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Roman Classical Architecture
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|As far as Roman Architecture goes, it is difficult to
compare it with that of other nations, because the Romans applied
architecture to so many and such varied purposes, and so constructed
monuments involving both architectural and engineering skill, as to make it
doubtful to what class they belonged. The Romans were the first people to
treat architecture as a minister to the numberless needs of a great nation.
Before them, except in the Greek theatres, it had served the gods, the royal
families, and the dead, alone.
Roman Architecture is our connection with the most advanced civilization of its time. In Rome, ancient history ends and modern history begins; and all her story, both the old and the new, possesses a fascination thus far unequalled in history; and that this fascination should ever be equaled by another nation seems now beyond imagining.
Roman Arch and Columns
It is sometimes said that the arch originated with the Romans. This should be differently stated; the arch itself they did not originate, but they applied it with great skill and success to various works of utility, and made it a universal feature in civil buildings. Their triumphant use of the arch was reached, however, in the dome of the Pantheon, which edifice may in a sense be claimed as an example of a new style of architecture. Its simple grandeur has not been surpassed. Its style demanded the invention of appropriate details, which the Romans failed to produce; but the Pantheon and the ruined Temple of Peace were the two Roman edifices which indicated the progress of the Romans towards the invention of an architecture distinctively their own.
The Romans not only demonstrated their power to adapt what already existed to many purposes in their use of the arch, but in that of the various orders of architecture also; they not only employed these in ways not before known, but they combined features of different orders, and created the so-called composite capitals and bases. In the Colosseum, for example, we see two styles most inappropriately used. The entire structure is arched, and a net, as it were, of Grecian columns, supporting an entablature, applied to it. The first glance reveals its faults, and a regret that buttresses were not used is involuntary; these would appear to sustain the whole, and would have added an effect of vast strength as a constructive element; while the columns used have the effect of sustaining the entablature only, and of adding their own burden to what the arches already had to bear.
The Roman Doric, derived from the Greek, differs from it through the introduction of an independent base, and certain ornamental additions to the capital. This order was used in Roman forums, courtyards, etc., and in the three-quarter columns in arcades, as well as for useful supports in civil buildings; but no purely Greek temple existed in the entire Roman territory. It would seem that these exquisite edifices, in the perfection of Greek refinement, were too sublimated in effect to please the ruder Romans.
The Ionic order suffered absolute degradation at the hands of the Romans, who appear neither to have understood nor appreciated this column. However, their structures were so lofty that they found it necessary to use the three orders of pillars, one above the other, and so placed the Ionic in the centre. Two capitals from the Temple of Concord, now in the Palace of the Conservators, having a pair of rams' heads at each corner, show the degeneration to which Ionic capitals were subjected. It is to be deplored that the two orders which had reached perfection in Greece were not appreciated and properly used at Rome.
With the Corinthian order it was quite different. That was still incomplete in the estimation of the Hellenes; for while exquisite in design and grace, the Greeks had not given it the strength which is an indispensable feature of a supporting architectural member. This the Romans accomplished, or perhaps it would be more just to say that Greek artists perfected this order in Rome. Within the Roman territory the Corinthian order underwent many modifications; and it is stated that as many as fifty varieties of Corinthian capitals were produced for Roman uses during the three fruitful centuries mentioned above. They vary from the elegant simplicity of the Greek artistic taste to that florid ornamentation loved by the Romans. Those in the portico of the Pantheon have fine capitals, not over-ornamented; but the incongruity of a plain shaft with a Corinthian capital affords an example of Roman methods.
The composite capitals of the Romans combined the lower half of the Corinthian with the upper half of the Ionic capital. Although the result was a rich and strong capital, it had the grave defect of exposing the junction of the two portions, and never became popular.
The Assyrian base was introduced at Rome too late for the perfection of such a column as might have been made with it, together with a Composite or Corinthian capital. This base was used in the church of S. Prassede, and one can imagine that for internal architecture it would be very acceptable with either an Ionic or Corinthian column.
Another use of a composite architecture, made by the Romans, was that of placing two columns about as far apart as they were high, and resting a long entablature on them, which, requiring a support, was supplemented by an arch resting on piers. A keystone projecting from the arch to support the entablature was necessarily longer and heavier than was in keeping with the proportions of the arch; and the whole arcade thus produced was clumsy and unsatisfactory. Various experiments for its improvement resulted in abolishing the piers and springing the arch from the pillars themselves; very handsome and dignified arcades were constructed in this manner.
Without reviewing the different steps in the advance from wooden huts and mounds of earth, such as were used in the earliest years at Rome, to the splendid architecture gradually developed there, we may say that not until an acquaintance with the Greeks gave them models from which to work, and introduced to them such tools as they had not before seen, was any use made of stone, or, in fact, anything accomplished that merited the name of architecture. From the Greeks the Romans borrowed not only orders and designs, but also the ordinary methods and implements of construction, such as the preparation of mortar, the artificial lattice-work, the measuring-rod, and the use of iron, which they had not before known.
Naturally, domestic architecture first claims the attention of any people. The earliest houses of the Romans were essentially Etruscan; and for a long time, a portion of every house being consecrated to the god or spirit worshipped by the family, there was no thought of a temple or special home for the deity. That the Etruscans first erected temples and sepulchral chambers is proved by the term "Tuscanic," applied to the oldest house and temple architecture in Latium, as well as to the statues in baked clay, to which we have referred, which were known as "Tuscanic works."
The earliest Roman dwellings were the most simple habitations that could be imagined after the tent. Built of wood, with a pointed roof, covered with straw, or a sort of primitive shingle, they consisted of one square apartment with an aperture in the top, which admitted a little light and afforded an exit for the smoke, while directly beneath it, in the ground, was a hole for carrying off the rain.
An uncovered space between the door and the street was called the vestibulum, dressing-place, because here the Roman put on his toga before leaving his house, where he wore the tunic only. There were no upper stories, and, of course, no stairs. Possibly there were sleeping-closets and closets for stores around the one apartment, but this served all the general uses of the family and the personal uses of the head of the house and his wife. Here she found the marriage-bed when she came as a bride, and here her bier would stand when life ended. Here the cooking and eating was done; here the master received his friends, while the mistress and her maids here did their spinning. Atrium, "black roof," was clearly a suitable and significant term for this primitive Roman house.
