The ABC of Style
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Ever wondered why your ceiling is shaped like the arches in a gothic cathedral? Or why your offi ce building looks so different from its neighboring counterparts? The ABC of Style invites you to explore the many different architectural and decorative interior styles from their ancient origins to the 1940s. Take a journey through history to see how the French aristocracy styled their palaces and castles to the simple designs of the Dominican monastic churches during the middle ages.
Often, political changes implicate a stylistic transformation. Thus, the different European styles were frequently named after a sovereign or a historical period (Renaissance style, Medieval style). Until the end of the nineteenth century, the stylistic mutations of the time were generally based on the tastes of the royalty. Stylistic expression was, therefore, an affirmation of power.



Publié par
Date de parution 15 septembre 2015
Nombre de lectures 3
EAN13 9781783107896
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 3 Mo

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Émile Bayard

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ISBN: 978-1-78310-789-6
Émile Bayard

The ABC of Styles

Anti q uity
The initial inspiration for styles
Styles : E g yptian, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, etc.
The Middle Ages
Th e style s of the Middle Ages
The L atin and Romanesque styles
The G othic style
From Renaissance to Baroque
Ren a issanc e Style
Louis XII I Style
Louis XIV St y le
From Rococo to Neo-Classicism
The R é g ence Style, also known as “Rocaille” or “Rococo”
Louis XV Style
Louis XVI S tyle
From Directoire to Second Empire
The Style s of the Revolution and the First Empire
Style under th e two Restorations, under Louis-Philippe, during the Second Empire
Art Nouveau or “Modern Style”
Pergamon Altar, c. 180-150 BCE. Pergamonmuseum, Berlin.


Styles constitute the aesthetic memory of the periods to which they belong. They represent the various cults of beauty to which a period gave birth. A world view lies dormant in the stones, the furniture and the words of a period. They are the witnesses to the way of life and to the aspirations of an epoch which survive through the generations. True, the whims of fashion are ephemeral but beauty is unchanging and everlasting. It does not just appear from nowhere. In fact, it is the mark of eternal beauty that we celebrate in styles, emerging as they do from mankind’s efforts to purify and synthesise, from his attempts to feel his way towards new understanding. This new understanding, this discovery, once made, becomes the expression, the true literature, of the people of the period. The discovery does not change form from one civilisation to the next. Rather, each civilisation reworks it with original ideas.
Originally, those seeking to develop styles were unaware that they were doing so. Styles developed not from the work of one individual but from the efforts of many and were gradually refined as part of a process which eventually produced anonymous masterpieces. Architectural styles develop in the same way that new species of plant and animal appear. In nature, new species appear through the effects of heredity and adaptation. Heredity is the process whereby the habits of the parents become permanent characteristics of the offspring. Adaptation changes the organism through a relationship that is vital to its survival: the relationship with the environment that it happens to inhabit. Adaptation to one’s environment may mean developing a particular organ by using it more frequently or allowing an organ to atrophy through lack of use. In the long term, adaptation leaves permanent traces on the individual organism. This creates a new variety or species. Hence, unexpectedly, yet logically, Darwin’s theories about the animal kingdom can be extended to the realm of ideas, specifically to styles, which are born of a historical tradition, and are honed by adaptation to the needs, feelings and knowledge of a new society.
The historical tradition is not the least of the influences on the development of a style. Architecture (not forgetting furniture, which is a kind of auxiliary architecture) is, in fact, the traditional art form par excellence. Painting and sculpture find their inspiration, their subjects, all around them. Architecture, on the other hand, finds only raw materials: the clay of the sculptor or the palette of colours of the painter. Beyond man, architecture has no subject. It borrows from nature whenever it turns sculptor or painter to clothe limbs of stone, wood or metal with meaningful and decorative garments. Architecture requires the involvement of a people, a race, a civilisation to bring it into existence and develop it. Centuries of effort produce an architectural style. Hence the essence of a style can only be appreciated many years later. Only time can hone and recognise the characteristic features that are representative of a style. When the Sun King settled into a contemporary armchair, it is unlikely that he thought of it as a Louis XIV chair. Today, on the other hand, we have no qualms about trumpeting the arrival of an ”art nouveau”, a claim which posterity may well consider an arrogant exaggeration. Therein lies the difference between a style and pretentions to a style, between a fashion for a certain type of beauty and true beauty. This is not to say, however, that some of today’s interesting efforts may not contain the seeds of a lasting expression of our own era’s style.
The study of styles, then, must be undertaken in stages since the object of study is composed of a series of states of understanding. The delicate gradation of purity of the various stages must also be examined. The smallest stone or moulding from a bygone period has its own eloquence, its own flavour. Connoisseurs are even able to recognise certain reliefs by touch. The feel of their age-worn surfaces could not be reproduced by a counterfeiter. The study of styles is, therefore, the study of a past teeming with lines, curves, foliage, columns and mascarons. It is a fascinatingly complex field which stimulates our curiosity and raises disconcerting questions. How satisfying to decipher a rebus, date a church or to offer one’s imagination the setting it has always hankered for, the backdrop of one’s dreams!
Pantheon, Rome, 118-128 CE.

