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The Court of the Ages
and not The Court of Abundance
Architect - Louis Christian Mullgardt of San Francisco.
Architecture - If one could call this beautiful architecture by name one might say Spanish Gothic, on account of the round-arched Gothic and also the Spanish finials used, but it is so thoroughly original that this is hardly the term to use. It is Romanesque in its vaulting of the corridor, and at first glance in its great square tower, and arches, and yet not Romanesque architecture.
It is suggestive of the last period of English Gothic in its rich parallelism of vertical line - and yet is not that.
It is suggestive of the flamboyant decoration of the French architecture such as one sees and feels at Rouen Cathedral - and yet, not that, for on looking closer one sees not wavy line suggesting flame, but the wave of the kelp of the sea - and then one realizes that the vertical lines represent falling water.
The kelp is turned, looped and suspended with all sorts of lobsters, crabs, sea-turtles, octopi, flounders, etc., wriggling thru it, not seen at first, then in strong evidence, making you wonder why you had not seen them before.
The whole cloister represents the magical power of water and fire worked out in travertine, fountains and illuminations.
This court certainly shows the most marked originality in the architectural line at the Exposition. It is the conception of a man of rare invention, imagination, and marked poetic feeling. It is surely the last word in stucco. Everybody loves this Court of the Ages, and everybody wishes that we could have something permanent like it somewhere - perhaps in San Francisco. We shall all be loath to part with in when the two hundred and eighty-eight days are gone.
The arches of perfect proportions are allowed two swinging fairy lanterns apiece - a soft glow coming from them.
In the corridors are globes which at night look like lambent moonstones, casting soft light.
Walk down the corridors (not noticing the glorious murals at the ends) to observe the fine manipulation of color.
Notice that the usual pink of the walls has here a deeper tone - a terra-cotta warmth added, making a most wonderful combination with the blue vault above. The arches are of smoked ivory. Your eye catches a line of cerulean blue at your side, and up you follow the blue, until it gains its fullest expression in the square area of the groined vaulting. Notice how bands of smoked ivory play the part of transverse arches. It is so very beautiful here.
The murals in this corridor are more wonderful than words can tell. They are by Frank Brangwyn of London, and represent Earth, Air, Water, Fire.
Earth - Two canvases represent the Earth, the teeming, opulent earth giving of its fullness. Men with great baskets gather the harvests of vegetables and fruits (especially the luscious grapes in the second canvas).
Fire - One canvas shows Primitive Fire, where by means of leaves and twigs the narrow curl of smoke ascends between the trees. Men on bended knees blow the slowly burning leaves and fan the flame.
The aged draw near to feel the warmth; nearer comes the man with the little child in his arms - and, as a result, we have a homely woodland scene of primitive times.
The second representation of the same subject glows on the next canvas.
The subject is Industrial Fire. Men have made a rude furnace in which the pots are being baked. Pots of all sizes and shapes are being brought by the men and women of the neighboring region.
The great cloud of blue smoke rises in increasing breadth and height thru the trees.
Don't fail to notice the wonderful skies in these two canvases.
Water - On a portion of land between two waters men and women have sauntered down to the water's edge to fill their jars. The flamingoes, birds of the water, stand in the foreground telling you that water is near. Plants grow luxuriantly on the banks. Pregnant clouds are blown nearer and nearer. The canvas is fairly moist with watery suggestions.
It would not be hard to realize when you look at this canvas that it was done by a man who understands the art of making stained-glass windows. He cannot keep his secret from you.
The second treatment of Water - Great brawny-armed fishermen are pulling in their heavy net. In the distance come men with baskets on their heads to carry away the wriggling fish. Beyond the trees the heavy moisture-laden clouds come nearer and nearer.
Air - A great windmill such as one sees in Frank Brangwyn's etchings (for he lived during his youth in the windmill country, making what he saw around him his own).
The wind has brought the storm-laden clouds and the rain is descending. The currents of moisture-laden air are reflecting the rainbow. The wheat of the field bends far forward as the wind blows over it.
The belated harvesters (the foremost with his winnowing sieves) are blown forcibly along their path.
The many flowers bend their heads under the forward movement of the breeze. It is most interesting to notice how many devices have been used in order to make the work as suggestive as possible.
The second treatment of Air. The great trees are most noble in their strength.
Men, strong like the trees, are shooting thru the air their arrows.
A flock of frightened white birds are cutting the air, showing you why the men are there. This is a simple but clever treatment of the subject.
If you would know why you feel that there is something ancestral in these glorious compositions, why the strong colors are so well combined, why the canvases breathe freedom of thought and action, why the distances are so marvelously expressed, why the sky and water are just that deep wonderful blue, read Sparrow's "Frank Brangwyn" and you will soon discover, and the appreciation for the pictures will be increased tenfold.
