architect; b. 1838; d. October 22, 1870.
Educated at the Academy of Vienna under Friedrich von Schmidt, he devoted himself to the study of mediæval art. He published Profanbauten des Mittelalters in Rom und umgegend (1870); Die Baudenkmäler auf Majorca.
Georg von Dollmann, Byzantine Palace (Bavaria: 1869-70).
The History of Art by its Monuments
The study of what may be called the "comparative anatomy" of Art is a thing of what, in chronology, may be looked upon as only yesterday. That any such study could have existed amongst our forefathers is obviously impossible, since to them the materials upon which alone such study could have been based were totally wanting. It was not until the long and steadily-sustained labours of the observer and draughtsman had investigated and delineated the peculiarities of an infinity of typical specimens of products of the Fine Arts, that they could be as it were collated, and that any deductions could be made from their comparison. In language, as we know, an advanced and generally current vocabulary, rich in words the exact value and import of which time and much intercommunication can alone have precisely determined, must precede the evolution of that system which constitutes grammar. Many such grammars of distinct dialects must hnve been elaborated before the study of comparative philology could be entered upon with any hope of success; and just so in the Fine Arte--any satisfactory attempt to elicit principles of consonance and dissonance, or laws of harmonious relation between styles, and groupings of monuments, must have been or be preceded by an aggregation and classification of specimens, in such wise as to admit of individual analysis and subsequent comparison.
In Painting and, to a certain extent, in Sculpture--Arts the leading manifestations of which assume a character of more or less portability--it is possible and feasible to collect, as has been done in all civilized countries, in public buildings, which if not actually museums have, stood in their stead, such illustrations as may best show the modes by which beauty may be attained in various forms, and by much varied means, through the medium of those arts.
In Architecture, however, the case is far otherwise. Buildings are objects which can be alone properly studied, either "in situ," or by the medium of those accurate delineations which are based upon measurements, and geometrical projection to scale. Much may of course be done, in these days of railroads and rapid locomotion by the ardent student towards attaining an acquaintance by actual inspection with details which were unquestionably to a great degree "sealed books" to our predecessors; but still, with every such advantage, life is too short for carrying such studies over anything like that wide field from which alone should be culled principles of universal application, or even those general, if partial, deductions concerning his art, without which the architect in his practice can only flounder about, tossed to and fro on the waves of uncertainty like a compassless mariner. He is therefore to a great extent thrown back upon those graphic representations which almost superabound in the present day, and from which, by cultivating the habit of comparing pictures, or drawings to scale, of buildings he knows minutely with the buildings themselves, he is often able to realise, with considerable accuracy, the material features of monuments he may never have seen; and which, in all probability, he may never enjoy an opportunity of seeing.
From the above considerations will be apparent the special value to the architectural student of the labours of those who have best succeeded at various times in portraying the great landmarks of his art. Those who have so ministered to his artistic necessities may be divided into two classes--viz., those who have illustrated one great monument or group of monuments of similar age or family exhaustively, and those who have gathered together illustrations of monuments of varied ages and varied families, bringing together, as it were, "disjecta membra" to vindicate principles of common origin or organisation. The first class present materials for analysis, and the minute study of elements; while the second provide us with the material for generalisation, and for the formation (each man for himself) of that species of syntax of his art, which is destined to exercise a more or less salutary influence, in proportion to the ability with which it has been formed during his student-life, over all his subsequent practice.
The precise aim and scope of the labours of each of these two classes of architectural "purveyors of good things" may be best appreciated by a consideration of a "representative man"--author of what may be taken as a representative work--selected from amongst the representative men and the representative works which specially belong to and characterize each class.
Of the first, let us take Owen Jones and his illustrations of the Alhambra as fairly typical. In no other case in the whole range of Architectural Literature does any one book provide the student with more tangible evidence of a great monument of our Art. The faithful draughtsman has recoiled before no difficulty of geometrical or perspective delineation in the course of that magnificent work; and it may be fairly averred that the architect who gives his mind, his time, and a full measure of attention to all its pages present him with, cannot but rise from his labours with as full and accurate an extent of knowledge of what that structure contributes towards the history and theory of his Art, as it is possible to derive from any other source than an elaborate study of the building itself.
Of the second class we can find no apter instances than the man and his work, whose life-long labours, and the value of whose "History of Art by its Monuments" as a fount of study--overflowing with instruction for the architectural student--it is our present special duty to point out and dwell upon.
