Stones of Venice, The, volume 1

XXVII. First group. With the roll at the base (b, Fig. LXIII.). The chain of its succession is represented from 1 to 6, in Plate XV.: 1 and 2 are the steps already gained, as in Fig. LXIII.; and in them the profile of cornice used is a of Plate XV., or a refined condition of b of Fig. V., , above. Now, keeping the same refined profile, substitute the condition of it, f of Fig. V. (and there accounted for), above the roll here, and you have 3, Plate XV. This superadded abacus was instantly felt to be harsh in its projecting angle; but you know what to do with an angle when it is harsh. Use your simplest chamfer on it (a or b, Fig. LIII., page 287, above), but on the visible side only, and you have fig. 4, Plate XV. (the top stone being made deeper that you may have room to chamfer it). Now this fig. 4 is the profile of Lombardic and 319 Venetian early capitals and cornices, by tens of thousands; and it continues into the late Venetian Gothic, with this only difference, that as times advances, the vertical line at the top of the original cornice begins to slope outwards, and through a series of years rises like the hazel wand in the hand of a diviner:—but how slowly! a stone dial which marches but 45 degrees in three centuries, and through the intermediate condition 5 arrives at 6, and so stays.

In tracing this chain I have kept all the profiles of the same height in order to make the comparison more easy; the depth chosen is about intermediate between that which is customary in cornices on the one hand, which are often a little shorter, and capitals on the other, which are often a little deeper.87 And it is to be noted that the profiles 5 and 6 establish themselves in capitals chiefly, while 4 is retained in cornices to the latest times.

Fig. LXIV.

XXVIII. Second group (c, Fig. LXIII.). If the lower angle, which was quickly felt to be hard, be rounded off, we have the form a, Fig. LXIV. The front of the curved line is then decorated, as we have seen; and the termination of the decorated surface marked by an incision, as in an ordinary chamfer, as at b here. This I believe to have been the simple origin of most of the Venetian ogee 320 cornices; but they are farther complicated by the curves given to the leafage which flows over them. In the ordinary Greek cornices, and in a and d of Plate XVI., the decoration is incised from the outside profile, without any suggestion of an interior surface of a different contour. But in the leaf cornices which follow, the decoration is represented as overlaid on one of the early profiles, and has another outside contour of its own; which is, indeed, the true profile of the cornice, but beneath which, more or less, the simpler profile is seen or suggested, which terminates all the incisions of the chisel. This under profile will often be found to be some condition of the type a or b, Fig. LXIV.; and the leaf profile to be another ogee with its fullest curve up instead of down, lapping over the cornice edge above, so that the entire profile might be considered as made up of two ogee curves laid, like packed herrings, head to tail. Figures 8 and 9 of Plate XV. exemplify this arrangement. Fig. 7 is a heavier contour, doubtless composed in the same manner, but of which I had not marked the innermost profile, and which I have given here only to complete the series which, from 7 to 12 inclusive, exemplifies the gradual restriction of the leaf outline, from its boldest projection in the cornice to its most modest service in the capital. This change, however, is not one which indicates difference of age, but merely of office and position: the cornice 7 is from the tomb of the Doge Andrea Dandolo (1350) in St. Mark’s, 8 from a canopy over a door of about the same period, 9 from the tomb of the Dogaressa Agnese Venier (1411), 10 from that of Pietro Cornaro (1361),88 and 11 from that of Andrea Morosini (1347), all in the church of San Giov. and Paola, all these being cornice profiles; and, finally, 12 from a capital of the Ducal Palace, of fourteen century work.

