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BYzANTINE AND Roman Esque ARCHITECTURE.
270. We propose in this section to take a concise view of the state of debased Roman architecture, from the year 476, in which the Roman empire in the West was destroyed, to the introduction of the pointed arch at the latter end of the 12th century. It will be necessary to premise that the term Romanesque is very general, and comprises the works of the Lombards as well as those of a later species, which in this country are called Saxon and Norman, for the character of all is the same, and we think much confusion will be prevented by the arrangement we propose. Between the fifth and the eighth centuries, at the beginning of which latter period the whole of Europe formed one great Gothic kingdom, the prospect is over a dreary desert in which the oases of our art are few and far between. The constant change of power, the division of the empire, which was so overgrown that it could no longer hang together, the irruptions of the Goths, whose name has been most improperly connected with all that is barbarous in art, make it no easy task to give the unlearned reader more than a faint idea of what occurred in the extended period through which, often in darkness, we must proceed to feel our way. But, previous to this, we shall continue the state of the architecture in the East; because, having already given some account of Saracenic architecture, which had its origin about the seventh century, we shall not again have to divert his attention from the subject until the reader is introduced to the pointed style: an arrangement which, we trust, will assist his memory in this history.
271. The emperor Theodosius, who died A. D. 395, exhibited great talent in arms, and was desirous to extend the benefit of his influence to the arts, in which he did much for the empire. His sons, Arcadius in the city of Constantinople, and Honorius at Rome, were incapable of doing them any service, though by them was raised the famous Theodosian column at the first named city, which was surrounded with bassi relievi, after the fashion of that erected long before in honour of Trajan at Rome. The ascent of Theodosius II. to the throne promised as well for the empire as for the arts. He called architecture to his aid for embellishing the cities of the empire. Under him, in 413, Constantinople was surrounded with a new wall; some extensive baths, and a magnificent palace for the two sisters of Pulcheria were erected. In 447, an earthquake nearly destroyed the city, which was so admirably restored under this emperor that he might with propriety have been called its second founder. Except some trifling matters under Anastasius II., and Justin his successor, little was done till Justinian, the nephew of the last named, ascended the throne of the East, in 527. By him the celebrated architect Anthemius was invited to Constantinople. Through the genius of this artist, aided by his colleague Isidore the Milesian, on the ruins of the principal church of the city, which, dedicated to Saint Sophia or the Eternal Wisdom, had been twice destroyed by fire, was raised so splendid an edifice, that Justinian is said on its completion to have exclaimed, as Gibbon observes, “with devout vanity:” “Glory be to God, who hath thought me worthy to accomplish so great a work. I have vanquished thee, O Solomon.” We shall make no apology for giving the description in the words of the historian we have just quoted; a representation of the building being appended in figs. 139. and 140. “But the pride of the Roman Solomon, before twenty years had elapsed, was humbled by an earthquake, which overthrew the eastern part of the dome. Its splendour was restored by the perseverance of the same prince; and in the thirty-sixth year of his reign, Justinian celebrated the second dedication of a temple, which remains, after twelve centuries, a stately monument of his fame. The architecture of St. Sophia, which is now converted into the principal mosque, has been imitated by the Turkish sultans, and that venerable pile continues to excite the fond admiration of the Greeks, and the more rational curiosity of European travellers. The eye of the spectator is disappointed by an irregular prospect of half domes and shelving roofs: the western front, the principal approach, is destitute of simplicity and magnificence; and the scale of dimensions has been much surpassed by several of the Latin cathedrals. But the architect who first erected an aerial cupola is entitled to the praise of bold design and skilful execution. The dome of St. Sophia, illuminated by four and twenty windows, is formed with so small a curve, that the depth is equal to only one sixth of its diameter; the measure of that diameter is 115 ft.,