As early as the time of Numa, 716-673 B. C., there were eight guilds of craftsmen; carpenters, coppersmiths, potters, goldsmiths, fullers, dyers, shoemakers, and flute-blowers. This was the time when agriculture was the chief pursuit of the Romans, whose garments were spun in their own houses. The absence of iron-workers and the fact that, by the ritual, copper alone was used for the knives of the priests and for the sacred plough, seems to establish the fact that iron was not known.
Domestic architecture long remained very simple, although numerous practical improvements were adopted gradually, until, about 184 B. C., to the atrium were added a kitchen and bedrooms, a record-chamber and chapel, a court, garden, and garden colonnade. In the court and the colonades columns were used, and although comforts and conveniences were thus largely increased, the materials remained simple and the construction plain and unornamented. Slight foundations of stone made the plain brick structures dry.
Marble columns were first used in private houses in 91 B. C., when Lucius Crassus inaugurated this custom by placing six columns of Hymettian marble in his splendid dwelling on the Palatine.
The Italian marble quarries were not yet in operation, but columns from ancient Greek edifices were already employed, and all original work done in Rome was executed by Greek artists who had migrated to the new capital.
About half a century before the Christian era a lavish use of marbles was in vogue. Carrara or Luna marble was then employed for the first time; the Numidian giallo antico and other colored marbles were profusely used, and floors inlaid with marbles in mosaic, as well as dados of paneled marbles, were now extensively introduced.
The house of a noble or a wealthy man was called a domus, or mansion. It stood alone, surrounded by a court or garden, and was frequently very large on the ground. It was usually of a single story, never exceeding two. The custom of erecting long colonnades or porticoes demanded an increasing use of marble; and soon after Crassus had made his house the finest in Rome, Lepidus introduced the elegant improvement of paving his arcades with polished slabs of Numidian marble. By general consent, this noble-man's palace was called the finest in Rome; but Pliny relates that within three and a half decades at least a hundred Roman houses excelled it. And yet, at a still later period it would seem that the Romans must have been ignorant of the immense marble quarries of their territory, since they continued to use it in comparatively thin slabs and in facings only. Even in the reign of Nero, Lucan expresses wonder at the way in which Orientals piled marbles in blocks, while the Masters of the World were forced to use it sparingly.
Curiously enough, the houses of the poor at this period were called insulce, or islands, while they were built in large blocks and covered with a continuous roof. These houses were really little more than a collection of chambers, each one of which might make the home of a family. The life of the Roman common people was passed so largely out of doors that their homes were essentially used for little else than sleeping apartments. It was not unusual for these tenements to be built above rows of shops, having no connection with them, but entered by outside stairs. As it was permitted to make houses seventy feet high, several stories could be erected above the shops which lined the street.
These buildings were sometimes constructed around public edifices, and the servants required for them were thus lodged close at hand; this custom was also followed in the case of the dwellings of nobles, so that the slaves and freedmen of the family were frequently housed against the walls of the domus. There has long been a vexed question, and one not likely to be solved, as to the number of the Roman population at any given period. Many computations have been made, with widely differing results. So much exact knowledge of the premises necessary to this computation is wanting that it is altogether unsatisfactory to attempt to make it. But we do know that even the wealthy Romans, who had large apartments for the purposes of social life, had but small sleeping-rooms; slaves were huddled together with an utter disregard of health or comfort, and doubtless the better classes of artisans, freedmen, etc., were much more closely packed in their houses than in modern days. Thus the space devoted to individuals of any class was much less than in the present time.
The recent excavations for laying out new quarters on the Esquiline, Viminal, and Quirinal hills, have disclosed a goodly number of mansions and of the insuloe, or blocks; but the haste with which the "modern improvements" are carried on, destroys these most interesting objects almost as soon as they are discovered. When, in these days, an ancient house is examined, it is, as a rule, the ground-floor alone that remains; but from the house on the Marble Plan, from the mosaic plan of a country villa found at Algeria, and from occasional passages gathered here and there in ancient writings, we know that Roman houses were, after the earliest periods, built in several stories. The lower floor, with but few windows, and those grated, was doubtless devoted to offices and store-rooms, and the important apartments built higher up, with large windows, and plenty of light.
Even the Roman dwellings which have been excavated in modern times--to most of which I have already referred--are so fragmentary in their remains that they afford little satisfaction. We can study Roman domestic architecture at Pompeii to better advantage than in Rome itself. For, although this latter was largely a Greek city, Roman architecture was everywhere Grecian; and there is reason to believe that the houses and villas throughout the Roman Empire had many important features in common.
By taking into account the one room of the villa of Maecenas remaining, believed to have been the greenhouse, and considering portions of marble, mosaic, and fresco decorations which still remain in museums in great numbers,--adding to these the remains of the house of Sallust with its handsome staircase,--and not forgetting the many beautiful objects scattered in various collections which made the decoration of different private houses, we may form some idea of the general impression that these mansions must have made.
But doubtless the most satisfactory example of domestic architecture remaining in Rome is the so-called house of Livia, on the Palatine, which really made a part of the Palace of the Caesars, and has been already mentioned. Here we are told that Livia dwelt after the death of Augustus. It will be noticed by all visitors to this house who have seen Pompeii, that the resemblance in style, plan, and decoration to which I have referred, is perfectly apparent here. The mural paintings are, however, superior to any found in Pompeii; in fact, they are the finest ancient frescoes that are known. They belong to the Augustan Age without doubt, and are wonderfully preserved.
The finest Roman dwellings were doubtless as splendid and magnificently imposing according to their purpose, as the Roman palaces; and we have reason to think that the Palace of the Caesars, now a vast collection of ruins, was the most magnificent and splendidly decorated royal palace ever erected during the centuries of which we have any knowledge. In wealth and power the Caesars exceeded all other rulers, and they were a most self-indulgent and lavish race. They could also command the services of the best Grecian artists to plan and to execute their enormous undertakings, while they plundered from the known world the most valuable and gorgeous objects in existence for the adornment of the wonderful architectural monuments with which they crowded Rome.