The study of styles begins with architecture, which is the most obvious trace, the longest-lasting reference point that preceding centuries have left us, insofar as stone is the material that best resists the passage of time. Although there may be nothing but ruins left, ancient incarnations of beauty seem reluctant to slip from our memory and be forgotten. It is these ancient remains that we will examine first, not with the scientific approach of the archaeologist but with the eye of the artist. They speak, after all, of a civilisation, they evoke a way of life, a world view, the habits that characterised the period. A connoisseur may be able to tell different varieties of honey apart by taste, by recognising the different kinds of flowers the bees visited. The product he is tasting is honey nevertheless. Similarly, “honey” is only the essence of the product, the concept which refers to a variety of flavours which depend on the flowers that the bees are in the habit of visiting.
Primitive man was stocky, he did not have civilised habits and his iron muscles were used to makeshift rustic accommodation. Peace, leisure and the easy life that wealth brought, on the other hand, required refinement and luxury in the home. Romantic, primitive scenes have a certain appeal in art, a certain character, but it is luxury that gives art wings. Art is the most useless form of expression amongst the uncultivated and the most vital for cultivated thought. Only art can make the romantic, which is often synonymous with discomfort and unhealthy conditions, more attractive. Indeed romantic scenes are characterised by their seductive coarseness, by the absence of beautiful objects. In contrast, in an environment of taste and luxury, attractive ornaments abound and the observer is intoxicated by the beauty of his surroundings. These ornaments and this beauty are the incarnation of the flattery of the period since, whatever their ideals or faith, artists are obliged, whether to survive or simply to please, to respond to the tastes and spirit of their time. Thus, their works follow rather than leading and eventually subscribe to the ideas, the fads and the habits which win them acclaim from their contemporaries. The painter David did not paint in the style of his wonderful relative Boucher because the politics of his time had changed, and because the beautiful cupids “fed on milk and roses”, which were so dear to the heart of this pre-eminent painter of grace and charm, had disappeared in a cloud of face powder. They had fallen victim to the Greco-Roman sword of savage classicism. Nevertheless, if cupids had been in favour while David was painting and if the royal courtesans had continued to smile at him, he would undoubtedly have been content to follow in Boucher’s footsteps. Similarly, David was unforgiving towards Louis XVI (he refused to finish his portrait and voted in favour of the death sentence imposed on him by the National Convention) yet his republican zeal, which was at its height during the French Revolution, yielded wonderfully to the majesty of the Emperor Napoleon, who made David his principal painter.
What these anomalies show is that it is the flow of ideas that carries artists and their works along with it. At times the flow is interrupted but then it is taken up by others. As a result we find many examples of Baroque, fin de siècle or transitional styles, which are the sign of an impetus that has been repressed or deflected for political reasons, for reasons of taste or for the purpose of artistic or commercial flattery. One can date a work from a moulding which has gone unfinished. These tiny clues which are hidden within a style are the incarnation of acts which have not been carried to their conclusion, of intentions which have changed. They are the result of a return to a heroic past which people feel the need to celebrate in the face of present weakness, or because the ideas of the past are in line with contemporary thinking. We will see that during the First French Empire, David, the so-called dictator of the arts mentioned above, brought back the Greek helmet and Roman sword, influencing the architects Percier and Fontaine. We will also see how trite and banal styles became during the Second Empire because the originality and desire to change that had triumphed under Napoleon had given way to a bourgeois lack of individuality. Flat, uninteresting periods have had the styles they deserved. Great events, important upheavals, noble battles, aspirations inspired by faith or ideals have left their mark on the past, which registers society’s every tremor. As we have already said, those marks constitute styles, the only traces that remain of a man’s efforts and of men themselves. Writers are recognisable by the way they write, the way they formulate their thoughts, their style. There are as many styles as there are writers, unless the writer lacks originality, in which case he will copy or adapt others’ style. Throughout their long evolution, styles, too, have done just that.
Trajan’s Column, Rome, 113 CE. (opposite)

This brings us to the etymology of the word style. It comes from the Greek stylos and the Latin stylus , which referred to the pointed tool used for writing on wax tablets. The word character is sometimes used as a synonym for style . However, this is an error which should be avoided for the following reasons. As we have just seen, the origin of the word stylus lies in the tablets or counting frames filled with wax or simply sand which were used for writing in antiquity. The stylus was the pen of antiquity and the figures drawn on the counting frame or tablet with the stylos were called kharaktêr in Greek. The etymology of these two words explains the vital difference between style and character . Style is a kind of extension of the hand, which obeys the will of the writer or artist; it is the man himself expressing his thoughts or emotional responses. As Buffon says, the style is the man himself. Character, on the other hand, is the visible mark. Style, then, is the cause while character is the effect; style is the thought while character is the physical expression of that thought. This explanation of the meaning of the word style and how it differs from that of the word character may help to explain the dual meaning of the word style itself, which can be used with or without an adjective, that is to say in the relative or the abstract sense.
Men of the same family, region or race, possess identifying features which allow us to tell them apart but they all share the inherent characteristics of the human race. A man taken individually can be coarse or cultivated, thin or fat, in short a man can always be described or qualified. Man cannot. Man is an abstraction, an idea, the generic concept, an entity devoid of individuality. An individual man lives for a relatively short period of time while man the species, the concept, will live as long as the human race survives.
A “work of style”, which is to say a manifestation of the ideal, refers to the timeless abstract idea of style. A work done in an elegant or informal style is necessarily ephemeral and characterised by specific identifying features. Only simplicity can express the universal and the eternal, which also constitute values belonging to the Magna Moralia. There can be no “work of style” without simple thought and execution. This, then, is the singular fate of the word style ; it is used to refer both to the most spiritual qualities of thought and literature and to the stylus (or penholder). Indeed, the word has undergone the same process as style itself; through the ages its meaning has been purified by successive interpretations until finally it has come to represent an abstract concept with its origins in a physical object.
In the course of this book, the reader will see that while it may be going too far to say that nature, from which most of the works discussed below took their inspiration, is purified, it is at the very least, always interpreted and sometimes distorted to produce highly artistic pieces. Art is not intended to be a kind of photography, a reflection of reality, but rather a translation of that reality.
What, then, does it mean to stylise ? This is the art of tastefully conventionalising a model from nature, using natural objects with wit to make them more decorative. Take the example of the acanthus leaf, a key to styles down the ages! It has inspired extraordinary stylised representations! The acanthus leaves that decorated Greek Corinthian capitals were modelled on the thorny leaves of the real plant acanthus spinosus ; the Romans used (and some would say over-used) the smoother leaves of the acanthus mollis ; and the broad acanthus leaf of the Renaissance then replaced the highly stylised, simplified leaf used by the Romans. The acanthus leaf was banished during the Gothic period and atrophied under Louis XIII, becoming heavy and solid like the style itself. Under Louis XIV, it became solemn and stiff and under Louis XV it was twisted and curled, though less extravagantly so than had been the case under the regency which preceded Louis XV’s reign. Finally, under Louis XVI, the acanthus leaf was simplified and became less elegant and less bold. Another example can be found in the many metamorphoses of the palmette. It has so many incarnations that we recognise in spite of the divine disguise of their altered form! Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman versions, all different from one another! The demi-palmette used to decorate corners; the Doric palmette, which was reserved for Doric cornices and which reappeared during the First and indeed the Second French Empires!
Abbey of St Peter, Moissac, 11 th -15 th centuries.
Stonehenge, Wiltshire, c. 2900-1400 BCE.

