Stones of Venice, The, volume 1



I. We have now examined the treatment and specific kinds of ornament at our command. We have lastly to note the fittest places for their disposal. Not but that all kinds of ornament are used in all places; but there are some parts of the building, which, without ornament, are more painful than others, and some which wear ornament more gracefully than others; so that, although an able architect will always be finding out some new and unexpected modes of decoration, and fitting his ornament into wonderful places where it is least expected, there are, nevertheless, one or two general laws which may be noted respecting every one of the parts of a building, laws not (except a few) imperative like those of construction, but yet generally expedient, and good to be understood, if it were only that we might enjoy the brilliant methods in which they are sometimes broken. I shall note, however, only a few of the simplest; to trace them into their ramifications, and class in due order the known or possible methods of decoration for each part of a building, would alone require a large volume, and be, I think, a somewhat useless work; for there is often a high pleasure in the very unexpectedness of the ornament, which would be destroyed by too elaborate an arrangement of its kinds.

II. I think that the reader must, by this time, so thoroughly understand the connection of the parts of a building, that I may class together, in treating of decoration, several parts which I kept separate in speaking of construction. Thus I shall put under one head (A) the base of the wall and of the shaft; then (B) the wall veil and shaft itself; then (C) the 260 cornice and capital; then (D) the jamb and archivolt, including the arches both over shafts and apertures, and the jambs of apertures, which are closely connected with their archivolts; finally (E) the roof, including the real roof, and the minor roofs or gables of pinnacles and arches. I think, under these divisions, all may be arranged which is necessary to be generally stated; for tracery decorations or aperture fillings are but smaller forms of application of the arch, and the cusps are merely smaller spandrils, while buttresses have, as far as I know, no specific ornament. The best are those which have least; and the little they have resolves itself into pinnacles, which are common to other portions of the building, or into small shafts, arches, and niches, of still more general applicability. We shall therefore have only five divisions to examine in succession, from foundation to roof.

Fig. LI.

III. But in the decoration of these several parts, certain minor conditions of ornament occur which are of perfectly general application. For instance, whether, in archivolts, jambs, or buttresses, or in square piers, or at the extremity of the entire building, we necessarily have the awkward (moral or architectural) feature, the corner. How to turn a corner gracefully becomes, therefore, a perfectly general question; to be examined without reference to any particular part of the edifice.

IV. Again, the furrows and ridges by which bars of parallel light and shade are obtained, whether these are employed in arches, or jambs, or bases, or cornices, must of necessity present one or more of six forms: square projection, a (Fig. LI.), or square recess, b, sharp projection, c, or sharp recess, d, curved projection, e, or curved recess, f. What odd curves the projection or recess may assume, or how these different 261 conditions may be mixed and run into one another, is not our present business. We note only the six distinct kinds or types.

Now, when these ridges or furrows are on a small scale they often themselves constitute all the ornament required for larger features, and are left smooth cut; but on a very large scale they are apt to become insipid, and they require a sub-ornament of their own, the consideration of which is, of course, in great part, general, and irrespective of the place held by the mouldings in the building itself: which consideration I think we had better undertake first of all.

V. But before we come to particular examination of these minor forms, let us see how far we can simplify it. Look back to Fig. LI., above. There are distinguished in it six forms of moulding. Of these, c is nothing but a small corner; but, for convenience sake, it is better to call it an edge, and to consider its decoration together with that of the member a, which is called a fillet; while e, which I shall call a roll (because I do not choose to assume that it shall be only of the semicircular section here given), is also best considered together with its relative recess, f; and because the shape of a recess is of no great consequence, I shall class all the three recesses together, and we shall thus have only three subjects for separate consideration:—

1. The Angle.

2. The Edge and Fillet.

3. The Roll and Recess.

VI. There are two other general forms which may probably occur to the reader’s mind, namely, the ridge (as of a roof), which is a corner laid on its back, or sloping,—a supine corner, decorated in a very different manner from a stiff upright corner: and the point, which is a concentrated corner, and has wonderfully elaborate decorations all to its insignificant self, finials, and spikes, and I know not what more. But both these conditions are so closely connected with roofs (even the cusp finial being a kind of pendant to a small roof), that I think it 262 better to class them and their ornament under the head of roof decoration, together with the whole tribe of crockets and bosses; so that we shall be here concerned only with the three subjects above distinguished: and, first, the corner or Angle.

VII. The mathematician knows there are many kinds of angles; but the one we have principally to deal with now, is that which the reader may very easily conceive as the corner of a square house, or square anything. It is of course the one of most frequent occurrence; and its treatment, once understood, may, with slight modification, be referred to other corners, sharper or blunter, or with curved sides.

VIII. Evidently the first and roughest idea which would occur to any one who found a corner troublesome, would be to cut it off. This is a very summary and tyrannical proceeding, somewhat barbarous, yet advisable if nothing else can be done: an amputated corner is said to be chamfered. It can, however, evidently be cut off in three ways: 1. with a concave cut, a; 2. with a straight cut, b; 3. with a convex cut, c, Fig. LII.