XXIX. Now the reader will doubtless notice that in the three examples, 10 to 12, the leaf has a different contour from that of 7, 8, or 9. This difference is peculiarly significant. I 321 have always desired that the reader should theoretically consider the capital as a concentration of the cornice; but in practice it often happens that the cornice is, on the contrary, an unrolled capital; and one of the richest early forms of the Byzantine cornice (not given in Plate XV., because its separate character and importance require examination apart) is nothing more than an unrolled continuation of the lower range of acanthus leaves on the Corinthian capital. From this cornice others appear to have been derived, like e in Plate XVI., in which the acanthus outline has become confused with that of the honeysuckle, and the rosette of the centre of the Corinthian capital introduced between them; and thus their forms approach more and more to those derived from the cornice itself. Now if the leaf has the contour of 10, 11, or 12, Plate XV., the profile is either actually of a capital, or of a cornice derived from a capital; while, if the leaf have the contour of 7 or 8, the profile is either actually of a cornice or of a capital derived from a cornice. Where the Byzantines use the acanthus, the Lombards use the Persepolitan water-leaf; but the connection of the cornices and capitals is exactly the same.

XXX. Thus far, however, we have considered the characters of profile which are common to the cornice and capital both. We have now to note what farther decorative features or peculiarities belong to the capital itself, or result from the theoretical gathering of the one into the other.

Look back to Fig. XXII., . The five types there given, represented the five different methods of concentration of the root of cornices, a of Fig. V. Now, as many profiles of cornices as were developed in Plate XV. from this cornice root, there represented by the dotted slope, so many may be applied to each of the five types in Fig. XXII.,—applied simply in a and b, but with farther modifications, necessitated by their truncations or spurs, in c, d, and e.

Then, these cornice profiles having been so applied in such length and slope as is proper for capitals, the farther condition comes into effect described in Chapter IX. XXIV., and any one of the cornices in Plate XV. may become the abacus of a 322 capital formed out of any other, or out of itself. The infinity of forms thus resultant cannot, as may well be supposed, be exhibited or catalogued in the space at present permitted to us: but the reader, once master of the principle, will easily be able to investigate for himself the syntax of all examples that may occur to him, and I shall only here, as a kind of exercise, put before him a few of those which he will meet with most frequently in his Venetian inquiries, or which illustrate points, not hitherto touched upon, in the disposition of the abacus.

XXXI. In Plate XVII. the capital at the top, on the left hand, is the rudest possible gathering of the plain Christian Doric cornice, d of Plate XV. The shaft is octagonal, and the capital is not cut to fit it, but is square at the base; and the curve of its profile projects on two of its sides more than on the other two, so as to make the abacus oblong, in order to carry an oblong mass of brickwork, dividing one of the upper lights of a Lombard campanile at Milan. The awkward stretching of the brickwork, to do what the capital ought to have done, is very remarkable. There is here no second superimposed abacus.

XXXII. The figure on the right hand, at the top, shows the simple but perfect fulfilment of all the requirements in which the first example fails. The mass of brickwork to be carried is exactly the same in size and shape; but instead of being trusted to a single shaft, it has two of smaller area (compare Chap. VIII., XIII.), and all the expansion necessary is now gracefully attained by their united capitals, hewn out of one stone. Take the section of these capitals through their angle, and nothing can be simpler or purer; it is composed of 2, in Plate XV., used for the capital itself, with c of Fig. LXIII. used for the abacus; the reader could hardly have a neater little bit of syntax for a first lesson. If the section be taken through the side of the bell, the capital profile is the root of cornices, a of Fig. V., with the added roll. This capital is somewhat remarkable in having its sides perfectly straight, some slight curvature being usual on so bold a scale; but it is all the better as a first example, the method of reduction being 323 of order d, in Fig. XXII., , and with a concave cut, as in Fig. XXI., . These two capitals are from the cloister of the duomo of Verona.

Fig. LXV.

