Page:History of Architecture in All Countries Vol 1.djvu/137

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Bk. I. Ch. II.
105
ANCIENT EGYPTIAN ART.

the pyramids, and long before, if it required renovation at that time. As such it is not only the most colossal, but the oldest, idol of the human race of which we have now any knowledge. It does not apparently represent a heavenly being, but seems intended to symbolize the strength of an animal added to the intellect of a man;—a combination we afterwards find repeated in so many forms in Assyria, but hardly even there considered as a god.

Whether or not the temple and the Sphinx belong to one another, this at least seems certain, that they are the oldest examples of their respective classes which now exist, and consequently so deeply interesting as to make us long for a more complete illustration of them than has yet been given to the world. The temple, which is being recovered from oblivion, is a new form, and when made known may lead to the most important rectification of our ideas on the subject.

In the present transitional state of our knowledge of the architectural art of the pyramid builders, it is diflicult to form any distinct judgment as to its merits. The early Egyptians built neither for beauty nor for use, but for eternity, and to this last they sacrificed every other feeling. In itself nothing can be less artistic than a pyramid. A tower, either round or square, or of any other form, and of the same dimensions, would have been far more imposing, and if of sufficient height—the mass being the same—might almost have attained sublimity; but a pyramid never looks so large as it is, and not till you almost touch it can you realize its vast dimensions. This is owing principally to all its jtarts sloping away from the eye instead of boldly challenging observation; but, on the other hand, no form is so stable, none so capable of resisting the injuries of time or force, and none, consequently, so well calculated to attain the object for which the pyramids were erected. As examples of technic art, they are unrivalled among the works of men, but they rank low if judged by the æsthetic rules of architectural art.

The same may be said of the tombs around them; they are low and solid; but possess neither beauty of form nor any architectural feature worthy of attention or admiration, but they have lasted nearly uninjured from the remotest artiquity, and thus have attained the object their builders had principally in view in designing them.

Their temple architecture, on the other hand, may induce us to modify considerably these opinions. The one described above—which is the only one I personally have any knowledge of—is perhaps the simplest and least adorned temple in the world. All its parts are plain—straight and square, without a single moulding of any sort, but they are perfectly proportioned to the work they have to do. They are pleasingly and effectively arranged, and they have all