1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Rise and Progress of Architecture

(Part 4)

Rise and Progress of Architecture

As has been already pointed out, the origin of the art is to be found in the endeavours of man to provide for his physical wants. A picturesque account of early stages in its progress is given by Vitruvius. According to him, man in its primitive savage state began to imitate the nest of birds and the lairs of beast, and constructed arbors with twigs of tree. To these arbours succeeded huts with walls composed of dried turf, strengthened with reeds and branches. From huts to houses the progress is gradual and easy.

Other writers have endeavoured to trace three orders of primitive dwellings -- the cave, the hut and the tent -- constructed severally by the tribes who devoted themselves to hunting and fishing, to agriculture, and to pastoral and nomadic life.

These can be no doubt that climate and surrounding circumstances affected not only the form of primitive buildings, but also to the materials employed. Thus, where tress abounded, stone was probably a material seldom used, as it entailed a much greater amount of labour than timber; but as stone would neither bur nor rot, it was preferred for all durable purposes. Where wood was plentiful, as in Greece as in Lycia, stone architecture exhibits traces of an original timber construction.

The columns were originally posts, and architraves and triglyphs beams resting on each other. The Lycian tomb in the British Museum furnishes a strong proof that there the art of carpenter preceded that of mason, and suggested forms, which became conventional, and from which the latter could not venture to depart.

On the other hand, in plains of Egypt, where building timber is scarce, and where there is abundance of large stone in the mountains, the mason element seems to have prevailed. In such plains as those Nineveh and Babylon artificial stone was made from lumps of dried or burnt clay.

Finally, in vast sandy desert, where there are neither trees nor stones, the skins of beasts, sewed together and supported by sticks, formed the earliest shelter. This soon grew into the tent, and its form still influences the architecture of Chinese and Tartars.

Much in the genius has been expanded in the inquiry whether it was timber or stone that first give birth in the art of architecture; the probability is, that the hut, the cairn, and the tent all contributed their share in different countries.

No traces remain of the steps by which the beautiful temples of Egypt or the magnificent halls of Persia and Assyria were developed from these rude beginnings. The earliest known structures of those country belong to an age already considerably advanced in civilisation and in art of construction. We can indeed show how from these early structures sprang the art of Greece; how was modified by the Romans; and finally, how the Pointed architecture of 13th century arose.

But the development is not gradual; it proceeds by a series of steps, and one style does not shade imperceptibly into another. No doubt the architects of each country borrowed somewhat (in detail more especially) from the design of adjacent countries; but nevertheless, each country originated forms peculiar to itself, and in all its artistic efforts continued to repeat and elaborate them. So definite are the characteristics of the styles of different nations, that from the mere form, carving, or decoration of structure, its age and its architects can, usually, be fairly determined.

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