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Greek and Roman Architecture in Classic Drawings
By Hector d'Espouy
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1981 Classical America
All rights reserved.
Hector d'Espouy's Plates as a Guide for Architects and Designers
by JOHN BLATTEAU
I assert that he who has not known the works of the ancients has lived without knowing what beauty is.
TODAY, after a hiatus of fifty years, ornament is once again recognized as essential to architecture. In fact, construction without ornament may be described as mere building.
Ornament lies at the heart of the classical tradition, a common bond linking all great ages of Western architecture down to the American Renaissance (1880–1930). Evolving in Greece and Rome, classical ornament has stamped every great artistic era of Western civilization. In each period the work of the Greeks and, especially, the Romans was adapted directly or reinterpreted. Yet no matter the variety achieved, and the variety is infinite, it all reaches back to the world of the Mediterranean.
The practice of drawing Greek and Roman ornament has a long history. Leon Battista Alberti studied and drew the buildings of ancient Rome as did many architects and nearly all the painters and sculptors from Raphael and Verrocchio down to the Fellows of the American Academy in Rome in the 1930s. And those painters who could not make the trip to Rome often drew from casts of Roman ornament as these were exhibited at museums and art schools. Of all the recordings of this ancient work the most rewarding, because of their uniformly high level of scholarship and beauty of presentation, have been those of the French. As Hector d'Espouy explains in his preface to the original edition of Fragments from Greek and Roman Architecture, published originally under the title Fragments d'architecture antique in two volumes and here translated into English for the first time, the illustrations shown here are the drawings made by the winners of the Grand Prix de Rome while at the Villa Medici, the seat of the Academy of France in Rome. An envoi was required of each prize winner who had to study subjects of ancient architecture during his first three years in Rome. The drawings were forwarded to Paris to be shown to the members of the Académie des Beaux Arts, one of the constituent bodies of the Institut de France, which was responsible for the Rome Academy. After his first three years of study each Rome prize winner was free to take on more ambitious projects. The selection of the drawings published here shows the foundation that each Grand Prix man was laying, not only for his subsequent work in Rome but also for his future architectural commissions.
Although drawings of ancient ornament had been made for generations before the winners of the Grand Prix de Rome descended on the Villa Medici, the young Frenchmen were the first to go about the work systematically. The drawings were limited to, and solidly based on, the carefully studied remains. Further, their presentation in formal academic renderings offers more information than could possibly be supplied even by a large number of photographs. The key to the usefulness and success of the drawings is the adoption of an academic convention of representation. Light is always presumed to come from the upper left to the lower right at an angle of 45 degrees. This allows each object to be read in three dimensions, as the depth of the shadow is equal to the measurement of the projection of the object. Also, within the convention, an elaborate system of values was developed to indicate the relative distance between planes. When details are presented in this way we can not only see the objects in three dimensions but we can also compare one element with another for effects of scale.
Appreciation of the drawings in d'Espouy's Fragments cannot be complete without some explanation of the technique of India ink wash rendering. Extreme discipline is required to produce these finely studied works of art. Even the simplest drawings require painstaking care and preparation before any of the washes are applied. Great skill is needed to do the necessary linework. All of the information must be recorded before tone is even thought about. The drawing is then meticulously transferred in ink to the watercolor paper and the paper mounted on a board. The rendering itself requires infinite care and patience. Each tone is built up through many faint layers of wash so that the ink seems to be in the paper rather than on it. Each surface is graded so that the final effect of the drawing is that of an object in light and space, with a sense of atmosphere surrounding it. I cannot imagine the architect who has not looked with wonder and envy at these drawings.
The composition of each plate, as well as its technique, is worthy of study. There are line drawings of extreme simplicity, such as those by d'Espouy in his restoration of the Temple of Mars the Avenger in Rome (Plate A). His presentation of the Corinthian capital, with an elevation juxtaposed to its section and plans at different levels, makes the structure of this complicated architectural element clear to all. A great variety of the Orders are represented in elegantly rendered form. Edmond Paulin in his restoration of the Theater of Marcellus in Rome (Plate B) presents both the Doric and Ionic Orders with great depth and subtlety. The most elaborate compositions are those plates presented in the form called the "analytique." The term derives from the analytique or "order" problem, the first problem given to architecture students under the Beaux Arts educational system. It has come to stand for a type of drawing with a complex composition, one in which many elements of a design or building are presented together, at different scales and in unusual combination. Blavette's restoration of the Temple of Hercules at Cori (Plate C) is a stunning example of this type of composition. Within the drawing can be found the temple elevation, its plan, and many of its details of ornament all beautifully arranged.
What, it might be asked, had the Grand Prix men to gain in making these very beautiful drawings? They already knew how to draw long before they went to Rome. They were learning to be architects by training their eyes in the use of proportion and in the distribution of light and shade.
