1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Greek Architecture: Résumé

(Part 62)

Greek Architecture: Résumé

Taking now a rapid view of what we owe to the Greeks as architects, we may assume that the invention of columnar architecture is due to the Assyrians; but how far this had advanced before the Greeks began to practise it, we cannot as yet exactly determine. There is no doubt, however, that it owed to the Greeks the greater part of its beautiful and delicate details. Some of the finest examples of these are to be found at Athens in the Theseum, Parthenon, Propylaea, and Erechteum, ranging in date from 469 B.C. Not only do we find there the most beautiful mouldings and other ornaments, but the refined methods of obviating the minute defects in outline supposed to be caused by optical illusion. The lines of the shafts, for instance, in place of being perfectly straight, were slightly expanded between the base and necking, so as to form a very delicate curve (entasis). The apparent depression of the top of the cornice, supposed to be caused by the extra weight in the centre of the pediment, was obviated by curving the cornice so that the centre part was the highest. The steps were curved in a similar way. Then the whole of the columns of the peristyle sloped towards the centre. The architrave and frieze in the Parthenon followed the same slope of about 1 in 80, but its boldly overhanging cornice and antefixae sloped forwards about 1 in 100.

We owe also to the Greeks one new form in art -- the pediment. It is not found in Egypt; some slight suggestions as to its use may, perhaps, be found in the sculptures of Assyria, but in Greece it forms the crowning feature of every temple; and simple as the invention may seem, it led the way to a succession of others, which resulted in the grand gables of our Gothic architecture.

The details of the Grecian temples were heightened by colour and gold. Of the former, Dr. Faraday detected many traces on the sculptures of the British Museum; and clear indications of it have been found in many of the ruins both in Greece proper and in the colonies. In fact, colour, or tinting of some kind, seems to have absolutely requisite in order to relieve the monotonous and dazzling effect of new white marble. A striking example of this occurred recently when the palace of the king was built at Athens. The newly-worked marble had much the appearance of a smooth stucco or brilliant whitewash. But this would serve (and doubtless did serve in ancient times) as a admirably delicate base for decorative work in colour and gold.

What the effect was of a Greek temple, in all its glory, we can no more judge than we can in the case of one of ancient Egypt. For there is not one that is not a mere wreck; and even the most ambitious of modern copies, the Walhalla, wants the exquisitely delicate material out of which the Parthenon was wrought, and the sculpture which no modern Phidias was living to supply. But in Greece proper there was but this one type, viz, that of the pedimented temple with its colonnade. There was no arch, as in Assyria, to span an opening too wide for a stone beam; no dome to vary the outline by its bold and graceful form; no curved outline, as at Mycenae, to vary that of the rectangle.

The form adopted by the Greeks was worked out in a manner which leaves all others of ancient art, wrought in the same likeness, far behind; and the details which adorned that charm the eye with their exquisitely chaste beauty. But in our admiration of them we must not forget that numerous other forms, beautiful in themselves, and familiar in their beauty to the Assyrians and Pelasgi, as they are to us were unknown to, or neglected by, the Greeks.

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