Arch in Christian Art

Arch in Christian Art

The influence which the arch has had in effecting changes in architecture is much greater than is generally supposed. Not only may the deterioration which took place in the Roman be ascribed to it, but even the introduction of Gothic architecture may be said to be owing to it; for the arch gradually encroached upon the leading principle of Classical architecture-namely, that the horizontal lines should be dominant-until that principle was entirely abrogated, and the principle of the Gothic-namely, the dominant vertical line-took its place.

In the early Christian churches in Rome the arches are usually of brick, resting upon marble columns, and. are frequently. concealed behind a horizontal entablature. When once the open application of the arch above the columns had been introduced, it appears never to have been abandoned, and the entablature was interrupted to suit the arch, the principal object aimed at being .an appearance of height and spaciousness; and in some instances in Roman work-the entablature is omitted entirely, and the arch rises directly from the capital of the column, as in Gothic architecture. In the 5th and 6th centuries, a piece of entablature is preserved over the capital in Byzantine work, as at Ravenna, and' in the. Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo in Rome. When, after the dominion of the Romans was destroyed, and the rules governing the true proportions of architecture, from which they had themselves so widely departed, were entirely lost, the nations of Europe began again to erect large buildings, they would naturally endeavor to copy the structures of the Romans; but it was not to have been expected, even supposing they were capable of imitating them exactly, that they would have retained the clumsy, and to them unmeaning, appendage of a broken entablature, but would have placed the arch at once on the top of the column, as we know they did hence arose the various national styles which preceded the introduction of the pointed arch, including the-Norman.

The earliest Norman arches are semicircular and square-edged, as in the remains of the palace of William Rufus at Westminster, not recessed (or divided into orders) and not moulded. 'As the Norman style advanced, the arches became much enriched with mouldings and ornaments, and recessed, often doubly or trebly recessed, or what Prof. Willis calls divided into two or more orders. The form of the arch also by this time begins to vary very much: a stilted arch is often used, sometimes for greater convenience in vaulting; in other instances, like the horseshoe arch, apparently from fashion only. The form, however, is of very little use as a guide to the date of a building either in this or in the later styles; it is always dictated by convenience rather than by any rule, and it is probable that the pointed arch came in exceptionally much earlier than has generally been supposed. The mouldings and details both of the arch itself and of the capitals are a much better guide to the date than the form of the arch.

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