Fig. LII.

The first two methods, the most violent and summary, have the apparent disadvantage that we get by them,—two corners instead of one; much milder corners, however, and with a different light and shade between them; so that both methods are often very expedient. You may see the straight chamfer (b) on most lamp posts, and pillars at railway stations, it being the easiest to cut: the concave chamfer requires more care, and occurs generally in well-finished but simple architecture—very beautifully in the small arches of the Broletto of Como, Plate V.; and the straight chamfer in architecture of every kind, very constantly in Norman cornices and arches, as in Fig. 2, Plate IV., at Sens.

IX. The third, or convex chamfer, as it is the gentlest mode of treatment, so (as in medicine and morals) it is very generally the best. For while the two other methods produce two corners instead of one, this gentle chamfer does verily get 263 rid of the corner altogether, and substitutes a soft curve in its place.

Fig. LIII.

But it has, in the form above given, this grave disadvantage, that it looks as if the corner had been rubbed or worn off, blunted by time and weather, and in want of sharpening again. A great deal often depends, and in such a case as this, everything depends, on the Voluntariness of the ornament. The work of time is beautiful on surfaces, but not on edges intended to be sharp. Even if we needed them blunt, we should not like them blunt on compulsion; so, to show that the bluntness is our own ordaining, we will put a slight incised line to mark off the rounding, and show that it goes no farther than we choose. We shall thus have the section a, Fig. LIII.; and this mode of turning an angle is one of the very best ever invented. By enlarging and deepening the incision, we get in succession the forms b, c, d; and by describing a small equal arc on each of the sloping lines of these figures, we get e, f, g, h.

X. I do not know whether these mouldings are called by architects chamfers or beads; but I think bead a bad word for a continuous moulding, and the proper sense of the word 264 chamfer is fixed by Spenser as descriptive not merely of truncation, but of trench or furrow:—

“Tho gin you, fond flies, the cold to scorn,

And, crowing in pipes made of green corn,

You thinken to be lords of the year;

But eft when ye count you freed from fear,

Comes the breme winter with chamfred brows,

Full of wrinkles and frosty furrows.”

So I shall call the above mouldings beaded chamfers, when there is any chance of confusion with the plain chamfer, a, or b, of Fig. LII.: and when there is no such chance, I shall use the word chamfer only.

XI. Of those above given, b is the constant chamfer of Venice, and a of Verona: a being the grandest and best, and having a peculiar precision and quaintness of effect about it. I found it twice in Venice, used on the sharp angle, as at a and b, Fig. LIV., a being from the angle of a house on the Rio San Zulian, and b from the windows of the church of San Stefano.

Fig. LIV.

XII. There is, however, evidently another variety of the chamfers, f and g, Fig. LIII., formed by an unbroken curve instead of two curves, as c, Fig. LIV.; and when this, or the chamfer d, Fig. LIII., is large, it is impossible to say whether they have been devised from the incised angle, or from small shafts set in a nook, as at e, Fig. LIV., or in the hollow of the curved chamfer, as d, Fig. LIV. In general, however, the shallow chamfers, a, b, e, and f, Fig. LIII., are peculiar to southern work; and may be assumed to have been derived from the 265 incised angle, while the deep chamfers, c, d, g, h, are characteristic of northern work, and may be partly derived or imitated from the angle shaft; while, with the usual extravagance of the northern architects, they are cut deeper and deeper until we arrive at the condition f, Fig. LIV., which is the favorite chamfer at Bourges and Bayeux, and in other good French work.

I have placed in the Appendix73 a figure belonging to this subject, but which cannot interest the general reader, showing the number of possible chamfers with a roll moulding of given size.

XIII. If we take the plain chamfer, b, of Fig. LII., on a large scale, as at a, Fig. LV., and bead both its edges, cutting away the parts there shaded, we shall have a form much used in richly decorated Gothic, both in England and Italy. It might be more simply described as the chamfer a of Fig. LII., with an incision on each edge; but the part here shaded is often worked into ornamental forms, not being entirely cut away.

Fig. LV.

XIV. Many other mouldings, which at first sight appear very elaborate, are nothing more than a chamfer, with a series of small echoes of it on each side, dying away with a ripple on the surface of the wall, as in b, Fig. LV., from Coutances (observe, here the white part is the solid stone, the shade is cut away).

Chamfers of this kind are used on a small scale and in delicate work: the coarse chamfers are found on all scales: f and g, Fig. LIII., in Venice, form the great angles of almost every Gothic palace; the roll being a foot or a foot and a half round, and treated as a shaft, with a capital and fresh base at every story, while the stones of which it is composed form alternate 266 quoins in the brickwork beyond the chamfer curve. I need hardly say how much nobler this arrangement is than a common quoined angle; it gives a finish to the aspect of the whole pile attainable in no other way. And thus much may serve concerning angle decoration by chamfer.

73 Appendix 23: “Varieties of Chamfer.”


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