Monday, September 16, 2013

Straight-edge and Compass Design

13 June 2013.  301 Napoleon Street, Beauregard Town, Baton Rouge.  The house of Governor  Fuqua

Greek Revival in Baton Rouge: the Fuqua House

On June 13, 2013, my friend Denise and I, armed with two Nikons, the one-piece 8800, as good as one-piece digitals get, and the newer Nikon 1 v2, a digital camera with changeable lenses but also not a reflex. In a post on May 25 I already had compared the house with the Brumby House in Marietta Georgia and posted an archival photo of the Fuqua House, and on May 1 had used a winter image of it to head a general, speculative essay.
I still do not know on what grounds some on-line sources date the Fuqua house to c. 1834 (though the Brumby in Marietta is dated, with documents, to c. 1851, and the one plantation house that is equally real Greek Revival, Madewood near Donaldsonville, is securely dated in the 1840s).  I'll just repeat that the resemblance of the Marietta and Baton Rouge houses cannot be accidental, and I suspect (since I have no idea whether any architect's name is recorded, and they might not be extremely close in date) that both may be based on the same, presumed, publication.  I did not mean to entertain any possibility of the Fuqua house actually being by Henry Howard, Madewood's architect, only that Greek Revival of such intent character is rare in this region.  Also, though I want to measure the Fuqua house, even the fine frontal view (in Flickr) permits no more than the possibility that the gables are as high as the Order and that the width of the façade is about 5:4 in ratio to the height of the complete Order, with entablature and foundation (in lieu of podium).
I should repeat that the house first appears on the Sanborn maps only between 1911 and 1916, and I have not found report of its previous location.
First, to establish what I can of its ground-floor plan:
Using the Nikon 8800, dp photographed two flights of the main staircase, which should come out near  at the back of the gable that contains the enclosed 'balcony'.  The second photo shows the hall continuing  through the center of the house, W to E.

In the Picasa Album for 13 June, assembled for blogs on the large upper Beauregard houses, the views of 301 Napoleon, the Fuqua house, by dp come first, those by pl third, with the views of 201 St Charles, the Roumain house, intervening.  Since the presumed kitchen extends farther E on the N side, I suppose that the domestic rooms on the ground floor are those on N side, with perhaps a study or library at the front on the S side.  Nothing about this house suggests that it doubled as a home office.  It seems to be unfurnished now, but evidently during restoration surviving family furnishings would have been removed.

The NE (rear) corner of the Fuqua house is without (as they say) a Style, but the sequence of full-size windows on the N flank, though without continuation of the Greek entablature, is aligned with the full-length windows that open onto the porch.

There are plenty of front views in the linked album.  A shift lens would be ideal, but the Nikon 8800 was preferable here to the general lens (the longer one had been left at home), and it read the interior of the sheltered 'balcony' better, too.

Painting contractors hereabouts have been painting porch ceilings sky blue, too, but it is especially apt for this 'balcony'.  On the Marietta house the smaller order, proportioned very much like the smaller upper order in the cella of a temple, has windows.  I know of no other gable sitting room (for that is what it looks like, though it faces West) like this one.  Balconies are, almost by definition, built onto the façade above the porch, as on the red house on Royal Street.

Lovely subtle color choices are being given to to the moldings and wall, to set off the white of the Order on the Fuqua house.  Assuming that Stuart & Revett's had been studied with the usual reverence, its example of the Choregic Monument of Lysikrates (vol. I, Ch. IV, pls. III and IV) of Pentelic for white and for the reliefs and Hymettan to give the (purely pictorial—what if Alberti had seen that!)  illusion of white columns standing as in a full-size tholos temple, as they do at Dellphi or Epidaurus.  Strict Greek Revival does not preclude pictorial illusion.  But the tints chosen here are far from garish.  For some they will have their effect without even being noticed as such.  

The south side of the Fuqua House looked splotchy from a distance last June, and if I can I'll add a new photo to the Album, when the painting has been finished with the chosen palette (the tests needing a few months of sunlight and rain for the lasting effect to be appreciated and final decisions to be made).  Meanwhile you can consider what the restoration architect was considering.  Also you can see, on this side as on the north side, how the ordinary house design, with finely spaced windows (the upper ones spaced both with regard to their place in the gable and to the principal windows below), is related to the columnar Order on the façade.  For, in discussing a house, no matter how thoroughly designed, we must not forget that it is neither a temple nor a civic building.

The brick pillars seem to use bricks of the same size and solidity as for the houses of c. 1912 where on the Boehringer house, for example, they are original.  They may date from when the Fuqua House was brought to this site, or they may be more recent; it doesn't matter, since they are right.  It looks as if that sealant that now covers the Gottlieb House on Drehr and Oleander, rather than simply cream-color paint, has been applied, recently, to the brick foundation pillars here.

Whichever camera was used across the porch, it distorted it.  Needless to say, the leaning is purely a matter of optics.  It is plain that a good Greek Ionic column like those in Stuart & Revett rather than those in Serlio has been the model for the columns, except for their Tuscan Doric capitals (one suspects that carving proper Corinthian in wood was too challenging; the Brumby House in Marietta uses real Greek Doric) but here the bases, the proportions, and the entablature all are deliberate and sensitive Greek Ionic.

