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Roman Empire Architecture

Fragment of the Frieze of the Temple of the Sun, Colonna Palace, Rome
Fragment of the Frieze of the Temple of the Sun, Colonna Palace, Rome.

The pilasters from the Villa Medici, Nos. 3 and 4, Plate XXVI., and the fragment, No. 5, are as perfect specimens of Roman ornament as could be found. As specimens of modelling and drawing they have strong claims to be admired, but as ornamental accessories to the architectural features of a building they most certainly, from their excessive relief and elaborate surface treatment, are deficient in the first principle, viz. adaptation to the purpose they have to fill.

Roman Ornaments from Casts in the Crystal Palace
Roman Ornaments from Casts in the Crystal Palace, Plate XXVI.

The amount of design that can be obtained by working out this principle of leaf within leaf and leaf over leaf is very limited; and it was not till this principle of one leaf growing out of another in a continuous line was abandoned for the adoption of a continuous stem throwing off ornaments on either side, that pure conventional ornament received any development. The earliest examples of the change are found in St. Sophia at Constantinople; and we introduce here an example from St. Denis, where, although the swelling at the stem and the turned back leanf at the junction of stem and stem have entirely disappeared, he continuous stem is not yet fully developed, as it appears in the narrow border top and bottom. This principle became very common in the illuminated MSS. of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, and is the foundation of Early English foliage.

From the abbey at St Denis, Paris
From the abbey at St Denis, Paris.

The fragments on Plate XXVII., from the Museo Bresciano, are more elegant than those from the Villa Medici; the leaves are more sharply accentuated and more conventionally treated. The frieze from the Arch of the Goldsmiths is, on the contrary, defective from the opposite cause.

Roman Ornaments from the Museo Bresciano
Roman Ornaments from the Museo Bresciano, Plate XXVII.

We have not thought it necessary to give in this series any of the painted decorations of the Romans, of which remains exist in the Roman baths. We had no reliable materials at command; and, further, they are so similar to those at Pompeii, and show rather what to avoid than what to follow, that we have thought it sufficient to introduce the two subjects from the Forum of Trajan, in which figures terminating in scrolls may be said to be the foundation of that prominent featurer in their painted decorations.









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