Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia
The buildings of the Ancients are in Architecture, what the works of Nature are with respect to the other Arts; they serve as models which we should imitate, and as standards by which we ought to judge: for this reason, they who aim at eminence, either in the knowledge or in practice of Architecture, find it necessary to view with their own eyes the works of the Ancients which remain, that they may catch from them those ideas of grandeur and beauty, which nothing, perhaps, but such an observation can suggest.
Scarce any monuments now remain of Grecian or of Roman magnificence but public buildings. Temples, amphitheatres, and baths, are the only works which had grandeur and solidity enough to refill the injuries of time, and to defy the violence of barbarians: the private but splendid edifices in which the citizens of Athens and of Rome resided, have all perished; few vestiges remain of those innumerable villas with which Italy was crowded, though in erecting and adorning them the Romans lavished the wealth and spoils of the world. Some accidental allusions in the ancient poets, some occasional descriptions in their historians, convey such ideas of the magnificence, both of their houses in town and of their villas, as astonish an artist of the present age. The more accurate accounts of these buildings, which we find in Vitruvius and Pliny, confirm this idea, and convince us, that the most admired efforts of modern Architecture, are far inferior to these superb works, either in grandeur or in elegance. There is not any misfortune which an Architect is more apt to regret than the destruction of these buildings, nor could any thing more sensibly gratify his curiosity, or improve his taste, than to have an opportunity of viewing the private edifices of the Ancients, and of collecting, from his own observation, such ideas concerning the disposition, the form, the ornaments, and uses of the several apartments, as no description can supply.
This thought often occured to me during my residence in Italy; nor could I help considering my knowledge of Architecture as imperfect, unless I should be able to add the observation of a private edifice of the Ancients to my study of their public works. This led me to form the scheme of visiting the Ruins of the Emperor Diocletian's Palace at Spalatro, in Dalmatia; that favorite building, in which, after refigning the empire, he chose to refide. I knew, from the accounts of former travellers, that the remains of this palace, though tolerably entire, had never been observed with any accuracy, or drawn with any taste; I was no stranger to the passion of that prince for Architecture, which prompted him to build many grand and expensive structures at Rome, Nicomedia, Milan, Palmyra, and other places in his dominions; I had viewed his public baths at Rome, one of the noblest, as well as most entire, of all the ancient buildings, with no less admiration than care; I was convinced, notwithstanding the visible decline of Architecture, as well as of the other arts, before the reign of Diocletian, that his munificence had revived a taste in Architecture superior to that of his own times, and had formed artists capable of imitating, with no inconsiderable success, the style and manner of a purer age. The names and history of those great mailers are now unknown, but their works which remain, merit the highest applause; and the extent and fertility of their genius, seem to have equalled the magnificence of the monarch by whom they were employed. Footnote Diocletian began his reign Anno Domini 284. He resigned the empire in the year 304, and died in the year 313; having spent the last nine years of his life at Split.
Induced by all these circumstances, I undertook my voyage to Dalmatia with the most sanguine hopes, and flattered myself that it would be attended not only with instruction to myself, but might produce entertainment to the public.
Having prevailed on Mr. Clerisseau, a French artist, from whose taste and knowledge of antiquities I was certain of receiving great assistance in the execution of my scheme, to accompany me in this expedition, and having engaged two draughtsmen, of whose skill and accuracy I had long experience, we set sail from Venice on the 15th of July, 1757, and on the 22nd of that month arrived at Split.
This city, though of no great extent, is so happily situated, that it appears, when viewed from the sea, not only picturesque but magnificent. As we entered a grand bay, and sailed slowly towards the harbour, the Marine Wall, and long Arcades of the Palace, one of the ancient Temples, and other parts of that building which was the object of our voyage, presented themselves to our view, and flattered me, from this first prospect, that my labor in visiting it would be amply rewarded.
To these soothing expedations of the pleasure of my task, the certain knowledge of its difficulty soon Succeeded. The inhabitants of Split have destroyed some parts of the palace, in order to procure materials for building; and to this their town owes its name, which is evidently a corruption of Palatium. In other places houses are built upon the old foundations, and modern works are so intermingled with the ancient, as to be scarcely distinguishable: assiduity, however, and repeated observation, enabled me to surmount these difficulties. Attention to such parts of the palace as were entire, conduded me with certainty to the knowledge of those which were more ruinous; and I was proceeding in my work with all the success I could have expected, when I was interrupted by an unforeseen accident.
The Venetian governor of Split, unaccustomed to such visits of curiosity from strangers, began to conceive unfavorable sentiments of my intentions, and to suspect that under pretence of taking views and plans of the Palace, I was really employed in surveying the state of the fortifications. An order from the Senate to allow me to carry on my operations, the promise of which I had procured at Venice, had not yet arrived; and the governor sent an officer commanding me to desist. By good fortune General Grxme, commander in chief of the Venetian forces, happened at that time to be at Split on the service of the State. He interposed on my behalf, with the humanity and zeal natural to a polite man, and to a lover of the Arts, and being warmly seconded by Count Antonio Marcovich, a native of that country, and an officer of rank in the Venetian service, who has applied himself with great success to the study of Antiquities, they prevailed on the governor to withdraw his prohibition, though, by way of precaution, he appointed an officer constantly to attend me. The fear of a second interruption added to my industry, and, by unwearied application during five weeks, we completed, with an accuracy that afforded me great satisfaction, those parts of our work which it was necessary to execute on the spot.
Encouraged by the favorable reception which has been given of late to works of this kind, particularly to the Ruins of Palmyra and Balbec, I now present the fruits of my labor to the public. I am far from comparing my undertaking with that of Messieurs Dawkins, Bouverie, and Wood, one of the most splendid and liberal that was ever attempted by private persons. I was not, like these gentlemen, obliged to traverse deserts, or to expose myself to the insults of barbarians; nor can the remains of a single Palace vie with those surprising and almost unknown monuments of sequestered grandeur which they have brought to light; but at a time when the admiration of the Grecian and Roman Architecture has risen to such a height in Britain, as to banish in a great measure all fantastic and frivolous tastes, and to make it necessary for every Architect to study and to imitate the ancient manner, I flatter myself that this work, executed at considerable expense, the effect of great labor and perseverance, and which contains the only full and accurate Designs that have hitherto been published of any private Edifice of the Ancients, will be received with indulgence, and may, perhaps, be esteemed an acquisition of some importance.