Their palace, ruined as it is, has even now a wonderful effect on one who becomes at all familiar with it,--the effect of power and grandeur, which pertains to enormous masses, and the quality of permanence. The aesthetic element no longer exists here; no remnant of that world of marble, of sculpture, mosaic, and painting, that once made its splendor, remains; but from that portion which overhangs the Circus Maximus, looking on one hand to the Baths of Caracalla, and on the other to the Amphitheatre, the Palace of the Caesars is still a most impressive scene,--impressive as are the miles of aqueduct arches, and the Cyclopean walls, which so emphatically bear witness to the comprehensive power of the rulers of Rome under whom these vast achievements were possible.
The only Roman palace of the first order, which still enables one to judge of the plan and extent of these splendid structures, is that built by Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia. This Emperor was neither as powerful nor as wealthy as were some of his predecessors, and that he should have erected such a habitation as this--intended for a villa in which to pass his old age--is a marvellous manifestation of Roman grandeur and magnificence.
It is a fortified palace, and consequently plain in its exterior architecture; and it is difficult to judge of its resemblance to the Palace of the Caesars. It surpassed most modern European palaces in size as in splendor, covering about nine and a half English acres. The especially distinctive feature of this palace, and that most frequently mentioned, is the great gallery, twenty-four feet wide and five hundred and fifteen long, which extended across the entire southern end of the palace, towards the sea; it is architecturally beautiful, and commands a view not to be exceeded in its kind. It is impossible to reconcile the character of Diocletian with such a love of the beauties of nature as the building of this gallery indicates. Possibly his architect did him a favor far beyond his appreciation.
As one studies the Roman temples, of which the Pantheon is the only worthy representative remaining, he is sadly disappointed in finding how little absolutely satisfactory knowledge of them can be gained. For example, in the case of the Temple of the Capitoline Jupiter, we find that no connected and intelligible account of this great national temple exists; and no fragment of it remains, to our absolute certainty. From many writers we gather interesting references to the temple and its possessions, but these writers disagree. Not in the main fact that here was a most important, magnificent, and enormously wealthy shrine, dedicated to the great Jove, but in their accounts of its details; as when Livy says that the statue of Jupiter was the work of Turianus, an Etruscan sculptor, and Pliny records that it was made by Volca of Veii. These disagreements are not of vital importance; but one has a sensation of being cheated when he spends his time to read one authority only to be contradicted by another. As this temple was more than once destroyed and rebuilt, both sculptors may have made statues of its deity; but there is so much of legend about it that no clear-cut idea of it can be formed.
This temple, having been built on the Etruscan model, was doubtless small, its greatest magnificence being in its substructure and its enclosure, where, as already explained, the important rites of worship took place.
Not only have the most ancient temples disappeared, but little remains of those of the Augustan Age,--a few columns, the substructures in some cases, and scanty portions, known to have been built into other edifices. Of the Temple of Minerva, parts were used in S. Peter's, where a portion of its architrave was converted into the high altar by Paul V. in 1606. The same Pope cut its columns to adorn his fountain on the Janiculum. Other portions are in the Borghese chapel in S. Maria Maggiore; but even the scanty remnants which have been permitted to remain--the columns, a section of the entablature with sculptured cornice and frieze--serve to indicate the original beauty of this temple.
The small Temple of Jupiter Tonans, built by Augustus, is interesting from the traditions connected with it, one of which relates that it was built by the great Emperor in gratitude for his escape from death when a servant who was carrying a torch before his litter was killed by lightning.
Suetonius relates that Jupiter Capitolinus appeared to Augustus in a dream and expressed jealousy of Jupiter Tonans on account of the erection of a temple in his honour. Augustus then affixed bells to the shrine of the new temple, and pacified the complaining Jove by assuring him that the god of the small temple was simply his doorkeeper.
Pliny mentions that the Temple of Jupiter Tonans was constructed of solid marble blocks, such buildings being rare in Rome. A portion of the wall of the Regia, rebuilt in 36 B. C., and the circular temple in the Forum Boarium, probably erected during the reign of Augustus, are among the few examples of this kind of structure remaining.
This beautiful circular temple was once erroneously called the Temple of Vesta. The present edifice, dating from its rebuilding by Augustus, was known in the Middle Ages as the church of S. Stefano delle Carozze. It is now known as S. Maria del Sole, so named from a miraculous, shining picture of the Madonna found floating on the river near by. The remaining nineteen columns are graceful; and when the eight marble steps which surrounded the entire edifice were perfect, the whole effect of this circular peristyle must have been extremely fine. In design it closely resembles the actual Temple of Vesta, and is the finest example of this kind of structure remaining in Rome.
The Temple of Mars Ultor affords an example of a kind of construction which combines the use of solid marble blocks and of walls faced with thin marble linings. Spaces are left between the courses of solid blocks, which are built up in peperino and lined with Greek marble. Like the three remaining columns, the entire fragments of this structure are of the finest material and workmanship.
This temple was erected by Augustus in fulfillment of his vow to the god who, at Philippi, avenged the death of Julius Caesar, when Brutus and Cassius, seeing that their cause was lost, deserted it and their soldiers by committing suicide. In any case, it seems most fitting that this battle should have been signally commemorated by the Empire, since it may be said that the Republic perished at Philippi. The two great Republican leaders, flushed by their successes in Macedonia and Syria, assumed that they should be triumphant here. Brutus had been hailed as Imperator, and had even coined money stamped with his own effigy, and, according to Dion, bearing an inscription which declared that, together with Cassius, he had restored liberty to Rome.
By the union of their forces they led nineteen legions against Octavius, who, weak from illness, was borne to the field in a litter. The legend that the ghost of Caesar had summoned Brutus to meet him at Philippi was taken by the ancients as the cause of his final weakness. They believed that it was remorse alone that led him to commit the same act for which he had so blamed Cato. His body, wrapped in purple, was sent to his mother, Servilia, for burial; and his wife, Porcia, being determined upon self-destruction, and all weapons having been taken from her, the historian Appian relates that she filled her mouth with coals from a burning brazier, firmly closed her lips, and died from suffocation. Plutarch, however, doubts if Porcia died because Brutus was dead, and other writers suggest that she inhaled the fumes of the burning coal.
Facing the present Sacra Via, at the east end of the Forum, is the Temple of Antoninus Pius and Faustina. The Emperor erected it to the memory of Faustina in 141 A. D. After his death, by a decree of the Senate, an upper line was added to the inscription, including him in the dedication of the temple. The largest portion of the interior has been converted into the church of S. Lorenzo in Miranda.
