This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
The bulk of their walls certainly seems proved by modern discovery; and we have also good reason to believe they had considerable power to work in metals. Altogether their taste was for the great and astonishing, for vastness of design, and solidity of execution.
Persepolis is suggestod by the consideration of Babylon. Certain discoveries have been made concerning it, and it appears, in accordance with the ruin, to have been built on great platforms, with elevations of huge pillars, still on the graduated principle. It is also probable that the chambers of the palaces were similar to those already discoved at Nini-roud, thickly walled and surrounded with bas-reliefs. Generally of Egypt and Assyria, it may be observed, that their taste, although not guided by a knowledge of proportion and arrangement, was for the expression of power, for great cost, and works, the result of almost superhuman labor. They cultivated geometry, astronomy, music - though the proportion of harmonic sounds was not discovered till long after by Pythagoras. - astrology, alchymy, and magic. - but everything was rendered subservient to priestcraft. They had also an idea of color; but as they attained in it only to brilliancy, its effect was certainly more gaudy than harmonious, and must have caused a strange contrast with the grandeur of their other works.
We have but little record of Persian architecture; but there is a singular account of the ancient capital city of Ecbatana. It is said that Dejoces, the king, built it on a hill, with seven walls, but they were so disposed, rising, one within another, to the summit of the hill, that the ramparts of each wall should show above the one in front. These elevated portions were each painted of a different color, so that the appearance in the distance would have been, as it were, of a horizontal rainbow. In this we observe principally a taste for effect and display. This taste was very strikingly developed in the Persians; their idea of magnificence and pomp displays itself in many particulars of their history. Their literature, like that of the other nations, was chiefly mystical and symbolic al. In religion they were fire-worshippers, performing their rites in the open air, until Zoroaster ordered their fire altars to be enclosed in temples, of which there were three kinds - the first, mere oratories, where the sacred fire was kept in lamps; the second, public fanes, where the fire was kept, like that of the vestal virgins at Rome, continually burning on altars; the third, the grand abode of the arch priest, visited only at certain seasons by indispensable law, such as bound the Jews. The chief temple stood in the city of Balck till the seventh century, when, on persecution by the Mahomedans, the followers of the Magi fled to Carmania, whither, no doubt, they carried their arts and their taste - and raised another temple.
But you see that their worship was purer than that of Egypt; and it is not unreasonable thence to argue that their ecclesiastical buildings were less the subject of gross ideas. Their religion flourished among the Parthians, Bactrians, Choras-mians, Sacans, Medes and other nations: from this we may guess somewhat at the tern ple architecture - in fact the architecture of these nations; for it is evident that the grand-est efforts of the art have been in all ages dedicated to the purposes of religion, from the time of Osiris to that of the Divine Redeemer. The Indians, whose original doctrines appear to have been borrowed from Zoroaster, raised in old time many curious and striking edifices, which appear to be better understood by inspection of drawings than from description; but they possess, many of them, a bold and swelling outline - perhaps, in some, a disproportionate width, and, besides a singular elaboration of detail - not uncommon among semi-barbarous nations. There is also a great massiveness, even heaviness, about them, which we have found in the buildings of other Pagan nations; whence we can only suppose that the taste of the Indians was much affected by their lifeless creed.
This heaviness is striking in Pagan architecture, while the Christian Gothic has the very opposite characteristic. Concerning early Arabian taste - to leave, at present, the Saracenic - there is little to be said: it is probable there was little of it, so far as architecture is concerned. The religion of the Arabs was Chaldean: they cultivated poetry, possessed a brilliant and versatile imagination, and supported a good moral doctrine.
It is impossible here to investigate the taste of the Phoenicians or of the Ethiopians; but there was nothing in either very dissimilar from that of contemporary nations. In fact, we find the extraordinary and grotesque religion of all these ancient nations to have greatly shackled their arts, and to have given them, with a taste for pomp and grandeur, a sort of necessary absurdity of purpose. The Jews were more ancient than all; but from their religion it was necessary to reserve them to this place, on account of certain remarks generally applied to the rest, in which they would not be included. Being for many centuries a pastoral and nomad race, they appear to have had little opportunity either for the acquisition or the display of taste. The mention of their name immediately suggests the Temple of Solomon. The king's predominant taste, whether or not suggested originally by a far higher feeling, was, according to oriental nature, for magnificence; and we find that he built his own palaces with a profusion and splendor of ornament little inferior to that displayed in the Temple. That building seems not to have been striking, either with respect to its proportion or its size: it was somewhat Egyptian, and the adornments of it were Tyrian. We may hence assert, while, in the latter remark, the taste in the art of the Tyrians is suggested, that native taste was but little among the Jews, and that they were, in respect of taste at all, far behind either Egypt or Assyria. They had always, however, great natural genius, and their want of taste wisdom and grace: numberless instances might be brought forward to prove this, but it is sufficient to point to the description of the war-horse in the book of Job.
We have now traced the varieties of taste among the earliest nations of the world: we have seen that the Egyptians loved the huge and massive and heavy; that the Assyrian taste was similar; that the Persians, Jews, etc., favored the more showy and magnificent; we have found it grand in all. Hitherto, then, the characteristic of taste in art, has been Grandeur. But in none have we found the pure, the chaste. We ask for it: the Sphinx and the winged bull shake their heads, but being pressed, nod abashed to Greece. It is to Greece, then, in order that we may add to the taste we have already acquired, that purity which is indispensable to a right taste - it is to Greece that we must sail.
H. T. Bbaithwaite.