They were also producing drawings which are works of art in their own right, and in no small measure this accounts for the fact that so many of these drawings exist today to be rediscovered. Altogether they make an unrivaled corpus of ornament to be used and adapted by the architect and the artist. They serve as inspiration as they show what can be achieved. They serve as models, directly or indirectly. As classical ornament can be made use of again and again, the examples of Greek and Roman work herein are always at hand for comparison and provide a standard by which to measure contemporary efforts. (See Plate D.)
We need only look around to see the influence that books like that of d'Espouy had on American architects prior to the coming of the Modern Movement. Ornament was carried throughout the United States as part of the classical tradition, from Independence Hall to the San Francisco City Hall. It was used prolifically in the American Renaissance where it was part and parcel of railroad stations, skyscrapers, banks, high schools, even early gasoline stations. It is interesting to note that the particular strength of the architecture of the American Renaissance in comparison with the work produced in other countries during the same decades was the American fidelity to classical models. Architects of the American Renaissance were well aware of the dangers of invention and of originality for its own sake, knowing that their inventions would eventually be measured against the models of classical perfection.
The public must involve themselves in questions of value and judgment in architectural design. So long as the public remains ignorant of the importance of ornament, architects can and will continue to freely indulge in fashion. Aided by these drawings of d'Espouy and by seeing the best examples of classical ornament, a knowledgeable public will be better able to influence architecture.
This edition of Hector d'Espouy's Fragments of Greek and Roman Architecture is visually the most exciting in the Classical America Series in Art and Architecture to date. It is an essential instrument for anyone interested in the future of the classical tradition in American Art.CHAPTER 2
Notes on the Life of Hector d'Espouy
by CHRISTIANE SEARS
HECTOR D'ESPOUY was born on May 8, 1854, at Salles-sur-Adour (Hautes Pyrenées) in the old Kingdom of Navarre. His childhood was spent at Cazeres, a charming village near Toulouse where his father was juge de paix or local magistrate. As with many artists, talent revealed itself at an early age. When a boarder at the Jesuit schools of Montauban and Toulouse he drew incessantly. The work consisted of skillful copies of lithographs reproducing old masters, portraits of his parents copied from photographs, and similar efforts.
In those days France was caught up in the restoration of ancient monuments, which had been sparked by Prosper Mérimée and Viollet-le-Duc. We today are horrified by the extent of the damage done in the name of preservation, and with reason, but we who are part of an age which despises ornament are hardly in a position to sneer at a generation which, in stripping ancient buildings of ornament, at least often replaced it with more ornament.
The church of Cazeres was not spared. To execute the restoration, the men built a workshop near the d'Espouy house. The young Hector became fascinated with the work being done and spent all his free time watching the artist of the restoration team mixing his colors, making sketches, executing drawings, and painting. He was enraptured at seeing decorative panels and screens beings made for obscure village churches. One day, in a sudden burst of enthusiasm, he solemnly declared to his father that he wanted to be a painter, that he was determined to be one. As might be imagined, the senior d'Espouy frowned at the suggestion because, to him, a painter was no better than a street singer. However, M. d'Espouy, impressed by his son's determination, came to a decision. If Hector wanted to be an artist, very well. But if he was to be one, why not an architect? And it was decided then and there.
My thanks to the following for their assistance in gathering information about the life and career of Hector d'Espouy: Madame Claudine Billières d'Espouy and Philippe d'Espouy, both of Toulouse; M. Rabier of the Hostellerie du Chateau d'Artigny, the former home of François Coty near Montbazon; the staffs of the Bibliothèque Nationale, the Bibliothèque de l'Institut de France, the Archives Nationales, and the Bibliothèque de l'Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux—Arts, and especially Madamoiselle Guibert of the Bibliothèque du Theatre. National de la Comédie Française.
The young Hector entered the School of Fine Arts of Toulouse as soon as his secondary studies were done. Then to Paris, where he was welcomed in the atelier of Honoré Daumet, one of the three architecture ateliers of the École des Beaux Arts. Daumet assisted Louis Duc with the west extension of the Palais de Justice in Paris and he rebuilt the famous Chateau de Chantilly for the Duc d'Aumale.
D'Espouy did splendidly at the Beaux Arts. In 1884 he won the Premier Grand Prix de Rome, which entitled him to a three years' residence at the French Academy in Rome and one year's travel in a country with classical ruins. He traveled all over Italy drawing and sketching. He executed a reconstruction of the Basilica of Constantine in Rome, which won him praise and, on his return to Paris, a First Medal in the Salon of 1890. He sought his beloved Antiquity in a lengthy voyage through Egypt, Asia Minor, and Greece. "Those noble edifices still appear to me as the highest expression of common sense," he wrote home. "They are of a perfection, of an exquisite simplicity. The more I analyze them, the more I am lost in admiration." He returned from Greece with a study of the Acropolis and the Temple of Athena Nike.