The front has been excavated to its original level, and is well preserved. Noble monolithic columns of cipollino still remain; also a frieze of white Athenian marble, sculptured with reliefs of candelabra and griffins, it being an almost exact reproduction of a frieze found at Delos.
The masonry in the lower portions, recently uncovered, is of excellent workmanship. This temple is represented on coins struck in honor of Faustina; and two seated statues are seen, as if through the open door of the cella--probably intended for Antoninus and Faustina.
The small size of the Roman temples is surprising to one who regards them from the modern view of the uses of religious edifices; but if the ancient view is taken into account, the size becomes unimportant. The splendour and richness of the structure and its decorations are significant of the honours paid the god, whom the ancients preferred to worship without the temple. It appears, indeed, that they had no conception of an all-pervading spirit, or omnipresence, and temple walls seemed to obscure their ideas of deity. Therefore the templum, or the entire sacred precinct of the temple enclosures, as before mentioned, was essentially the place for worship, these enclosures being far larger than the temple itself.
The ancient Latin religion was not inventive, its one peculiar deity being the double-headed Janus, or Janus bifrons, the "beginner," or "opener," whom they invoked at the beginning of every undertaking. Gates, doors, and the morning were sacred to Janus from the earliest period of his worship; and gradually almost numberless matters were confided to his care. The opening of the year, in the name of the first month, still commemorates this pagan deity in many countries.
Later, this god was represented with four faces, on account of his presiding over the four seasons, and was then called Janus quadrifrons. The enclosure dedicated to Janus was called a temple, but the word "passage" would describe it more accurately. The custom of leaving it open during a war suggested that Janus had gone to aid the Roman army, and closing it in times of peace was intended to prevent his escape. New Year's Day was the festival day of Janus, and the custom of making gifts on that day originated in prehistoric Rome.
There is a legend that the first Temple of Janus was erected by King Numa; at all events, it was one of the very earliest erected in Rome.
Pliny speaks of two statues of this god, the first being in bronze and the work of a very ancient Etruscan sculptor; he says that this figure indicated with its fingers the number of days in the Roman year, which was three hundred and fifty-five. Augustus brought from Egypt a statue of Janus by Scopas or Praxiteles. Pliny explains the uncertainty regarding the sculptor by saying that the statue was very thickly gilded; and the number of foreign statues brought to Rome was so large that the people, more interested in other matters than in art, failed to keep a record of the authors of these works.
There were many statues of Janus, as well as arches dedicated to him. Domitian seems to have especially devoted himself to honouring this deity, and set up so many Jani with chariots and other triumphal insignia that at length some wag inscribed one of them with the word apkel--that's enough--in the spirit of the modern slang, "give us a rest."
From the present point of view the Roman temples were very defective in want of height. If we imagine ourselves on some elevation looking down upon ancient Rome, we shall see an extent of almost level roofs. The lines of the temple roofs were, indeed, somewhat broken by the statues placed on them; but even when of colossal size these did not give an adequate impression of height, certainly not of the soaring aspiration which church towers symbolize. Nothing more clearly illustrates the absolute absence of spiritual desire from the pagan religion than does its utter content with the protection afforded by the powers of Nature if they were but suitably propitiated.
In very early days a few watch towers arose from fortresses and palaces, but their very purpose, the discovery of advancing enemies, fixed the thoughts of the watchers earthward; and not until bells were introduced was there a reason for attaching towers to sacred edifices, or erecting them near churches as belonging to them.
But even when the roofs of Rome were nearly on a level, the hills which surrounded the Forum were crowned by many pillared temples, and looking up from the city these must have produced a fine effect, and the dwellings of the gods appeared to be the guardians of their worshippers.
Under the Empire the columns of Trajan and Antonine served a good purpose in breaking the sky-line of Rome, while some of the grand tombs were more lofty than the temples, and the towers on the Wall of Aurelian added a picturesque and artistic element to the general view.
Not until the time of Pope Adrian I.--772 A. D.--were church bells used, and the erection of church spires or belfries generally adopted, and these belonged to the Gothic rather than to any earlier order of architecture.
The Romans cared more for the courts of justice and for civil government than for the courts of the temples and religious affairs. Consequently, while their temples were small, some of their basilicas were grand in size and proportion. The ruins of the Ulpian Basilica, and those of the Basilica of Maxentius,--more frequently called the Temple of Peace,--are sufficient to enable archaeologists to restore their plans with reasonable confidence. These were the two most splendid basilicas in Rome, and that begun by Maxentius was finished by Constantine.
The origin of the basilica is unknown; but as the name is Greek, and so many other architectural plans were copied from the Greeks by the Romans, it is not unreasonable to suppose that these were either copied from Greek edifices, or were suggested by the celloe of the temples, and were enlarged and adapted to secular rather than religious purposes.
There was every reason why the Christians should adopt the basilican form of edifice, since pillars suited to this use were to be found all over Rome, while wooden roofs were inexpensive, and the whole effect of the structures was dignified and impressive.
The earliest Roman basilicas corresponded essentially to bazaars. Cato, in 184 B.C., built the Porcian Basilica, or Silversmiths' Hall, beside the Senate-house, and gradually numbers of basilicas surrounded the Forum, and small private shops disappeared before the advance of fine columnar halls, in the more dignified of which the courts were held.
The Romans were slow to consider public wants and conveniences; and not until Cato's time were the basins into which the aqueduct water flowed properly lined with stone, and other improvements made which looked to the comfort of the people, whose bare necessities had hitherto been the only consideration. A certain incipient luxury had been introduced in private dwellings, and the same spirit which had prompted this now extended to public edifices; colonnades were built, and the basilicas or Attic courts erected.
The small number of theatres in Rome, and the absence of any that could be considered fine, is a surprise to the student of Roman architecture, especially when the importance and beauty of Greek theatres is considered in connection with the fact that the Greeks were the artistic models of the Romans. The estimation of those who worked for money, either with brain or hands, was so far from honourable, that actors, singers, etc., were denounced, and were incapable of voting in the burgess assembly or serving in the burgess army. Moreover, the police magistrates were especially severe against them, and the urban magistrates could legally imprison or inflict bodily punishment upon actors at any time, and wherever found. Thus, three and a half centuries before the Christian era, and about four centuries after the foundation of Rome, everything connected with the theatre was held in perfect contempt by Romans of position.