This is the meaning of style. It is the metamorphosis of the original inspiration through today’s original reworking. It is the representation of the scent of the flower, which is to say, the essence of the flower. It is a cyclical return to the source since antiquity began where we end up. Let’s not forget that style is the essence, it represents the fruits of a whole experience, and allowing us to identify the flower from which it comes is a quality in a perfume. The Romans, who did not have a particularly imaginative approach to language, were indifferent to drawings that were too precise to move the observer. The effects of a violinist’s playing are limited if they are only felt by his bow and this is true for any musician. It is not the instrument that is important but the soul of the person playing it. All of these intangible aspects of a work of art are part of the style. There is no art without style and style cannot be pinned down. It is the mood of the thing, which cannot be captured, it is its flavour. To stylise is to set out on a quest in the realm of material things, to travel towards discovery through the intricacies of a riddle. What knowledge must we possess in order to unveil the mysteries of successive styles one by one? The different types of architecture are footprints in the sand left by bygone eras. The botanist knows a tree by its leaf; the archaeologist identifies a soil layer by what he finds in it; the artist discovers a style by analysing the characters that constitute its beauty. But what a long way back one must go when one wants to analyse ruins and examine remains! Ruins and remains know so much but determinedly say so little! Then suddenly their secrets are out! We know their age! We know who built them! We should not, though, exaggerate the importance of styles to the point where we imagine that they are completely distinct from one another. The branches of a tree are all branches and, similarly, all styles are based on a tangible reality. They simply belong to a large family where parentage is not always easy to trace and where mismatched partners, interbreeding and deaths abound.
Once we have looked at the different types of architecture, we shall cross the threshold of temples, abbeys, cathedrals and homes and study the furniture. A piece of furniture is, after all, a small architectural monument since, where decor is concerned, every expression of a period’s style is related; they share the same feel, they seem to belong to the same family. And should furniture not match the decor? Let us not make a distinction between architecture and furniture, then. Indeed we shall often use the study of architecture and furniture as a starting point for identifying all kinds of objects.
The outline of our programme of work is becoming clearer. To achieve the practical aims we have set out, we need to return to the very source of personality. As we travel through time from the past to the present, we shall focus on form, expression, decoration and so on, which will help us to form a judgement which is as free as possible from damaging gaps in our knowledge. By proceeding from one deduction to the next and ensuring we do not skip any of the links in the chain, we shall grasp what styles have in common, how they influence one another and how they merge while always maintaining their individual nuances.
Let us now look at the general aesthetic principles of style and at how they relate to constructive geometry. The Greeks had a very marked predilection for combinations of straight lines and they considered the straight line to be the epitome of architecture due to its perfect simplicity, unity and nobility. The Egyptians knew only the triangle and the quadrilateral. The latter was the form taken by the main facades or their buildings and the former was the shape of the pediments which closed off the eaves. Both Greeks and Egyptians used the flat arch as a basic ingredient of their building, to the exclusion of all other methods used to span openings in walls or cover areas of ground. The Romans had less refined tastes and placed greater emphasis on utility and on rich materials than on the tranquil harmony of line and shape that had been favoured previously. They were also inclined to imitate the Etruscans, although they developed Etruscan models considerably. They added the circular arch to the various straight forms used in Pagan, Egyptian and Greek art. Roman building was mixed in the methods it used and employed both flat and circular arches. In both Byzantine and Roman styles, but particularly in Byzantine architecture, the majority of wall openings, the tops of buildings and domes all used circular arches. They used the semi-circular arch as their basic model and this later developed into the pointed arch both in the West and the East. Pointed forms then became all the rage both in the West and the East. There was an apparent enjoyment of hard edges and sharp points and these were to be found everywhere one looked.
Renaissance style enthusiastically adopted one of the last forms created by the Gothic style: the ellipse. The ellipse was initially adopted as the shape which would allow the building of large openings such as church doorways. They were crowned with a four centred arch, which was decorative rather than functional. Although the architecture of the Renaissance accepted the semi-circular arch, there was a preference for the segmental arch or even for the stilted arch for which the ellipse was the contemporary geometrical model. The ellipse is as restful to observe as the semi-circular arch, is more graceful and more sumptuous than the pointed arch and offers more variation and nuance than either and it seems to have become an important part of modern architecture.
It is from this marriage of the soul’s needs and the mind’s desires, of the rational faculties and the aesthetic sense that architectural styles are born and these, let us remember, are related to styles in furniture. The union of the two gives rise to exclamations of admiration as when Henry IV was moved by the intricate stone carvings on the facade of Tours cathedral to cry: “Ventre Saint-Gris! What beautiful jewels are here! All that is missing is the display case!”; and Vauban, overcome with admiration for the huge octagonal tower at Coutances cathedral, exclaimed, “Which sublime madman dared to raise such a monument towards the heavens?”. It was Michelangelo who said of the doors of the Baptistry of Saint John in Florence, “they are so beautiful that they should be used as Heaven’s gates”.
Man has felt the need to establish rules governing beauty since the earliest times. The Egyptians and the Greeks had canons relating to the visual arts and the Greeks divided architecture into aesthetically-defined types known as orders. The hieratic, symbolic Egyptian style became formulaic after a period of independence while the Greek style was free of all constraints (although there were widely differing canons for each of the arts) and reflected nature superbly. We shall not discuss the canons relating to the visual arts here as they lie outside the scope of this work. However, we shall deal with the orders of architecture, which have close links with their younger relatives: styles.
The orders speak the same silent language as the styles and the age-old fascination they both hold over us links them closely to each other. Moreover, an order often underpins a style, hence the need to begin by carefully studying the orders. There are five orders, as follows: the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian (the Greek orders), the Tuscan order (which was derived from the Greek Doric order) and the Composite order (Roman). There also exist Roman versions of the Doric and Ionic orders, which differed significantly from the Greek versions.
For the purposes of this elementary, practical introduction to styles, the reader has only to examine the features of the orders on the illustration and to note the differences between them. It is worth remembering that every detail is important if we are not to lose the thread that we are seeking to follow. As a result, we shall be stepping back into the far distant past, though not without taking a pleasant stroll through conjecture and poetry as certainties are in short supply. Certainties, however, are of no concern to us at the moment since we are dealing with art. We must also immerse ourselves in the general theory of construction out of respect for the styles which emanate from it. Then we shall undergo our initiation into the worship of the miracle of art through the legends that are attached to it.
Georges Jacob , Armchair, c. 1780. Carved and painted beech wood. Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris.
Painted panels, c. 1780. Oil on canvas. Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris.
Nicolas Pineau , Project for a console, c. 1735. Pen and black ink, grey wash. Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris.

