American Egyptomania Search

Essay on the Metaphysics of Architecture

The Architectural Magazine and Journal, Volume III (1836)

Browse scholarship by topic:

Art & Architecture


Metaphysics of Architecture.

the beautiful, yet it is, from the largeness of its parts, capable of the highest degree of sublimity.

Grandeur in architecture is produced by the union of the beautiful and the sublime. From this will be apprehended, at once, the various capabilities of the styles already mentioned to produce such effect. The Gothic is little capable of grandeur of effect, from its possessing in so small a degree the attributes of the sublime. The Grecian is capable of it in the highest degree, from being capable of the most exquisite beauty, and the highest sublimity; and the Egyptian is capable of it in a much less degree, from its comparative deficiency in the elements of beauty.

Magnificence is only a higher degree of grandeur; for, as grandeur is the union of beauty and sublimity, so is magnificence ; only, to produce it, beauty must become more beautiful, must be highly enriched with appropriate ornament, must be luxuriant in grace, and possessed of the highest finish of execution.

Having now spoken, as briefly as I think consistent with a short essay on architecture, of the constituents of its beauty, sublimity, grandeur, and magnificence, and of the capabilities of various styles to produce these effects, it now remains to be shown how they are to be produced in whole streets and cities, to as perfect a degree as in single buildings : and this may be shown very briefly. It will be remembered, that, at the beginning of this essay, I gave it as my opinion, that architecture was an art less understood, and worse practised, than any other; and that I referred for corroboration to our great cities, towns, and public buildings. Of the last I shall now say nothing, as I think that what has been already stated, if properly applied, will show how far the generality of them fall short of what they ought to be. Neither is it necessary, after what I have before mentioned, that I should dilate on the particular buildings of our cities and towns; therefore, I shall proceed at once to speak of their streets. Here, in one street, we find the houses each in a different style; some high, some low, some projecting, some retreating. Every thing is in the " most admired disorder;" and the effect of the whole is confusion worse confused. It is true that' there are some, yea, many, streets which produce a much more harmonious effect : some which, in comparison, may even be called beautiful. Yet, to balance this, there are others, and their number is very great in comparison with the rest, the effect of which is even worse than that which I have mentioned ; and, if we take a more extended view of a city or town, we shall see nothing but confusion, and a total want of harmony and beauty. The effect of almost all is that of a mass of, indifferent or ugly buildings, jumbled together in any way that chance might direct. But let us take a view of Rome, or of any of the cities of Greece, as they are exhibited to us in pictures, either in ruins, or with their grandeur restored. How magnificent do they seem 1 We feel elevated as though we listened to some sublime and harmonious music. And what is the cause of this effect? Not the touches of the artist who represents them; for it is felt even in representations which fall short of the reality; and representations of our own cities, even when set off by all the powers of the artist, will not produce such an effect. Then what is the cause of such difference ? It is easily discovered. The buildings of Greece and Rome are all in one style, and, therefore, they harmonise with each other. That style possesses in itself all the attributes of the beautiful and sublime; and, there-fore, when correctly practised, its whole effect is that of magnificence itself.

Yet some of our architects are continually employing the Grecian and Roman orders in their structures; and they copy most exactly their pro-portions as observed in the various temples. They can show you that what they have done is taken, to a nicety, from the Temple of Jupiter Stator, or Minerva Polias, or some other temple. Then why is it that we see not the effect produced by their works, that we see produced by those celebrated structures? A child might tell the cause, did he know the circumstances. They copy columns and their entablature to make a portico, which they will

Page 4