1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > The Cinquecento Architects

(Part 103)

The Cinquecento Architects

The Cinquecento architects of Italy were extreme mannerists; but besides the manner of the school, each had his own peculiarities; so that there exists in their works what may almost be called monotonous variety.

Brunelleschi’s designs are distinguished by a degree of simplicity and comparative good taste, which causes regret that he had not referred more to the remains of antiquity in Italy, and sought out those of Greece, and attended less to the dogmas of Vitruvius; for then his works would have been more elegant and the school he founded would have done him much more honour.

The works of Bramante posses a more classical character than those of any other architect of the school. Bramante’s design for St. Peter’s was preferred by Pope Julius II to a great many others by the most celebrated men of the time. He it was who suggested the cupola; but, unfortunately, after his death men of less taste and ability were allowed to alter the design, and the edifice is very different from what it would have been had Bramante been adhered to. This we judge from his works generally, and not from any positive knowledge of the design, which indeed does not exist.

The elder Sangallo was far inferior to his contemporary and rival Bramante, and his works are full of the faults of the school.

Michel Angelo Buonarroti was a man of great genius, but of coarse taste in architecture; and to him may be attributed many of the coarser qualities of the Italian style. His principal works are the buildings of the Capitol and the College della Sapienza, in Rome, and the Laurentian Library at Florence; and these are all distinguished for their singular want of architectural beauty and propriety in every particular.

Raffaelle, too, had, a very bad style in architecture, and so indeed had almost all the painters after Giotto, who professed to be architects also. They generally carried to extremes all the faults of the school.

Sansovino and Sanmicheli were men of considerable talent; their works display more originality and less servility than those of most of their contemporaries. Peruzzi was less employed than many who had not half his merit; his productions are with reason considered among the most classical of the Italian school.

Vignola had a more correct taste than perhaps any other Italian architect of the 16th century; his works are indeed distinguishable by their superiority in harmony of composition and in general beauty of detail.

Palladio very much affected the study of the antique, but his works do not indicate any appreciation of its beauties. He appears to have been very well qualified by nature for an architect, but spoiled by education. He did not look at the remains of antiquity with his own eyes, but with those of Vitruvius and Alberti, and he seems to have been too much influenced by the admired works of some of his predecessors.

Palladio made greater use of insulated columns than the Italian architects generally, but his ordinances are deficient in every quality that produces beauty; his porticoes may be Vitruvian, but they certainly are not classic; and all his works show that he studied the Colosseum, the theatre of Marcellus, and the triumphal arches, more than the columns of Jupiter Stator and Mars Ultor, the temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the Pantheon, the portico at Assisi, and the other classic models, which he drew, but clearly did not appreciate.

His columns upon columns, his attached and clustered columns, his stilted post-like columns, his broken entablatures, his numberless pilasters, straggling and unequal intercolumniations, inappropriate and inelegant ornaments, circular pediments, and the like, are blemishes too numerous and too great to be passed over because of occasional elegance of proportion and beauty of detail.

did not improve on the style of his master, which, however, he very much affected. Indeed, the term Palladian was long used as synonymous with beautiful and excellent architecture, so that it cannot be wondered at that Palladio’s pupils and successors should have imitated him; nor is it surprising that they did not surpass, or even equal him, for they were taught to look to his works as the ne plus ultra of excellence.

Giacomo della Porta, a contemporary of Palladio, followed Michel Angelo in several of his works, and imbibed much of his manner, on which he certainly improved; but still his own is far from being good. della Porta was much employed in Rome; and it fell to him, in conjunction with Domenico Fontana, to put the cupola on St. Peter’s.

Fontana’s style of architecture is not particularly distinguished for its good or bad qualities; he obtained more reputation as an engineer than as an engineer than as an architect, having been engaged in removing and setting up most of the obelisks which give so much interest to the architectural scenery of Rome.

The Lunghi, father, son, and grandson, the Rainaldi, Maderno, Borromini, Bernini, Carlo Fontana, Fuga, Vanvitelli, and many others in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, carried the peculiarities of the Italian school to the greatest extremes.

Of those enumerated, Bernini was perhaps the least offensive, and Borromoni the most extravagant; but throughout that period, except in extreme cases, individual manner is less distinguishable, and that of the school more strongly marked.