XXXIII. The lowermost figure in Plate XVII. represents an exquisitely finished example of the same type, from St. Zeno of Verona. Above, at 2, in Plate II., the plan of the shafts was given, but I inadvertently reversed their position: in comparing that plan with Plate XVII., Plate II. must be held upside down. The capitals, with the band connecting them, are all cut out of one block; their profile is an adaptation of 4 of Plate XV., with a plain headstone superimposed. This method of reduction is that of order d in Fig. XXII., but the peculiarity of treatment of their truncation is highly interesting. Fig. LXV. represents the plans of the capitals at the base, the shaded parts being the bells: the open line, the roll with its connecting band. The bell of the one, it will be seen, is the exact reverse of that of the other: the angle truncations are, in both, curved horizontally as well as uprightly; but their curve is convex in the one, and in the other concave. Plate XVII. will show the effect of both, with the farther incisions, to the same depth, on the flank of the one with the concave truncation, which join with the rest of its singularly bold and keen execution in giving the impression 324 of its rather having been cloven into its form by the sweeps of a sword, than by the dull travail of a chisel. Its workman was proud of it, as well he might be: he has written his name upon its front (I would that more of his fellows had been as kindly vain), and the goodly stone proclaims for ever, ADAMINUS DE SANCTO GIORGIO ME FECIT.

XXXIV. The reader will easily understand that the gracefulness of this kind of truncation, as he sees it in Plate XVII., soon suggested the idea of reducing it to a vegetable outline, and laying four healing leaves, as it were, upon the wounds which the sword had made. These four leaves, on the truncations of the capital, correspond to the four leaves which we saw, in like manner, extend themselves over the spurs of the base, and, as they increase in delicacy of execution, form one of the most lovely groups of capitals which the Gothic workmen ever invented; represented by two perfect types in the capitals of the Piazzetta columns of Venice. But this pure group is an isolated one; it remains in the first simplicity of its conception far into the thirteenth century, while around it rise up a crowd of other forms, imitative of the old Corinthian, and in which other and younger leaves spring up in luxuriant growth among the primal four. The varieties of their grouping we shall enumerate hereafter: one general characteristic of them all must be noted here.

XXXV. The reader has been told repeatedly89 that there are two, and only two, real orders of capitals, originally represented by the Corinthian and the Doric; and distinguished by the concave or convex contours of their bells, as shown by the dotted lines at e, Fig. V., . And hitherto, respecting the capital, we have been exclusively concerned with the methods in which these two families of simple contours have gathered themselves together, and obtained reconciliation to the abacus above, and the shaft below. But the last paragraph introduces us to the surface ornament disposed upon these, in the chiselling of which the characters described above, XXVIII., which 325 are but feebly marked in the cornice, boldly distinguish and divide the families of the capital.

XXXVI. Whatever the nature of the ornament be, it must clearly have relief of some kind, and must present projecting surfaces separated by incisions. But it is a very material question whether the contour, hitherto broadly considered as that of the entire bell, shall be that of the outside of the projecting and relieved ornaments, or of the bottoms of the incisions which divide them; whether, that is to say, we shall first cut out the bell of our capital quite smooth, and then cut farther into it, with incisions, which shall leave ornamental forms in relief, or whether, in originally cutting the contour of the bell, we shall leave projecting bits of stone, which we may afterwards work into the relieved ornament.

XXXVII. Now, look back to Fig. V., . Clearly, if to ornament the already hollowed profile, b, we cut deep incisions into it, we shall so far weaken it at the top, that it will nearly lose all its supporting power. Clearly, also, if to ornament the already bulging profile c we were to leave projecting pieces of stone outside of it, we should nearly destroy all its relation to the original sloping line X, and produce an unseemly and ponderous mass, hardly recognizable as a cornice profile. It is evident, on the other hand, that we can afford to cut into this profile without fear of destroying its strength, and that we can afford to leave projections outside of the other, without fear of destroying its lightness. Such is, accordingly, the natural disposition of the sculpture, and the two great families of capitals are therefore distinguished, not merely by their concave and convex contours, but by the ornamentation being left outside the bell of the one, and cut into the bell of the other; so that, in either case, the ornamental portions will fall between the dotted lines at e, Fig. V., and the pointed oval, or vesica piscis, which is traced by them, may be called the Limit of ornamentation.

