very precious stones are used, as jaspers form of Mosaic, and serpentines, it must become, not only an extravagant and vain increase of expense, but sometimes an actual impossibility, to obtain mass of them enough to build with, there is no resource but this of veneering; nor is there anything to be alleged against it on the head of durability, such work having been by experience found to last as long, and in as perfect condition, as any kind of masonry. It is, therefore, to be considered as simply an art of mosaic on a large scale, the ground being of brick, or any other material; and when lovely stones are to be obtained, it is a manner which should be thoroughly understood, and often practised. Nevertheless, as we esteem the shaft of a column more highly for its being of a single block, and as we do not regret the loss of substance and value which there is in things of solid gold, silver, agate, or ivory; so I think that walls themselves may be regarded with a more just complacency if they are known to be all of noble substance; and that rightly weighing the demands of the two principles of which we have hitherto spoken Sacrifice and Truth, we should sometimes rather spare external ornament than diminish the unseen value and consistency of what we do; and I believe that a better manner of design, and a more careful and studious, if less abundant, decoration would follow, upon the consciousness of thoroughness in the substance. And, indeed, this is to be remembered, with respect [79/80] to all the points we have examined; that while we have traced the limits of license, we have not fixed those of that high rectitude which refuses license. It is thus true that there is no falsity, and much beauty, in the use of external colour, and that it is lawful to paint either pictures or patterns on whatever surfaces may seem to need enrichment. But it is not less true, that such practices are essentially unarchitectural; and while we cannot say that there is actual danger in an over use of them, seeing that they have been always used most lavishly in the times of most noble art, yet they divide the work into two parts and kinds, one of less durability than the other, which dies away from it in process of ages, and leaves it, unless it have noble qualities of its own, naked and bare. That enduring noblesse I should, therefore, call truly architectural; and it is not until this has been secured, that the accessory power of painting may be called in, for the delight of the immediate time; nor this, as I think, until every resource of a more stable kind has been exhausted.
Aphorism 14. The proper colours of Architecture are those of natural stones.59
The true colours of architecture are those of natural stone, and I would fain see these taken The proper advantage of to the full. Every variety of hue, from pale yellow to purple, passing through orange, red, and brown, is entirely at our command; nearly every kind of green and gret us aksi attainable; and with these, and pure white, what harmonies might we not achieve? Of stained and variegated stone, the quantity is unlimited, the kinds innumerable; where brighter colours are required, let glass, and gold protected by glass, be used in mosaic a kind of work as durable as the solid stone, and incapable of losing its lustre by time and let the painter's work be reserved for the shadowed loggia and inner chamber. This is the true and faithful way of building; where this cannot be, the device of external colouring may, indeed, be employed without dishonour; but it must be with the warning reflection, that a time will come when such aids must pass away, [80/81] and when the building will be judged in its lifelessness, dying the death of the dolphin. Better the less bright,60 more enduring fabric. The transparent alabasters of San Miniato, and the mosaics of St. Mark's, are more warmly filled, and more brightly touched, by every return of morning and evening rays; while the hues of our cathedrals have died like the iris out of the cloud; and the temples whose azure and purple once flamed above the Grecian promontories, stand in their faded whiteness, like snows which the sunset has left cold.
§ 19. The last form of fallacy which it will be remembered we had to deprecate, was the substitution of cast or machine work for that of the hand, generally expressible as Operative Deceit.
There are two reasons, both weighty, against this practice; one, that all cast and machine work is bad, as work; the other, that it is dishonest. Of its badness, I shall speak in another place,61 that being evidently no efficient reason against its use when other cannot be had. Its dishonesty, however, which, to my mind, is of the grossest kind, is, I think, a sufficient reason to determine absolute and unconditional rejection of it.