Before doing so, however, let us glance for a few moments at the condition of extreme narrowness, the "vicious circle" indeed, which was prescribed as the orbit within which alone architectural and artistic thought might travel at the period immediatey anterior to the days of D'Agincourt. The following may be regarded as the leading deficiencies of even the most advanced academical "curriculum," as fairly represented by the "Cours d'Architecture" of the great French Encyclopedia.
In the first place, Egyptian and Oriental Art were sealed books.
Grecian Art was known only to advanced students like Winckelmann and Cardinal Albani, by exceptional and rare monuments, and by the descriptions of Pausanias and others; but in its perfection, as at the Periclean era, scarcely at all--the monuments of Athens being comparatively unrecognised.
Roman Art was seen only through the eyes of popular authors such as Palladio, Scamozzi, Serlio, De l'Orme, Vignola, etc.
Mediaeval Art, and all those transitional forms through which the perfected type of Gothic architecture was reached from the degradation of the Classical, were utterly unknown. The affinities, distinctions, alliances, common origin, and respective laws of Architecture, Painting, aud Sculpture, were altogether neglected as elements of study. Popular criticism upon Art was comparatively non-existent; and the investigation of ancient national monuments in all the Arts, and ths ascription of correct dates to the construction or execution of them, scarcely thought of. Empiricism and ignorance then, as they always have done and do when either exist, united their forces, and drove learning, and even the endeavour to become learned, into the "coldest possible shade."
From how many of these several branches of neglect and deficiency the life and labours of one true-hearted, intelligent Frenchman redeemed his country and the world, it will be now our happy privilege to trace.
Jean Baptiste Louis George Seroux D'Agincourt was born at Beauvais, on the 5th of April, 1730. At the outset of his career he joined the army, in the capacity of a cavalry officer; but, in spite of the brilliant prospects which doubtless awaited him in that career as a member of a noble family, always favoured by the king, Louis XV, he soon gave up his command, and became a civilian, in order to attend to the education of his two young brothers and some relatives who, as orphans, had been left to his care. While yet a young man, he showed a strong taste for the study of fine arts, archæology, and numismatics; but to these he did not devote his entire attention since among his other studies was that of administration; of his proficiency in which Louis XV, who was always a kind master to him availed himself, by appointing him as one of the farmers general to a position of considerable trust, profit, and responsibility. At an early period of his life he enjoyed the reputation of a man of good taste and wit, and his company was consequently sought for by the rich and clever. Thus we find him a distinguished guest at the various literary reunions of that period--one of the most noted of which was held at the house of Madame Geoffrin...
colonel, who had left her immensely rich...
science and art, the leading hostess to the most...
of the day. It was in her house that D'Agincourt...
with Jean Jacques Rousseau, Buffon, the elder Ve...
Saint Non, as well as other celebrities.
The more D'Agincourt learnt of art the greater...
...tion for travel, and the death of Louis XV in...
intimate personal friend soon after, destroyed the...
him to his native country. In 1777 he left for...
which country he travelled; and whence, after a tour...
Belgium, Holland, and the greater part of Germany, he returned to Paris, only to settle his affairs and prepare for his long looked for journey into Italy.
He left Paris on the 24th of October, 1778, never to see it again. Travelling first through Savoy and Piedmont, he proceeded to the Duchy of Modena. Here he made the acquaintance of Girolamo Tiraboschi, who had been appointed head librarian at Modena by the Duke, Francis III, and was afterwards, by the latter's successor, nominated councillor and knight. There can be little doubt that D'Agincourt obtained much information from the author of "The Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, Engravers, and Architects of Modena," and the great historian of literature in Italy, whose orderly methods of study were not without due restraining influence on the excitable temperament of D'Agincourt. On leaving Modena, D'Agincourt went to Bologna, of which town he sketched all the chief buildings and monuments. It was about that time that the idea of giving to the world the benefit of his researches seems to have presented itself to his mind, and he thereupon determined to set about collecting materials for a work on a subject hitherto unattempted; a history of the then despised Art period from the fall of the Roman power to the time of the Renaissance, illustrated by everything he could meet with bearing upon his theme. To make this work of value he travelled far and wide, diligently examining buildings, pictures, statues, and hundreds of illuminated manuscripts: being amongst the first to appreciate the value to Art history of this class of remains he gave himself up to that branch of study with great zeal. From the Vatican Virgil alone he has culled materials for no less than six plates, while from a manuscript Bible in the library of the Fathers of the Oratory in Rome, called Delia Vallicella, he has found such a small portion worth illustrating as only to give the one hundredth part of a plate; his discrimination as to relative value being no less marked than his zeal. He also made drawings of diptychs and triptychs from the Vatican Museum, the churches of Rome, Florence, Milan, etc., and from the collections of private individuals. His drawings of buildings consist of over twelve hundred subjects, most of them previously unfigured, and many even unnoticed by antiquaries, before his time. To obtain some such he made an express journey to Venice, where he became friendly with Morelli, the librarian of St. Mark's, and the writer of several works on history, literature, and the fine Arts. He subsequently visited Perugia, Cortona, and Sienna, and arrived in the month of November, 1779, at Rome, where he lodged in the Via Gregoriana, in a house formerly occupied by Salvator Rosa. Unable to long remain quiet, he set out afresh, early in 1781, to visit Pæstum, Naples, Herculaneum, and Pompeii, and to ransack the stores of knowledge in the libraries of Magna Græcia. On this tour he made himself acquainted with the contents of many important monastic libraries, and especially with that renowned one of the learned Benedictines at Monte Cassino. He next, in the following year, directed his attention to the catacombs of Saints Calixtus, Saturninus, Priscilla, and Laurence, causing that most interesting one of St. Agnes to be opened at his own expense.