The presentation of plays--all such entertainments being free--was essentially confined to the national festivals, when they made a part of the public shows and were held in buildings that were little more than wooden sheds; a scaffolding made the stage, with an apology of a scene at the back; there was no provision for seating the audience, and no decoration of any sort. It is curious that while it was entirely reputable to perform in the masked farces,--in which the characters of Maccus, Bucco, Pappus, and Dossennus, personating the harlequin, the glutton, the good papa, and the wise counsellor, may have been the ancestors of the actors in Pulcinello,--the paid actors of the theatre, who wore no masks, were esteemed as distinctly infamous, and not at all above the rope-dancers and buffoons.
When we consider this condition of things at this period, and take into account the stubborn conservatism of the ancient Romans, we are surprised to find that a century later the guild of actors was allowed a place of worship in the Aventine Temple of Minerva, and that Roman plays were presented on a Roman stage, though written by the Greek Livius. The theatres, however, remained as before, and as late as 155 B. C. there were still no seats provided; those who did not bring chairs stood, reclined, or sat on the ground. The women were separated from the men and relegated to the worst places. In 194 B. C. the best places were given to the senators, which shows that the most reputable men attended, although these officials may have regarded it as a public duty, rather than a pleasure.
The audiences were not select, and probably resembled those of more recent days who flock to free entertainments. Children were freely admitted with their mothers; and both the women and children were noisy, expressing any emotion excited by the play in a boisterous manner, and, on the whole, the proceedings were disorderly.
Late in the second century before our era, the equites, or equestrian order,--now essentially wealthy people to whom money had brought rank and position,--had fourteen benches reserved for their use at the theatres and all burgess entertainments; this indicates the better consideration that was gradually accorded to the theatre in Rome.
It is not possible to make here a detailed statement of the advance of the drama; many circumstances prove that more permanent and commodious theatres were needed, and in various provincial towns good stone theatres had been built while there were still none in the capital. When, in 155 B. C., a stone theatre in Rome had been contracted for, its erection was prohibited by the Senate.
Ten years later, after the conquest of Corinth, things were made a little more favourable for those engaged in dramatic ventures. The stage was more permanently constructed and its still scanty scenery was provided at the public expense, whereas this cost had previously devolved upon the manager of the theatre, and was paid out of the meagre allowance devoted by the city fathers to these entertainments.
About 78 B. C., the custom of stretching canvas above the theatre was introduced, thus protecting both actors and audience from sun, wind, and rain; and, in fact, vast sums of money were spent in erecting and re-erecting wooden theatres, which if applied to permanent edifices would have made a great public economy. But not until 55 B. C. was a stone theatre built. Pompey the Great took this decided step; and he moreover celebrated its dedication with a magnificence which surpassed any like ceremony which had before taken place in Rome.
Thus it resulted that in the history of Roman architecture but three theatres of importance can be mentioned, those of Pompey, of Balbus, and of Marcellus; the last two were completed in 13 B. C. That of Marcellus is also called the Theatre of Augustus, as Marcellus died before its dedication, which was conducted by the Emperor. In addition to these were the theatres in the great baths.
The study of Roman theatres can be most advantageously prosecuted outside of Rome itself. There was a theatre at Herculaneum and two at Pompeii, but perhaps the most satisfactory one remaining is at Orange, in Southern France. The great wall at the back of this theatre may well be ranked among the important massive works of the Romans. It is one hundred and sixteen feet high and three hundred and forty long, broken only by the corbels, which supported masts that held the awnings, and a row of blank arches about midway of its height above the basement. When speaking of this theatre, Fergusson says:--
"Nowhere does the architecture of the Romans shine so much as when their gigantic buildings are left to tell their own tale by the imposing grandeur of their masses. Whenever ornament is attempted, their bad taste comes out. The size of their edifices, and the solidity of their construction, were only surpassed by the Egyptians, and not always by them; and when, as here, the mass of material heaped up stands unadorned in all its native grandeur, criticism is disarmed, and the spectator stands awe-struck by its majesty, and turns away convinced that truly 'there were giants in those days.'"
Basilicas of Rome
Student of history
For the student of history the following chronology is presented. The student will note the each century with the dates built.
S. Peter's .. Constantine, five aisles, about 330 A. D.
S. John Lateran .. Constantine, five aisles, founded 333? A. D.
S. Paul's .. Theodosius and Honorius, five aisles, 386 A. D.
S. Pudentiana .. 335? A. D.
S. Sabina .. Pope Celestine, about 425 A. D.
S. Maria Maggiore .. Pope Sixtus III. 432 A. D.
S. Pietro in Vincoli .. Eudoxia, Greek Doric pillars, 442 A. D.
S. Lorenzo, early portion .. Pope Pelagius, galleries, 580 A. D.
S. Balbina .. Gregory the Great, no side aisles, 600 A. D.
S. Agnes .. Honorius I., galleries, 625 A. D.
Quattro Coronati .. Honorius I., 625 A. D.
S. Giorgio in Velabro .. Leo II., 682 A. D.
S. Chrisogono .. Gregory III., 730 A. D.
S. Giovanni a Porta Latina .. Adrian I., 790? A. D.
S. Maria in Cosmedin .. 790 A. D.
S. Vincenzo alle Tre Fontane .. 790 A. D.
S. Lorenzo, nave .. About 790? A. D.
SS. Nereo ed Achilles .. Leo III., about 800 A. D. S. Praxede .. Paschal I., 820 A. D.
S. Maria in Dominica .. 820 A. D.
S. Martino ai Monti .. Sergius and Leo, 844, 855 A. D.
S. Nicolo in Carcere .. About 900 A. D.
S. Bartolomeo in Isola .. 900 A. D.
S. John Lateran .. Rebuilt by Sergius III., 910 A. D.
S. Clemente .. Rebuilt by Paschal, 1118 A. D.
S. Maria in Trastevere .. Innocent II., 1135 A. D.
S. Croce .. Lucius, 1144 A. D.
S. Maria in Ara Coeli .. Uncertain.
S. Maria sopra Minerva .. Gothic, Gregory XI. about 1370 A. D.
S. Agostino .. Renaissance? about 1480 A. D.
The eleventh and thirteenth centuries produced nothing to be added to this list. It is difficult to assign a positive style to S. Agostino; it may be called the last of the old architecture, or the first of the new, as one likes. Where the number of aisles is not given, there are three. All these basilicas except the last two have flat wooden ceilings over the central aisle, of which the construction is generally exposed. S. Agnes and the old part of S. Lorenzo have two-storied side aisles; in the others these aisles are but one story, and are usually half as wide as the central aisle.