Ornament, as I have often before observed, has two entirely distinct sources of agreeableness: one, that of the abstract beauty of its forms, which, for the present, we will suppose to be the same whether they come from the hand or the machine; the other, the sense of human labour and care spent upon it. How great this latter influence we may perhaps judge, by considering that there is not a cluster of weeds growing in any cranny of ruin62* which has not a [81/82] beauty in all respects nearly equal, and, in some, immeasurably superior, to that of the most elaborate sculpture of its stones: and that all our interest in the carved work, our sense of its richness, though it is tenfold less rich than the knots of grass beside it; of its delicacy, though it is a thousandfold less delicate; of its admirableness, though a millionfold less admirable; results from our consciousness of its being the work of poor, clumsy, toilsome man. Its true delightfulness depends on our discovering in it the record of thoughts, and intents, and trials, and heartbreakings of recoveries and joyfulnesses of success: all this can be traced by a practised eye; but, granting it even obscure, it is presumed or understood; and in that is the worth63* of the thing, just as much as the worth of any thing else we call precious. The worth of a diamond is simply the understanding of the time it must take to look for it before it is found; and the worth of an ornament is the time it must take before it can be cut. It has an intrinsic value besides, which the diamond has not; (for a diamond has no more real beauty than a piece of glass;) but I do not speak of that at present; I place the two on the same ground; and I suppose that hand- wrought ornament can no more be generally known from machine work, than a diamond can be known from paste; nay, that the latter [82/83] may deceive, for a moment, the mason's, as the other the jeweller's, eye; and that it can be detected only by the closest examination. Yet exactly as a woman of feeling would not wear false jewels, so would a builder of honour disdain false ornaments. The using of them is just as downright and inexcusable a lie.64 You use that which pretends to a worth which it has not; which pretends to have cost, and to be, what it did not, and is not; it is an imposition, a vulgarity, an impertinence, and a sin. Down with it to the ground, grind it to powder, leave its ragged place upon the wall, rather; you have not paid for it, you have no business with it, you do not want it. Nobody wants ornaments in this world, but everybody wants integrity. All the fair devices that ever were fancied, are not worth a lie. Leave your walls as bare as a planed board, or build them of baked mud and chopped straw, if need be; but do not rough-cast them with falsehood.
This then, being our general law, and I hold it for a more imperative one than any other I have asserted; and this kind of dishonesty, the meanest, as the least necessary;65* for66 ornament is an extravagant and inessential thing; and therefore, if fallacious, utterly base this, I say, being our general law, there are, nevertheless, certain exceptions respecting particular substances and their uses. [83/84]
§ 20. Thus in the use of brick: since that is known to be originally moulded, there is no reason why it should not be moulded into diverse forms. It will never be supposed to have been cut, and, therefore, will cause no deception; it will have only the credit it deserves. In flat countries, far from any quarry of stone, cast brick may be legitimately, and most successfully, used in decoration, and that elaborate, and even refined. The brick mouldings of the Palazzo Pepoli at Bologna, and those which run round the market-place of Vercelli, are among the richest in Italy.68 So also, tile and porcelain work, of which the former is grotesquely, but successfully, employed in the domestic architecture of France, coloured tiles being inserted in the diamond spaces between the crossing timbers; and the latter admirably in Tuscany, in external bas-reliefs, by the Robbia family, in which works, while we cannot but sometimes regret the useless and ill-arranged colours,69 we would by no means blame the employment of a material which, whatever its defects, excels every other in permanence, and, perhaps, requires even greater skill in its management than marble. For it is not the material, but the absence of the human labour, which makes the thing worthless; and a piece of terra cotta, or of plaster of Paris, which has been wrought by the human hand, is worth all the stone in Carrara, cut by machinery. It is, indeed, possible, and even usual, for men to sink into machines themselves, so that even hand-work has all the characters of mechanism; of the difference between living and dead hand-work I shall speak presently;70 all that I ask at present is, what it is always in our power to secure the confession of what we have done, and what we have given; so that when we use stone at [84/85] all,71* (since all stone is naturally supposed to be carved by hand,) we must not carve it by machinery; neither must we use any artificial stone cast into shape, nor any stucco ornaments of the colour of stone, or which might in any wise be mistaken for it, as the stucco mouldings in the cortile of the Palazzo Vecchio at Florence, which cast a shame and suspicion over every part of the building. But for ductile and fusible materials, as clay, iron, and bronze, since these will usually be supposed to have been cast or stamped, it is at our pleasure to employ them as we will; remembering that they become precious, or otherwise, just in proportion to the hand-work upon them, or to the clearness of their reception of the handwork of their mould. But72 I believe no cause to have been more active in the degradation of our national feeling for beauty than the constant use of cast-iron ornaments.
