Character

Let us consider an object. Our first reaction is, of course, the result of how the object affects us. And what I call character is the effect of the object which makes some kind of impression on us.

To give a building character is to make judicial use of every means of producing no other sensations than those related to the subject. In order to understand what I mean by the character or expected effect of different objects, let us take a look at some of the beauties of nature and we shall see that we are forced to express ourselves in accordance with the effect they have on our senses.

What a charming spectacle delights our eyes! What an agreeable day! How pleasant it is! The image of a good life extends over the whole Earth! Nature is bedecked with the charms of youth and is a work of love! Sweet harmony reigns over all our impressions on such a delightful day; and its charm intensifies the colours and our senses are drunk with their freshness, their delicate nuances, their smooth, rich tones. What a pleasure it is to run our eyes over all these things and how agreeable they are; their adolescent forms have a je ne sais quoi that emphasizes the smooth flowing curves that barely indicate their presence and adds new charms. The beauty of their elegant proportions lends them grace and unites in them all things that have the gift of pleasing us!

But summer comes and forces a change of mood. The glorious light makes us drunk with joy and our sense of wonder has no limits. This pleasure is truly divine! What pure happiness we feel in the bottom of our hearts at this spectacle! What ecstasy! No, we cannot possibly give expression to it!

At this season nature's work is done; everything is the image of perfection; everything has acquired a clearly defined form that is full-blown, accurate and pure. Outlines are clear and distinct; their maturity gives them noble, majestic proportions; their bright, vivid colours have acquired all their brilliance. The earth is decked out with all its riches and lavishes them on our gaze. The depth of the light enhances our impressions; its effects are both vivid and dazzling. All is radiant! The God of day seems to inhabit the earth. Nature is adorned with a multitude of beautiful things and offers us a splendid vista of magnificence.

But autumn has already taken the place of summer and raises our spirits with new pleasures; it is a time of fulfilment; spring had already awakened our desire for it. The earth, still adorned with Flora's dazzling gifts, is now covered with Pomona's treasures. How varied are the images! How gay and smiling! Bacchus and the gentle Goddess of Folly have taken over the earth. The God of mirth, the spirit of our pleasures, makes our hearts drunk with joy! It is as if the Goddess wanted to give pleasure to the God by disguising the earth. Colours are mixed, variegated, mottled. Forms are picturesque and have the appealing attraction of novelty; variety had added to their spice and the play of light and shadow produces countless surprise effects which are all delightful.

But fine days are superseded by the dark winter season. What a sad time! The torch of heaven has disappeared! Darkness is all around us! Hideous winter comes and chills our hearts! It is brought by the weather! Night follows in its wake, unfurls her sombre shades over the earth and spreads darkness everywhere. The shining crystal of the ocean is already tarnished by the blast of the north wind. What remains of the pleasant forest are no more than skeletons and nature is in mourning. The image of the good life has faded to be succeeded by that of death! Everything has lost its brilliance and colour, forms sag, outlines are hard and angular and to our eyes the denuded earth resembles an all-embracing tomb!

Oh, Nature! How true it is that you are the book of books, universal knowledge! No, we can do nothing without you! But although each year you begin again the most interesting and instructing course of study that exists, how few men pay attention to your lessons and know how to benefit from them!

It follows from these remarks occasioned by the seasons of the year that to create something beautiful we must, as in nature, ensure that the general impression given is gentle; colours must be soft and muted, their shades delicate; shapes must be flowing with light, elegant proportions.

The art of making things agreeable stems from Good Taste.

Good Taste is a delicate, aesthetic discernment with regard to objects that arouse our pleasure. It is not enough to simply put before us objects that give us pleasure. It is when we choose among them that our pleasure is aroused and we feel delight in the depths of our being.

Let us concentrate on architecture and we shall see that here Good Taste consists of providing more delicacy than opulence, more subtlety than strength, more elegance than ostentation. Thus it is grace that is indicative of Good Taste.

We have observed that during the summer season the whole of nature is bathed in light which produces the most magnificent effects; that this life-giving light was diffused over an extraordinary multitude of objects all with the most beautiful forms, all shining with the brilliance of the brightest colours, all of them developed to the full; and that the result of this beautiful assembly was a vista of magnificent splendour.

As in nature, the art of giving an impression of grandeur in architecture lies in the disposition of the volumes that form the whole in such a way that there is a great deal of play among them, that their masses have a noble, majestic movement and that they have the fullest possible development. The arrangement should be such that we can absorb at a glance the multiplicity of the separate elements that constitute the whole. The play of light on this arrangement of volumes should produce the most widespread, striking and varied effects that are all multiplied to the maximum. In a large ensemble, the secondary components must be skilfully combined to give the greatest possible opulence to the whole; and it is the auspicious distribution of this opulence that produces splendour and magnificence.

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