mercredi 26 mai 2010

"Le véritable style architectural égyptien n'est pas à chercher dans les pyramides" (W.-H. Leeds - XIXe s.)

Exprimant un point de vue diamétralement opposé à celui qu'exposera une vingtaine d'années plus tard le philosophe et historien français Ernest Renan (voir ICI), W.-H. Leeds pense que le style architectural typiquement égyptien s'est véritablement développé et exprimé dans la construction des temples et tombes de Haute-Égypte, et non dans l'emphase, aussi prodigieuse soit-elle, des formes rectilignes données aux pyramides.
D'où cette assertion, pour le moins surprenante de la part d'un écrivain spécialisé en architecture, à l'attention précisément des architectes qui se hasarderaient du côté de Guizeh : Circulez ! Y' a rien à "étudier" ! Laissez la place aux archéologues et allez plutôt étudier les merveilles "strictement architecturales" du côté de Thèbes, là où abondent les inscriptions hiéroglyphiques, les peintures murales et les sculptures...
Face à cette répartition des tâches à l'emporte-pièce, on pourrait être tenté de passer effectivement son chemin. Mais n'oublions pas que l'auteur possède a priori les compétences requises, même si je n'ai trouvé aucune information sur son curriculum vitae, pour mettre sa plume experte au service des Quaterly Papers on Architecture, dont est extrait le texte ci-dessous (vol. II, 1844).

"There can be little doubt [the Egyptian style] was derived from that of India - that is, the style exhibited in their temples and other buildings ; for their pyramids are works of such a totally distinct and peculiar class, that they hardly answer at all to the ordinary idea of buildings, being nearly solid masses, piled up and accumulated rather than constructed architecturally.
Their external form is both so simple in itself and so well known, as hardly to require explanation ; for they may be described as four-sided structures, square or nearly so in plan, and diminishing towards a point, the sides being so many triangles, whose apices there unite. The sides themselves, however, are not uniform plane surfaces, but may be said to be notched, since they consist of courses of stone, each of which gradually recedes from the one immediately beneath it, after the manner of steps ; though such is not invariably the case, for in most of the smaller pyramids, the courses do not form steps, being cut away so as to produce a continuous surface : an operation doubtless performed after the whole mass was reared, and which was commenced at the summit ; for had not such been the case, it is difficult to conceive how the workmen could have advanced, or what sort of scaffolding they could have employed, had not each course of stone successively served as one. Whatever symbolical meaning may have been attached to the form of the pyramid, it is certainly one expressive of the greatest stability, and almost eternal duration : firmly based on the earth, it points heavenward, like the spire, and gradually vanishes, as it were, into the immensity of space.

Yet of itself, the mere form would produce little impression : to render it imposing there must also be positive magnitude, the effect of which cannot be rendered in drawings or models.
Of the "Great Pyramid", as it is emphatically termed, and also distinguished as that of Cheops, at Gizeh, near the site of ancient Memphis, the dimensions are so variously stated by different travellers and writers, that instead of pretending to accuracy, we content ourselves with the measurements usually adopted, viz. about 770 feet square at its base, by 460 feet high ; and as such size can be better estimated by comparison than when merely expressed in figures, it may be observed that the area of the base is nearly the same as that of Lincoln's Inn Fields (said to have been laid out by Inigo Jones, on the scale of the Great Pyramid), while the height would be about one-third as much again as that of the dome of St. Paul's, or a few feet more than that of St. Peter's at Rome.
Prodigious, however, as the height is in itself, the proportions, that is, the height, as compared with the base, cannot be termed lofty, it being considerably less than that of an equilateral triangle, which would require nearly 200 feet more ; and at this last the height has been estimated by some travellers, who make it to be 625 feet. When the statements are so contradictory, every account must be received with some degree of mistrust, more especially when we find they do not agree in particulars apparently not very difficult to be correctly ascertained : thus while the number of courses of stones or steps of that pyramid are usually computed to be 202, some increase the number to 260. This great pyramid was for a long while supposed to be nearly a solid mass, containing within only a small sepulchral chamber, in its centre, and the passage leading to it ; till, a few years ago (1836-7), when Colonel Howard Vyse discovered three more chambers, one of which he named after Wellington, another after Nelson. The second, or that called the Pyramid of Chephren, is 680 feet square at its base, and 450 in perpendicular altitude, consequently of loftier proportions, and steeper than the other. The third, sometimes called the Red Pyramid, and attributed by Herodotus, to Mycerinus, the son of Cheops, is considerably less, being not more than about 330 feet square, and 170 in height.
In the immediate vicinity of these pyramids at Gizeh are several smaller ones, the principal among which terminates in a single slab of stone that is supposed to have served as a pedestal to a colossal figure.
At Sakkarah and Dashour are similar groups of pyramids, constituting the next in importance to those at Gizeh. Of those at the first-mentioned place, the largest falls very little short of the "Great Pyramid", it being about 660 feet square, and 340 high ; while, one of those at Dashour is, according to Davison, 700 feet square, and 343 in height. For want of clear historical data, it is impossible to arrange the various examples chronologically, so as to judge whether their respective degree of antiquity has any thing to do with size and other circumstances.
In some instances pyramids were constructed of unburnt bricks, in others, of rude, unshapen blocks of stone ; of the latter kind, there is a remarkable one, it being divided into six successive stages or stories.
Nubia also contains a number of pyramids, generally of small dimensions compared with those of Egypt, and differing from them in having a small propylon or porch, conspicuously marking the entrance ; whereas not only is there nothing of the kind in the others, but the entrance was carefully closed up, and no vestige of it suffered to appear.