In the very earliest times, menhirs, or standing stones (whether arranged in rows or not), dolmens (stones supporting other stones in a table-like arrangement), stone circles and trilithons (or dolmens arranged to form a door but without the side walls or the tumulus of earth that would originally have covered them) speak of a kind of primitive style, although they are of archaeological rather than artistic interest now. We shall, therefore, pass quickly over these rudimentary forms, although not without noting their meanings and the ambitions that probably inspired them. These meanings supplement the general aesthetic principles underlying styles which we discussed earlier. For example, the ancient quest for the sublime, for calm grandeur seems to be reflected in the giant monoliths, in the simple arrangements of prehistoric stones and in the enormous size of the Egyptian pyramids alike. They are emulating mountains; “In the Athenians’ imaginations, the Acropolis was as high up as Olympus and the home of the gods themselves was a mountain in Thessaly.” On the other hand, although Greek temples are always located high up, they are never very tall: “their low pediments can be seen on cliff tops or looking out over the sea because the Greeks felt that the divinities in their stories had chosen to come amongst men so that men should not have to attempt to ascend to the abode of the gods.” But the link between human imagination and man’s drive to build does not stop here.
The fascination with surfaces was followed by a fascination with depth, which is evident in Indian temples, with height, which can be seen in Christian churches [1] , and with length as evidenced by Egyptian temples; “Only the Greeks retained a kind of balance in their proportions (width double the height and length double the width).” Similarly, it was the Greeks who were to provide art with a basis and a balance. It was they who best codified the steps that would produce beauty, who would lay out the path to style. It would be unfair, however to ignore the clear influence of Eastern and Egyptian art on Greek art. Moreover, it is worth remembering that art emerges from the sum of all ideas. At first it took the form of anonymous masterpieces which emerged from the chaos of civilisations. Then it was taken up, interpreted, filtered, perfected by the genius of the Greeks, who organised it in a manner which is widely considered to be highly original. Indeed their astounding, unruffled originality will continue to amaze future generations for centuries to come. It was an originality based not on improvisation but on a great train of reasoning, and it is this that made it a timeless model, insofar as a given harmony remains harmonious as time goes by. However, let us not get ahead of ourselves. In the next chapter we shall continue our journey through classical antiquity.
Germain Boffrand and Charles Joseph Natoire , Hôtel de Soubise, Parade Room of the Princess, Paris, 1735-1739. (opposite)
Arch of Constantine, Rome, 312-315 CE.


The initial inspiration for styles

It is widely accepted that the first traces of civilisation and, by extension, the first features of characteristic styles, are to be found in Egypt. We shall bypass the early buildings attributed to the Pelasgians since, as the ruins at Tiryns, Mycenae and Plataea show, they are of scant aesthetic interest. These peoples were nomadic and they lived in the wild. Their homes were caves [2] or huts. They used the raw materials around them. They camped. Depending on the kind of terrain and the soil they found, they went in for agriculture, hunting or fishing. Stilt houses appeared among sedentary communities as did tents among pastoral peoples, who were obliged to travel constantly, moving on at the end of each season to find the pasture they needed to feed their livestock. There was no real furniture. The first bed was really just bedding as people slept on animal skins or on piles of dry leaves. The first table was a flat stone propped on other stones placed upright. The first seat was a block of stone. How could art make any headway in the face of such uncomfortable, makeshift arrangements? Yet, however rudimentary it might be, the colourful, primitive nature of the first home could be considered a kind of style. Let us enter the cave of primitive man and examine it. It is coarse, artless, has a flavour of savagery and is full of disturbing shadows. Animal skins and silex axes hang on the walls. These are the first ornamental displays. A woman bedecked with necklaces made of shells and animal teeth is sitting on an aurochs skull crushing grain between two stones. Her nakedness is partly concealed by furs and feathers. A disembowelled, partly butchered bear lies on the floor. Cut and twisted branches lie in the corners, their leaves adding a pleasant touch of lighter colour. Freshly caught dead birds hang in bunches from the low ceiling. The colourful, primitive character of this dwelling in fact constitutes a style although they eye may retain only the impression of an attractive disorder.
But let us return to Egyptian art, the art of a serene civilisation and a people of faith and ideals. Once man has met his basic needs, he rests and thinks and his mind turns eagerly to art. He examines nature and uses it as a model. Hence, “trees are the inspiration for columns, their fluting and fillets seem to represent a bundle of fibres and the astragal, a simplified representation of rope, mirrors the vigorous lines of plant stems”. The Egyptians adopted the bud, or the fully open flower, of the lotus or the palm leaf to decorate their capitals. The Greeks saw the Corinthian capital in an acanthus leaf. Whilst the Egyptians found the inspiration for their capitals in the bud or fully open flower of the lotus and the palm leaf, we owe the inspiration for the Corinthian capital to the acanthus leaf. The Roman architect Vitruvius tells the following charming story:

A young Corinthian woman died on her wedding day and her nursemaid placed a number of small vessels that the young woman had been fond of on her tomb in a basket. In order to protect the vessels she placed a tile over the basket. There happened to be an acanthus root there and when the stems and leaves began to grow the following spring, they surrounded the basket. When they encountered the edges of the tile they had to curl back forming scroll shapes. Callimachus was passing the place one day and saw the basket. He saw that the shapes made by the acanthus were graceful and original and used them as a model for the capitals in Corinth. He then set out the rules and proportions for the Corinthian order.
Temple of Amun, Luxor, Thebes, c. 1408-1300 BCE. Egypt.