and the lofty centre, where a crescent has supplanted the cross, rises to the perpendicular height of 180 ft. above the pavement. The circle which encompasses the dome lightly reposes on four strong arches, and their weight is firmly supported by four massy piles" (piers), “whose strength is assisted on the northern and southern sides by four columns of Egyptian granite. A Greek cross inscribed in a quadrangle represents the form of the edifice; the exact breadth is 243 ft., and 269 may be assigned for the extreme length from the sanctuary in the east, to the nine western doors which open into the vestibule, and from thence into the narther or exterior portico. That portico was the humble station of the penitents. The nave or body of the church was filled by the congregation of the faithful; but the two sexes were prudently distinguished, and the upper and lower galleries were allotted for the more private devotion of the women. Beyond the northern and southern piles" (piers), “a balustrade, terminated on either side by the thrones of the emperor and the patriarch, divided the nave from the choir; and the space, as far as the steps of the altar, was occupied by the clergy and singers. The altar itself, a name which insensibly became familiar to Christian ears, was placed in the eastern recess, artificially built in the form of a demi-cylinder, and this sanctuary communicated by several doors with the sacristy, the vestry, the baptistery, and the contiguous buildings, subservient either to the pomp of worship or the private use of the ecclesiastical ministers.” We should be fearful of thus continuing the quotation, but that we prefer the language of Gibbon to our own ; beyond which, the practical knowledge the rest of the description discloses is not unworthy the scientific architect, and the subject is the type of the great modern cathedrals, that of St. Paul, in London, among the rest. “The memory,” he continues, “ of past calamities inspired Justinian with a wise resolution, that no wood, except for the doors, should be admitted into the new edifice; and the choice of the materials was applied to the strength, the lightness, or the splendour of the respective parts. The solid piles" (piers) “which sustained the cupola were composed of huge blocks of freestone, hewn into squares and triangles, fortified by circles of iron, and firmly cemented by the infusion of lead and quicklime; but the weight of the cupola was diminished by the levity of its substance, which consists either of pumice-stone that floats in the water, or of bricks from the Isle of Rhodes, five times less ponderous than the ordinary sort. The whole frame of the edifice was constructed of brick; but those base materials were concealed by a crust of marble; and the inside of St. Sophia, the cupola, the two larger and the six smaller semi-domes, the walls, the hundred columns, and the pavement, delight even the eyes of barbarians with a rich and variegated picture." Various presents of marbles and mosaics, amongst which latter were seen representations of Christ, the Virgin, and saints, added to the magnificence of the edifice, and the precious metals in their purity imparted splendour to the scene. Before the building was four feet out of the ground its cost had amounted to a sum equivalent to 200,000l. sterling, and the total cost of it when finished may, at the lowest computation, be reckoned as exceeding one million. In Constantinople alone, the emperor dedicated twentyfive churches to Christ, the Virgin, and favourite saints. These were highly decorated, and imposing situations were found for them. That of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople, and of St. John at Ephesus, appear to have had the church of St. Sophia for their types; but in them the altar was placed under the centre of the dome, at the junction of four porticoes, expressing the figure of the cross. “The pious munificence of the emperor was diffused over the Holy Land; and if reason," says Gibbon, “should condemn the monasteries of both sexes, which were built or restored by Justinian, yet charity must applaud the wells which he sank, and the hospitals which he founded, for the relief of the weary pilgrims.” “Almost every saint in the calendar acquired the honour of a temple; almost every city of the empire obtained the solid advantages of bridges, hospitals, and aqueducts; but the severe liberality of the monarch disdained to indulge his subjects in the popular luxury of baths and theatres.” He restored the Byzantine palace; but selfishness, as respected his own comfort, could not be laid to his charge: witness the costly palace he erected for the infamous Theodora, and the munificent gifts, equal to 180,000l. sterling, which he bestowed upon Antioch for its restoration after an earthquake. His care was not limited to the peaceful enjoyment of life by the empire over which he presided; for the fortifications of Europe and Asia were multiplied by Justinian from Belgrade to the Euxine, from the conflux of the Save to the mouth of the Danube; a chain of above fourscore fortified places was extended along the banks of the great river, and many military stations appeared to extend beyond the Danube, the pride of the Roman name. We might considerably extend the catalogue of the extraordinary works of Justinian; but our object is a general view, not a history of the works of this extraordinary person, of whom, applying the verses architecturally, it inight truly be said –
Si Pergama dextra