After all, the pyramids are of more interest to the archaeologist than to the architect : to the latter they afford nothing for study, yet to the philosopher much for contemplation on the vanity of human ambition, mocked at by monuments which have survived all memory of what they were intended to record, and on the enormous waste of human labour employed in rearing them.
Before we come to those works which can be considered strictly architectural, we must say something on the subject of what are generally considered the most ancient of all, namely, temples and tombs, excavated, as in India, out of the solid rock. Whether the idea of them was or was not directly borrowed from, and in professed imitation of those of the latter country, there can be no doubt that in them we find the germ of the Egyptian style, as it was afterwards developed, because, although some examples of the class may be of later date than other temples - may exhibit the same embellishments, and manifest the same or even a more advanced stage of art, still the style itself must have grown out of the more primitive mode of rock excavation, the character of the latter being so strongly impressed upon it, that were it not for the existence of the one, we should be at a loss to account for the peculiarity of the other.
Examples of rock temples are by no means uncommon ; and they have generally square massive piers instead of columns, without any kind of capital to them. One remarkable feature in many of them is a series of colossal sitting figures, not entirely cut out, but with their backs attached to the wall. The two most noted temples of the kind are the two at Ipsambul : the smaller one, which lies close upon the Nile, about twenty feet above its level, has a front hewn out of the face of the rock, with a small doorway in the centre, and on each side of the entrance three compartments forming recesses, in each of which is a standing colossal figure about 30 feet high : the narrower piers between these recesses, and the rest of the front is covered with hieroglyphics. The interior is divided by six square pillars into three avenues or aisles.
The other temple is much larger, and has on each side of its entrance two enormous sitting colossi, the most gigantic works of Egyptian or Nubian sculpture, after the "Great Sphinx". Though in a sitting attitude, their height is about 50 feet, exclusive of their lofty head-dress, which makes about 14 feet more.

Photo Marc Chartier
Of excavated tombs and sepulchral chambers there are many at Thebes and elsewhere, frequently forming series of subterraneous apartments. Among the most remarkable of those hitherto discovered or explored are the Tombs of the Kings, at Bab-el-Melek. The one supposed to be that of Ramses II, contains a great number of corridors, chambers and halls, decorated with hieroglyphics, sculptures and paintings, to the amount of some millions of figures. "It would require volumes, says Prokesch, fully to describe this wonderful place ; and after all, the most exact description would seem an extravagant fiction. Such works are even more astonishing than the pyramids themselves ; for the last are visible monuments of grandeur, whereas the others were intended as the abodes of death and darkness ; and the enormous prodigality of art lavished on them, to be for ever excluded from mortal eye. It is in such places that have been discovered numbers of paintings, as fresh as when first executed, representing scenes of familiar life, and thereby illustrating the customs and manners of the ancient Egyptians, with their dresses, furniture, implements, etc.; yet, though so far highly interesting and important, as works of art they are exceedingly rude and unnatural - not better than those of Chinese painters."

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