It is useful, I find, when examining civic architecture and the architecture of the English country house to remember the classical arch, of which there are key examples in Rome.
The triumphal arch and the triumphal column were testament to the dominance of Rome’s empire and the power of its military might.
THE TRIUMPHAL ARCH
There are three key imperial triumphal arches that can be seen in Rome:
(a) The Arch of Titus (c. 81 AD)
(b) The Arch of Septimius Severus (203 AD)
(c) The Arch of Constantine (312 AD)
Originating from the time of the Roman Republic (509 BC to 48 BC), monumental arches were erected to commemorate the victories of generals (known as triumphators). The victorious general would be granted a ceremonial procession through their arch.[i]
During the Roman Imperial period, the tradition was continued but restricted to a triumphal arch of a victorious emperor. The arch would be decorated with bas relief sculpture of the conquests and deeds of the victor. The three key triumphal arches in Rome have been used as inspiration across the world. Marble Arch and the Arc de Triomphe are examples that use the form directly.[ii]
Arch of Septimius Severus
However, the influence particularly of the arches of Constantine & Septimius Severus with their three archways has been used in so many buildings. The western entrance to Gothic cathedrals sometimes follows the same pattern, although in Gothic architecture the doorways have pointed rather than rounded arches.
Salisbury Cathedral West Doorway. The two doorways either side of the main door are implied rather than house real doors (although there are real doors further along each side).
Penshurst Place Great Hall: Screens Passage with doorways to the kitchen, buttery, and pantry.
THE ARCH OF CONSTANTINE
Erected to commemorate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312. In 313 Constantine converted to Christianity. Scenes of the battle are in bas relief over the right-hand side arch. The other decorative panels were removed from earlier monuments.[iii] (p. 121)
THE TRIUMPHAL ARCH IN ENGLAND
Gatehouses provided a gateway to a house in the Tudor period and often included a rounded arch. Below is a rare survival of a mid-16th C gatehouse in the Quantocks, Somerset. The shell-headed niches provided the implied archways that flanked the main Roman triumphal arch.
In the 17th when the wealthy increasing wanted ranging views over parkland from their country house, the gatehouse became out of fashion. However, the idea of the arch gateway was popular. The 18th C gateway to Holkham Hall (which is around a mile away from the house) would be a structure to inform the visitor they are entering a defined boundary. A kind of welcoming triumphal arch that indicated the wealth, classical education, taste, and status of the land owner.
THE ARCH OF TITUS
This Arch of Titus is at the south end of the Forum with Via Sacra leading through it. It sits between the Palatine and the Oppian summit of the Esquiline. It was erected by either Domitian (Titus’s successor) or maybe Trajan. It commemorates the victory of Vespasian and Titus over the Jews. It was restored by Pope Sixtus IV (d. 1484) and again in 1821 by Giuseppe Valadier.[iv]
The Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine were helped to survive by the Frangipani family, who turned them into fortresses during the medieval period.[v]
Titus was a vengeful conqueror of the Jewish rebellion in 70 AD. He besieged and captured Jerusalem, ransacked and destroyed Herod’s temple and carried off the treasures such as the Menorah (seven-branched candelabrum). This is shown on relief sculpture on the arch being carried through Rome.[vi]
I recall many years ago visiting Masada in Israel where the rebel Jews and their families had retreated. Flavius Josephus is the single source of the information around what occurred at Masada. His narrative tells us that it was besieged in 73 to 74 BC. I do recall it was a very atmospheric place – an isolated table-top mountain. The history of Josephus reports that rather than surrender to the Romans the rebels chose mass suicide.
The arch of Titus informs of the rebellion even if the bas relief sculpture is the victor’s story.
The Triumph of Titus – Valour in the form of a helmeted Amazonian leads the horses, and winged Victory holds above Titus in the chariot a laurel wreath. It is one of the first examples of divinities and humans in the same scene together.[vii]
The embellished vault coffers on the Arch of Titus have lent themselves to similar designs that can be found in Baroque churches and English country houses.
Arc de Triomphe de Carrousel, Paris
Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome – Completed 1743
Layer Marney, Essex
Jennings Monument at Curry Rivel Church, Somerset – after 1630
The Church of St Louis of the French, Rome
In Baroque churches in Rome the coffered ceiling in alcoves is a feature. The church of San Luigi dei Francesi (The Church of St Louis of the French) was constructed between 1518 and 1589. It was designed by Giacomo della Porta and built by Domenico Fontana. It has coffered ceilings in places. The one below has flowers in the coffers.