It is difficult to fix the date at which a certain style of architecture begins or ends, as in regard to that when the Romanesque was abandoned and the Gothic introduced. The records of the Church, however, assign the beginning of Gothic art to the time of Gregory the Great, 590-603 A. D.
Perhaps the best statement is that from the time of this notable Pope during a period of five centuries, architecture, like everything else, was groping in uncertain paths; and the initial attempts of the two women, Theodelinda in 600, and Matilda in 1077, may be said to have done much to develop the Gothic order, which claimed its individuality in the time of Gregory VII., 1073-1080.
In the fourth chapter I have spoken of the founding and other matters relating to the most ancient basilica of S. Peter's. Here I shall speak of it more in detail. This church, with that of S. Maria Maggiore, are the two of the four principal basilicas that retain sufficient of their original interest to be attractive. S. Paul's, or S. Paolo fuori le Mura, has been so utterly changed, first by alterations, and later by fire, that while it is a most satisfactory and magnificent modern church, it has not the interest that pertains to S. Peter's and S. Maria Maggiore, which have some features, at least, of a much earlier date.
S. John Lateran, too, has been so signally changed from its original appearance that, while it is historically most interesting, it has lost its architectural beauty, and beyond its original dimensions, which can easily be traced, it retains nothing of its primitive arrangement.
The great number of popes and architects who contributed to the rearing of S. Peter's, taken together with the sculptors and other artists who have furnished its decoration, make a small regiment of those to whom this basilica has been an incitement and an object of affection.
Michelangelo, Bramante and Other Great Architects
After the Dark Ages, in the earliest period of the Renaissance, Pope Nicholas V., in 1450, finding that the old church was rapidly falling into decay, commissioned Leon Battista, Alberti, and Bernardo Rossellino to make plans for a new and larger church. Five years later Pope Nicholas died; and not until the time of the Venetian Pope, Paul II., was the work continued. He, too, lived but a short time, and little progress was made until Julius II. came to the papal throne in 1503.
This Pope was a great man. No longer young, and delicate in health when elected Pope, he was possessed of an energy which overcame physical suffering, and all other kinds of obstacles that came between him and the ends he had in view. His great desire was the establishment of one grand national kingdom. He went to the field to fight in his own battles, and conquered; he gathered much treasure together, and left it in the vaults of the Castle of S. Angelo at his death. And whatever he conquered or gained, he did it for the Church--not for his relatives, the Rovere. He was rough, but dignified; fierce, but not cruel; and more noble than all other popes in his appreciation of great artists and their works, to which quality was added a marvellous power to discern those who merited his protection, and to draw them to himself and enlist their devotion to his schemes.
While a cardinal, Julius had employed the architect Giuliano di Sangallo; and the Pope at once summoned him to Rome and occupied him in various works, but did not make him architect of S. Peter's, for which post Sangallo had hoped. To this service he appointed Bramante d'Urbino. As pontifical architect under both Alexander VI. and Julius II., Bramante was employed on the cloister of the monks della Pace; the fountain of Trastevere; a large portion of the Palazzo della Cancellaria; the arrangement of the space between the Vatican and the Belvedere; and the basilica of S. Peter's.
Under Bramante the work on S. Peter's advanced rapidly; he had great fertility of invention and undoubted genius. His style, at first cold and stiff, became majestic and elegant. He had small regard for the remains of antiquity, and became notorious for his destruction of such monuments at Rome. The only remnants of his work in S. Peter's are the four great arches which support the tower of the dome. Bramante was a bitter enemy of Michael Angelo, being jealous of him as an architect on his own account, and jealous of him as a painter on account of Raphael, who was Bramante's nephew. Michael Angelo cordially returned the dislike and enmity of Bramante; and on one occasion these two artists indulged in a most violent scene in the presence of the Pope.
It had become evident that Bramante was scheming to drive Michael Angelo from Rome, that he and Raphael might be the first two in the capital. Michael Angelo, fully aware of his intrigues, upbraided him with all he had endured from him; he also demanded his reasons for demolishing the splendid old columns which had supported the ceiling of S. Peter's, and which then lay in fragments where he had thrown them down; "to place a million of bricks one upon another is no art," exclaimed Michael Angelo, "but to execute a single column like those you have destroyed is a great art." And having begun, he freed his mind of all his indignation and his hatred of Bramante, as he would have done had the Pope not been there.
But Julius, who justly estimated the value of each, permitted Michael Angelo to bluster, while he could not prevent Bramante from showing the despicable traits of his character. But as an architect Bramante must have been worthy the Pope's confidence, when even Michael Angelo, years after Bramante's death, paid him the following tribute:--
"Bramante was, if any one deserves the name, one of the most able architects since the days of the ancients. And, as it is evident now, whatever the standard of beauty, whoever departs from his idea, as Sangallo did, departs from the very rules of art."
In 1514 Bramante died, and was interred in S. Peter's with great honours.
Julius had been Pope but two years when he summoned Michael Angelo to Rome in great haste, and he speedily left his important work in Florence to attend upon the Head of the Church. The first commission which Julius gave the artist was the erection of a colossal mausoleum for himself, to be built in S. Peter's. The design made by the master satisfied the Pope, who ordered him to decide at once upon the spot in the basilica best suited to the purpose. This church was already a treasure-house of artistic works; and surrounded as it was with various chapels, cloisters, dwellings for the clergy, and the Vatican Palace, it was an ecclesiastical stronghold, so important and so exalted among the churches of the world that even so grand and proud an artist as Michael Angelo might well be pleased to be added to its makers by some more imposing work than his exquisite Pieta, already in the chapel of S. Petronilla. In this basilica emperors were crowned, anathemas pronounced, and pardons promulgated, while here the tribute of all lands was brought. Where else could an artist place his work with greater confidence that it would be seen and judged by the greatest of all nations?