Aphorism 5 [sic]. Cast-iron ornamentation is barbarous.73
The common iron work of the middle ages was as simple as it was effective, ornamentation composed of leafage cut flat out of sheet iron, and twisted at the workman's will.74 No ornaments, on the [85/86] contrary, are so cold, clumsy, and vulgar, so essentially incapable of a fine line or shadow, as those of cast-iron; and while, on the score of truth, we can hardly allege anything against them, since they are always distinguishable, at a glance, from wrought and hammered work, and stand only for what they are, yet I feel very strongly that there is no hope of the progress of the arts of any nation which indulges in these vulgar and cheap substitutes for real decoration. Their inefficiency and paltriness I shall endeavour to show more conclusively in another place;75 enforcing only, at present, the general conclusion that, if even honest or allowable, they are things in which we can never take just pride or pleasure, and must never be employed in any place wherein they might either themselves obtain the credit of being other and better than they are, or be associated with the thoroughly downright work to which it would be a disgrace to be found in their company.
Such are, I believe, the three principal kinds of fallacy by which architecture is liable to be corrupted; there are, however, other and more subtle forms of it, against which it is less easy to guard by definite law, than by the watchfulness of a manly and unaffected spirit. For, as it has been above noticed,76 there are certain kinds of deception which extend to impressions and ideas only; of which some are, indeed, of a noble use, as that above referred to, the arborescent look of lofty Gothic aisles;77 but of which the most part78 have so much of legerdemain and trickery about them, that they will lower any style in which they considerably prevail; and they are [86/87] likely to prevail when once they are admitted, being apt to catch the fancy alike of uninventive architects and feelingless spectators; just as mean and shallow minds are, in other matters, delighted with the sense of over-reaching, or tickled with the conceit of detecting the intention to over-reach: and when subtleties of this kind are accompanied by the display of such dexterous stone-cutting, or architectural sleight of hand, as may become, even by itself, a subject of admiration, it is a great chance if the pursuit of them do not gradually draw us away from all regard and care for the nobler character of the art, and end in its total paralysis or extinction. And against this there is no guarding, but by stern disdain of all display of dexterity and ingenious device, and by putting the whole force of our fancy into the arrangement of masses and forms, caring no more how these masses and forms are wrought out, than a great painter cares which way his pencil strikes.79* It would be easy to give many instances of the danger of these tricks and vanities; but I shall confine myself to the examination of one which has, as I think, been the cause80 of the fall of Gothic architecture throughout Europe. I mean the system of intersectional mouldings, which, on account of its great importance, and for the sake of the general reader, I may, perhaps, be pardoned for explaining elementarily.81
§ 21. I must, in the first place, however, refer to Professor Willis's account82 of the origin of tracery, given in the sixth chapter of his Architecture of the Middle Ages;83 since the publication of which I have been not a little amazed to hear of any attempts made to resuscitate the inexcusably absurd theory of its derivation from imitated vegetable form inexcusably, [87/88] I say, because the smallest acquaintance with early Gothic architecture would have informed the supporters of that theory of the simple fact, that, exactly in proportion to the antiquity of the work, the imitation of such organic forms is less, and in the earliest examples does not exist at all.84 There cannot be the shadow of a question, in the mind of a person familiarised with any single series of consecutive examples, that tracery arose from the gradual enlargement of the penetrations of the shield of stone which, usually supported by a central pillar, occupied the head of early windows. Professor Willis, perhaps, confines his observations somewhat too absolutely to the double sub-arch. I have given, in Plate VII. fig. 385 [at right], an interesting case of rude penetration of a high and simply trefoiled shield, from the church of the Eremitani at Padua. But the more frequent and typical form is that of the double sub-arch, decorated with various piercings of the space between it and the superior arch; with a simple trefoil under a round arch, in the Abbaye aux Hommes, Caen (Plate III. fig. 1); with a very beautifully proportioned quatrefoil, in the triforium of Eu, and that of the choir of Lisieux; with quatrefoils, sixfoils, and septfoils, in the transept towers of Rouen (Plate III. fig. 2); with a trefoil awkwardly, and very small quatrefoil above, at Coutances (Plate III. fig. 3); then, with multiplications of the same figures, pointed or round, giving very clumsy shapes of the intermediate stone, (fig. 4, from one of the nave chapels of Rouen, fig. 5, from one of the nave chapels of Bayeux,) and finally, by thinning out the stony ribs, reaching conditions like that of the glorious typical form of the clerestory of the apse of Beauvais (fig. 6).86*