At the end of the year he returned to Rome, and became, as in his younger days, the centre of attraction to men of taste and learning; to his house flocked churchmen and artists, Frenchmen and strangers to his native country. Foremost among his visitors were Angelica Kaufmann and Cardinal Bernis: the latter, after having been the first diplomatist in France, and the cause of the over memorable triple alliance against Prussia, had been obliged to leave his country at the breaking out of the Revolution, and had gone to Rome, where he died a few years later.
After many years' hard study and labour, D'Agincourt forwarded his work to Paris, to his friend Dufourny, a member of the French Institute and an architect, who had promised to overlook the printing and the arrangement of the plates. Under Dufourny's superintendence the first sheets of this book appeared in 1810, under the title of "Histoire de l'Art par les Monuments, depuis sa décadence au V siècle jusqu'à son Renouvellement au XV siècle." 3 vols. fol. This book contained 328 plates, comprising 3,335 subjects, and gave a short history of events from the fall of the Roman empire till the revival of classic art; it contained also a brief summary of the state of Architecture, Painting, and Sculpture in those periods, and an explanatory notice of each illustration. This work was not all published till 1823, long after the author, and even the first editor, had departed this life. After Dufourny's death the editorship was taken up, jointly, by Emeric David, a member of the French Institute, and the erudite author of many works on sculpture, and by Laurent François Feuillet, the head librarian of the Institute, the editor of the French translation of Stuart and Revett's "Athens," and the editor of the illustrated translation of "The Loves of Cupid and Psyche" as given by Apuleius in his "Golden Ass"--that loose, but very amusing, classical novel so much written against by the early Christian clergy.
D'Agincourt, grieved at the delay in the publication of this work, commenced the preparation of another, to be produced during his lifetime. Changing his mind subsequently, he determined that it should be posthumous only; and he even directed that no proofs should be taken from the engraved plates until after his death. This later work was called "Recueil de Fragments de Sculpture antique en Terra Cuite," and was published in Paris in 1814, in 4to. It contained several plates, and was to have been edited by Achille de Lasalle, a Royalist friend of the author's, who from his great talents had been nominated, even during the Revolution, censor of the press. Through his untimely death, however, this work had also to be edited by Feuillet. In it are described the mode of making and the use of terra cotta by the ancients, both for the adornment of public edifices and for the ordinary purposes of daily life.
D'Agincourt, ever a strict Royalist, had the gratification of seeing Louis XVIII placed on the throne of his ancestors; but the pleasure was brief, for he died of a fever on the 24th of September, 1814, and was buried in the church of St. Louis des Français at Rome; in which church he had formerly erected a monument to the painter Nicholas Poussin. He was followed to his resting-place by all the savans and literati then in the Papal Capital. A mausoleum was erected to his memory by his four fellow-countrymen, M. de Pressigny, the French Ambassador; M. le Chevalier Artaud, Secretary of the Embassy; M. Le Thière, Director of the French Academy at Rome; and by D'Agincourt's old friend M. Paris, a Royalist French architect, who resided at Rome from the year 1800 until after the above event, and who contributed many plates to the "History of Art." The last-named gentleman directed the ransacking of the ruins of the Coliseum, and made drawings of the details with great precision. It was through his zealous intervention, and probably with D'Agincourt's assistance, that the Borghese collection of antiquities was acquired for the French Government.
The analytical descriptions of the plates in the "History of Art by its Monuments" are from the pen of Jean Baptiste Gence, Keeper of the Records at the Map Department in Paris, who sought refuge in Rome on the breaking out of the French Revolution, and who there acquired the friendship of D'Agincourt. M. Gence returned to Paris in 1791, and, among other works of his, the most valuable, probably, is that touching the true authorship of the "Imitation of Jesus Christ,'' attributed to Thomas à Kempis.