Now step down into the Cloister, so that you can see well Helios, the setting sun. This was the primitive man's idea of the setting sun. He saw the sun as a man holding a huge golden ball, splashing down into the waters of the west. The serpent represents the burning sting of the sun.
You are bound to reflect here that the sun has thrown off great nebulous masses and that one of those masses has cooled and that we now call it the Earth. Yonder it is, seen at the end of the fountain, with four streams of water, from prehistoric sea life, playing over it.
Pass along to the first group beyond Helios, realizing that Robt. Aitken, the sculptor, calls this "The Dawn of Life." From right to left are these figures:
1. The Hand of Destiny Giving Life.
2. The Prenatal Sleep of Woman.
3. The Awakening.
4. The Joy of Living.
5. The Kiss of Life.
6. The Bringing Forth of Life.
The elemental feelings are here suggested.
You will then notice a gap which stands for the unknown period of history after the first "Dawn of Life."
Now pass to Panel 1 (facing Helios).
The central figure is Vanity, one of the compelling motives of that early life.
Following are two fine figures carrying their children, expressing the idea of the fecundity of the early races.
A hermes divides this panel from the next. Since in classic times a herm, or hermes, was used to mark distances on the roads, so here the hermes is used to mark distances, or periods in time.
Panel 2 - We now see the successors of the children of the previous panel grown to manhood. The fact of Natural Selection inflicts itself upon man. Two women are attracted to the same male, a fine intellectual and physical type. The rejected suitors are seen at the end of the panel, one in anger, the other in despair.
Panel 3 is called The Survival of the Fittest. This is the suggestion that physical strength decides who shall survive. We notice that chieftains struggle to possess the same woman, a woman on the right endeavoring to separate them.
Panel 4 is called The Lesson of Life.
Elders of experience attempt to give counsel to the love-lorn and impetuous, knowing that impulse may sometimes be a poignant foe.
Returning to Panel 1, the two figures at the right represent Lust, another of the strong forces of the early peoples.
You have now reached your first group beyond the gap.
The first figure is Greed, the third motive in this history of life. He has been holding onto the material things of life - there they are, rolled into a great ball. He realizes how futile his life has been and looks back upon the past, longing to retrace his steps and live to nobler purpose.
Then comes the old man who has the spiritual understanding, and he knows that the only hope for his companion is the realization of the spiritual, the consciousness of immortality, and so he gives to her the winged beetle, the symbol of renewed life.
The time has now arrived for her to leave her mortal life, and she passes into that sleep by which her material body is cast aside.
Thereby the man has his first sorrow. She whom he loved is gone, and he is cast down in despair - because his outlook is not a spiritual one.
The hand of Destiny has drawn these lives unto itself. The law has been fulfilled.
I have taken the liberty of culling the chief ideas from the article on the subject, written for the November "International Studio," adding a few ideas which seem consistent with the work before us.
This fountain, done in pierced relief, is most decorative in the Court of the Ages. It is, from a technical standpoint, a most remarkable composition.
The next subject for study is The Tower. Notice the small spire atop. It is like a flêche on a French cathedral and helps in the French feeling which you had when you thought that you had discovered the flamboyant style, and yet, on the whole, it is more the style of Spanish towers than of the French.
Most of the figure work on the tower is by Chester Beach, formerly of San Francisco.
The groups on the tower are now to be considered.
The combined work is called The Rise of Civilization.
The lowest group is Primitive Man during that period when great reptiles, like the saurian in the foreground, crept over the earth; when man fought with huge serpents and gigantic lions.
The rude man in the center has his child on one arm, the other arm protecting his mate (not an ordinary position for the arm of primitive man).
You easily surmise that trouble is near. His look of dogged defiance tells you that he is marching forth to meet some enemy, man or beast. This is the first march of civilization - one in which brute strength plays the principal part.
Just above, you notice that civilization has now reached the mediaeval stage and you see the Crusader with cross on breast and sword in hand. He has reached this lofty position thru faith (represented by the priest) and war (suggested by the rude warrior). The spiritual has now been added to the physical.
At the side of the tower, holding the same position on the tower as does the Crusader, are suggestions of the crusader's tomb such as one sees in many of the English churches. The Crusader passes on and his place is taken by more advanced types.
On either side of the Crusader appears the paschal candlestick (which at night is illuminated).
You are approaching the altar.
Above is the Priestess of Religion, with the nimbus surrounding her head. At her feet are children holding, one a book, indicating faith, and the other the wheel, meaning progress.
Around the court, on the highest pinnacles, are cocks, signifying the dawn of Christianity (in reference to Peter's denying Christ).
Come back to the tower and you will notice a man and a woman on either side of the altar. They are rising from the primitive man and the primitive woman at their feet. They represent the man and the woman of today. In the case of the man, you will notice how primitive man holds on to him and how the man of today endeavors to shake him off. (The man of today, by the power of thought, is trying to shake the rude brutish nature off.)