§ 22. Now, it will be noticed that, during the whole of this process, the attention is kept fixed on the forms of the [88/89] penetrations, that is to say, of the lights as seen from the interior, not of the intermediate stone. All the grace of the window is in the outline of its light; and I have drawn all these traceries as seen from within, in order to show the effect of the light thus treated, at first in far off and separate stars, and then gradually enlarging, approaching, until they come and stand over us, as it were, filling the whole space with their effulgence. And it is in this pause of the star, that we have the great, pure, and perfect form of French Gothic;87 it was at the instant when the rudeness of the intermediate space had been finally conquered, when the light had expanded to its fullest, and yet had not lost its radiant unity, principality, and visible first causing of the whole, that we have the most exquisite feeling and most faultless judgments in the management alike of the tracery and decorations.
Ruskin's Plate X and two modern photographs. [Click on thumbnails for larger images.]
I have given, in Plate X., an exquisite example of it, from a panel decoration of the buttresses of the north door of Rouen; and in order that the reader may understand what truly fine Gothic work is, and how nobly it unites fantasy and law, as well as for our immediate purpose, it will be well that he should examine its sections and mouldings in detail (they are described in the fourth Chapter, § 27), and that the more carefully, because this design belongs to a period in which the most important change took place in the spirit of Gothic architecture, which, perhaps, ever resulted from the natural progress of any art.88 That tracery marks a pause between the laying aside of one great ruling principle, and the taking up of another; a pause as marked, as clear, as conspicuous to the distant view of after times, as to the distant glance of the traveller is the culminating ridge of the mountain chain over which he has passed. It was the great watershed of Gothic art. Before it, all had been ascent; after it, all was decline; both, indeed, by winding paths and varied slopes; both interrupted, like the gradual rise and fall of the passes of the Alps, by great mountain outliers, [89/90] isolated or branching from the central chain, and by retrograde or parallel directions of the valley of access. But the track of the human mind is traceable up to that glorious ridge, in a continuous line, and thence downwards. Like a silver zone
“Flung about carelessly, it shines afar,
Catching the eye in many a broken link,
In many a turn and traverse, as it glides.
And oft above, and oft below appears — .
* * * * to him who journeys up, .
As though it were another.”89
And at that point, and that instant, reaching the place that was nearest heaven, the builders looked back, for the last time, to the way by which they had come, and the scenes through which their early course had passed. They turned away from them and their morning light, and descended towards a new horizon, for a time in the warmth of western sun, but plunging with every forward step into more cold and melancholy shade.
§ 23. The change of which I speak, is expressible in few words; but one more important, more radically influential, could not be. It was the substitution of the line for the mass, as the element of decoration.90*
We have seen the mode in which the openings or penetration of the window expanded, until what were, at first, awkward forms of intermediate stone, became delicate lines of tracery; and I have been careful in pointing out the peculiar attention bestowed on the proportion and decoration of the mouldings of the window at Rouen, in Plate X. [at right], as compared with earlier mouldings, because that beauty and care are singularly significant. They mark that the traceries had caught the eye of the architect. Up to that time, up to [90/91] the very last instant in which the reduction and thinning of the intervening stone was consummated, his eye had been on the openings only, on the stars of light. He did not care about the stone; a rude border of moulding was all he needed, it was the penetrating shape which he was watching. But when that shape had received its last possible expansion, and when the stone-work became an arrangement of graceful and parallel lines, that arrangement, like some form in a picture, unseen and accidentally developed, struck suddenly, inevitably, on the sight. It had literally not been seen before. It flashed out in an instant, as an independent form. It became a feature of the work. The architect took it under his care, thought over it, and distributed its members as we see.