When Nicholas V. died he left an unfinished tribune behind the old basilica. Michael Angelo advised the Pope to finish this and place his mausoleum there. But this plan, with many others, came to naught. We cannot here give all the story of the "Tragedy of the Mausoleum," as Condivi called it; but it was the first association of Michael Angelo with Julius II. and with S. Peter's, and so leads on to other matters in connection with the famous basilica.
In April, 1506, Julius, in presence of thirty-five cardinals, laid the corner-stone of Bramante's foundations, which neither pope nor architect lived to know were all too weak. In 1513 Leo X. succeeded Julius, and the master survived but a year. He was followed by Giuliano di Sangallo, Giocondo da Verona, and Raphael, making what we should now term an architectural commission. But these colleagues did little more than make plans, that of Raphael being the one they intended to follow. In actual work they had accomplished little more than the strengthening of some piers before Sangallo and Raphael died.
Leo X. then employed Baldassare Peruzzi, who found that Raphael's plan of a Latin cross would be far too costly to be carried out, and returned to the earlier design of a Greek cross. Leo died the year after the death of Raphael, and almost nothing was accomplished at S. Peter's by his immediate successors.
When Paul III. succeeded to the papacy in 1534, he appointed Antonio Sangallo as architect of the basilica, and this master died too soon to have accomplished much more than to make his plans, which is also true of his successor, Giulio Romano, who died in the year in which he was appointed. This singularly repeated fatality would seem to have been sufficient to deter an artist from attempting the work; but Michael Angelo accepted the position of architect of S. Peter's from Paul III., when he was in his seventy-second year, and prosecuted its building with great vigour during his remaining years, retaining his office until he died, at the age of eighty-nine.
During these years he suffered many annoyances, but met them with his wonderful determination. His first care was to strengthen the piers, enlarge the tribune, and begin the dome on a different plan from that of Bramante, retaining the design of the Greek cross. Leonardo da Vinci laid down a law that the less resistance in the material that is worked, the greater the art. Accordingly the poet and musician would stand as the highest artists, the painter second, the sculptor third, and the architect last. Michael Angelo had executed mighty works as a sculptor and a painter, and had written poems that give him a place among the honoured poets of his country, and lead Italians to call him "a poet, a painter, and one who was great in all arts."
This wonderful man was now to crown his career by showing his power in an art which Leonardo considered the least. But there are other views of this question; and while to-day such an argument could scarcely arise, it is interesting to consider its bearings. There is a view in which architecture is the most mechanical of arts, for the reason that when the artist has conceived his plan and given it life in his drawing, mechanics of various grades can erect the edifice. This is but one way of saying that when architecture embodies artistic ideas it is an art; and when, as often happens, a work of a mere builder and one of a true architect are so situated that they can be compared, the most untrained eye at once perceives the difference.
In the abstract and loftiest view of architecture it cannot be mechanical. It is customary to use the word "architecture" where the word "building" would be much nearer what is intended to be said; for example, we speak of the architecture of many human dwellings in which there is not a particle of anything but the product of mechanical skill. Dwellings can be made practically comfortable, well ventilated, spacious, and in every way delightfully usable, and still be as far removed from anything that merits the term "artistic" as plain wall painting is removed from Raphael's decoration in the Loggie of the Vatican.
The nations who first excelled in architecture were those who loved their soil perhaps even more than their people. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were eminently of this class, while the Germanic peoples were happy wherever their friends surrounded them. Intense love of soil leads to the passion for adorning it, as men desire to bring tribute of adornment to the women whom they love; and when the gifts are accepted and worn, men have a sense of personal acceptance as well, and a dawning sense of possession of the beloved one. Grimm well expresses this thought when he says: "And the temples of the Acropolis and the Capitol were, as it were, jewels which the people set in the golden soil of their home, crowns and golden chains which they placed upon it."
As the adjuncts of architecture, sculpture and painting have made their greatest achievements as pure or abstract arts. The temples afforded the opportunity for their display in their highest forms, and the decline of these arts begins when the artist must endeavour to meet the wishes of his employer. Michael Angelo had the misfortune to undertake his great works just when this decline began; when it was possible for Pope Julius II. to threaten to throw the artist off the scaffolding in the Sistine Chapel.
Architecture is far less individual than other arts. In its grand achievements it emphasises the political power of a people or the religious power of a faith. In the sixteenth century Catholicism was renewed in strength, the apostasy of the Germans having called up the extremest loyalty of the entire Catholic Church; and Michael Angelo devoted himself to making S. Peter's what has been well called "a religious fortification," an ecclesiastical stronghold, the Mother Church of the faithful of the world.
Michael Angelo had gained reputation as an architect in Florence, where he had erected the facade, the sacristy, and the library of S. Lorenzo, before he was made architect of S. Peter's. But these gave him no opportunity to conceive the colossal in a truly masterly manner, as did his office at S. Peter's. Other architects brought together numbers of small towers or other lesser features, which, thus assembled, produced the effect of a great mass; but they were separable, while truly great architecture must be the production of a single conception, great in itself. In this way, as a whole, Michael Angelo conceived and made his plan for S. Peter's. He boldly declared that he would suspend the dome of the Pantheon in air above Saint Peter's grave.
As the great artist refused a salary, declaring that he would work but for God and Saint Peter, he held an advantage over his enemies, and was able to ignore the many intrigues by which they attempted to injure him. He was also better able to treat peculations by his subordinates with severity and thus put a new element of honesty into the work on this basilica.
Although nearly forty years had passed after Bramante laid the foundation-stone, and although so many and such different artists had done their share in this great work, it was not so far advanced but that Michael Angelo could give it any form he chose. A vast amount of substructure work had been done. The four pillars were erected and connected by the magnificent arches,--such pillars and arches as have not been excelled. But as, from this slight and imperfect beginning, the plans of Michael Angelo, with but small exceptions, were followed, he may be regarded as the real founder of the present S. Peter's.