Still in the realm of legend, here is the story of the origin of the Ionic capital. One day an architect put down his plans on a column which did not yet have a capital. The plans were made of hide or papyrus and due to the action of either humidity or gravity, the overhanging parts on either side of the column warped or rolled up into curled shapes. A flagstone that had been placed on top of the column to stop the plans blowing away did the offices of an abacus. Notwithstanding the existence of this legend, there is no reason to doubt the theory that rams’ horns or a popular women’s hairstyle of the period were the real inspiration for the form. This origin is close to the one suggested later in this work for items of furniture. It is similar to “the Indian who rests the flat arches in his building on elephants, the Persian who replaces the capitals of his columns with two bulls’ heads, or the Greek who has rain water flow away through the muzzle of a lion”.
Next it is the turn of the human body. The flexible bodies of young girls suggested the caryatids who would support marble lintels and, strong male bodies would be interspersed between columns as atlantes. Here is the story of the origin of the caryatid as told by Vitruvius:

The citizens of Garyae, a town in the Peloponnese, formed an alliance with the Persians against the Greeks. They were punished for this when their town was invaded. All the men were put to the sword and the women were enslaved. Not content to force the women to walk behind the triumphal procession, the victors drew out the spectacle of their humiliation by forcing them to wear their long matriarchs ’ robes and other finery. To immortalise their punishment, architects thought of placing representations of them on public buildings, where they would do the office of the columns and be condemned to groan under the weight of the architraves. The Spartans did the same when under Pausanias, son of Cleombrotus, they defeated the Greeks at the battle of Plataea. They built a gallery which they called a Persian gallery where the entablature was supported by statues of captives dressed in their barbarian dress. This is the origin of the practice of replacing columns with Greek statues which has been adopted by a number of architects, who have thus enriched art by the addition of another decorative motif.
Ramses II Temple, Abu Simbel, begun in c. 1280 BCE. Egypt.

The atlantes represented the defeated Carthaginians: supporting the cornice, holding it up with their arms and appearing to be struggling not to collapse under its weight. They always wore “a brutish smile”. Indeed, if Henry Havard ( Histoire et Physionomie des styles ) is to be believed, the influence of the human body as a source of inspiration went further:

... Boots (which were necessary during the reign of Louis XIV because the streets were dirty and muddy) made the leg look shapeless, rather like the shaft of a column (if you will pardon the expression). When carriages appeared, the tyranny of that fashion came to an end. Men stepped out “in their garters”, to borrow Brienne ’ s expression. The leg was then displayed with all its suggestive curves, its slender joints and its graceful bulges. Apparently, this made a strong impression because the straight, rigid column that classical architecture had made fashionable was replaced in every kind of furniture by more rounded shapes ( à mollet or calf-shaped in French). Chair and table legs and the columns of four poster beds were given more rounded forms. This seemed all the more natural because people were already in the habit of referring to the parts of the main kinds of frame furniture using the names of parts of the human body. One talked of the legs, the back and the seat of a chair and the legs of a table. The reference to the calf mentioned above was also applied to the baluster, “a small pilaster which swelled out in the middle and was made up of four sections: the stand, which served as a base; the pear , which was the name given to the bulbous part in French; the neck, where the baluster became more slender, and the capital, the crown of the baluster”. The words baluster and “mollet”, literally calf, became so interchangeable in French that furniture with bulbous legs or feet was called “baluster furniture”...

Edmond de Goncourt describes how “on observing the ragged layers of branches of a cedrus deodorus in the little park at Saint-Gratien growing shorter the closer they were to the tree top, I experienced a kind of revelation as to the origin of the Chinese pagoda, which must have been inspired by the shape of the tree. Similarly, it is said that the inspiration for the pointed arch came from the way the branches of an avenue of large trees meet at the top of the arch they form”.
Sphinx, Giza, c. 2530 BCE. Egypt.
Temple of Amun, Karnak, c. 1550 BCE. Egypt.

In addition to aesthetic impact, there is an moral impact to consider. In the Middle Ages, Gothic architecture adopted slender shapes, particularly in northern areas. Architecture favoured harsh, pointed or sharp forms and the population shared that taste. By contrast, in Pericles’ time, Greek architects constantly sought calm, simplicity, order and moderation and these were also the aspirations of the Greek people. Hence the art form expresses a world view since architecture is simply a reflection of the character of the time. In fact, the temple at Karnac, the Parthenon, the Arch of Titus, the Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen, Notre Dame in Paris, Chambord, Versailles and the French National Assembly building on the banks of the Seine, are all symbols, expressions of a world view, visible manifestations of a physical, intellectual and emotional world. Cuvier also notes the impact of terrain on styles:

Lombardy builds only brick houses, whereas right next door Liguria is full of marble palaces. The travertine quarries made Rome the most beautiful city in antiquity; the local limestone and gypsum quarries have made Paris one of the pleasantest cities of the modern world. In other words, Michelangelo and Bramante could not have built Paris in the same style as Rome because they would not have found the same stone there.

A deeper understanding of the nature, manufacture and strength of materials has led modern nations to adopt a new kind of building almost without realising it.

Initially, wood, stone and metals were used together with unexpected effects. Then, iron-framed roof structures with infilling supporting lightweight sheets of metal, which had originally been used to roof large buildings, provided a model for huge iron arches. The ropes and lianas used by Indians to cross rivers with steep banks inspired suspension bridges. A combination of iron, cast iron and glass allowed the construction of magnificent galleries full of exotic plants. Solid porte-cochères were replaced with elegant wrought iron. The heavy pillars in the halls where our merchants used to do business were replaced by transparent boxes of mirrors and glass held together by metal rods or sometimes by nothing at all...

The main building methods also derived from the various types of primitive dwellings.

Chinese and Japanese buildings were an exact copy of the tent; the underground temples of Hindustan and Nubia are likely to have been closely related to the lairs or dens of troglodyte peoples; the hut was probably the prototype for the fine buildings of Greek and Roman antiquity.

Similarly, the elementary idea behind the dolmen, that of placing stones upright in parallel lines, perhaps suggested the columns and walls – depending on how close together or far apart the stones were – of ancient Egyptian shrines; as with the pyramids and pagodas of India, the huge tombs of Egypt probably began life as imitation tumuli or mounds of earth covered with masonry.