Now, the great pause was at the moment when the space and the dividing stone-work were both equally considered. It did not last fifty years. The forms of the tracery were seized with a childish delight in the novel source of beauty; and the intervening space was cast aside, as an element of decoration, for ever. I have confined myself, in following this change, to the window, as the feature in which it is clearest. But the transition is the same in every member of architecture; and its importance can hardly be understood, unless we take the pains to trace it in the universality, of which illustrations, irrelevant to our present purpose, will be found in the third Chapter. I pursue here the question of truth, relating to the treatment of the mouldings.
Aphorism 16. Tracery must never be cnsidered or imagined as flexible.91
§ 24. The reader will observe that, up to the last expansion of the penetrations, the stone-work was necessarily considered, as it actually is, stiff, and unyielding. It was so, also, during the pause of Tracery must which I have spoken, when the forms of the tracery were still severe and pure; delicate indeed, but perfectly firm.92
At the close of the period of pause, the first sign of serious [91/92] change was like a low breeze, passing through the emaciated tracery, and making it tremble. It began to undulate like the threads of a cobweb lifted by the wind. It lost its essence as a structure of stone. Reduced to the slenderness of threads, it began to be considered as possessing also their flexibility. The architect was pleased with this his new fancy, and set himself to carry it out; and in a little time, the bars of tracery were caused to appear to the eye as if they had been woven together like a net.93 This was a change which sacrificed a great principle of truth; it sacrificed the expression of the qualities of the material; and, however delightful its results in their first developments, it was ultimately ruinous.
For, observe the difference between the supposition of ductility, and that of elastic structure noticed above in the resemblance to tree form.94 That resemblance was not sought, but necessary; it resulted from the natural conditions of strength in the pier or trunk, and slenderness in the ribs or branches, while many of the other suggested conditions of resemblance were perfectly true. A tree branch, though in a certain sense flexible, is not ductile; it is as firm in its own form as the rib of stone; both of them will yield up to certain limits, both of them breaking when those limits are exceeded; while the tree trunk will bend no more than the stone pillar. But when the tracery is assumed to be as yielding as a silken cord; when the whole fragility, elasticity, and weight of the material are to the eye, if not in terms, denied; when all the art of the architect is applied to disprove the first conditions of his working, and the first attributes of his materials; this is a deliberate treachery, only redeemed from the charge of direct falsehood by the visibility of the stone surface, and degrading all the traceries it affects exactly in the degree of its presence.95*
§. 25. But the declining and morbid taste of the later architects was not satisfied with thus much deception. They were delighted with the subtle charm they had created, and thought only of increasing its power. The next step was to consider and represent the tracery, as not only ductile, but penetrable; and when two mouldings met each other, to manage their intersection, so that one should appear to pass through the other, retaining its independence; or when two ran parallel to each other, to represent the one as partly contained within the other, and partly apparent above it. This form of falsity was that which crushed the art. The flexible traceries were often beautiful, though they were ignoble; but the penetrated traceries, rendered, as they finally were, merely the means of exhibiting the dexterity of the stone-cutter, annihilated both the beauty and dignity of the Gothic types. A system so momentous in its consequences deserves some detailed examination.
Plates in the order Ruskin discusses them below, from left to right: Left: Shafts of the door at
Lisieux from Plate VIII. Left middle: Window from the Palazzo Foscari, Plate VIII. Right middle:
Plate IV, Figure 8. Section of window moulding. Right: Plate IV, Figure 1. Junction of the
mouldings of the Gable and Vertical, in the window of the Spire of Salisbury.