Naturally this type of design makes it into the English Country House. Examples are:
(1) Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire (building began in 1705)
(2) Wentworth Woodhouse, South Yorkshire (building began in 1725)
(3) Holkam Hall, Norfolk (building began in 1734)
The key stone ‘scroll’ upon which stands a figure (female on the east side and male on the west side). The scroll becomes a significant ornamental feature of the Baroque period in the 17th & early 18th Cs. But it existed on earlier buildings also.
Villa Medici, Rome: A Mannerist Villa built 1564-76
English Door Hoods
A TRIUMPHAL ARCH FROM 1515: A paper image
Maximillian I (1459-1519) attempted to make his dynasty into the lasting dynasty as head of the Holy Roman Empire. Besides portraits, he commissioned this triumphal arch made up of 192 wood blocks from designs of 1515. The result was a large image made up of printed pages and copies could be distributed to courts throughout the Holy Roman Empire.
Wikimedia Commons Licence: National Gallery of Art.[viii] 1515 (1799 edition)
Albrecht Durer (and others). The Triumphal Arch of Maximillian, 1515-1517.
The Holy Roman Empire was a conglomeration of states. It was like the Holy Roman Emperor had possession of the freehold and all the states and their rulers had a leasehold from him. The rulers could be kings, princes, prince-bishops, counts, dukes, etc. Seven or eight of the major states were those that elected (the Electors) the Holy Roman Emperor. The emperor had to spend a lot of money and political effort ensuring the states were onside. The emperor was akin to the chairman of a board of a multinational enterprise.
The invention of the printing press changed Europe in so many ways. It was a major change of technology that brought Europe from the medieval into the early modern world. Johannes Gutenberg (c. 1400-1468) had developed the first European printing press in the mid-15th C.
The date of 1515 is when the designs were completed but before they were carved onto wood blocks and printed. Albrecht Durer designed individual scenes and architectural elements. Some were designed by his pupils (Hans Springinklee, Wolf Traut and Albrecht Altdorfer). The overall appearance was designed by an architect and painter, Jorg Kolderer. From 1515 to 1517 Hieronymus Andreae of Nuremberg cut the 192 wood blocks. The first edition of the printed pages was created in 1517-8, when 700 sets were printed. The size is 3.57 m (11.7 ft) by 2.95 m (9.7 ft).[ix] A rare few were hand coloured.
The design included as a main theme the genealogy of Maximilian and events from his life. There are lots of classical allusions. The whole theme is to secure his overall authority and that of his legacy and descendants. ‘Honour and Might’ is the title above the central arch. ‘Praise’ and ‘Nobility’ entitle the flanking arches.[x]
It is an incredible way of thinking differently about a triumphal arch. Rather than having the heads of different states visit a city to view a physical triumphal arch, this method gives them the arch in their home states. One can imagine that the vast image distributed as a diplomatic gift that was meant to be displayed in a central place in the state court or a civic building so that everyone of importance knew the lineage, life, authority and power of Maximillian and his family.
Atrus, Paul, Art and Architecture of the Roman Empire (Warsaw: Bellona Books, 2006),
DK Eyewitness, Rome 2020, 2nd edn., (London, Dorling Kindersley, 2019)
Hibbert, Christopher, Rome: A Biography of a City (London: Penguin Books, 1985)
Loth, Calder, ‘The Triumphal Arch as a Design Resource’, Institute of Classical Architecture & Art < https://www.classicist.org/articles/classical-comments-the-triumphal-arch-as-a-design-resource/ > [accessed 19 April 2022]
[i] Calder Loth, ‘The Triumphal Arch as a Design Resource’, Institute of Classical Architecture & Art < https://www.classicist.org/articles/classical-comments-the-triumphal-arch-as-a-design-resource/ > [accessed 19 April 2022].
[ii] Calder Loth, ‘The Triumphal Arch as a Design Resource’, Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.
[iii] DK Eyewitness, Rome 2020, 2nd edn., (London, Dorling Kindersley, 2019), p. 121.
[iv] Christopher Hibbert, Rome: A Biography of a City (London: Penguin Books, 1985), p. 322.
[v] Hibbert, p. 93.
[vi] Hibbert, p. 51.
[vii] Paul Atrus, Art and Architecture of the Roman Empire (Warsaw: Bellona Books, 2006), pp. 45-48.
[viii] Wikimedia Commons Licence, ‘The Triumphal Arch of Maximillian’, National Gallery of Art,<https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Albrecht_Dürer,_The_Triumphal_Arch_of_Maximilian,_1515_(1799_edition),_NGA_76935.jpg> [accessed 22 Apr 2022].
[ix] ‘Albrecht Durer and others, The Triumphal Arch, woodcut’, The British Museum < https://web.archive.org/web/20150224200036/http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/pd/a/albrecht_dürer_and_others,_the.aspx> [accessed 22 April 2022].
[x] ‘Albrecht Durer and others, The Triumphal Arch, woodcut’, The British Museum.