The dome is strictly his work. In one respect, which is much to be lamented, his plan was changed, and the form of the Latin cross adopted, when he intended to follow Bramante's plan and use that of the Greek cross. By this change the dome is rendered ineffective as one approaches the church. The long, projecting nave and the elaborate facade were not contemplated by either Bramante or Michael Angelo. The facade of the latter was simple, but grand in effect, it being a pure Corinthian portico. Had the Greek form been retained, and this front erected, the entire dome would have been visible from the Piazza.
When Michael Angelo began his actual work, his first care was to strengthen the four pillars so that they might support his dome. He then proceeded to erect the drum, on which the dome is raised. This drum was not finished according to his design, although, with its surrounding columns and the windows between them, it is a masterpiece in architecture, and as light and symmetrical as could be desired. Michael Angelo, however, intended to have the columns which stand free from the walls of the drum in pairs, finished with pedestals and surmounted with statues, which were "to surround the dome like tapers."
Paul III. died in 1549, and was succeeded by Julius III., who, in spite of the intrigues against Michael Angelo, confirmed him as architect of S. Peter's without limit to his authority. This greatly displeased the old, or Sangallo's party, as under that architect many had made money. Michael Angelo was so determined, first, that no one should make money, and second, that no material which he did not approve should be accepted, that the sub-contractors greatly desired his removal.
On one occasion, when some cement was furnished which he thought of an inferior quality, he wrote a scathing letter to the cardinals in charge of the work, in which he expressed his suspicions of those who were endeavoring to make money out of the building. He declared that he would not use unsuitable material, saying, "Even were it to come down from heaven, it shall not be done."
At another time Julius III reported to Michael Angelo that certain defects in his work had been brought to his notice. The artist demanded that the complaints be made in his presence; and when Cardinal Marcello appeared before the Pope and the master, the latter explained that his completed work would overcome the objections. The cardinal, satisfied with what he heard, expressed surprise that he had not been informed of this sooner. Michael Angelo answered: "I am not, nor will I consent to be obliged to tell, to your Eminence or any one else, what I ought or wish to do. Your office is to bring money and guard it from thieves, and the designing of the building is left to me."
Then to the Pope he said, "Holy Father, you see what I gain: if these fatigues which I endure do not benefit my soul, I lose both time and labour."
The Pope loved the great artist, and, laying his hands on Michael Angelo's shoulders, he answered, "Your eternal and temporal welfare shall not suffer from it. There is no fear of that;" and so long as Julius III lived, Michael Angelo was not again disturbed.
Julius III died in 1555; and after the brief reign of Marcellus II., Cardinal Caraffa became Pope, and took the name of Paul IV. Meantime Michael Angelo, although he made a journey and executed other works, had his mind fixed upon the dome of S. Peter's, and carefully constructed a wooden model of his design, which is seventeen feet high, and so made that it could be followed in every detail by his successors. He was asked if this dome would surpass that of S. M. del Fiore in Florence, to which he replied, "It will be more grand, but not more beautiful."
By still another Pope, Pius IV., was the brave old man confirmed as autocrat over the building of S. Peter's, and he continued, though a sufferer from a fatal disease, to apply himself to this great trust, and to execute a few other works, until, in February, 1564, his strength gave way; and, on the eighteenth of that month, surrounded by his friends and faithful physicians, he ceased to breathe, but not to live; for does he not to-day survive in a sense beside which physical death loses its meaning?
In spite of all the precautions which he had taken, the successors of the great master seriously lessened the grandeur of his plans. After his death Vignola and Pierre Ligorio were appointed to carry on the building, and were strictly enjoined by the Pope to adhere strictly to Michael Angelo's plans. These artists did not live to complete the dome, which was accomplished in the pontificate of Sixtus V., by Giacomo della Porta, in the spring of 1560.
So impatient of delay had the Pope become that the work was pushed day and night by eight hundred workmen. Everything, even decency, was sacrificed to haste, for, being in need of an additional trough for water, the masons tossed the bones of Pope Urban VI. aside, and took his sarcophagus to fill their need, and this coffin was used as a tank for about twenty years. The ball and cross were not placed on the summit of the dome until 1593.
So long as Della Porta lived,--1601,--the plans of Michael Angelo were essentially followed, although even in the dome a serious omission had been made. The model has a triple dome, and it was intended that the inner one should duplicate the dome of the Pantheon; the second should support the lantern, while the outer one should give majesty to the exterior of the church. But the inner dome was entirely omitted, the two outer were constructed of brick and bound with chains at weak points, while the statues which were to encircle it were never made.
After the death of Della Porta, Carlo Maderno, being architect under Paul V., changed from the plans of Bramante and Michael Angelo, and ruined the effect by the long nave and unsuitable facade of which we have spoken. Not until the thirteen hundredth anniversary of the original consecration of S. Peter's, by Saint Sylvester, was the present edifice consecrated by Pope Urban VIII. in 1626.
Bernini began the decoration of the Piazza of S. Peter's in 1667, and Pope Pius VI. erected the sacristy and made some minor additions in the late years of the eighteenth century; so that from the beginning of the foundations to the time when S. Peter's could be said to be complete, three and a half centuries had elapsed, forty-three popes had reigned, sixteen architects that I can name had been employed, and I doubt not there were others. The cost of this church could scarcely be estimated; and so great had the financial burden proved that at two periods, in the time of Julius II. and Leo X., the sale of indulgences was instituted to support it. At the end of the seventeenth century its cost was estimated at about fifty million dollars, which does not include the sacristy, the bell-towers, mosaics, etc. The last important work was done by Pius IX. on the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of Michael Angelo, when the dome and lantern were thoroughly repaired and newly covered at a cost of about sixty thousand dollars.
Other architectural works attributed to Michael Angelo in Rome are the Porta Pia, begun by Pius IV. in 1564 after the plans of the master, but not completed until 1869, so that it is not possible to know how faithfully the plan was executed; the Sforza Chapel in S. Maria Maggiore, which Della Porta completed; and he is said to have been the chief architect of the church of S. Mary of the Angels in the Baths of Diocletian. The Piazza del Campidoglio is made after the design of Michael Angelo, as well as the facades of the palaces on three sides of the Piazza, although it was not completed until after his death. He also designed the cornice of the Palazzo Farnese, built its upper story, and made the plan of its court. He made a design for a bridge over the Tiber and the necessary road by which the Farnese Palace and the Villa Farnesina could be united; but these, like other undertakings for which he made the plans, were not executed.
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