A liturgy of beauty

Detail of the Trevi Fountain, in Rome. (

Detail of the Trevi Fountain (1762), designed by Nicola Salvi, in Rome. (gnixus.wordpress.com)

Ah, the sun is edging its way through the clouds here in Providence. Patches of blue can be seen from the window beside the desk of your occasionally dire correspondent. So on to a passage sure to soothe the savage breast. It is from page 115 of Henry Hope Reed’s The Golden City, published in 1959. Reed has just noted how blessed we are that in recovering classical beauty we moderns need not search through the ruins of the ancients. Talk about heavy lifting! “[W]e can go about the land and find buildings entire.” He adds, “For all the debris that has risen about them, they still command. Let us restore them.” He goes on to describe scale, proportion, movement, balance, axis, and unity.

Then there are the classical elements. We have touched on the first of these, the Five Orders both in column and pilaster. Moldings, in all their variety, are essential. The pedestal, consisting of base, dado, and surbase, is a third. A fourth is the entabulature with its architrave, frieze, and cornice. The pediment, both round and triangular, is a fifth. The dome, the arch, the cornice, the keystone, the baluster [my favorite], the attic, the quoin and rustication are some of the others. They are complemented by the different kinds of ornament: the rosette, the godroom, the volute, the acanthus, the rinceau, the griffon, ad infinitum. Classical America offers examples of them on every side.

The massing of classical vocabulary is a beauty in and of itself. A string of ornamental terminology is itself as ornamental as a piling on of the real things. Someday I will open my dictionary of architecture and attempt a string of the terms of embellishment that will shake the world. Or maybe it will just fill the heart. Anyhow, a blog for another day.

(William Hazlitt, in his essay “On Great and Little Things,” had just poured his heart out over an affair with a “lodging-house decoy” that exploded in his face the year before. He directed readers by asterisk to the following disclaimer: “I beg the reader to consider this passage as merely a specimen of the mock-heroic style, and as having nothing to do with any real facts or feelings.”)

[The sun never really did make it through, alas.]

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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