Bibliography and Summary
After I had reassembled all the basic reading that had mattered to me in my twenties, I had to re-read it. Scott was really very youthful.  Blunt was good but a bit generalized.  The really great one, I realized, that had most formed my ideas, alongside Kenneth Clark's Leonardo da Vinci, since they both dealt with Alberti, was Wittkower's Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism.  Like Alberti himself, Wittkower worked through all the Pythagorean principles that were concerned with harmonious ratios.  It was wonderful re-reading Wittkower now that I actually had enough general education to read it easily—except that the font is not so good and neither are my eyes, so that I am very careful to avoid eyestrain.
•• Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism.  London, Tiranti, 1952.  This had been vol. 19 in the Studies of the Journal of the Warburg Institute, 1949.  This is the book with the two appendices, one translating Francesco di Giorgio's Memorandum explaining the plan of a church and the "Vitruvian Man", in conjunction, and the second providing Bibliographical Notes on the Theory of Proportions.  It is Wittkower that wrote so well on the central-plan church embodying Renaissance neo-Platonism, Wittkower who read Alberti closely enough to understand why he called Columns part of the decoration rather than of the essential Beauty of a Building (pp.29–32): Alberti knew Classical architecture from Rome, Wittkower who explained the Mean Proportionals and illustrated Alberti's 'Generation' of ratios (pp. 100–103), which may be where our simple house and the Parthenon understand each other.  A couple of years ago I tried to explain why the numbers in a Gothic cathedral were quite different from the numbers (but they aren't numerals but ratios!) in Renaissance architecture.  Renaissance thought musing over Pythagoras (and working on the area of the circle, too) is quite different from the number-symbolology taken from the description of the Temple in the Old Testament!  Alberti knew he was being Greek, not what we would call Medieval, but he didn't know Greece; it would be the generation of the Dilettanti Society that propagated measured drawings of real buildings in Greece.
One thing we need to remember constantly is that the Renaissance theory (barring Palladio's villas) is largely of church design.  The Malatestas poured all their grandiose ideals into S. Francesco at Rimini, with Alberti realizing it for them; they died in it, but they didn't live in it.  Somewhere I got the bon mot that all I had learned about Roman Imperial sea trade in Sunday School was that it was provided for the transportation of Apostles.  Apparently, too, Renaissance noblemen did not want living arrangements governed by ratios (even Palladio...a villa is not the same thing as a palazzo).
•• With an Introduction and Notes by Frank Salmon, Princeton in 1971 published, beautifully printed, the three volumes of Stuart & Revett's Antiquities of Athens (not quite so expensive as you might fear and affordable by any college or university library).  Thomas Jefferson is documented as owning vol. I, but I should think that by the time that he died, and certainly in the second quarter of the 19th century, most important architects and certainly universities that had great schools of architecture, owned the whole set.  After all, the Acropolis buildings are all in vol. II.  If you can get access to the original (large folios), by all means study them, but the Princeton edition, printed in China, is a beautiful book in its own right.
•• If you can't get to that, go to John Travlos, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Athens, Thames & Hudson, 1971, very fine, printed in Germany.  By then almost all the books that today, after nearly half a century, have not yellowed at all were printed overseas.
The Choregic Monument of Lysikrates (s.v., Lysikrates) is illustrated, though not fully, in Travlos.  In Stuart & Revett, it is Vol. I, Ch. IV, Pls. II—IX.  You really cannot improve on this, although, as Salmon says, the draftsmen were so convinced of the beauty and precision of Greek measurements (not realizing that ancient Greeks had no place-marker and no annotation for advanced arithmetic, which is also why they generated beautiful ratios—and were about to have Euclid's compendium to work from) that some of their numbers are impossibly accurate.  That tells us something about how the Greek Revival felt; their devotion to meeting the Pythagorean, or at least the Vitruvian, standard is their kind of romanticism.
I was going to use Edna St. Vincent Millay's euphonious sonnet line (she was just out of college and not, I think, really mathematical) as a catchy heading for this post, but it won't do!
Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare
Alone?  He's not Thales!  What is the point of looking at beauty bare, whatever that may mean?  Is there some keener thrill in bare beauty?  Is that mental porn?

That leaves us with the stunning effect that Greek Revival has on some of us.  Why?  Is it that as we grew up we were exposed to all sorts of stimuli that prepared us to respond to a house façade that is (as near as makes no difference) Width:Height=9:4?  That prepared us to enjoy alignments and the like?
The Fuqua family said that their house had been built for a Methodist minister, and the governor, for his part, was Episcopalian (St. James Church, right down town).  I have been taught to cringe with shame if I suppose that there is such a thing as Protestant vs Catholic taste.  That would be hogwash.  Are circles, then, Unitarian?
Be that as it may, except perhaps for the Boehringer house (or Mrs. Borck's if it still had its south porch), I invite you to share my pleasure in Governor Fuqua's house.  Perhaps someday I may even see the inside of it.
By the way, what that gable-balcony reminded me of was the unfinished front of S. Francesco in Rimini, but the resemblance is, of course, specious.

Here are photos in color showing the pictorial use of colored marble, but only Athenian marble, to create an illusion of a wall in shadow behind white columns; Hymettian marble is naturally pale bluish gray.  Pentelic is white, but it contains some iron, which exposure brings out.  Add to these that the architect has, I think, made allusion to earth, on which a tholos would stand, by making the pedestal of poros limestone.  I like to think of Alberti knowing of this, as he couldn't, since it was tucked into a dark corner of the courtyard of a monastery.  I think (as I recall) it was Stuart and Revett who first crawled in and measured and drew it.  It isn't the only example of Greek pictorial architecture (the Romans had to inherit it from somewhere, after all), but it's the only one I have digital color images for.