Greek Architecture Finally Studied, Appreciated (Stuart and Revett; Le Roy)
In the year 1748 James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, two painters pursuing their studies in Rome, having moreover paid some attention to architecture, issued "Proposals for publishing an accurate description of the Antiquities of Athens, &c."
These proposals met with general approbation, and in consequence they determined on prosecuting their plan; but various hindrances prevented their arrival in Athens till March 1751, when they commenced measuring and delineating the architectural monuments of that city and its environs.
In this work they were unremittingly employed (as far as their own exertions went, for they were frequently interrupted by the Turks) for several years, so that they did not reach England with the result of their labours until 1755; and, by a series of almost unaccountable delays, the first volume of their work did not appear until the year 1762. Sixteen years more expired before the second issued from the press; and the third was not published until 1794, being nearly fifty years from the time the work was first announced!
In the meantime a Frenchman of the name of Le Roy, who was at Rome when our countrymen issued their proposals, had gone to Athens, and collecting in a very short time some loose materials, had published at Paris, in 1758, a work which he called Les Ruines des plus beaux Monumens de la Grece, &c., in which he makes not the slightest mention of Stuart and Revett, or of their labours or intentions, with all of which he was well acquainted. This work is, moreover, notoriously and grossly in corrects, -- so incorrect, indeed, as to make it difficult of belief that its author ever saw the objects of which he professes to give the representations.
It was, however, from M. le Roys work that the public had to judge of the merits and beauties of Greek architecture; for the first volume of Stuart and Revetts Antiquities did not appear forseveral years after it, and that does not contain any pure specimen of the national or Doric style; the second, which does, was not published for twenty years after Le Roys.
Considering, therefore, the source of information on the subject, it can hardly be wondered at that Greek architecture was vituperated on all sides; and by none with greater acrimony than by Sir William Chambers, whose apology must be ignorance and the prejudices of education. He really did not know the style he carped at; and his education in the Italo-Vitruvian school had unfitted him for appreciating its grand, chaste, and simple beauties, even if he had known it.
Notwithstanding the misrepresentations of Le Roy, the vituperations of Chambers the established reputation of Italian architecture, and the tammels which Vitruvius and his disciples and fixed on the public mind, when Stuart and Revetts work actually appeared, the Greek style gradually advanced in esteem, by its intrinsic merits alone -- for it has had no factitious aids; and since that period, Greece and all her colonies which possess remains of her unrivalled architecture have been explored, and we now possess correct delineations of almost every Greek structure which has survived, though in ruins, the wreck of time and the desolation of barbarism.
To our country and nation, then, is due the honour of opening the temple of Greek architectural art, of drawing away the veil of ignorance which obscured the beauties it contains, and of snatching from destruction, and consequent oblivion, the noble relics of ancient architect which bear the impress of the Grecian mind. Not only, indeed, were we the first to open the mine, but by us it has been principally worked; for among the numerous treatises on the Hellenic remains which now exist, by far the greatest number, and indisputably the most correct, are by English men, and have been published in England.
It required however, a generation for the effects of ignorance and prejudice in some, and imperfect knowledge in others, to wear away before any effects of the study of the Greek style could be obvious in our structures.
The works the Adams who were the contemporaries and immediate successors of Sir William Chambers, evince a taste for the beauties of Greek architecture, but a very imperfect knowledge, indeed, of the means of reproducing them.
The architects who had the direction of our principal works during the earlier part of this century had the disadvantage of being pupils of those who were themselves, as we have shown, incompetent to appreciate the Greek style; and at a time, too, when the state of Europe prevented all access to the remains of Greece and Rome, so that no great improvement could perhaps be expected from them.
Personal study of the monuments they wish to rival is the absolute duty of all architects, and it is possible that study even of the order examples may in all cases teach them some useful lesson. The structures of Egypt may show us how to arrange large masses harmoniously and effectively, those of Greece and Rome how to impart grace and dignity. The structures of Italy show us how far the materials of ancient architecture may be moulded to modern uses, while at the same time they give practical warning of what may result from the abuse of the most obvious principles of the art, and from the neglect of our national style or the requirements of our own country and climate, with which it is almost unnecessary to say it is quite impossible to harmonise the works of so entirely different a climate as that of Greece.
Roman Architecture Better Understood
The differences between the representations of the Athenian antiquities by Stuart and his colleague, and the misrepresentations of them by Le Roy, appears to have opened the eyes of the world to those of ancient Rome, to see if they too had not been dealt with unjustly; for much more correct delineations of them had appeared than those of Palladio and Desgodets, -- delineations of them as they exist, exhibiting the spirit of the originals, and not warped to the Vitruvian precepts, and thereby stripped of their best quality, truth. The excavation of the ancient cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii has opened to us much interesting and instructive matter, and their ruins have now been correctly delineated.
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