James Fergusson (Wikimedia commons)
Seconde partie de la note consacrée à l’Écossais James Fergusson (1808-1886), spécialiste de l’architecture indienne, à partir de son ouvrage An historical inquiry into the true principles of beauty in art, more especially with reference to architecture, 1849.
Dans le texte qui suit, l’auteur complète ses propos sur le caractère “inartistic” des pyramides en soulignant la qualité “unsurpassed” (inégalée) du travail de maçonnerie qui est à leur origine.
Comme précédemment, pour ponctuer l’articulation de l’argumentation, j’ai inséré des intertitres en français.
J’attire l’attention sur la note 1) dans laquelle James Fergusson compare les monuments funéraires égytiens et indiens. Ces derniers sont dotés de deux chambres mortuaires, donc de deux sarcophages, la chambre supérieure étant vide (une “tombre apparente”), alors que celle de dessous abrite la “vraie tombe”.
“The aim of modern constructive art is, that the voids shall exceed the solids in the greatest possible ratio ; and so successful have we been in this, that in some cast-iron erections the ratio is nearly 10,000 to 1 : in the Pyramids we almost see the opposite extreme, as the solid parts exceed the void spaces in as high a ratio, the two forming extremes of a scale whose intermediate gradation comprehends all that is beautiful in architectural art in the world. (...)
Though I have not, as before hinted, one word to say in favour of these buildings as works of fine art, as specimens of masonry they are unsurpassed by anything that has been done since in any country or in any age. They prove that their builders not only possessed the art of quarrying the largest blocks of granite, for all the roofing blocks in the Great Pyramid measure twenty feet at least in length, and are of considerable width and depth, but also of transporting them from Syene to Memphis ; of squaring and polishing them with the most mathematical precision ; and lastly, of raising and setting them, either to a given incline or horizontally, with a minute exactitude which never, so far as I know, was equalled. There is, besides, infinite contrivance and skill in the way in which the pressure is discharged from any roofs or stones whose stability it might endanger ; and the arrangement and fitting of the portcullises shew not only ingenuity, but great practical dexterity in execution. As the Pyramid was designed, so it was built - as built, so it stands - there is neither settlement, nor crack, nor flaws, discernible in any part of it ; and considering their mass, and the enormity of the weights to be sustained, this is no small triumph ; and displays such skill as could only be the result of long ages of experience, and under the most favourable circumstances ; and which to my mind is far more astonishing than even their mass.
But is it quite clear even now that the sacred deposits have been disturbed ? We have, it is true, discovered chambers with sarcophagi in them, and they are empty ; and it must be confessed it appears strange that so much trouble should have been taken to admit of the introduction of one after the building had been finished, unless it was intended to contain the body ; and so many contrivances resorted to for shutting up and concealing the passages after it was once safely deposited there. But all tradition points to the burial-place as under the Pyramid, surrounded by the waters of the Nile. And the deep wells and lower galleries would seem to confirm such an idea, for of what use are they if it was not this ? (1) Discoverers on the spot can alone settle these and many other questions, which arise at every step ; for if ever buildings were built to puzzle and perplex mankind, it is these Pyramids ; and it would be easy to write a volume of guesses about them, and it has been often done. But I must be warned.
Photo Marc ChartierIf we are to apply to them the usual human test of success in attaining the result aimed at, I fear they must be judged as having failed ; for, as far at least as is now apparent, all the efforts of the builders were directed to keeping the body of the founder concealed and intact during the 3000 years that it was requisite it should remain so, before being "raised from the dead". Had this been the only motive, a deep pit in the Lybian desert would have answered better : once the moving sand had passed over it, men might have searched for ever and never found it again. But however much men desire immortality hereafter, like other mortals these primaeval kings seem also to have hankered after a certain mundane durability of fame in the meantime - and besides a tomb, to have desired also a monument. Whether or not they effected both objects, we probably shall never know ; for all the Pyramids have been opened, and most probably by the Egyptians themselves under the Greeks and Romans, when respect for the dead had passed away : but unless it was done even earlier than this they had rested the appointed time, or nearly so.
Though from the testimony of the ancients, and the probabilities of the case, it is almost certain that when first erected the Pyramids were adorned with paintings, or at least hieroglyphics, which would have enabled us, had they been preserved, to judge of the state of the arts at the time ; as it is they enable us to judge of the art of masonry alone : but fortunately there are tombs cut in the rock and structural edifices in the neighbourhood, which we now know to be synchronous, and which are covered with paintings and other ornaments to an extent quite sufficient to shew how far the Egyptians had then advanced towards that point of perfection which they never passed. We have here the same representations of animals, and of men occupied in the same trades and with the same amusements, as are depicted near 2000 years afterwards at Thebes, with very nearly the same degree of skill, and in the same manner, peculiar to this people, of first engraving the subject in the wall in intaglio rilievato, and then heightening its effect in colour, and mixing up the purely representative picture with one half imitative, half phonetic, repeating almost the same thing - a record of the life and wealth of the occupant of the house or tomb. They are stiffer, it is true, and not so well conceived or so freely executed as the more modern paintings ; but there is infinite care bestowed in the details : and the representation of things is quite equal to any executed after the Shepherd invasion.
There are not, that I am aware of, any statues, properly so called, that can claim to belong to this age ; though this may be accounted for by the proximity of Memphis, or at least of Cairo, which has obliterated all the loose fragments of that age, and removed every thing that was removable, so that, even if they had been as numerous as they became during the eighteenth dynasty, we should not be surprised at their disappearance.
Perhaps the same reasoning may account for there being no specimens of architecture, properly so called - no temples, or colonnades, or porticoes, at all commensurate with the Pyramids in size or conception. They may have existed ; it would not be difficult to argue the matter on either side, but my own impression is that the Pyramid was the architectural utterance of that age, the tomb and the temple, the monument the kings were most anxious to erect for their own present glory and future fame ; and that they were also the sacred edifices of a people who looked on their kings as demigods at least, and were content to bow their necks under them in a servitude more complete and abject than ever was known with any other people or in any other age, as these monuments themselves witness with a distinctness that requires no further testimony to corroborate it.”
(1) It is a curious fact, that in most of the great Mohammedan tombs of India there are two sarcophagi. In that of Akbar, for instance, at Secundera, the apparent tomb is on the top of the monument ; but immediately below this, in a vault on a level with the ground, is another somewhat similar, and covering the true grave : the same occurs at the Taje Mehal, and in many others.
1e partie de la note