§. 26. In the drawing of the shafts of the door at Lisieux, under the spandrel, in Plate VII., the reader will see the mode of managing the intersection of similar mouldings, which was universal in the great periods. They melted into each other, and became one at the point of crossing, or of contact; and even the suggestion of so sharp intersection as this of Lisieux is usually avoided, (this design being, of course, only a pointed form of the earlier Norman arcade, in which the arches are interlaced, and lie each over the preceding, and under the following one, as in Anselm's tower at Canterbury,) since, in the plurality of designs, when mouldings meet each other, they coincide through some considerable portion of their curves, meeting by contact, rather than by intersection; and at the point of coincidence the section of each separate moulding becomes common to the two thus melted into each other. Thus, in the junction of the circles of the window of [93/94] the Palazzo Foscari, Plate VIII., given accurately in fig. 8, Plate IV., the section across the line s, is exactly the same as that across any break of the separated moulding above, as s. It sometimes, however, happens, that two different mouldings meet each other. This was seldom permitted in the great periods, and, when it took place, was most awkwardly managed. Fig. 1, Plate IV., gives the junction of the mouldings of the gable and vertical, in the window of the spire of Salisbury. That of the gable is composed of a single, and that of the vertical, of a double cavetto,96 decorated with ball flowers; and the larger single moulding swallows up one of the double ones, and pushes forward among the smaller balls with the most blundering and clumsy simplicity. In comparing the sections it is to be observed that, in the upper one, the line a b represents an actual vertical in the plane of the window; while, in the lower one, the line e d represents the horizontal, in the plane of the window, indicated by the perspective line d e.
§. 27. The very awkwardness with which such occurrences of difficulty are met by the earlier builder, marks his dislike of the system, and unwillingness to attract the eye to such arrangements. There is another very clumsy one, in the junction of the upper and sub-arches of the triforium of Salisbury; but it is kept in the shade, and all the prominent junctions are of mouldings like each other, and managed with perfect simplicity. But so soon as the attention of the builders became, as we have just seen, fixed upon the lines of mouldings instead of the enclosed spaces, those lines began to preserve an independent existence wherever they met; and different mouldings were studiously associated, in order to obtain variety of intersectional line. We must, however, do the late builders the justice to note that, in one case, the habit grew out of a feeling of proportion, more refined than that of earlier workmen. It shows itself first in the bases of divided pillars, or arch mouldings, whose smaller shafts had originally bases formed by the [94/95] continual base of the central, or other larger, columns with which they were grouped; but it being felt, when the eye of the architect became fastidious, that the dimension of moulding which was right for the base of a large shaft, was wrong for that of a small one, each shaft had an independent base; at first, those of the smaller died simply down on that of the larger; but when the vertical sections of both became complicated, the bases of the smaller shafts were considered to exist within those of the larger, and the places of their emergence, on this supposition, were calculated with the utmost nicety, and cut with singular precision; so that an elaborate late base of a divided column, as, for instance, of those in the nave of Abbeville, looks exactly as if its smaller shafts had all been finished to the ground first, each with its complete and intricate base, and then the comprehending base of the central pier had been moulded over them in clay, leaving their points and angles sticking out here and there, like the edges of sharp crystals out of a nodule of earth. The exhibition of technical dexterity in work of this kind, is often marvellous, the strangest possible shapes of sections being calculated to a hair's breadth, and the occurrence of the under and emergent forms being rendered, even in places where they are so slight that they can hardly be detected but by the touch. It is impossible to render a very elaborate example of this kind intelligible, without some fifty measured sections; but fig. 6, Plate IV., is a very interesting and simple one, from the west gate of Rouen.97* It is part of the base of one of the narrow piers between its principal niches. The square column k, having a base with the profile p r, is supposed to contain within itself another similar one, set diagonally, and lifted so far [95/96] above the inclosing one, as that the recessed part of its profile p f shall fall behind the projecting part of the outer one. The98 angle of its upper portion exactly meets the plane of the side of the upper inclosing shaft 4, and would, therefore, not be seen, unless two vertical cuts were made to exhibit it, which form two dark lines the whole way up the shaft. Two small pilasters are run, like fastening stitches, through the junction, on the front of the shafts. The sections k n, taken respectively at the levels k, n, will explain the hypothetical construction of the whole. Fig. 7 is a base, or joint rather, (for passages of this form occur again and again, on the shafts of flamboyant work,) of one of the smallest piers of the pedestals which supported the lost statues of the porch; its section below would be the same as n, and its construction after what has been said of the other base, will be at once perceived.99*
