1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Ancient Egyptian Architecture: Résumé

(Part 18)

Ancient Egyptian Architecture (cont.)


Although we have only ruins to guide us (for no man living has seen an Egyptian temple as it appeared to the old Egyptians), yet we can gather that to the Egyptians we owe the earliest examples of columnar architecture, and at the same time that they had not got beyond the rudiments of it. The stable effect of their massive columns disappears when we noticed the scarcely any, except those of very recent date, have the wide-spreading base which we know so well in every other style; that the massiveness of a column is a fact wasted, as the lower part is rounded off and cut away so as to render 1/4th of it simply useless; and that the bold projecting capital carries no weight, and adds nothing to the strength of the stone beam above it, for that beam rest on a small block of stone above the capital, borrowing no strength whatever from it.

It will also have been noticed, that nearly every Egyptian work is rectangular in plan, and that in exceptional cases, as, e.g., the buildings at Philae, Kalabsche, and Luxor, no attempt has been made to soften down the harshness of the lines. With the elevation it was the same.

The square was never changed into the circle or the octagon. Nearly every form is bounded by the rectangle, and the only varieties found in the grandest of the buildings in Egypt are the slope of the massive pylon and the tapering obelisk. The minaret and the dome, which give such charming variety of outline, and the varied mouldings, without which it now seems to us that building could be perfect, were unknown to the Egyptians (FOOTNOTE 392-1).

But of all things, the neglect of the arch is the most curious. Crude brick arches are found at least as early as the 16th century B.C., and others have been found of the same date, it is thought, as the pyramids. Yet the Egyptians of later times systematically employed enormous stones for their coverings and lintels, and left the arch unused.

We must remember, in justice to the Egyptians, that their efforts in art were fettered, to an extent which we are perhaps unable to appreciate, by the restrictions imposed upon them by conventionalities connected with their religion. That they were fettered in sculpture at least in abundantly clear from many examples. The freedom which characteristic one of their earliest statues, that of King Chephren, the exquisitely bold yet delicately graceful sculptures in the Seraphim and in the tomb of Tih at Sakkara, and a power for design and execution which only such a cause as that referred to above could have suppressed.


(392-1) One example, apparently, of a cupola occurs in a painting at Bayr el Bahree (Thebes), but no trace of an actually built cupola exists.

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