Stuart and Revett nevertheless came to the same conclusion with their view that the Athenians attained the highest excellence in sculpture and architecture, while the Romans never quite equaled their accomplishments.
The ruined Edifices of Rome have for many years engaged the attention of those, who apply themselves to the study of Architecture; and have generally been considered, as the Models and Standard of regular and ornamental Building. Many representations of them drawn and engraved by skilful Artists have been published, by which means the Study of the Art has been every where greatly facilitated, and the general practice of it improved and promoted. Insomuch that what is now esteemed the most elegant manner of decorating Buildings, was originally formed, and has been since established on Examples, which the Antiquities of Rome have furnished.
But altho' the World is enriched with Collections of this sort already published, we thought it would be a Work not unacceptable to the lovers of Architecture, if we added to those Collections, some Examples drawn from the Antiquities of Greece; and we were confirmed in our opinion by this consideration principally, that as Greece was the great Mistress of the Arts, and Rome, in this respect, no more than her disciple, it may be presumed, all the most admired Buildings which adorned that imperial City, were but imitations of Grecian Originals.
Hence it seemed probable that if accurate Representations of these Originals were published, the World would be enabled to form, not only more extensive, but juster Ideas than have hitherto been obtained, concerning Architecture, and the state in which it existed during the best ages of antiquity. It even seemed that a performance of this kind might contribute to the improvement of the Art itself, which at present appears to be founded on too partial and too scanty a system of ancient Examples.
For during those Ages of violence and barbarism, which began with the declension, and continued long after the destruction of the Roman Empire, the beautiful Edifices which had been erected in Italy with such great labour and expence, were neglected or destroyed; so that, to use a very common expression, it may truly be said, that Architecture lay for Ages buried in its own ruins; and altho' from these Ruins, it has Phenix-like received a second birth, we may nevertheless conclude, that many of the beauties and elegancies which enhanced its ancient Splendor, are still wanting, and that it has not yet by any means recovered all its former Perfection.
This Conclusion becomes sufficiently obvious, when we consider that the great Artists, by whose industry this noble Art has been revived, were obliged to shape its present Form, after those Ideas only, which the casual remains of Italy suggested to them; and these Remains are so far from furnishing all the materials necessary for a complete Restoration of Architecture in all its parts, that the best collections of them, those published by Palladio and Desgodetz, cannot be said to afford a sufficient variety of Examples for restoring even the three Orders of Columns; for they are deficient in what relates to the Doric and Ionic, the two most ancient of these Orders.
If from what has been said it should appear, that Architecture is reduced and restrained within narrower limits than could be wished, for want of a greater number of ancient Examples than have hither-to been published; it must then be granted, that every such Example of beautiful Form or Proportion, wherever it may be found, is a valuable addition to the former Stock; and does, when published, become a material acquisition to the Art.
But of all the Countries, which were embellished by the Ancients with magnificent Buildings, Greece appears principally to merit our Attention; since, ifwe believe the Ancients themselves, the most beautiful Orders and Dispositions of Columns were invented in that Country, and the most celebrated Works of Architecture were erected there: to which may be added that the most excellent Treatises on the Art appear to have been written by Grecian Architects.
The City of Greece most renowned for stately Edifices, for the Genius of its Inhabitants, and for the culture of every Art, was Athens. We therefore resolved to examine that Spot rather than any other; flattering ourselves, that the remains we might find there, would excel in true Taste and Elegance every thing hitherto published. How far indeed these Expectations have been answered, must now be submitted to the opinion of the Public.
Yet since the Authorities and Reasons, which engaged us to conceive so highly of the Athenian Buildings, may serve likewise to guard them, in some measure, from the over-hasty opinions and un-unadvised censures of the Inconsiderate; it may not be amiss to produce some of them in this place. And we the rather wish to say something a little more at large on this subject, as it will be at the same time an apology for ourselves, and perhaps the best justification of our undertaking.
After the defeat of Xerxes, the Grecians, secure from Invaders and in full possession of their Liberty, arrived at the height of their Prosperity. It was then, they applied themselves with the greatest assiduity and success to the culture of the Arts. They maintained their Independency and their Power for a considerable space of time, and distinguished themselves by a pre-eminence and universality of Genius, unknown to other Ages and Nations.
During this happy period, their most renowned Artists were produced. Sculpture and Architecture attained their highest degree of excellence at Athens in the time of Pericles, when Phidias distinguished himself with such superior ability, that his works were considered as wonders by the Ancients, so long as any knowledge or taste remained among them. His Statue of Jupiter Olympius we are told was never equalled; and it was under his inspection that many of the most celebrated Buildings of Athens were erected. Several Artists of most distinguished talents were his contemporaries, among whom we may reckon Callimachus an Athenian, the inventor of the Corinthian Capital. After this, a succession of excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects appeared, and these Arts continued in Greece, at their highest perfection, till after the death of Alexander the Great.
Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, it should be observed, remained all that time in a very rude and imperfect State among the Italians.
But when the Romans had subdued Greece, they soon become enamored of these delightful Arts. They adorned their City with Statues and Pictures, the Spoils of that conquered Country; and, adopting the Grecian Style of Architecture, they now first began to erect Buildings of great Elegance and Magnificence. They seem not however to have equalled the Originals from whence they had borrowed their Taste, either for purity of Design, or delicacy of Execution.
For altho' these Roman Edifices were most probably designed and executed by Grecians, as Rome never produced many extraordinary Artists of her own, yet Greece herself was at that time greatly degenerated from her former excellence, and had long ceased to display that superiority of Genius, which distinguished her in the Age of Pericles and of Alexander. To this a long series of Misfortunes had reduced her, for having been oppressed by the Macedonians first, and afterwards subdued by the Romans, with the loss of her Liberty, that love of Glory likewise, and that sublimity of Spirit which had animated her Artists, as well as her Warriors, her Statesmen, and her Philosophers, and which had formed her peculiar Character, were now extinguished, and all her exquisite Arts languished and were near expiring.
They were indeed at length assiduously cherished and cultivated at Rome. That City being now Mistress of the World, and possessed of unbounded Wealth and Power, became ambitious also of the utmost embellishments which these Arts could bestow. They could not however, tho' assisted by Roman Munificence, reascend to that height of Perfection, which they had attained in Greece during the happy period we have already mentioned. And it is particularly remarkable, that when the Roman Authors themselves, celebrate any exquisite production of Art; it is the work of Phidias, Praxiteles, Myron, Lysippus, Zeuxis, Apelles, or in brief of some Artist, who adorned that happy Period; and not of those, who had worked at Rome, or had lived nearer to their own times than the Age of Alexander.
It seemed therefore evident that Greece is the Place where the most beautiful Edifices were erected, and where the purest and most elegant Examples of ancient Architecture are to be discovered.
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