Architecture and Democracy eBook

Claude Fayette Bragdon
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 128 pages of information about Architecture and Democracy.

SYMBOLS AND SACRAMENTS

Architecture is the concrete presentment in space of the soul of a people.  If that soul be petty and sordid—­“stirred like a child by little things”—­no great architecture is possible because great architecture can image only greatness.  Before any worthy architecture can arise in the modern world the soul must be aroused.  The cannons of Europe are bringing about this awakening.  The world—­the world of thought and emotion from whence flow acts and events—­is no longer decrepit, but like Swedenborg’s angels it is advancing toward the springtide of its youth:  down the ringing grooves of change “we sweep into the younger day.”

After the war we are likely to witness an art evolution which will not be restricted to statues and pictures and insincere essays in dry-as-dust architectural styles, but one which will permeate the whole social fabric, and make it palpitate with the rhythm of a younger, a more abundant life.  Beauty and mystery will again make their dwelling among men; the Voiceless will speak in music, and the Formless will spin rhythmic patterns on the loom of space.  We shall seek and find a new language of symbols to express the joy of the soul, freed from the thrall of an iron age of materialism, and fronting the unimaginable splendors of the spiritual life.

[Illustration:  PLATE XV.  SYMBOL OF RESURRECTION]

For every aesthetic awakening is the result of a spiritual awakening of some sort.  Every great religious movement found an art expression eloquent of it.  When religion languished, such things as Versailles and the Paris Opera House were possible, but not such things as the Parthenon, or Notre Dame.  The temples of Egypt were built for the celebration of the rites of the religion of Egypt; so also in the case of Greece.  Roman architecture was more widely secular, but Rome’s noblest monument, the Pantheon, was a religious edifice.  The Moors, inflamed with religious ardor, swept across Europe, blazing their trail with mosques and palaces conceived seemingly in some ecstatic state of dream.  The Renaissance, tainted though it was by worldliness, found still its inspiration in sacred themes, and recorded its beginning and its end in two mighty religious monuments:  Brunelleschi’s and Michael Angelo’s domical churches, “wrought in a sad sincerity” by deeply religious men.  Gothic art is a synonym for mediaeval Christianity; while in the Orient art is scarcely secular at all, but a symbolical language framed and employed for the expression of spiritual ideas.

This law, that spirituality and not materialism distils the precious attar of great art, is permanently true and perennially applicable, for laws of this order do not change from age to age, however various their manifestation.  The inference is plain:  until we become a religious people great architecture is far from us.  We are becoming religious in that broad sense in which churches and creeds, forms and ceremonies, play little part.  Ours is the search of the heart for something greater than itself which is still itself; it is the religion of brotherhood, whose creed is love, whose ritual is service.

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Architecture and Democracy from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.