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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Law of Proportion in Architecture
By Charles Blanc (1813–1882)
 
From ‘Grammar of Painting and Engraving’

MAN, from the fact that he is the only intelligent being in creation, desires to show his intelligence in his works. In order to do so he makes them resemble himself in a measure, by impressing upon them the characteristic of his intelligence, which is logic, and that of his body, which is proportion. Architecture employs inorganic matter alone—stone, marble, brick, iron, wood, when the sap has been dried out of it and it ceases to be an organic substance; and yet, under the hand of the architect, this inert matter expresses sentiments and feelings. By subjecting it to the laws of order, symmetry, and proportion, in a manner which appeals to the eye, he lends them a semblance of life and an organism conceived after his own image. By this artificial proportion, inert matter is raised to the dignity of the animal kingdom; it is rendered eloquent and capable of expressing the soul of the artist, and often that of a race.  1
  But human monuments have still another point in common with the body. Order, symmetry, and proportion are needed rigorously only on the exterior. Within, general beauty no longer dominates, but individual life. If we look at the interior of the human body we find no symmetry, no arrangement but that demanded by the function of the organs. The brain, it is true, has two symmetrical lobes, because the brain is destined to a life of relation, to the life of intelligence. But in their individual functions the life of the internal organs presents another aspect. The stomach is a shapeless bag; the heart is a single muscle which is not even placed in the centre; the left lung is longer and narrower than the right; the spleen is a ganglion placed on the left side without any corresponding organ; but all this mechanism, which scientists consider wonderful in its irregularity, is hidden beneath a layer of similar members which repeat each other and correspond at equal distances from a central line, and constitute symmetry in animals, beauty in man. Similar in this respect to the human body, architectural monuments have a double life and a double aspect.  2
  On the exterior, it is meet that they should be regular, symmetrical—but symmetrical from left to right like man, not from top to bottom nor from face to back. Their resemblance to man is further shown by openings, which are as the eyes and ears of the persons who inhabit them; their entrance occupies the centre of the edifice, as the mouth is placed on the central line of the face; they have rounded or angular forms according as they have been built to express strength, a virile idea, or grace, a feminine one; lastly, they have proportion, for there is a harmonious relation between their apparent members, and a mutual dependence which subordinates the variety of the parts to the unity of the whole, and which constitutes the necessary conditions of the beautiful in art.  3
  The interior is not subjected to the necessity for duplicate members, to regularity of façade, nor to unity of appearance. Thus when the artist who has designed the monument performs its autopsy,—so to say,—we see, as in the human body, unequal dimensions, irregular shapes, disparities which resemble disorder to the eye, but which constitute the individuality of the edifice. Within reigns relative beauty, free, with fixed rule; without reigns a necessary beauty subjected to its own laws.  4
  In man, character is the soul’s expression. In architecture, character is the moral physiognomy of a building. As a portrait without character is but a vain shadow of the person represented, so a monument which does not appeal to the intelligence, which evokes no thought, is merely a pile of stones, a body without a soul. The soul of architecture is the thought it expresses.  5
  Character tends towards beauty in man as well as in his works. If we glance at human society, we see faces which appear to be nothing more than a sketch. Parsimonious nature has given them only sufficient life to move in a narrow circle; they are mere individuals; they represent nothing but themselves. However, in the midst of the crowd, some men are noticeable for an abundance of vitality, whom favorable events have developed along their natural tendencies: they impersonate many individuals in one; their unity is equal to numbers; for good or evil, they have a character. In proportion as an individuality becomes more enriched, more pronounced, it attains character; in proportion as character loses its roughness it becomes beauty. This is also true of architecture.  6
 
 
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