1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Comparison of Greek and Roman Architecture

(Part 65)

Comparison of Greek and Roman Architecture

In the transference of Greek columnar architecture to Rome, a great change was effected independently of those combinations, for the Romans could not appreciate the simple grandeur and dignified beauty of the Doric, as it existed in Greece. They appear to have moulded it on what we suppose their own Tuscan to have been; and the result was the mean and characterless ordinance exemplified in the lowest story of the theatre of Marcellus at Rome, and in the temple at Cora, between 30 and 40 miles south of that city. Not less inferior to the Athenian examples of the Ionic order, than the Doric of Cora is to the Doric of Athens, are the mean and tasteless deteriorations of them in the Roman temples of Fortuna Virilis and Concord. It was different, however, with the foliated Corinthian, which became to the Romans what the Doric had been to the Greeks -- their national style. But though they borrowed the style, they did not copy the Greek examples. In Rome the Corinthian order assumed a new and not less beautiful form and character, and was varied to a wonderful extent, but without losing its original and distinctive features. The temple of Vesta, at Tivoli, differs from that commonly, but erroneously, named the temple of Jupiter Stator, in Rome, as much as the latter does from the choragic monument of Lysicrates at Athens; all three are among the most beautiful examples of the Corinthian order in existence, -- if indeed they are not pre-eminently so, -- and yet they do not possess a single proportion in common. It must be confessed, moreover, that if the Romans had not good taste enough to admire the Doric and Ionic models of Greece, they had too much to be fond of their own; for they seldom used them. Both at home and abroad, in all their conquests and colonies, wherever they built, they employed the Corinthian order. Corinthian edifices were raised in Iberia and in Gaul, in Istria and in Greece, in Syria and in Egypt; and to the present day, Nismes, Pola, Athens, Palmyra, and the banks of the Nile, alike attest the fondness of the Romans for that peculiar style. We cannot agree with the generally received opinion, that Greek architects were employed by the Romans after the connection between the two countries took place; for the difference between the Greek and Roman styles of architecture is not merely in the preference given to one over another peculiar mode of columnar arrangement and composition, but a different taste pervades even the details though the mouldings are the same; they differ more in spirit and character than do those of Greece of Egypt, which certainly would not have been the case if Roman architecture had been the work of Greek architects. Indeed, were it not for historical evidence, which cannot absolutely be refuted, an examination and comparison of the architectural monuments of the two countries would lead an architect to the conclusion, that the Corinthian order had its origin in Italy, and that the almost solitary perfect example of it in Greece was the result of an accidental communication with that country, modified by Greek taste; or that the foliated style was common to both, without either being indebted to the other for it. It, however, Greek architects were employed by the Romans, they must have made their taste and mode of design conform to those of their conquerors much more readily than we can imagine they would as the civilized slaves of barbarian masters; and it cannot be disputed that the Roman architecture is a style essentially distinct from the Greek. This is apparent from the fact that many of the minor works of sculpture in connection with architecture, such as candelabra, vases, and various articles of household furniture, discovered at the villa of Adrian, near Rivoli, and at Herculaneum and Pompeii, are fashioned and ornamented in the Greek style, while others are as decidedly Roman in those particulars, -- rendering it evident that such things were either imported from Greece, or that Greek artists and artisans were employed in Italy, who retained their own national taste and modes of design. It is probable that both the architects and the artists, natives of Rome, modified their own less elegant productions by reference to Greek models; but that the Romans derived their architecture entirely from the Greeks, may certainly be disputed.

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