and by whom, if architecture could again have been restored, such a consummation would have been accomplished. 272. In 565 Justin succeeded to the throne of the East, after whose reign nothing occurs to prevent our proceeding to the Western part of the empire, except the notice necessary to be taken of Leo the Isaurian, who ordered the statues in the different churches to be broken in pieces, and the paintings which decorated them to be destroyed. Under him Ravenna was left to the Eastern empire, and under his predecessors Mahomet appeared; and in his successors originated the Saracenic architecture described in a previous section. It was under Justin, in 571, that the prophet, as he is called, was born, and was in 632 succeeded by Abubekr. 273. We now return to the empire in the West, whose ruin, in 476, drew after it that of the arts, which had grievously degenerated since the fourth century, at which period their decadence was strongly marked. But we must digress a little by supplying a chasm in the history of our art relative to the ancient basilicae of Rome, the undoubted types of the comparatively modern cathedrals of Europe; and within the city of Rome we shall find ample materials for tracing the origin whereof we speak. 274. The severe laws against the Christians which Severus had passed expired with his authority, and the persecuted race, between A. p. 211 and 249, enjoyed a calm, during which they had been permitted to erect and consecrate convenient edifices for the purposes of religious worship, and to purchase lands even at Rome for the use of the community. Under Dioclesian, however, in many places the churches were demolished, though in some situations they were only shut up. This emperor, as if desirous of committing to other hands the work of persecution he had planned by his edicts, no sooner published them, than he divested himself, by abdication, of the imperial purple. 275. Under Constantine, in the beginning of the fourth century, the Christians began again to breathe; and though that emperor's religion, even to the period of his death, is involved in some doubt, it is certain that his opinion, as far as we can judge from his acts, was much inclined towards Christianity. Out of the seven principal churches, or basilicae, of Rome, namely, Sta. Croce di Gierusalemme, S. Giovanni Laterano, S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura, S. Paolo, S. Pietro, S. Sebastiano, and Sta. Maria Maggiore, all but the last were founded by Constantine himself. The ancient basilica, which derived its name from Barixevs (a king), and ouros (a house), was that part of the palace wherein justice was administered to the people. The building for this purpose retained its name long after the extinction of the kingly office, and was in use with the Romans as well as the Grecians. Vitruvius does not, however, give us any specific difference between those erected by one or the other of those people. In lib. v. c. 1. he gives us the details of its form and arrangement, for which the reader is referred to his work. The name of basilica was afterwards transferred to the first buildings for Christian worship; not because, as some have supposed, the first Christian emperors used the ancient basilica for the celebration of their religious rites, but more probably with reference to the idea of sovereignty which the religion exercised, though we do not assert that such conclusion is to be necessarily drawn. There can be no doubt that the most ancient Christian basilicae were expressly constructed for the purpose of religion, and their architectural details clearly point to the epoch in which they were erected. These new temples of religion borrowed, nevertheless, as well in their whole as in their details, so much from the ancient basilicae, that it is not surprising they should have retained their name. We here place before the reader (fig. 141.) a plan of
the ancient basilica of S. Paolo fuori le Mură, and (fig. 142.) an interior view of it, whereby
its general effect may be better understood. The latter shows how admirably it was adapted to the reception of an extremely numerous congregation. The numberless columns which the ancient buildings readily supplied were put in requisition for constructing these basilicae, whereof, adopting the buildings of the same name as the type, they proportioned the elevation to the extent of the plans, and, in some cases, decorated them with the richest ornaments. Instead of always connecting the columns together by architraves on their summit, which might not be at hand, arches were spanned from one to the other, on which walls were carried up to bear the roofing. Though the practice of vaulting large areas did not appear till a considerable time after the building of the first Christian basilicae, it must be recollected that the Temple of Peace at Rome had previously exhibited a specimen of the profound knowledge of the Romans in the practice of vaulting: in that example, groined vaults of very large dimensions were borne on entablatures and columns. Nor does this knowledge appear to have been lost in almost the last stage of decline of Roman architecture under the emperor Dioclesian. In the baths of this emperor are to be seen not only groined vaults in three divisions, whose span is nearly 70 ft., but at the back of each springer a buttress, precisely of the nature of a flying buttress, is contrived to counteract the thrusts of the vaulting. 