However, the fact that the ancient Egyptians and Egyptian Arabs had access to the same raw materials but that the former adopted a very severe rectilinear model and the latter more or less pointed arches and domes must be attributed to differences of taste and aesthetics. The vigorously conservative approach that emanates from the monuments of ancient Egypt reflects the almost inanimate immobility of the Egyptians ’ social system. The thrust of arches and vaulting would not have reflected the impassive approach which was so dear to the Egyptian soul. There can be no other explanation for the preference firstly for the flat arch and then for huge, immovable solid masses. Similarly, although the Egyptians and the Greeks were conversant with arches and vaulting, they built hypostyle halls using columns and flat arches and hypaethral temples which were open to the skies like courtyards. They did so not only because they possessed excellent quarries but also for aesthetic reasons. Could anything be more uncomfortable that a hypostyle hall encumbered as it is with columns which block the view and make moving around freely difficult? Could a valuable statue be more poorly protected than in an open hypaethral temple?
Ornamental grammar: palmettes, masks, winged chimeras, sphinx, lions’ muzzles, and lions’ paws.
Ishtar Gate, Babylon, c. 600 BCE. Pergamonmuseum, Berlin.

According to Félix Monmory, whose interesting theory we have borrowed from, this is an example which proves aesthetic considerations can take precedence over reason and arguments relating to utility. This is in contrast to Cuvier’s view cited above. Furthermore, after the desire for enduring stability expressed in Egyptian architecture through solid inanimate forms that recalled rock and mountains, the Greek ideal changed through contact with nature’s expression of harmony and proportion in living beings (we return here to H. Havard’s observation). The best examples of this harmony and proportion were available to the Greeks on a daily basis in their athletes, their runners and their courtesans.
Beyond the various ideals, the vagaries of the various sources of inspiration, whether human, vegetable or animal, beyond the nature of the terrain and in spite of inevitable influences and borrowings, it seems that a factor which is entirely independent from the manners of a society may have influenced styles. It is the individual’s personality which lends originality to existing styles by adapting them to suit. However talented an architect, painter or sculptor is, he cannot imagine creating art without the knowledge base provided by previous masterpieces. It is said, in relation to writing, that “style is the man”. It is impossible to project this personal aspect of style without a knowledge of earlier writers. To the contrary, in fact, the charm of a person’s style comes from the fact that they make wonderful use of other styles in an original way.
To come back to architecture and its sister art, furniture, a genius who knew nothing about the styles that had gone before, would almost certainly reproduce one of those styles without realising it. Someone with an extensive knowledge of those styles, on the other hand, would have a better chance of creating something original because he would make an effort not to mimic the styles he knew. What’s more, the ignorant and unconsciously impersonal genius would lack experience, this being a source of strength and comfort, which predominates in the home before moving onto aesthetics more generally.
Persepolis Palatial Complex, 6 th -5 th centuries BCE. Iran.

What remains is originality based on experience, which, whilst possible, borders on madness, and is at least a difficult and perhaps pretentious goal given the definitive masterpieces that architecture has already given us. It is only through the creation of variations and variants, through adaptation that a particular architecture becomes original. Hence experience, even without genius, is preferable to genius with ignorance. If the builder’s art were to take second place to the decorative aspects of architecture to the detriment of a house’s practical purpose, it would be a poor house indeed. Architecture, then, is constrained by the requirements of comfort and the uses to which the building is to be put.
When we come to discuss “modern style”, which is currently flourishing, we shall expand on the subject of art’s adaptation to the practical purposes for which it is intended, without which there could be no art, at least as far as the subject of this work is concerned. Meanwhile, we shall examine the relationship between art and styles and their environment. It is difficult to know what comment to make, for instance, on the Neo-Greek and Neo-Roman monuments which seem so out of place against the backdrop of our grey skies. What’s more, their huge size clashes with the harmony of the simple surrounding houses. The Palais du Trocadéro, for instance, is a single Moorish revival building in an area full of buildings which recall... the late 19 th century under Grévy! The Luxor obelisk rises unexpectedly in the desert of... the Place de la Concorde, in Paris! The Egyptian columns of the Rue des Colonnes are... near the Paris stock exchange! And there are so many other monuments and fountains, which we shall discuss in the section on the Empire style. In fact, whether a style is appropriate is a matter of the climate in the area where it originated. One must admit that although the style of the Palais Garnier (Monte-Carlo’s casino) and its hanging gardens in the style of the hanging gardens of Babylon, in no way spoils the haunt of the flashy foreigner, it is out of step with its location! The vegetation and the clothing of the local inhabitants are always in tune with the surrounding environment. Southerners wisely adopt bright colours which look cheerful in the sunshine but would look out of place under our grey skies. The trees of southern France produce oranges, while our own more northerly trees produce apples for the same reasons. The cold and noble beauty of the Venus de Milo in her simple draped linen habit is perfectly suited to the majesty of a Greek temple. We are charmed by the pleasant smiles of the jewel-bedecked “damsels” in fine satins and velvets – the damsels who posed as models for the graceful, gracious images of Venus of their times – at the windows of cheerful and charming Renaissance palaces!
Temple of Bacchus, Baalbek, c. 150 CE. Lebanon.

Each style has its own character, its own grandeur, each style is appropriate for different conditions: sloping roofs for rainy countries, terraces and flat roofs for sunny lands. Similarly, Indo-Chinese temples are reminiscent of Chinese buildings, not because of any desire to develop similar forms of architecture, but because the hot climate and violent storms made certain building practices advisable. It is these factors which explain why the architecture of the Far East uses large pyramid-shaped roofs, why the north side of the building is always open and the roof is supported on three rather than four walls, and why columns are widely used to allow the cool air in. Religions, too, have always both inspired art and imbued it with their spirit. Among the Turks, the muezzin calls the people to prayer from the top of a minaret, hence the height of minarets. The bell towers of catholic churches also rise high above the surrounding houses in order that the faithful will immediately hear the call coming from the seat of their faith. There are many other similar examples. Furthermore, later in this work, we shall recall how the Christians of the catacombs remembered Christ in the building of their churches. It is worth repeating that since architecture and furniture are so closely linked, a fact to which we will return time and again in greater detail, we need not go into similar conventions as they relate to furniture at present.

Styles: Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, etc.

