1902 Encyclopedia > Architecture > Influence of Cinquecento (cont'd.): Spain; Germany; Northern Europe

(Part 106)

Influence of Cinquecento (cont'd.): Spain; Germany; Northern Europe

Spain received but soon modified the Italo-Vitruvian architecture, and has never recovered from the architectural excesses into which her architects plunged when the wealth of their countrymen in the 16th and 17th centuries enabled them to accomplish such enormous works. Of these, the man of the greatest fame out of his own country is Herrera, the architect of the Escorial, a vast palace built upon the ingeniously rural plan of a gridiron. It is a vast but bare, cold, and repulsive building.

Not less is the cathedral at Valladolid a grand failure, though Herrera must be credited with much more self-restraint and reserve in the use of ornament than the Italian architects of his own time, and some of his contemporaries and successors in Spain.

One of the most famous of these, Churriguerra, gave his name to a fashionable style which was neither more nor less than the most rococo travesty of Italian Renaissance that could be invented; and another school of architects, imitating the delicate chasing of silversmiths’ work, produced another variation of the style, which was christened "Plateresque." If this is less cold than Herrera’s work, and less offensive than Churriguerra’s, it contains at the same time none of the elements of a really great and lasting style of architecture, and is only interesting as a local variety of style.

The Italian revival was the means of extinguishing the Pointed style of architecture in Germany, and certainly without affording it an equivalent. Italian architects were employed in Germany, and Germans acquired their manner; but they did not improve it, nor did they make it productive of so many good effects as the Italians themselves did.

The change in religion which followed the change in architecture in so large a part of Germany may have tended to prevent the latter from acquiring that degree of exuberance there which it reached in Italy; but even in Catholic Germany the splendid Pointed cathedrals have never given way to modification of the pseudo-classic St. Peter’s.

In the use of Cinquecento architecture for secular structures, it may be truly said that the Germans have not excelled the Italians, nor, on the other hand, have they equaled them in the absurdities and extravagances which are so frequently observable in the works of some of the latter.

The Germans also have turned their attention to the works of the ancients, and the fruit of this is evident in many parts of the country, particularly in Prussia; still, however, they have yet to show that it is possible to apply the Greek models to modern uses, and to exhibit a proper sense of the exquisite perfection of their details, as well as to emancipate themselves from the trammels of the Vitruvian school.

The northern Continental nations have been dependent for their architecture on Germany, France, or Italy, and can produce nothing that gives them a claim to consideration in such a review as the present. St Petersburg is exclusively the work of architects of the nations just enumerated, and presents a mass of the merest common-places of Italian architecture, in structures calculated by their extent only, like Versailles, the Escorial, and St Peter’s to impose on the vulgar eye.

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