XXXVIII. Several distinctions in the quantity and style of the ornament must instantly follow from this great distinction in its position. First, in its quantity. For, observe: since in 326 the Doric profile, c of Fig. V., the contour itself is to be composed of the surface of the ornamentation, this ornamentation must be close and united enough to form, or at least suggest, a continuous surface; it must, therefore, be rich in quantity and close in aggregation; otherwise it will destroy the massy character of the profile it adorns, and approximate it to its opposite, the concave. On the other hand, the ornament left projecting from the concave, must be sparing enough, and dispersed enough, to allow the concave bell to be clearly seen beneath it; otherwise it will choke up the concave profile, and approximate it to its opposite, the convex.

XXXIX. And, secondly, in its style. For, clearly, as the sculptor of the concave profile must leave masses of rough stone prepared for his outer ornament, and cannot finish them at once, but must complete the cutting of the smooth bell beneath first, and then return to the projecting masses (for if he were to finish these latter first, they would assuredly, if delicate or sharp, be broken as he worked on; since, I say, he must work in this foreseeing and predetermined method, he is sure to reduce the system of his ornaments to some definite symmetrical order before he begins); and the habit of conceiving beforehand all that he has to do, will probably render him not only more orderly in its arrangement, but more skilful and accurate in its execution, than if he could finish all as he worked on. On the other hand, the sculptor of the convex profile has its smooth surface laid before him, as a piece of paper on which he can sketch at his pleasure; the incisions he makes in it are like touches of a dark pencil; and he is at liberty to roam over the surface in perfect freedom, with light incisions or with deep; finishing here, suggesting there, or perhaps in places leaving the surface altogether smooth. It is ten to one, therefore, but that, if he yield to the temptation, he becomes irregular in design, and rude in handling; and we shall assuredly find the two families of capitals distinguished, the one by its symmetrical, thoroughly organised, and exquisitely executed ornament, the other by its rambling, confused, and rudely chiselled ornament: But, on the other hand, while 327 we shall often have to admire the disciplined precision of the one, and as often to regret the irregular rudeness of the other, we shall not fail to find balancing qualities in both. The severity of the disciplinarian capital represses the power of the imagination; it gradually degenerates into Formalism; and the indolence which cannot escape from its stern demand of accurate workmanship, seeks refuge in copyism of established forms, and loses itself at last in lifeless mechanism. The license of the other, though often abused, permits full exercise to the imagination: the mind of the sculptor, unshackled by the niceties of chiselling, wanders over its orbed field in endless fantasy; and, when generous as well as powerful, repays the liberty which has been granted to it with interest, by developing through the utmost wildness and fulness of its thoughts, an order as much more noble than the mechanical symmetry of the opponent school, as the domain which it regulates is vaster.


XL. And now the reader shall judge whether I had not reason to cast aside the so-called Five orders of the Renaissance architects, with their volutes and fillets, and to tell him that there were only two real orders, and that there could never be more.90 For we now find that these two great and real orders are representative of the two great influences which must for ever divide the heart of man: the one of Lawful Discipline, with its perfection and order, but its danger of degeneracy into Formalism; the other of Lawful Freedom, with its vigor and variety, but its danger of degeneracy into Licentiousness.

XLI. I shall not attempt to give any illustrations here of the most elaborate developments of either order; they will be better given on a larger scale: but the examples in Plate XVII. and XVIII. represent the two methods of ornament in their earliest appliance. The two lower capitals in Plate XVII. are a pure type of the concave school; the two in the centre of Plate XVIII., of the convex. At the top of Plate XVIII. are two Lombardic capitals; that on the left from Sta. Sofia at Padua, 328 that on the right from the cortile of St. Ambrogio at Milan. They both have the concave angle truncation; but being of date prior to the time when the idea of the concave bell was developed, they are otherwise left square, and decorated with the surface ornament characteristic of the convex school. The relation of the designs to each other is interesting; the cross being prominent in the centre of each, but more richly relieved in that from St. Ambrogio. The two beneath are from the southern portico of St. Mark’s; the shafts having been of different lengths, and neither, in all probability, originally intended for their present place, they have double abaci, of which the uppermost is the cornice running round the whole fa�ade. The zigzagged capital is highly curious, and in its place very effective and beautiful, although one of the exceptions which it was above noticed that we should sometimes find to the law stated in XV. above.

