I think it must be clear, in the light of the foregoing considerations, that the architecture of the Renaissance is an art without consistent principles. We have seen that it assumed a great variety of phases at different times and in different localities ; but that it was never either really classic or structurally truthful. While professing to aim at restoring the " good ancient manner," the neo-classic designers rarely conformed to any ancient standards save, at most, in some details of their compositions. They designed for the mosc part, as we have seen, on a basis of mediaeval forms, and overlaid their structures with a facing of details derived, indeed, from classic sources, but altered, mixed, and misapplied in all manner of unclassic ways. Of true classic art, i.e. Greek art of the best time of Greek culture, they had, as before remarked (p. 4), no knowledge. By the " good ancient manner" they meant the imperial Roman manner. But even this they did not faithfully follow. The wide departure from ancient modes of design so constantly manifested in the neo-classic architecture has not escaped notice by modern writers, who are wont to speak of it as showing that the revivalists were not servile copyists, but inventive designers adapting the ancient elements to new conditions. But there is no justification for this view. As to essential forms of building there were no new conditions to be met. In seeking to change architecture superficially by an application of classic details the neo-classicists erred. They ought to have seen that classic details do not lend themselves to new uses. Their very perfection for classic use unfits them for any other. To distort and misadjust them, as the architects of the Renaissance did, is not to adapt them. There was no true adaptation of classic elements in Renaissance design. Such adaptation involves creative modifications which so transform original elements that to a superficial view they are not recognizable in the resulting forms. The mediaeval architects, through a long series of logical changes, growing out of their remarkable structural evolution, magnificently transformed the classic orders in a creative way. This the neo-classicists failed to perceive, and because the mediaeval details and adjustments did not conform with those of Roman antiquity, they felt justified in calling them barbaric, while it was they themselves who were guilty of architectural barbarism.
The architects of the Renaissance were strangely inconsistent. While in practice constantly violating the principles of classic design, they were in theory ardently advocating these principles; and finding strict canons of proportion laid down in the writings of Vitruvius, they attached, as theorists, great importance to such canons. Thus arose the elaborate systems of rules for the orders embodied in the writings of Vignola, Palladio, and many others.
The influence of these short-sighted and mechanical Italian rules has been great in modern times. The formidable body of architectural dogma, contained in the literature of the Renaissance on this subject, has been so widely accepted as authoritative that modern art has been largely shaped by it. The so-called Palladian style of the seventeenth century was derived mainly from the Italian books, and the more recent teaching has been so implicitly based on the writings of Vignola and Palladio that few architects of academic training have thought of questioning the belief that the formulas of these writers constitute the only true basis of correct design. Yet the fact that these rules are arbitrary, and not in accord with the true principles of ancient art, has occasionally been recognized. Thus in a book of the eighteenth century, devoted in the main to the inculcation of the Palladian doctrines,1 the following remarks occur : " As it was from the works of the antient architects that the several orders were deduced, those who had studied and found their different characters then became desirous of establishing from the same source their proportions. . . . Perceiving consummate beauty in what they saw, they sought to build upon that perfection certain fixed and invariable rules, by the observing of which others might be sure of attaining the same excellence. . . . But when they came to examine more of those works, they found the antients had not confined themselves to any such laws; and therefore that it was impossible to build such rules upon their works. . . . The young student is confused by reading a variety of authors on the subject. Among a number of the best of these each delivers what he esteems to be the most true and perfect proportion, but in each this differs. All have founded their maxims upon something in the antique, but, some having taken in the same order one piece, and some another, these proportions vary extremely ; for the antients so varied in their works. Palladio is understood to be the best and greatest of these authors, we shall therefore deliver his as the general and received proportion in each order; but upon a general review of the several remains in which that order is preserved, we shall add what is the mean or middle proportion of the several parts, calculating from them all. The modern architects too strictly and scrupulously follow these antients ; they did not so closely or servilely copy one another." 1 Such recognition of the difference between the theorists' rules of the orders and the ancient orders themselves is rare in the modern literature of architecture. But the remedy proposed to relieve the student from the confusion arising from the perusal of different authors each of whom " delivers what he esteems to be the most true and perfect proportion" is of little efficacy in practice; for the mean or middle proportion would still impose a fixed rule, and the true artist does not work by rules of any sort. The proportions of a genuine work of art are determined by a sense of proportion that is governed by laws too fine to be formulated, and which no rules can reach. It is his natural sense of proportion, developed by observation and exercise, that more than anything else makes an artist. Prescription may serve in mechanical processes, but not in the production of works of art. We may get Palladian formalism by rules, but no architecture of vital character. A system of proportions that may be good in one case cannot be good in any other, and therefore it is that " the antients " so varied in their works. That rules are useless to an artist the Italian writer Baldinucci, in his book on the proportions of the human figure,2 has well remarked. He says on this point : " It is true that all these proportions, whether in painting or in sculpture, must be subject to the correction of the eye, so that proportions ought to be adopted always with its approval, notwithstanding all fixed rules, seeing that this has been the custom of all the best artists, confirmed by the memorable saying of the great Buonarroti that it is necessary for the master to have the compass in his eye." 1
1 A Complete Body of Architecture, by Isaac Ware, Esq., London, 1768.
1 Op. cit., p. 131.
2 Letlera di Filippo Baldinucci intorno al modo di dar Proporzione alle Figure in I'ittura e Scultura, Leghorn, first published in 1802.
In the light of what we have seen I think it must appear that the claims which have been advanced for the architecture of the Renaissance as the only architecture of correct principles since that of classic antiquity, and as an architecture in comparison with which the Gothic art of the Middle Ages should be considered as the barbarous product of an unenlightened age, are without justification. The mistaken notions of the Italian writers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (labouring under strange misapprehension of the principles of classic art on the one hand, and ignorance of the true Gothic on the other) have been too much inculcated in our own time; and the belief that classic art offers suitable models for modern uses, and that the architecture of the Renaissance embodies classic principles, has been accepted with too little examination of its grounds. A few of the mpst competent modern authors, while in the main disposed, by force of custom, to take a favourable view of the architecture of the Renaissance, have occasionally shown a juster sense of its real character. Thus the recent Italian writer Melani says:2 "We always admire the beautiful productions of the art of the Renaissance, because we are accustomed to value the good wherever it is found; but when we think of the absurdity of this art, and still worse, of the consequences to which it has given rise, we cannot but deplore so much ill-directed energy."
1 Op. cit., p. 10. 8 Architettura Italiana, Milan, 1887, vol. 2, p. 140.