On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

Vitruvius Pollio, creator; Morgan, M. H. (Morris Hicky), 1859-1910, translator

1. HAVING spoken of the method by which stucco work should be done in dry situations, I shall next explain how the polished finish is to be accomplished in places that are damp, in such a way that it can last without defects. First, in apartments which are level with the ground, apply a rendering coat of mortar, mixed with burnt brick instead of sand, to a height of about three feet above the floor, and then lay on the stucco so that those portions

of it may not be injured by the dampness. But if a wall is in a state of dampness all over, construct a second thin wall a little way from it on the inside, at a distance suited to circumstances, and in the space between these two walls run a channel, at a lower level than that of the apartment, with vents to the open air. Similarly, when the wall is brought up to the top, leave airholes there. For if the moisture has no means of getting out by vents at the bottom and at the top, it will not fail to spread all over the new wall. This done, apply a rendering coat of mortar made with burnt brick to this wall, spread on the layer of stucco, and polish it.

2. But if there is not room enough for the construction of a wall, make channels with their vents extending to the open air. Then lay two-foot tiles resting on the margin of the channel on one side, and on the other side construct a foundation of pillars for them, made of eight-inch bricks, on top of each of which the edges of two tiles may be supported, each pillar being not more than a hand's breadth distant from the wall. Then, above, set hooked tiles fastened to the wall from bottom to top, carefully covering the inner sides of them with pitch so that they will reject moisture. Both at the bottom and at the top above the vaulting they should have airholes.

3. Then, whitewash them with lime and water so that they will not reject the rendering coat of burnt brick. For, as they are dry from the loss of water burnt out in the kiln, they can neither take nor hold the rendering coat unless lime has been applied beneath it to stick the two substances together, and make them unite. After spreading the rendering coat upon this, apply layers of burnt brick mortar instead of sand mortar, and finish up all the rest in the manner described above for stucco work.

4. The decorations of the polished surfaces of the walls ought to be treated with due regard to propriety, so as to be adapted to their situations, and not out of keeping with differences in kind. In winter dining rooms, neither paintings on grand subjects nor delicacy of decoration in the cornice work of the vaultings is a

serviceable kind of design, because they are spoiled by the smoke from the fire and the constant soot from the lamps. In these rooms there should be panels above the dadoes, worked in black, and polished, with yellow ochre or vermilion blocks interposed between them. After the vaulting has been treated in the flat style, and polished, the Greek method of making floors for use in winter dining rooms may not be unworthy of one's notice, as being very inexpensive and yet serviceable.

5. An excavation is made below the level of the dining room to a depth of about two feet, and, after the ground has been rammed down, the mass of broken stones or the pounded burnt brick is spread on, at such an inclination that it can find vents in the drain. Next, having filled in with charcoal compactly trodden down, a mortar mixed of gravel, lime, and ashes is spread on to a depth of half a foot. The surface having been made true torule and level, and smoothed off with whetstone, gives the look of a black pavement. Hence, at their dinner parties, whatever is poured out of the cups, or spirted from the mouth, no sooner falls than it dries up, and the servants who wait there do not catch cold from that kind of floor, although they may go barefoot.

1. FOR the other apartments, that is, those intended to be used in Spring, Autumn, and Summer, as well as for atriums and peristyles, the ancients required realistic pictures of real things. A picture is, in fact, a representation of a thing which really exists or which can exist: for example, a man, a house, a ship, or anything else from whose definite and actual structure copies resembling it can be taken. Consequently the ancients who introduced polished finishings began by representing different kinds of marble slabs in different positions, and then cornices and blocks of yellow ochre arranged in various ways.


2. Afterwards they made such progress as to represent the forms of buildings, and of columns, and projecting and overhanging pediments; in their open rooms, such as exedrae, on account of the size, they depicted the facades of scenes in the tragic, comic, or satyric style; and their walks, on account of the great length, they decorated with a variety of landscapes, copying the characteristics of definite spots. In these paintings there are harbours, promontories, seashores, rivers, fountains, straits, fanes, groves, mountains, flocks, shepherds; in some places there are also pictures designed in the grand style, with figures of the gods or detailed mythological episodes, or the battles at Troy, or the wanderings of Ulysses, with landscape backgrounds, and other subjects reproduced on similar principles from real life.

3. But those subjects which were copied from actual realities are scorned in these days of bad taste. We now have fresco paintings of monstrosities, rather than truthful representations of definite things. For instance, reeds are put in the place of columns, fluted appendages with curly leaves and volutes, instead of pediments, candelabra supporting representations of shrines, and on top of their pediments numerous tender stalks and volutes growing up from the roots and having human figures senselessly seated upon them; sometimes stalks having only half-length figures, some with human heads, others with the heads of animals.

4. Such things do not exist and cannot exist and never have existed. Hence, it is the new taste that has caused bad judges of poor art to prevail over true artistic excellence. For how is it possible that a reed should really support a roof, or a candelabrum a pediment with its ornaments, or that such a slender, flexible thing as a stalk should support a figure perched upon it, or that roots and stalks should produce now flowers and now half-length figures? Yet when people see these frauds, they find no fault with them but on the contrary are delighted, and do not care whether any of them can exist or not. Their understanding is darkened by decadent critical principles, so that it is not capable of giving

its approval authoritatively and on the principle of propriety to that which really can exist. The fact is that pictures which are unlike reality ought not to be approved, and even if they are technically fine, this is no reason why they should offhand be judged to be correct, if their subject is lacking in the principles of reality carried out with no violations.

5. For instance, at Tralles, Apaturius of Alabanda designed with skilful hand the scaena of the little theatre which is there called the e)kklhsiasth/rion representing columns in it and statues, Centaurs supporting the architraves, rotundas with round roofs on them, pediments with overhanging returns, and cornices ornamented with lions' heads, which are meant for nothing but the rainwater from the roofs,—and then on top of it all he made an episcaenium in which were painted rotundas, porticoes, half-pediments, and all the different kinds of decoration employed in a roof. The effect of high relief in this scaena was very attractive to all who beheld it, and they were ready to give their approval to the work, when Licymnius the mathematician came forward and said that

(6.) the Alabandines were considered bright enough in all matters of politics, but that on account of one slight defect, the lack of the sense of propriety, they were believed to be unintelligent. “In their gymnasium the statues are all pleading causes, in their forum, throwing the discus, running, or playing ball. This disregard of propriety in the interchange of statues appropriate to different places has brought the state as a whole into disrepute. Let us then beware lest this scaena of Apaturius make Alabandines or Abderites of us. Which of you can have houses or columns or extensive pediments on top of his tiled roof? Such things are built above the floors, not above the tiled roofs. Therefore, if we give our approval to pictures of things which can have no reason for existence in actual fact, we shall be voluntarily associating ourselves with those communities which are believed to be unintelligent on account of just such defects.”