1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Features of Modern Italian School of Architecture following Palladio's Designs

(Part 104)

Features of Modern Italian School of Architecture following Palladio's Designs

It being difficult to determine among the masters of the Italo-Vitruvius school whose designs of the various orders are to preferred, we have selected those of Palladio, certainly not for any superior merit they posses, but because he is more generally esteemed than any other, and because he the most strictly adhered to the precepts of Vitruvius, as far as he could understand them. It should be remarked, however, that although Palladio recommended fluting all but the shaft of the Tuscan column, he very seldom fluted columns in his own practice; and indeed it was the custom of the Italian school not to flute, whatever their doctrine may be to the contrary; for fluted columns in Italian architecture are exceptions to the general practice. Swelled or pillowed friezes are not peculiar to Palladio; they are more or less common to the works of most of the masters of the same school. Prostyles being almost unknown in Italian architecture, antae are not often required; but when they are, the meanest succedaneum imaginable is recurred to. Of this Palladio’s Villa Capra near Vicenza and Lord Burlington’s Palladian villa at Chiswick afford striking examples. Pilasters, however, are very common, so common, indeed, that they may be called pro-columns, as they are often used as an apology for applying an entablature. They are described as differing from columns in their plan only, the latter being round, and the former square, for they are composed with bases and capitals, are made to support entablatures according to the order to which they belong, and are fluted and diminished with or without entasis, just as columns of the same style would be. When they are fluted, the flutes are limited to seven in number on the face, which, it is said, makes them nearly correspond with the flutes of columns; and their projection must be one-eight of their diameter or width when the return are not fluted; but if they are, a fillet must come against the wall. Pedestals are not considered by the Italo-Vitruvian school as belonging to the orders, but they may be employed with them all, and have bases and surbases or cornices to corrspond with the order with which they may be associated. The dado of a pedestal must be a square whose side shall be equal to that of the plinth of the column or pilaster which rests on it, or a parallelogram a sixth or even a fourth of a diameter taller. The intercolumniations of columns are called pycnostyle, systyle, eustyle, diastyle, and araeostyle, and are strictly adhered to in Italian architecture when columns are insulated, which is not very often; when they are attached, the interspaces are not limited; except when a peculiar arrangement called araeostyle is adopted. This consists of two systyle intercolumniations, the column that should stand in the mid- distance between two others being placed within half a diameter of one of them, making, in fact, coupled columns or pilasters. It is applied to insulated columns as well as to those which are attached. Following Vitruvius, the Italian school makes the central intercolumniation of a portico wider than any of the others. The height of arched openings, in arcades or elsewhere, is generally about twice their with; if, however, they are arranged with a columnar ordinance, having columns against the piers, they are made to partake of the order to which the columns belong, being lower in proportion to their width with the Tuscan than with the Doric, and so on; and the piers are allowed to vary in the same manner, from two-fifths to one-half of the opening. With columnar arrangements, moulded imposts and archivolts are used; the former being made rather more than an semi-diameter of the engaged columns in height, and the latter exactly that proportion. Variously moulded keystones are used, too, projecting so that they give an appearance of support to the superimposed entablature. Smaller columns with then entablature are sometimes made to do the duty of imposts, and sometimes single columns are similarly applied; at other times, columns in couples are allowed to stand for piers to carry arches. In plain arcades the masonry is generally rusticated, without any others projection than a plain blocking course for an impost, and a blocking course or cornice crowning the ordinance. Niches and other recesses are at times introduced in the plain piers, which are in that case considerably wider than usual, or in the spandrels over wide piers. Very considerable variety is allowed in these combinations. Doors and windows, whether arched or square, follow nearly the same proportions, being made, in rustic stories, generally rather less than twice their width in height, and in others either exactly of that proportion, or an eight or a tenth more. If they have columned or pilastered frontispieces, these are sometimes pedimented; and, except in rustic stories, whether with or without columns a plain or moulded lining called an architrave is applied to the head and sides of a door or window. This architrave is made from one-sixth to one-eight the width of the opening it bounds, and it rests on a blocking course or other sill, as the case may be in the absence of columns or pilasters in the frontispiece, their place is frequently supplied by consols or trusses of various form and arrangement, backed out by a narrow pilaster, which may be considered as the return of the frieze of the entablature, and the which supports the cornice. It is not uncommon for the architrave lining too project knees at the upper angles, and this is sometimes done even with consls and their pilasters. With columned frontis-pieaces to gateway,s doors, and windows, arose the custom, so frequent in Italian architecture, of rusticating columns, by making them alternately square and cylindrical, according to the heights of the courses of rustic masonry to which they are generally attached, and with which they are less offensive than in other collocations. The practice of the Cinquecento school of piling columns on columns with their accessories is warranted by the doctrine of its master; but his precepts not being practicable, recourse has been had to the inferior works of the Romans, which present examples of it. The difficulty