Of Columns and Gods
by stormbear, Fri Aug 29, 2008 at 09:45:45 AM EDT
Thomas Jefferson owned a copy of the first volume of The Antiquities of Athens, and though he never practiced in the style Jefferson was to prove instrumental in introducing Greek Revival architecture to the United States. In 1803, Benjamin Latrobe was appointed by Jefferson as surveyor of public building in the United States, Latrobe went on to design a number of important public buildings in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia, including work on the United States Capitol and the Bank of Pennsylvania. Latrobe's design for the Capitol was an imaginative interpretation of the classical orders not constrained by historical precedent, incorporating American motifs such as corncobs and tobacco leaves into his capitals. This idiosyncratic approach was to become typical of the American attitude to Greek detailing. His overall plan for the Capitol did not survive, though much of his interiors do. He also did notable work on the Supreme Court interior (1806-7) and his masterpiece, the Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, Baltimore (1805-21). Even as he claimed that "I am a bigoted Greek in the condemnation of the Roman architecture...," he did not seek to rigidly impose Greek forms, stating that "[o]ur religion requires a church wholly different from the temple, our legislative assemblies and our courts of justice, buildings of entirely different principles from their basilicas; and our amusements could not possibly be performed in their theatres or amphitheatres." Latrobe's circle of junior colleagues would prove to be an informal school of Greek revivalists, and it was his influence that was to shape the next generation of American architects.
The second phase in the development of American Greek revival saw the pupils of Latrobe create a monumental national style under the patronage of banker and hellenophile Nicholas Biddle, including such works as the Second Bank of the United States by William Strickland (1824), Biddle's home "Andalusia" by Thomas U. Walter (1835-6), and Girard College also by Walter (1833-47). New York saw the construction (1833) of the row of Greek temples at Sailors' Snug Harbor. At the same time, the popular appetite for the Greek was sustained by architectural pattern books, the most important of which was Asher Benjamin's The Practical House Carpenter (1830). This guide helped create the proliferation of Greek homes seen especially in northern New York State and the Western Reserves of Ohio. From the period of about 1820 to 1850, the Greek Revival style dominated the United States and could be found as far west as Springfield, Illinois.