To return once more to the Egyptians, the first people in antiquity to develop a typical art of their own, it is pleasant to think of them giving themselves over to a fruitful leisure in the calm atmosphere created by their world view. And what their imaginations produced in the midst of that calm, and what they then made the most of was the column, which replaced the beam, in other words they found an attractive substitute for an ugly necessity. The rough stem of the palm leaf and the smooth stem of the lotus flower developed either in leaf or flower form at the ends of the capital. Then the four legs of the chair, which were required for practical reasons of balance, borrowed the attractive indentations of animal paws and chairs gained a lighter, more entertaining look. Alternatively, designs reminiscent of flowers were used for this purpose. As regards beds, some were shaped like highly elongated Hamadryas baboons, for example, on whose back the user slept. The dog-headed animal was very faithfully reproduced and his paws served as the legs of the bed. Alternatively, four lions’ muzzles might decorate the corners of the bed frame and the legs of the lion terminating in conical shapes would serve as bed legs. This desire to transform everyday objects, initially in a rather naive fashion was a first step towards a style of decoration. Over the centuries, the development of a style became an essential aim.
Next the Egyptians sought art in the unusual form of the giant monolith – the obelisk. They placed it to the right and left of their impressively solid high walls and pylons. Think, too, of the geometric grandeur of their pyramids rising harrowingly out of the immense flat desert, of their terrifyingly large colossi, which are as awe-inspiring as the gods they represent and of their giant sphinxes! It is worth remembering that Egyptian art is used exclusively in the service of the religion it glorifies, the masterpieces of this art are inspired exclusively by faith. Egyptian temples are as enormous as the devotion which led to their construction. Neither do the inscriptions lauding the exploits of the pharaohs mar the walls of these monuments. On the contrary, both the design and the colours of the Egyptian hieroglyphs used to decorate walls and fabrics are attractive to the eye. The list of Egyptian furniture includes chests, pedestal tables, armchairs, stools and tables which are relatively similar in shape to our own. They are decorated with metals, ivory, mother-of-pearl and precious woods. They have brightly coloured coverings and there are cushions on the armchairs and stools. The beds have a kind of bed base made of strips of fibres or leather which show that comfort was a consideration. The chests take the form of miniature dwellings or temples. In summary, the Egyptian style is characterised by the hieratical, monumental nature of its statuary, by its columns and capitals (palm tree or lotus), by its sphinx, by the colossi with the heads of the pharaohs and its animal-headed gods, by its obelisk and by its pyramids, by its decoratively-deployed hieroglyphs, and finally by the huge size of its buildings. Furthermore, the widely-used decorative sacred scarab motif should not be forgotten.
Ictinus and Callicrates , Parthenon , Acropolis, Athens, 448-432 BCE.

Let us now move on to Phoenician art. There is nothing in Phoenician art that could be called original and, in fact, we know very little about it. It seems that the Phoenicians were traders rather than artists, although some see the origins of Greek creativity there. This would support our theory that early art derives from a confused mix of ideas. Nevertheless, it is generally agreed that Phoenician art is merely a mix of Egyptian and Assyrian influences. Assyrian art, on the other hand, is unanimously recognised as being highly original in its exaltation of royal power (perhaps because much evidence attesting to the glories of this civilisation has survived). Assyrian architecture is grandiose. It recalls the majesty of Egyptian art but has a character entirely its own. The gates decorated with winged bulls, discovered at Khorsabad, are typical as are the low reliefs, in particular those showing the hunting exploits of King Sargon. They tell us a great deal not only about the noble bearing of the Assyrians but also about the opulence of their clothing and jewellery. The style of Assyrian furniture is in line with the above with the exception of a number of gold tables, stools, beds and thrones which were reserved for use in temples or palaces more out of a desire to exalt wealth than out of a love of art.
Some singularly elegant items of Assyrian furniture have survived along with remains, which are at least easy to reconstruct, of bronze uprights used alongside wood and metallic decoration. Often the piece is decorated with marquetry and the inspiration for its ingenious construction is a flower or an animal. All of these remains speak of luxury and both the precious raw materials that they are made of and the passionate paintings reflect a very eastern kind of ostentation. We find nothing particular worth highlighting in Chaldea due to the fact that the Assyrian civilisation owes parts of its culture to Chaldea. Similarly, we shall leave aside the art of Judea, which seems to have been non-existent partly for religious reasons and partly because it was unable to compete with the far superior Egyptian and Assyrian arts.
The Maison Carrée, Nîmes, c. 10 CE.

In Persia, however, a style did develop, although one can obviously see the marks of ideas borrowed from the preceding styles. The capitals of Persepolis and of Suse are worthy of note. Later, although Persia, like the other provinces of Asia Minor, was subject to Greek influences, the particular features of the climate and the mores of the people meant that these had to be adapted to suit.
We now come to Greek art. After a period of eastern influence in the early days, Greek art became wonderfully original. We shall not discuss the earliest period as all that is available from that time are a number of interesting curiosities but with no indication of their provenance. We shall instead focus on Greek art under Pericles, when it experienced its most obvious heyday and when building took on an unforgettably romantic form. Examples of this are to be found in the Parthenon and many other temples that are models of grandeur, moderation and restraint. We do not intend to go into further detail on the subject of these jewels of conceptual thought. Neither shall we look at the immortal Greek sculpture that was produced by the chisel of Phidias and his school. Greek furniture consists of small ornaments and of thrones, beds and three-legged stools, and so on. It is always made of chased bronze, although gold and ebony-encrusted cedar wood chests and coffins which point to remarkable cabinet-making skills have also been found. It should be noted that the Greeks introduced the acanthus leaf as a typical decorative motif and we shall now focus on the sculpted, engraved and painted motifs that were used to decorate ornamental mouldings since it is impossible to describe plain mouldings (the reglet, torus, astragal, cavetto, etc.) and crown mouldings (hood moulds, ogee mouldings, etc.). These are clearly of interest due to the fact that we shall come across them again in Roman art and in almost all decorative art in modern times from the Renaissance to the present day.
Mnesicles , Erechtheion , Acropolis, Athens, c. 420 BCE.
Major elements constituent of the columns corresponding to the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders.