of preserving anything like a rational arrangement is acknowledged on all hands to be great, if not insurmountable; for if the first or lowest order be at an intercolumniation fitting its proportions, the second or next above it, though diminished ever so little, is already deranged, for it has the same distance from column to column, that the inferior order has whilst the columns themselves are smaller in diameter, and their entablature consequently shallower. This derangement must, of course, increase with every succeeding ordinance, rendering it indeed impossible to make such a composition consistent. The most approved practice in arranging order above order appears to be, that the upper column shall take for its diameter the superior diameter of the one below it; that when the columns are detached their axes shall be in the same perpendicular line; but when attached or engaged, the plinth of the pedestal of the upper shall impend the top of the shaft of the lower column. The most rational mode, however, for diminishing, if reason can be applied to such compositions, is to carry the diminution through, the outlines of the columns of the lowest order being drawn up in the same direction, and so the columns of every story would take up their place and be diminished in regular gradation. When columns are attached, or pilasters are used, in Italian architectures, the almost invariable custom is to break the entablature over every column or pilaster, or over every two when they are in couples. Because of the great length of the intercolumniation, this would appear to have been done at first; but in has frequently been done by some of the most distinguished practitioners of the school, even without that excuse, so that it may be held as approved by them. A basement is either a low stereobate or a lofty story, according as it is intended to support a single ordinance the whole height of the main body of the structure, or indeed the lowest of two or more orders; or as it occupies the ground story of a building, and supports an ordinance, or the appearance of one, above. In either case much is necessarily left to the discretion of the architect; but in the latter the height of the order it is to support is the generally prescribed height of the basement. A basement may be rusticated or plain; if it be low, and is not arranged like a continued pedestal it must have neither cornice nor blocking course; but if lofty, a deep bold blocking course is indispensable. An attic may vary in height from one-quarter to one-third the height of the order it surmounts; attics are arranged with a base, dado, and coping cornice, like pedestals, and generally have pilasters broken over the columns below. The rule for the form, composition, and application of pediments in Italian architecture, if it may be gathered from the practice of the school, appears to be to set good taste at defiance in them all. we find pediments of every shape, composed of cornices, busts, scrolls, festoons, and what not, and applied in every situation, and even one within another, to the number of three or four, and each of these of different form and various compositions. The proportion laid down for the height of a pediment is from one-fourth to one-fifth the length of its base, or the cornice on which it is to rest. balustrades are used in various situations, but their most common application is in attics, or as parapets on the summits of buildings, before windows, in otherwise close continued sterebates, to flank flights of steps, to front terraces, or to flank bridges. Their shapes and proportion are even more diversified than their application; that of most frequent use is shaped like an Italian Doric column, compressed to a dwarfish height, and consequently swollen in the shaft to an inordinate bulk in the lower part, and having its capital, to the hypotrachelium, reversed to form a base to receive its grotesque form. The base and coping cornice of a balustrade are those of an ordinary attic, or a pedestal whose dado may be pierced into balusters. The general external proportions of an edifice, when they are not determined by single columnar ordinances, appear to be unsettled. The grand front of the Farnese Palace in Rome is in two squares, its length being ywice height; the length of each front of Vignola’s celebrated pentagonal palace of Caprarola is two and a quarter times its height above the bastions. In Palladio’s works we find the proportions of fronts to vary so considerably as to make it evident that he did not consider himself bound by any rule on that point. In some cases we find the length to be one and a sixth times the height, in others one and a fourth, one and a half, two, two and a sixth, and even three and a sixth; and elevations by other masters of the school are found to vary to the same extent. The proportions of rooms, again, range from a cube to the ratio of one to two, though it is preferred that the height should be a sixth, or even a fifth, less than a side when the plan is a square; but the sesquialteral form, with the height equal to the breadth, and the length one-half more, is considered the most perfect proportion for a room. There is considerable variety and beauty in the foliate and other enrichments of an architectural character in many structures in Italy, but very little ornament enters into the columnar composition of Italian architecture. Friezes, instead of being sculptured, are swollen; the shafts of columns, it has been already remarked, are very seldom fluted, and their capitals are generally poor in the extreme; mouldings are indeed sometimes carved, but not often; rustic masonry, ill-formed festoons, and gouty balustrades, for the most part supply the place of chaste and classic enrichment., This refers more particularly to the more classic works of the school; in many of the earlier structures of Italy, and especially on monuments of various kinds, we find what may be called a graceful profusion of ornament, of the most tasteful and elegant kind; few carved mouldings, however, and very few well-profiled cornices, are to be met with in Italian compositions of any kind. In many of the later architectural works of that country we find again a profusion of ornament of the most tasteless and inelegant description, chiefly in the gross and vulgar style, which is distinguished as that of Louis XVI of France.

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