It may be gathered from the preceding remarks, that the secular architecture of the Italian school is generally preferable to the ecclesiastical, and that the architects of the 15th and 16th centuries were generally superior to those who followed them. In Italy the school has not yet ceased to exist, nor indeed has its style ceased to be studied. Designs are still by the students of the various academies in the manner of the Cinquecento, and on the models with which the country abounds. The precepts of Vitruvius are yet inculcated, and the men whose names have just been mentioned are looked up to as masters of architecture in the country which contains the Roman Pantheon and the Greek temple of Neptune at Paestum, and has access to the more exquisite works of Greece herself.

As has been already stated, Italian architecture, though professedly a revival of the classical styles of Greece and Rome, was formed without reference to the existing specimens of either, but on the dogmas of an obscure Roman author, and the glosses of the "revivers" on his text. Vitruvius described four classes or orders of columnar composition; and on the principles which governed him in subjecting to fixed laws all the varieties with which he appears to have been acquainted, they formed a fifth, of a medley of two of his, thus completing the Italian orders of architecture.

The school which was founded on the Vitruvian theories has systematized everything to an absurd extent, and laid down laws for collocating and proportioning all the matter it furnishes for architectural composition and decoration. It teaches that columns are modelled from the human figure; that the Tuscan column is like a sturdy labourer -- a rustic; the Doric is somewhat trimmer, though equally masculine -- a gentleman, perhaps; the Ionic is a sedate matron; the Corinthian a lascivious courtesan; and the Composite an amalgam of the last two! In a composition which admits any two or more of them, the rustic must take the lowest place; on his head stands the stately Doric, who in his turn bears the comely matron, on whose head is placed the wanton, and the wanton again is made to support the lady of doubtful character!

Without commenting on this, we proceed at once to point out the general features of the Italian style, premising only, that according to the practice of the school everything is confined to an exclusive use and appropriation; such columns may be fluted, and such must not; such a moulding may be used here, but not there; and so on. The proportions and arrangements of an order, of any part of one, or of anything that may come within an architectural composition, are fixed and unchangeable, whatever may be the purpose or situation for which it is required; whether, for instance, an order be attached on insulated, the column must have exactly the same number of modules and minutes in height. It is true that the masters of the school are not agreed among themselves as to those things in which they are not bound by Vitruvius; but every one not the less contends for the principle, each, of course, prescribing his own doctrine as orthodox and final on these unsettled points.

Mouldings are considered by these authorities as constituent parts of an order, and are limited to eight in number, strangely enough including the fillet. They are the cyma-recta, the cyma-reversa (or ogive or ogee), the ovolo, the torus, the astragal or bead, the cavetto, the scotia, and the fillet. They are gathered from the Roman remains, but reduced to regular lines or curves, which unlike all good artistic work may be drawn with a rule or struck with a pair of compasses. By their arrangement according to certain proportions, with flat surfaces, modillions, and dentils, a profile is formed; no two conjoined mouldings may be enriched, but their ornaments, as well as the modillions and dentils, must be disposed so as to fall regularly under one another, and, when columns occur, above the middle of them.

An order is said to composed of two principal parts, the column and the entablature; these are divided into base, shaft, and capital in the one, and architrave, frieze, and cornice in the other, and are variously subdivided in the different orders.

The Tuscan column must be made seven diameters in height, the Doric eight, the Ionic nine, and the Corinthian and Composite ten.

The height of the entablature, according to some authorities, should be one-fourth the height of the column, and according to others, two of its diameters. The parts of the entablature of all but the Doric may be divided into ten equal parts, four of which are given to the cornice, three to the frieze, and three to the architrave; and in the Doric, the entablature being divided into eight parts, three must be given to the cornice, three to the frieze, and the remaining two to the architrave. For the minor divisions a diameter of the column is made into a scale of sixty minutes, by which they are arranged; but this is obviously irrelevant if the whole height of the entablature is determined by the height of the column, and not by its diameter; in this case, therefore, they must be proportioned from the general divisions already ascertained.

Columns must be diminished, according to Vitruvius, more or less as their altitude is less or greater, -- those of about fifteen feet high being made one-sixth less at their superior than at their inferior diameter, while that proportion is lessened gradually, so that columns fifty feet high shall be diminished one-eight only.

On this subject, however, many of his disciples controvert the authority of their master; and some of them have fixed the diminution at one-sixth of a diameter for columns of all sizes in all the orders.

The entasis of columns is disputed also, some authorities making it consist in preserving the cylinder perfect one-quarter or one-third the height of the shaft from below, diminishing thence in a right line to the top; while others, following Vitruvius, make the column increase in bulk in a curved line from the base to three-sevenths of its height, and then diminish in the same manner for the remaining four-sevenths, thus making the greatest diameter near the middle.

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