Greek decoration : egg and darts , a series of oval shapes similar to certain fruit contained in a kind of shell like that of a sweet chestnut.
Palmettes : these were probably an imitation of the lotus leaf, rounded and curved inwards alternating with another kind of foliage with pointed leaves curving outwards
Tracery : a combination of curved lines running in and out of one another like a plait
Greek waves : a continuous uninterrupted series of spirals.
Meanders : an interwoven pattern of broken lines bent at right angles.
Heart leaves : flower-shaped ornaments with waterleaf.
Bead and spindle : a string of alternating round and oval-shaped beads similar to a necklace.
Fluting : short grooves containing pointed leaves.
We also include here the laurel leaf torus used by the Greeks and Romans and during the Renaissance, and the banderol, cable moulding, and flower motif , which were widely used throughout antiquity.
Just as we underlined the importance of learning the orders of architecture, it is important that the reader should ensure he has assimilated this basic list before we continue.
We now arrive, then (having bypassed Etruscan art, the intrinsic beauty to which we shall return later) at the Roman period. The remains retrieved from the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii tell the story of a people who were singularly lacking in originality. What do we notice about the ruins of their monuments, or perhaps we should rather ask what do we imagine we will find in the restored ruins before we go seeking their furniture underneath the lava? Firstly, the Romans had improved the use of the vaulting and arcades invented by the Etruscans. The introduction of the arch brought about a significant change as it bent the straight lines of Greek architecture. At the same time, Greek flat arches were replaced by arcades which allowed pillars to be placed farther apart and created a series of graceful arches. It was also the Romans, with their passion for combinations, who invented the Composite capital which merged aspects of the Ionic and the Corinthian orders. They also played with the Greek orders, often replacing moderation with profuse decoration. However, the result was extremely beautiful and this beauty was almost sufficient substitute for the originality that was lacking in their creations.
Their statuary also borrows shamelessly from Greek statuary, although with less brilliance. However, their focus on truth to life and their conviction perhaps give them an edge here. Nevertheless, if one examines the essence of Roman art one finds that the marble palaces, mosaics, jewellery, cameos and so on copy the discoveries of Greek art. This is of little importance, however. The Maison Carrée and the arena of Nîmes, the Coliseum, the Roman theatre of Orange, and so on do have a personality of their own, unless one wishes to consider that the superior art of the Greeks and the Romans merge into one under the denomination Greco-Roman. We did not discuss Greek furniture because we knew that we should be dealing with the same shapes under the heading of Roman furniture, although the uses to which the furniture was put sometimes differs. In Roman furniture one finds the same couches designed for several people arranged around round or square tables and the sigma-shaped couch. “The Spartans, the Romans of the early days, lay on straw mats but at the apogee of the Republic the wealthy in particular owned couches made of rare woods such as ebony, lemon and cedar wood decorated with inlays and carving. One reached the couches via steps.” We also find the sella , a word which refers any kind of chair without a back. Chairs with a back were termed cathedra . The curule chair was made of ivory or metal and the legs formed a cross and the solium or throne (which had a variety of uses) had neither back nor arms if it was intended for a magistrate of the Republic and was made of wood or marble if it was meant for regular visitors to a home or for a divinity. There were also a multitude of benches, tripods, stools and cushions as well as portable metal ornaments scattered around the huge rooms with walls which were sometimes bare, sometimes hung with plain draperies or decorated with frescoes and mosaics. The roof, which often had an opening in it, was supported by wide columns which were linked by garlands of leaves and ribbons.
Arena of Nîmes, after 50 CE.

We could go on forever noting the fountains used in Roman villas, the gardens of aromatic plants and so on but this would divert us from our intended purpose. What the reader should retain is the description of the styles which were forerunners of what was to come, their particular spirit and, at the very least, the aspects that they would pass on and that others would borrow. It takes very little to set a period apart. The proof of this is that we find very clear indications of Greek, Roman and even Egyptian inspiration in the French First Empire style. For now, we have learned the orders and the motifs used on Greek ornamental mouldings and we have not forgotten the typical features of Egyptian style. Indeed, these features are so typical that when one looks, for instance, at the small Egyptian temple on the island of Philae, no great effort is needed to believe one is looking at a Greek temple. Once again, it is worth underlining the fact that everything is connected. Styles emerge from a mix of ideas and take on the universal cloak of timeless beauty. Whether they are cheerful or solemn depends on contemporary fashions and events as the style will pick and choose from preceding styles to satisfy current whims. Vanity, the early signs of which we discussed when describing the prehistoric cavewoman in her necklaces of coloured stones, animal teeth and perforated shells, will now come into its own as not only the Egyptians and Assyrians, but the Hebrews and peoples throughout Asia perfected the goldsmith’s arts. Egyptian tombs have yielded perfectly chased pectorals, scarab necklaces, symbolic fish, lotus flowers and so on. However, these cannot compete with Greek jewellery. The Greeks excelled in the working of metal, which they decorated with repoussé work and did not solder, while the Egyptians were the masters of pictoral representation in jewellery.
However, we are more familiar with Roman and Etruscan gold work thanks to the excavations of the necropoleis of Etruria and particularly those carried out in the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Amongst other objects, the clips, earrings, hooks, mirrors and brooches recovered there are admirable for their shape, taste and beauty. The Romans, in fact, loved gold and precious stones and brought a delicate good taste to their jewellery which Eastern peoples, who were more preoccupied with originality than with the aesthetic aspects of their art, lacked. The Byzantine emperors, too, would further emphasise luxury and their strange heavy jewellery is often accused of lacking taste. However, Byzantium at least has the excuse of achieving real luxury and the magnificent abundance it expresses perhaps makes amends for other deficiencies. It is “a dazzling jumble of enamels, cameos, niellos, pearls, garnets, sapphires and gold and silver indented work”. (Théophile Gautier.) The Gauls and Franks seem to have been fond of the necklaces and rings made of precious metals of which so many examples have been found in their tombs. Gallo-Roman gold and silver smiths have left us many examples of bracelets and armbands in the shape of coiled snakes, necklaces, badges, brooches and so on. Generally speaking, the style of these pieces is closely aligned with the building style and decoration of the period. We suggested earlier that a piece of furniture is a miniature architectural monument. Similarly, a piece of jewellery is a miniature monument in gold or silver. We will recognise the designs used from the pediments of temples or the columns of the time and the shape from one or other detail of a building or the curve of a typical amphora.
In the next chapter we shall discuss the styles of the Middle Ages. This next stage of our study will include ever greater detail as we progress towards the point, when we reach the Renaissance, at which this work will become the practical guide that it is intended to be. Once we have covered the Renaissance, precise descriptions of the easily recognisable styles of the Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI and Revolutionary periods, of the First Empire, the Restoration and Art Nouveau, will be provided, with an occasional excursion into foreign styles. Each chapter has its task and the importance of a general understanding of styles as a prerequisite to discussing the features of each style individually cannot be emphasised too often.
Colosseum, Rome, 72-80 CE.
Mask of Agamemnon, tomb 5, Mycenae, c. 1600-1500 BCE. Gold, height: 31.5 cm. National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

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