D'Agincourt owes his reputation entirely to his chief work, which has been translated into several languages; a German edition was published at Frankfort in 1840, an Italian one at Mantua in 1841, and an English one in London in 1847. This work contains seventy-three plates on Architecture, fifty-one on Sculpture, and two hundred and four on Painting. He took up the history of art where Winckelmann had left off, and he continued it with undiminished ardour and energy, sparing neither time nor money. The great use of his work has been testified to by the numerous extracts that have been made from it at different times by various authors of the greatest renown. The immense number of buildings illustrated, the miles of catacombs explored, the quantity of manuscripts perused, the relics examined, and the paintings copied, are all given with as much fidelity for the use of the art-loving world as the utmost solicitude of the author could at that date ensure, and without one single line of egotism on his part. His love of art is perhaps unequalled in modern times; and we should remember that, while he never followed the profession of authorship for gain, he gave up a lucrative position voluntarily, in order to be free to travel, to investigate, to learn, and to teach.
Such services, and such self-denial, the civilized world has not been slow to acknowledge. Even while the necessarily great cost of his work, as at first published, precluded its possession by the bulk of art-students, it was in constant demand in all public libraries; and when the original copper-plates, coming into the market at a moderate price, at a later date, enabled the entire work to be reprinted, and sold for a much less sum than it had originally cost, very large editions were absorbed by the public of the first countries of Europe.
It is certainly singular that it was entirely due to the energy, public spirit, and farsightedness of the very individual we have selected as the "representative man" of the class of exhaustive illustrators for analysis--Owen Jones--that we, in England, should stand indebted for the translation and reprint for the use of art students of this truly typical work of our second class of art-illustrators--those who have purveyed materials for the special purpose of study by comparison. By Mr. Jones's happy idea of printing the plates "back to back" upon "hard" paper, the whole work was condensed into one volume; and its cost consequently reduced to a sum moderate enough to the purchaser, but barely remunerative to the editor. If Owen Jones had never rendered any other service to art students than to popularise this great work amongst them, he would deserve well of all those who have already profited, and who will hereafter profit, by the important lessons D'Agincourt laboured so zealously to place conspicuously before the world.
It is one of the peculiar attributes of his book that it can never fall out of date. It illustrates what must ever be the great wells from which artists will have to draw inspiration, and it is one amongst very few great works produced during the eighteenth century which were calculated to do more than minister to passing fashions in art. Its superior excellence was destined, even in the section of Architecture, to drive into the shade the previous elaborate and curiously incorrect work--purporting to furnish elements of comparison between leading historical monuments--the "Essai de l'Architecture historique, sur les Monuments anciens les moins connus," by the Viennese Imperial Architect "Jean Bernhard Fischer von Erlach," published at Leipsig in 1728; while its intrinsic merit has enabled it to fairly hold its ground against the more highly elaborated work of Durand's "Recueil et Parallèle des Edifices de tout genre," etc.
Under all circumstances it would appear therefore fortunate for our profession that the proprietor of this Journal has been enabled to make arrangements whereby he may give to the architectural section of D'Agincourt's great work an even wider circulation and popularity than it has yet enjoyed. As Mr. Street did not fail to enforce upon our attention, in his last admirable paper at the Institute, (read Nov. 29, 1869), no man can ever hope to practise successfully who does not study profoundly the relics of the past; and therefore it is that we should hail with satisfaction every event, accident, or contingency which may tend to bring the materials for such study with greater prominence, pungency, and facility under the eyes and attention of all engaged in the cultivation or practice of architecture. We should remember, too, that employers and users need knowledge just now fully as much as professional students of our art; and that in these days, when the very superabundance of graphic models of architectural form thrusts "Eclecticism" upon us, whether we will or no, we should neglect no means which may aid us in classifying and systematising in our memories the models which photography, engraving, models, and all the varied resources of graphic art, force from day to day upon our attention. In all natural sciences, as varieties are discovered, classification becomes more and more imperatively necessary. Units become grouped into families, and exceptions from standard and well-recognised genera are at once detected, and form bases for now generic subdivisions. Just so in the culmination of the study of our art, we may imagine the architect, aided by works such as this of D'Agincourt, classifying the infinite groups of form presented by ancient monuments; and thereby establishing his own system of landmarks for the appreciation of the precise artistic value, and proper grouping, of all the aberrations from established types which he may either meet with in the works of others or invent for himself.
M. Digby Wyatt, Architect
January 1, 1870