§. 28. There was, however, in this kind of involution, much to be admired as well as reprehended; the proportions of quantities were always as beautiful as they were intricate; and, though the lines of intersection were harsh, they were exquisitely opposed to the flower-work of the interposing mouldings. But the fancy did not stop here; it rose from the bases into the arches; and there, not finding room enough for its exhibition, it withdrew the capitals from the heads even of cylindrical shafts, (we cannot but admire, while we regret, the boldness of the men who could defy the authority and custom of all the nations of the earth [96/97] for a space of some three thousand years,) in order that the arch mouldings might appear to emerge from the pillar, as at its base they had been lost in it, and not to terminate on the abacus of the capital; then they ran the mouldings across and through each other, at the point of the arch; and finally, not finding their natural directions enough to furnish as many occasions of intersection as they wished, bent them hither and thither, and cut off their ends short, when they had passed the point of intersection. Fig. 2, Plate IV., is part of a flying buttress from the apse of St. Gervais at Falaise, in which the moulding whose section is rudely given above at f (taken vertically through the point /f ,) is carried thrice through itself, in the cross-bar and two arches; and the flat fillet is cut off sharp at the end of the cross-bar, for the mere pleasure of the truncation. Fig. 3 is half of the head of a door in the Stadthaus of Sursee,100 in which the shaded part of the section of the joint, gg, is that of the arch moulding, which is three times reduplicated, and six times intersected by itself, the ends being cut off when they became unmanageable. This style is, indeed, earlier exaggerated in Switzerland and Germany,101 owing to the imitation in stone of the dovetailing of wood, particularly of the intersecting of beams at the angles of châlets;102 but it only furnishes the more plain instance of the danger of the fallacious system which, from the beginning, repressed the German, and, in the end, ruined the French, Gothic. It would be too painful a task to follow further the caricatures of form and eccentricities of treatment, which grew out of this single abuse the flattened arch, the shrunken pillar, the lifeless ornament, the liny moulding, the distorted and extravagant foliation, until the time came when, over these wrecks and remnants, deprived [97/98] of all unity and principle, rose the foul torrent of the Renaissance, and swept them all away.
So fell the great dynasty of mediæval architecture.103* It was because it had lost its own strength, and disobeyed its own laws because its order, and consistency, and organisation, had been broken through that it could oppose no resistance to the rush of overwhelming innovation. And this, observe, all because it had sacrificed a single truth. From that one surrender of its integrity, from that one endeavour to assume the semblance of what it was not, arose the multitudinous forms of disease and decrepitude, which rotted away the pillars of its supremacy. It was not because its time was come;104 it was not because it was scorned by the classical Romanist, or dreaded by the faithful Protestant. That scorn and that fear it might have survived, and lived; it would have stood forth in stern comparison with the enervated sensuality of the Renaissance; it would have risen in renewed and purified honour, and with a new soul, from the ashes into which it sank, giving up its glory, as it had received it, for the honour of God but its own truth was gone, and it sank for ever. There was no wisdom nor strength left in it, to raise it from the dust; and the error of zeal, and the softness of luxury, smote it down and dissolved it away.105 It is good for us to remember this, as we tread upon the bare ground of its foundations, and stumble over its scattered stones. Those rent skeletons of pierced wall, through which our sea-winds moan and murmur, strewing them joint by joint, and bone by bone, along the bleak promontories on which the Pharos lights came [98/99] once from houses of prayer106 those grey arches and quiet aisles under which the sheep of our valleys feed and rest on the turf that has buried their altars those shapeless heaps, that are not of the Earth, which lift our fields into strange and sudden banks of flowers, and stay our mountain streams with stones that are not their own, have other thoughts to ask from us than those of mourning for the rage that despoiled, or the fear that forsook them. It was not the robber, not the fanatic, not the blasphemer, who sealed the destruction that they had wrought; the war, the wrath, the terror, might have worked their worst, and the strong walls would have risen, and the slight pillars would have started again, from under the hand of the destroyer. But they could not rise out of the ruins of their own violated truth.
Last modified 14 July 2010