Fig. LXVI.

XLII. The lower capital, which is also of the true convex school, exhibits one of the conditions of the spurred type, e of Fig. XXII., respecting which one or two points must be noticed.

If we were to take up the plan of the simple spur, represented at e in Fig. XXII., , and treat it, with the salvia leaf, as we did the spur of the base, we should have for the head of our capital a plan like Fig. LXVI., which is actually that of one of the capitals of the Fondaco de’ Turchi at Venice; with this only difference, that the intermediate curves between the spurs would have been circular: the reason they are not so, here, is that the decoration, instead of being confined to the spur, is now spread over the whole mass, and contours are therefore given to the intermediate curves which fit them for this ornament; the inside shaded space being the head of the shaft, and the outer, the abacus. The reader has in Fig. LXVI. 329 a characteristic type of the plans of the spurred capitals, generally preferred by the sculptors of the convex school, but treated with infinite variety, the spurs often being cut into animal forms, or the incisions between them multiplied, for richer effect; and in our own Norman capital the type c of Fig. XXII. is variously subdivided by incisions on its slope, approximating in general effect to many conditions of the real spurred type, e, but totally differing from them in principle.


XLIII. The treatment of the spur in the concave school is far more complicated, being borrowed in nearly every case from the original Corinthian. Its plan may be generally represented by Fig. LXVII. The spur itself is carved into a curling tendril or concave leaf, which supports the projecting angle of a four-sided abacus, whose hollow sides fall back behind the bell, and have generally a rosette or other ornament in their centres. The medi�val architects often put another square abacus above all, as represented by the shaded portion of Fig. LXVII., and some massy conditions of this form, elaborately ornamented, are very beautiful; but it is apt to become rigid and effeminate, as assuredly it is in the original Corinthian, which is thoroughly mean and meagre in its upper tendrils and abacus.

XLIV. The lowest capital in Plate XVIII. is from St. Mark’s, and singular in having double spurs; it is therefore to 330 be compared with the doubly spurred base, also from St Mark’s, in Plate XI. In other respects it is a good example of the union of breadth of mass with subtlety of curvature, which characterises nearly all the spurred capitals of the convex school. Its plan is given in Fig. LXVIII.: the inner shaded circle is the head of the shaft; the white cross, the bottom of the capital, which expands itself into the external shaded portions at the top. Each spur, thus formed, is cut like a ship’s bow, with the Doric profile; the surfaces so obtained are then charged with arborescent ornament.

XLV. I shall not here farther exemplify the conditions of the treatment of the spur, because I am afraid of confusing the reader’s mind, and diminishing the distinctness of his conception of the differences between the two great orders, which it has been my principal object to develope throughout this chapter. If all my readers lived in London, I could at once fix this difference in their minds by a simple, yet somewhat curious illustration. In many parts of the west end of London, as, for instance, at the corners of Belgrave Square, and the north side of Grosvenor Square, the Corinthian capitals of newly-built houses are put into cages of wire. The wire cage is the exact form of the typical capital of the convex school; the Corinthian capital, within, is a finished and highly decorated example of the concave. The space between the cage and capital is the limit of ornamentation.

XLVI. Those of my readers, however, to whom this illustration is inaccessible, must be content with the two profiles, 13 and 14, on Plate XV. If they will glance along the line of sections from 1 to 6, they will see that the profile 13 is their final development, with a superadded cornice for its abacus. It is taken from a capital in a very important ruin of a palace, near the Rialto of Venice, and hereafter to be described; the projection, outside of its principal curve, is the profile of its superadded leaf ornamentation; it may be taken as one of the simplest, yet a perfect type of the concave group.

