from The Ruins of the Most Beautiful Monuments of Greece (1758)
The first visual images of Greek architecture, as we noted above, came not from the expedition of Stuart and Revett but from the efforts of David Le Roy. This son of a royal clockmaker had attended the Royal Academy of Architecture in Paris and in 1750 won the prestigious Prix de Rome, which enabled him to spend five years at the French Academy. Midway through his stay there, he heard of Stuart and Revett's trip to Greece and he applied to the French government for official assistance to make his own trip to Athens and sketch the major monuments. He sailed out of Venice in May 1854 aboard a French navy vessel, and first had to go to Constantinople to receive permission from the Ottoman government. He was only in Athens for a little under three months, but he must have worked exceedingly hard to carry out his task of surveying and sketching the principal classical monuments. By July 1854 he was back in Rome, and the following year he returned to Paris to prepare his publication. At this point, at least as far as the French were concerned, it was now a race to publish Le Roy's book before Stuart and Revett could publish their findings. In Paris Le Roy had the assistance of the noted antiquarian Comte de Caylus, as well as the delineators Jean-Joseph Le Lorrain and Philippe La Bas. The finished volume, with its impressive plates of Greek "ruins," appeared in 1758, to high praise within French artistic circles.
Le Roy did more than simply present his visual impressions; he also sought to place them within a historical context. The book was another salvo in the emerging Greco-Roman controversy, and it was the first to buffer the claim for Greece's artistic superiority with powerful visual evidence. In the following passages, taken from his introductory ''Discourse on the History of Civil Architecture," Le Roy recasts much of classical history by suggesting that the Greeks were the inventors of everything beautiful in classical architecture, and that the Romans were little more than epigones who were incapable of similar inventive spirit. Such a view was also, in effect, an attack on the French academic system and its long reliance on Roman models. The translation of these four passages picks up at the point where Le Roy turns from Egypt to a consideration of Greece.
The first steps made by the Greeks in architecture were so happy that they never deviated from them, and for this they merit perhaps their greatest praise. Too often reflection spoils the simple productions of the first efforts of genius. They designed their huts with such wisdom that they were able to preserve the form even in their most magnificent temples. Their richest entablatures had no other origin than in the arrangement or spacing of the roof joists that they observed on the sides of the huts, and from the width of the joist they formed the module - first serving to give those parts of the building the necessary dimension for solid construction, but later giving these same parts the forms and grandeur that they must have in order to produce a pleasing effect on the eyes.
Columns seem first to have been used not long after the discovery of the module. Here is what we conjecture on their origin. After the first temples built by the Greeks had become too small for the crowds of people who came to the sacrifice there, the architects probably foresaw that if they built the temples larger, the excessive span of the beams supporting the
Julien-David Le Roy (1724—1803), from Les Ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grece [The ruins of the most beautiful monuments of Greece]. Paris: H. L. Guerin and L. F. Delatour, 1758, trans. Harry Francis Mallgrave.
roof would bend or weaken the new monuments. Perhaps, as seems more likely, they did not perceive this problem until the larger temples were built. To resolve this problem, they came up with the solution of cutting trunks of trees, arranging them vertically and at equal intervals along the length of the temple. Each column supported at its center the lateral joists and thus relieved the entire structure.
The first rules of proportion were established by the Athenians who crossed over into Asia Minor under the lead of Ion, son of Xuthus. After their conquests they built several temples to the gods. In general they imitated those that they had seen among the Dorians, and for this reason they called them Doric. But then they introduced a refinement: the idea of making the columns resembled the force and beauty of a man's body, which they determined to be six diameters. This first step was without doubt the greatest discovery that has been made in the decorative regard of architecture, and it was the foundation and the basis of all the other discoveries of this type.
After imitating the proportions of the body of a man in the massive proportions of the columns in some of their temples, the Ionians in other buildings easily changed to lighter columns in imitation of the more elegant proportions of the female body. They named this new order Ionic, because they themselves were the inventors. They enriched the columns with bases, and even imitated the women's coiffure in ornamenting the capital. But what served again to distinguish it from the Doric was the novel form that they gave to its entablature. Whereas the Doric was decorated with triglyphs, they simplified the frieze of this order and replaced the wide mutules of the Doric with small dentils. With these last two discoveries they opened a vast field for new reflections and advanced at a rapid pace toward perfection.
