Modern Italian School of Architecture (Cinquecento): Introduction
The opening of the Italian school of Architecture on the resuscitated dogmas of Vitruvius was coincident with the gradual decay of the Pointed style. Fortunately, however, its effects were a full century in reaching England, and during that period many most elegant structures were erected, and many of those of earlier date which had been commenced before or during the wars of the Roses, and left unfinished, were completed. The first indication we have of the presence of the Cinquecentist in England, is in the tomb of Henry VII, which was executed by Torregiano, an Italian artist, who, it would appear, was obliged to have some respect to the style of the edifice in which his work was to rest; but his preconceived ideas of propriety and beauty were too strong to allow in omit the characteristics of his school, and the result is a strange mixture of the two. From that time the Pointed style rapidly deteriorated, being overborne by the taste of the Renaissance. On the Continent the latter was already predominant, for, during the whole of the 15th century, the current had been setting from Italy over every part of Europe which received its religion from Rome, and this country was only the last to be overwhelmed by it.
The first step taken towards the revolution of architecture was by Filipino Brunelleschi, a Florentine architect, who was employed to finish the cathedral of his native city early in the 15th century; a work which had been commenced more than a century before on the design of Arnolfo, a Florentine also, but which still required the cupola when its completion was intrusted to Brumnelleschi. The edifice is in the Italian Gothic style, which his affectation of superior taste and talent induced him to attempt to supersede, so as to bring the world back to the classic style of ancient Rome. The construction of the cupola gained him great reputation and the confidence of the public, which he employed to advance his favourite scheme. To use the words of an Italian writer on the subjects, "On the example of so wise and skilled a man, other architects afterward devoted themselves to free architecture from the monstrosities introduced by barbarism and excessive licence, and to restore it to its primitive simplicity and dignity." But to what did they have recourse to effect this? Did they examine and study the remains of antiquity in Greece and Rome, in Italy and elsewhere? No! they referred to the writings of an obscure Latin author, who professed to give the principles and practice of architecture among the Greeks and Romans, but paid no more attention to the existing architectural works of those nations than if they had never been, although one could hardly walk the streets of any of the old cities in the south of Italy without seeing Roman edifices, whilst Rome and its vicinity was, as it still is, full of them. All the use, however, that these self-called "restorers" of architecture made of the works of the ancients, was to use them as lay-figures, or framework, to model on according to the proportions and directions given by Vitruvius; and the effect was formality and mannerism in those who adhered to the dogmas of the school, and wild grotesqueness in those who allowed themselves to wander from them, whilst simplicity, and its consequence good taste, were effectually banished from the works of them all.
It may be necessary to remark here that the works of Vitruvius are of value mainly as records of the architectural practise and the opinions and acquirements of an architect of a distant age. His fables about the origin of building, then invention of the orders, and the arrangements which grew out of certain modes of construction, prove his total ignorance not only of the architectural works of the more ancient Eastern nations, but of those of Greece itself, which he professes to describe. His classical taste, in consequence of his knowledge of antiquity, is vaunted by Perrault, one of his commentators, and given by him as a reason why Vitruvius was not much employed by the whimsical Romans, who loved variety, to which he would not administer. But the extent to which his knowledge of antiquity, that is, of the works of the Greeks, extended, may be readily determined by comparing the designs of Greek structures, made by Perrault and others, according to the directions of Vitruvius, with the Greek structures themselves as they exist even at the present time. Not a single example of Greek architecture will bear out any of the rules which Vitruvius lays down, professedly on its authority; and not an existing edifice, or fragment of an edifice, is in form or proportion in perfect accordance with any law of that author, nor indeed are they generally in harmony with the principles he enunciates.
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