(These figures are by Albert Weinert.)
Primitive Man and Primitive Woman, by Albert Weinert, are seen as finials around the court. He is a simple hunter, or a man whose pastime consists in such amusement as feeding fish to the pelican. She is a woman whose chief work is to rear children.
Leo Lentelli's Aquatic Maids are grouped at the bases of the columns in front of the tower. It was at first planned to have the fountains play to the tops of the columns on which sit the aquatic maids shooting their arrows into the waters, but a change in the plans left the aquatic maids high and dry, hence your wonderment at why they sit aloft.
(Leo Lentelli was born in Bologna, Italy, but now lives in New York).
The Italian cypresses, tall and slender, stand like sentinels in front of the arches.
Orange trees, ten feet in height, heavy with fruit, stand in opulence before the cypresses.
Balled acacias, with repeated regularity of shape, produce in this charming cloister a delightful formalism.
Solid beds of pink hyacinths add a glowing touch of color in this beauteous garden.
The creeping juniper is the border used.
The cistus is the border used around the other beds. Under the trees are planted calceolarias, gebara, Shasta daisies, potentilla, columbine, and many other showy flowers.
The conventional standards at the south end of the cloister are aids in the illumination.
This court is most beautiful at night.
The tower, in white light, has the glowing candlesticks in striking evidence.
Great clouds of seeming incense rise constantly from the altars ranged around the court. Fiery serpents belch fire into the basins below. Beneath the world and around it rises the steam, which is marvelously illuminated.
The North Court of the Ages
Eucalypti, acacias, English laurel and veronicas are banked close together in this court. Great beds of orange eschscholtzia, the California poppy, make this court a veritable Field of the Cloth of Gold.
The creeping juniper is the border used.
Sherry Fry's "Listening to the Sound of the Ages" stands in this court with her shell to her ear. She listens to the stories that the sea has told the shell, and wonderful, very wonderful, is what she hears.
Since the first issue of this book I have received in written form Mr. Mullgardt's own wonderful interpretation, which I hereby append with his kind permission. I shall not correct my work, for it will be interesting to compare the work of a layman with that of the initiated:
San Francisco, April 19, 1915.
The Court of the Ages
A Sermon in Stone
"The Court of the Ages" is 340 feet square. The surrounding walls are 75 feet high. The Tower is 200 feet high. The floor of the Court declines to the central Basin, affording the observer a full view of the surroundings. The arcaded and vaulted Ambulatory extends continuously around the four sides. The floor of this Ambulatory is elevated above the upper floor level of the Court for the convenience of observers. Its architecture has not been accredited to any established style.
The Court is an historical expression of the successive Ages of the World's growth. The Central Fountain symbolizes the nebulous world with its innate human passions. Out of a chaotic condition came Water (the Basin) and Land (the Fountain) and Light (the Sun supported by Helios, and the Electroliers). The Braziers and Cauldrons symbolize Fire. The floor of the Court is covered with verdure, trees, flowers and fruits. The two Sentinel Columns to the right and left of the Tower symbolize Earth and Air. The eight paintings in the four corners of the Ambulatory symbolize the elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The Central Figure in the North Avenue symbolizes "Modern Time Listening to the Story of the Ages."
The decorative motifs employed on the surrounding Arcade are sea plant life and its animal evolution. The conventionalized backbone, the symbol for the vertebrates, is seen between the arches. The piers, arches, reeds and columns bear legendary decorative motifs of the transitional plant to animal life in the forms of tortoise and other shell motifs - kelp and its analogy to prehistoric lobster, skate, crab and sea urchin. The water-bubble motif is carried through all vertical members which symbolize the Crustacean Period, which is the second stratum of the Court.
The third stratum, the Prehistoric Figures, surmounting the piers of the Arcade, also the first group over the Tower Entrance, show earliest forms of human, animal, reptile and bird life, symbolizing the Stone Age.
The fourth stratum, the second group in the Altar Tower, symbolizes human struggle for emancipation from ignorance and superstition in which Religion and War are dominating factors. The kneeling figures on the side Altar are similarly expressive. The torches above these Mediaeval Groups symbolize the Dawn of Understanding. The Chanticleers on the finials surrounding the Court symbolize the Christian Era. The topmost figure of the Altar symbolizes Intelligence, "Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards All" - the symbols of Learning and Industry at her feet. The topmost figure surmounting the side Altar symbolizes Thought.
The Arched Opening forming the inclosure of the Altar contains alternating Masks expressing Intelligence and Ignorance in equal measure, symbolizing the Peoples of the World.
A gradual development to the higher forms of Plant Life is expressed upward in the Altar Tower, the conventionalized Lily Petal being the highest form.
L. C. Mullgardt.