XLVII. The profile 14 is that of the capital of the main shaft of the northern portico of St. Mark’s, the most finished 331 example I ever met with of the convex family, to which, in spite of the central inward bend of its profile, it is marked as distinctly belonging, by the bold convex curve at its root, springing from the shaft in the line of the Christian Doric cornice, and exactly reversing the structure of the other profile, which rises from the shaft, like a palm leaf from its stem. Farther, in the profile 13, the innermost line is that of the bell; but in the profile 14, the outermost line is that of the bell, and the inner line is the limit of the incisions of the chisel, in undercutting a reticulated veil of ornament, surrounding a flower like a lily; most ingeniously, and, I hope, justly, conjectured by the Marchese Selvatico to have been intended for an imitation of the capitals of the temple of Solomon, which Hiram made, with “nets of checker work, and wreaths of chain work for the chapiters that were on the top of the pillars ... and the chapiters that were upon the top of the pillars were of lily work in the porch.” (1 Kings, vii. 17, 19.)

XLVIII. On this exquisite capital there is imposed an abacus of the profile with which we began our investigation long ago, the profile a of Fig. V. This abacus is formed by the cornice already given, a, of Plate XVI.: and therefore we have, in this lovely Venetian capital, the summary of the results of our investigation, from its beginning to its close: the type of the first cornice; the decoration of it, in its emergence from the classical models; the gathering into the capital; the superimposition of the secondary cornice, and the refinement of the bell of the capital by triple curvature in the two limits of chiselling. I cannot express the exquisite refinements of the curves on the small scale of Plate XV.; I will give them more accurately in a larger engraving; but the scale on which they are here given will not prevent the reader from perceiving, and let him note it thoughtfully, that the outer curve of the noble capital is the one which was our first example of associated curves; that I have had no need, throughout the whole of our inquiry, to refer to any other ornamental line than the three which I at first chose, the simplest of those 332 which Nature set by chance before me; and that this lily, of the delicate Venetian marble, has but been wrought, by the highest human art, into the same line which the clouds disclose, when they break from the rough rocks of the flank of the Matterhorn.

84 In very early Doric it was an absolute right line; and that capital is therefore derived from the pure cornice root, represented by the dotted line.

85 The word banded is used by Professor Willis in a different sense; which I would respect, by applying it in his sense always to the Impost, and in mine to the capital itself. (This note is not for the general reader, who need not trouble himself about the matter.)

86 The Renaissance period being one of return to formalism on the one side, of utter licentiousness on the other, so that sometimes, as here, I have to declare its lifelessness, at other times (Chap. XXV., XVII.) its lasciviousness. There is, of course, no contradiction in this: but the reader might well ask how I knew the change from the base 11 to the base 12, in Plate XII., to be one from temperance to luxury; and from the cornice f to the cornice g, in Plate XVI., to be one from formalism to vitality. I know it, both by certain internal evidences, on which I shall have to dwell at length hereafter, and by the context of the works of the time. But the outward signs might in both ornaments be the same, distinguishable only as signs of opposite tendencies by the event of both. The blush of shame cannot always be told from the blush of indignation.

87 The reader must always remember that a cornice, in becoming a capital, must, if not originally bold and deep, have depth added to its profile, in order to reach the just proportion of the lower member of the shaft head; and that therefore the small Greek egg cornices are utterly incapable of becoming capitals till they have totally changed their form and depth. The Renaissance architects, who never obtained hold of a right principle but they made it worse than a wrong one by misapplication, caught the idea of turning the cornice into a capital, but did not comprehend the necessity of the accompanying change of depth. Hence we have pilaster heads formed of small egg cornices, and that meanest of all mean heads of shafts, the coarse Roman Doric profile chopped into a small egg and arrow moulding, both which may be seen disfiguring half the buildings in London.

88 I have taken these dates roughly from Selvatico; their absolute accuracy to within a year or two, is here of no importance.

89 Chap. I. XIX., Appendix 7: and Chap. VI. V.

90 Chap. I., XIX.


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