On his return to Paris, although trained as an architect, it was by virtue of his skill in doing murals and in decorating that he obtained commissions. He decorated the Museum of Decorative Arts and the hall of the local stock exchange in Nantes. He designed the asbestos curtain of the Comédie Française. In the Panthéon he did a fresco over the entrance. He decorated the watering establishment at Le Mont Dore in the Auvergne in a style inspired by Pompeii. In Brussels he was the decorator of the Museum of Central Africa; in Lille, that of the office of the newspaper, Echo du Nord. Honoré Daumet, his old master, and Ernest Sanson called on him to decorate the grand salon of the Palais Rose, as it was known. This magnificent mansion, which stood until 1969 on the Avenue Foch, was built for Boni de Castellane whose wife, Anna, was the youngest daughter of the railroad magnate Jay Gould. Her dowry paid for the palace. Conspicuous among his commissions was the decoration of the Chateau d'Artigny at Montbazon near Tours, which was the residence of François Coty, the perfumer.
He executed a mural for the oval dome over the stairwell of the James A. Burden residence at 7 East Ninety-first Street in New York. He obtained this commission through the building's architect, Whitney Warren, who also designed the Grand Central Terminal and the New York Yacht Club.
In 1895 Hector d'Espouy was named Professor of Ornamental Design at the École des Beaux Arts. In 1905 appeared his Fragments d'architecture antique d'après les relevés et restaurations des ancients pensionnaires de l'Académie de France à Rome of which Fragments from Greek and Roman Architecture is an edited version. In 1925 he published Fragments d'architecture du moyen âge et de la renaissance.
Perhaps the best person to evoke an accurate image of the man is his granddaughter. "The recollection of the few years spent near my grandfather," Madame Claudine Billières d'Espouy remembered, "is an inexhaustible source of joy and happiness for me. There was a kind of complicity between us. We, my parents and I, lived in Paris in the same building as my grandparents. The two apartments were on the same landing. Both had balconies overlooking the lovely Luxembourg gardens. The huge studio of my grandfather extended the already vast apartment and there was a constant coming and going of students, models and friends. Hector d'Espouy liked to work surrounded thus cheerfully. Gaiety and humor spread through the house. Physically he was straight and tall, robust, life-loving. Morally he was, above all, an idealist, passionately fond of art, warm, kind, courteous, generous, broad-minded, modest. A charmer and a poet.
"His faults? Sometimes, an outburst of anger, soon forgotten, and a hopeless absent-mindedness. He used to go out for long walks either in Paris or in the country, often with me, a little girl of five or six, and he regularly forgot dinner time.
"An amusing episode comes back to me. It was in Paris, where he used to paint late at night in his atelier. One evening, deep in his work, he completely forgot that he had been invited to dinner by Raymond Poincaré, then President of the Republic. Suddenly, it came back to him, and realizing how late it was, he slipped on his overcoat in a great rush and left hurriedly. At the Elysée, the Presidential Palace, the usher took his coat and my grandfather appeared in his paint-spotted overall on top of his dinner jacket to the great amusement of the President and his guests. This incident made the evening."
It was a happy life and the d'Espouys entertained frequently both in Paris and at Cazeres. His closest associate and friend was his son, Jean, who worked for him. At the outbreak of war his son was called to the colors; he came through the four years of service without a scratch. But, two years later he died. Hector d'Espouy was stricken: a tall man, he now stooped—his vitality depleted. He died in January, 1929, at Cazeres, where he could enjoy the Virgilian landscape that he had loved so much and painted so often—the chain of the Pyrenees on the horizon.CHAPTER 3
Hector d'Espouy's Preface to Fragments from Greek and Roman Architecture,
translated from the French by HENRY HOPE REED
ARCHITECTS who have won the Grand Prix de Rome are required, in the first three years of residence in Italy, to send to Paris work based on the best fragments of ancient architecture.
The major lessons of these studies lie, of course, in their execution, but they often give their authors the opportunity to sustain and increase their reputation. The studies are shown every year at the École des Beaux Arts. A large public sees them, as do the critics, and they result in a report by the Académie des Beaux Arts which is published in the Journal officiel.
Every year, after a sharp competition, the Institut singles out a young architect for residence in Rome. Obliged to stay four years in countries where ancient classical ruins abound, far from the press of business and free of the burdens of everyday life, this artist chooses an ancient fragment and dedicates several months to measuring it and restoring all its mutilated parts. Then he presents the restoration by means of drawing which best convey the character of the original.
Excerpted from Greek and Roman Architecture in Classic Drawings by Hector d'Espouy. Copyright © 1981 Classical America. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of Contents
ContentsDOVER BOOKS ON ARCHITECTURE,
THE CLASSICAL AMERICA SERIES IN ART AND ARCHITECTURE,
Hector d'Espouy's Plates as a Guide for Architects and Designers,
Notes on the Life of Hector d'Espouy,
Hector d'Espouy's Preface to Fragments from Greek and Roman Architecture,,
A Selection of Plates from d'Espouy's - Fragments from Greek and Roman Architecture,