Freed from Doric severity, which by placing the columns directly under the triglyphs makes the intercolumniations either too large or too narrow, they devised a variety of intercolumniations for the Ionic order and determined the proportions of columns and entablatures accordingly. Not wanting to limit themselves to general discoveries for this order, the Greeks looked to the history of their country and replaced columns with caryatides or statues representing the women of Caryates, who were punished by the Greeks for betraying their nation in the war with the Persians. They even investigated the nuances of optics, when they noticed that in a temple with a colonnade, those columns at the corners appear the thinnest because they are most surrounded with air. Thus they slightly enlarged them. For the same reason they lightened the columns of the second row, because they receive less light and therefore appear larger. Finally, they enriched the columns of the Ionic order with different fluting from that of the Doric and added several beautiful ornaments to the moldings of the entablature. [... ]
After these discoveries of the Greeks, they gradually made the two orders more distinct with several beautiful arrangements of temples, and through the different proportions that one must observe in them, it seems that there remained nothing very important to discover in architecture, either with this sort of monument or with regard to the orders. Calimachus, however, in seeing a basket covered with a tile, around which by chance some Acanthus leaves had grown and folded under the angle of the tile, designed the admirable Corinthian capital. But the Greeks, who were only impressed by great things, and who did not accept it as a new order, except for the little enrichment to the capital or the entablature, never regarded the Corinthian order as entirely independent of the other two, and only slightly distinguished it from the Ionic, which in many features it resembled. But they found for it a special character and used it for buildings of the greatest magnificance. Ascending to the most sublime ideas and descending to the most subtle refinements, they fronted Corinthian temples with eight columns, ornamented with the most perfect bas-reliefs and statuary -sculpture always following the progress of architecture. They even acquired an understanding of perspective, whose rules they practiced on the smallest parts of their buildings. On the Doric Temple of Minerva [Parthenon], built by Pericles in Athens, they made the metopes taller than their widths, so that they might appear square at a distance of twice the height of the temple. Eventually the Greeks were able to discover everything in architecture that is beautiful and ingenious, and the Romans, who subjugated them by force of arms, were obliged to recognize the superiority of their intellect. We learn this from the mouths of the Romans.
If the Greeks gave their laws to Italy, they also imposed their arts. Under their first kings the Romans only built monuments in the Tuscan manner, more notable for their size than for their beauty. We do not know if they learned the way of constructing their strong walls directly from the Egyptians, but it seems clear that they took the forms of their temples and the Tuscan order from the Greeks. It is also clear that they found perfection in the arts only when they began to have open trade with the Greeks. In truth, as long as the Republic lasted, the Romans were focused on their plan to make themselves masters of the world, and they never aspired to make admirable things in architecture. Under their emperors, however, they made a great effort to distinguish themselves. They employed the most celebrated Greek architects to build monuments in Rome, Athens, Cyzicus, Palmyra, Baalbec, and in other famous cities of their empire, some of which we still admire for their grandeur and for their beautiful ornaments, although some are too embellished with ornaments. Hadrian prided himself in his great understanding of architecture and distinguished himself above all other emperors by the prodigious number of edifices he built, the chronicle of which he published in the famous Pantheon he built in Athens. He was no less determined to excel than Nero was in music, or Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, in poetry. And just as this last ruler put the poet Philoxenes to death for having criticized his verses, Hadrian had Apollodorus killed for having mocked the Temple of Venus that he had designed. In the end, though, it seems the Romans lacked the creative genius that led the Greeks to so many discoveries. With regard to the orders, they invented nothing of any value. The one invention that they do claim, the Composite order, is only a rather imperfect combination of the Ionic and Corinthian. By increasing the proportions of the columns of the Doric order and multiplying the moldings within its entablature, they perhaps caused it to lose much of the male character that distinguished it in Greece.
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