“And yet I am not alone to be wondered at, for I overlook in astonishment a garden, the like of which no human eyes ever saw.”
It would be difficult to find a more appropriate introduction to a visit to the Crystal Palace at Sydenham, than those eloquent words of an Arabian poet of the thirteenth century in honour of a building which appears to have been the glory of his age, as the Crystal Palace may become of our own.
Like the Moorish palace, it contains many wonders which require but the attentive examination of minds willing to “estimate them,” in order that the benefits of many “commentaries may be reaped.” All those who have been engaged in perfecting this glorious enterprise have daily learned more than they could attempt to teach.
History of the Alhambra Palace
At the Great Exhibition of 1851, of which this is the worthy offspring, it was the especial honour of this country to collect together, for the instruction of the present age, and the benefit and progress of the future, a treasury of knowledge from which each, in his own sphere—the mechanic, the manufacturer, the merchant, the philosopher, and the artist—had much to acquire, much to receive in exchange for the little he was himself able to contribute. Under one roof were gathered collections which the life of one man would have been insufficient to discover and to visit.
Of the many advantages which resulted from this gathering, the greatest was that which taught us wherein we are deficient; and it is now freely acknowledged that the Great Exhibition showed us to be far behind other nations in the Practice of the Arts.
When the Exhibition building disappeared from the long cherished spot, the Government like an unnatural parent abandoning it to the more considerate stranger, it fortunately fell into the hands of men animated by the most noble desire of rendering it subservient to the education of all classes, “whilst providing also for their innocent recreation. The defects, which the Exhibition of 1851 proved to exist, may be remedied through the resources provided by the Exhibition of 1854.
When the British public shall have had time to study and profit by the marvellous art-collections here gathered under one roof, with the history of the civilisation of the world before them, with an opportunity of examining side by side portions of buildings of every age, they will more fully recognise the good and the evil which pervade each form of art; they will more readily be convinced of the folly of attempting to adapt to new wants styles of architecture which have ever been the expression of the wants, faculties, and sentiments of the age in which they were produced, instead of seeking in every style for those general principles which survive from generation to generation to become stepping-stones for future progress. They will more clearly discern the absolute necessity of rejecting that which is local or temporary, holding fast only to that which is eternal. They will anxiously look around them for an art more in harmony with the wants, sentiments, and faculties of their own time.
The architecture of Alhambra Palace
The several styles of architecture have uniformly been the result of the religion, habits, and modes of thought of the nations which produced them, and may be said to be the material expression of their wants, faculties, and sentiments, under the influence of climate and of materials at command. They have each undergone a process of gradual decline in proportion to the changes which each nation has been subjected to in the course of ages.
As in the colours of nature we have the primary colours, and the secondary and tertiary colours of every variety of tone and shade arising from the admixture of their primaries, so in architecture we shall find several well marked primary styles, which become more or less broken in hue or removed from the primary source as the local influences affected them, or as successive changes took place in the institutions of the countries which gave them birth.
Thus in Egypt, under the Pharaohs, we have a well marked primary style, which by admixture with Greek elements became secondary under the Ptolemies, and tertiary and still further reduced under the Romans.
We find in Greece another well marked primary style, which, transplanted to Rome, even with the additional elements added by the Romans, never reached beyond a secondary, but withered and died; transplanted to Byzantium, from its ashes sprang on the one hand, by slow progression, Gothic architecture, and on the other the Arabian, each in its turn to give birth to its secondaries and tertiaries.
Thus we have the Gothic of France, of Germany, of Italy, of Spain, of England, each bearing relation to a primary, but modified in hue to a secondary by the surrounding local influences.
Arabian art had equally its several phases in Egypt, in Turkey, in Spain, in India.
The revived classical style had in Italy its local developments, in Venice, in Lombardy, in Florence, Bologna, and Rome, as it had also in Spain, in France, and England.
Each of these styles, whether primary, secondary, or tertiary, was constantly in a state of progression—was never stationary for a day; every building of importance, which required time for its construction, exhibits in its complete state the various phases -which art underwent during its progress. This is aa true of the temples of the Pharaohs as of the Gothic cathedrals, the Parthenon, and the Alhambra.
Each primary style arose with the civilization which created it, and was more especially the result of its religious institutions.
Religion was the teacher, the priest, the artist. The splendid works of Egypt show how wonderfully architecture is there the expression of a symbolical mythology. Vast, stupendous, mighty as the system on which it was founded. The most simple ornaments which decorate every corner of these magnificent structures, and which to a careless observer would appear only placed there to please the eye, are found on a more attentive examination to contain historical facts, dates, or religious injunctions to the faithful. The walls are covered internally and externally with bassi-relievi richly coloured, relating to the supposed genealogy and history of their divinities, or representing their religious ceremonies, their offerings and instruments of worship.