276. In recording the annihilation of the arts on the invasion of Odoacer, at the end of the fifth and during the course of the sixth century, historians have imputed it to the Gothic nations, qualifying by this name the barbarous style which then degraded the productions of the arts. Correct they are as to the epoch of their ruin, which coincided truly enough with the empire of the Goths; but to this nation they are unjust in attributing the introduction of a barbarous style. 277. History informs us, that as soon as the princes of the Goths and Ostrogoths had fixed themselves in Italy, they displayed the greatest anxiety to make the arts again flourish, and but for a number of adverse circumstances they would have succeeded. Indeed, the people whom the Romans designated as barbarous, were inhabitants of the countries to the north and east of Italy, who actually acquired that dominion and power which the others lost. Instructed at first by their defeats, they ultimately acquired the arts of those who originally conquered them. Thus the Gauls, the Germans, the Pannonians, and Illyrians, had, from their submission to the Roman people, acquired quite as great a love for the arts as the Romans themselves. For instance, at Nismes, the birthplace of Antoninus Pius, the arts were in a state of high cultivation; in short, there were schools as good out of as in Italy itself. 78. Odoacer, son of Edicon, the chief of a Gothic tribe, after obtaining possession of Rome in 476, preserved Italy from invasion for six years; and there is little doubt that one of his objects was the preservation of the arts. He was, however, stabbed by the hand, or at least the command, of his rival and successor, Theodoric, in 493. Theodoric, the son of Theodemir, had been educated at Constantinople, and though personally he neglected the cultivation of science and art, he was very far from insensible to the advantages they conferred on a country. From the Alps to the extremity of Calabria, the right of conquest had placed Theodoric on the throne. As respects what he did for the arts, no better record of his fame could exist than the volume of public Epistles composed by Cassiodorus, in the royal name. “The reputation of Theodoric,” says Gibbon, “may repose with confidence on the visible peace and prosperity of a reign of thirty-three years; the unanimous esteem of his own times, and the memory of his wisdom and courage, his justice and humanity, which was deeply impressed on the minds of the Goths and Italians.” The residence of Theodoric was at Ravenna chiefly, occasionally at Verona; but in the seventh year of his reign he visited the capital of the Old World, where, during a residence of six months, he proved that one at least of the Gothic kings was anxious to preserve the monuments of the nations he had subdued. Royal edicts were framed to prevent the abuses, neglect, or depredations of the citizens upon works of art; and an architect, the annual sum of two hundred pounds of gold, twenty-five thousand tiles, and the receipt of customs from the Lucrine port, were assigned for the ordinary repairs of the public buildings. Similar care was bestowed on the works of sculpture. Besides the capitals, Pavia, Spoleto, Naples, and the rest of the Italian cities, acquired under his reign the useful or splendid decorations of churches, aqueducts, baths, porticoes, and palaces. His architects were Aloysius for Rome, and Daniel for Ravenna, his instructions to whom manifest his care for the art; and under him Cassiodorus, for fifty-seven years minister of the Ostrogoth kings, was for a long period the tutelary genius of the arts. The death of Theodoric occurred in 526; his mausoleum is still in existence at Ravenna, being now called Sta. Maria della Rotunda. That city contains also the church of St. Apollinaris, which shows that at this period very little, if any, change had been made in the arrangement of large churches on the plan of the basilica. The front of the convent of the Franciscan friars in the same town, which is reputed to be the entrance to the palace, bears considerable resemblance to the Porta Aurea of Dioclesian, at Spalatro. These buildings are all in a heavy debased Roman style, and we are quite at a loss to understand the passage quoted by Tiraboschi, from Cassiodorus, who therein gives a particular description of the very great lightness and elegance of columns; thus—“Quid dicamus columnarum junceam proceritatem? Moles illas sublimissimas fabricarum quasi quibusdam erectis hastilibus contineri et substantiae qualitate concavis canalibus cavatas, ut magis ipsas a stimes fuisse transfusas; alias ceris judices factum, quod metallis durissimis videas expolitum." (Lib. iii. Epist. 29.) We know no examples of the period that bear out these assertions of Cassiodorus; on the contrary, what is known of this period indicates a totally different style. 279. If the successors of Theodoric had succeeded to his talents as well as his throne, and if they had been assisted by ministers like Cassiodorus, the arts and letters of Italy might have recovered; but, after the retirement of that minister, from the succession of Vitiges, towards 538, the arts were completely extinct. In 543–7, Rome was taken and plundered by Totila; and afterwards, in 553, this ill-fated city was again united to the Eastern empire by the talents of Belisarius and Narses. 280. From the year 568 up to the conquest of Italy by Charlemagne, in 774, the country was overrun by the Lombards, a people who quickly attained a high degree of civilization,