Perry Martin Hill's thesis on Byzantine Architecture in Greece and Cyprus

Christine McCarthy, April 2010

P. Martin Hill (1926-2005) studied at the Architectural Association from 1948-1950, after taking night classes in architecture at Brighton. While at the AA (in 1950), Hill participated in an archaeological survey in Cyprus, completing his thesis on Byzantine Architecture in Greece and Cyprus.

Parts of the untitled thesis were found among Hill's wallpaper collection following his death. It was made using sheets of card with typewritten text and photographs attached on numbered sheets for the sections "Greece - 1950" and "Cyprus 1950." A third section "Sculpture in Architecture" combines typed and handwritten text with drawings and photographs, but has no pagination. The thesis is unbound, some of the attachments and sheets are missing, and many are out of order. While the Greek and Cyprian sections have been able to be successfully re-ordered in the electronic form of the thesis below, the same is not necessarily the case for the Sculpture section. It is also possible that the Sculpture section was part of a separate, later work.

The Greek and Cyprian sections of the thesis combine Hill's account of his travel to the Mediterranean in elegant prose and picturesque detail, and insights into archaeology, art history and architecture. He recalls, for example, waking during his stay at the Monastery of Osios Loukas, "at half-past three in the morning by the church bells summoning the monks to prayers ... I was shocked to find that a mad woman was chained in the crypt near the tomb of St. Luke, she was muttering and cursing and had to endure many beatings for it; however I was to learn later that she was eventually sent away cured" (Greece, 24-27). Travelling through the valley from Trikkala to Kalabaka he described the "rugged peaks of Meteora," musing on this "wonderful sight, enormous ribbed drums and weathered pinnacles [which] stood above the little town, while large blocks, of rocks the size of houses lay amongst the scree. They were so close and over-powering that it made me wonder how they affected the lives of the people who would have to see them every day" (Greece, 63).

Hill was critical of the plaster reconstructions of friezes and metopes in the museum at Delphi, noting that they "appeared rather gross to my eye and yet, compared with the fragments of the originals existing seemed accurate enough, it must be that plaster is not the material for them, it is too lifeless, or perhaps they should have been entrusted to an artist and not to an archaeologist" (Greece, p. 34); but he was also excited by the architecture he saw, the degrees of enclosure articulated by the courts at Osios Loukas (Greece, 20), and the Greek cross church at Peribleptos, its "rock-cut atmosphere pervaded the whole church and inside, the shape of the structure was so clear that it was possible to imagine that all of it had been cut out of the hillside" (Greece, 46).

The first 34 pages of the Cyprian section documents (with textual description and photographs) the archaeological method, assumption and artefacts found at Pighades 1950. Hill noted for example that "[s]ometimes objects were found that belonged to another civilization altogether. They showed the extent of trade with other countries and also helped to give a more exact date to the floor level" (Cyprus, 4). He also included some historical context, noting that excavating this site was due to Miss du Plat Taylor and Miss Seton-Williams' "search of a link between the Iron and Late Bronze Age and [they] decided this site would probably help considerably" (Cyprus, 2).

The narrative style typical of Hill's writing on Greece is less frequent in the Cyprian section, but still present: the Kyrenian range runs "like a knife edge from East to West" (Cyprus, 1), and the occasional reference to life on site slips in. The discovery of a well in the South West corner of the court also included, to their surprise, "water quite clean and fresh, so it was used on the site for drinking until one day a dog fell in" (Cyprus, 11-12).

The last and shorter part of the Cyprian section describes the church of Asinou (Cyprus, 35-40), and concludes with a broader range of photographs of Cyprus, including the cathedrals at Bella Paise and Famagusta, late Cypro-Byzantine churches, Roman floor mosaics, Modern architecture, and images of the end of the dig. On Hill's route to Asinou, "[t]he Autumn crocuses were out under the trees, and the warm air was filled with the scent of resin and flowering plants. My footsteps in the pine needles sent lizards of every conceivable colour and size scurrying away to safety" (Cyprus, 35). Inside the church, he found the paintings "perhaps a little shaky in execution" yet "[t]he figures were not stiff despite being formally arranged and the compositions were straightforward, yet they had a unique beauty that sprang from a mixture of styles." (Cyprus, 36)

The final part of the thesis "Sculpture in Architecture" is very distinct from the first two sections in that the use of handwriting and drawing is more dominant and that is it a broad chronological account of sculpture in architecture from the Egyptian to the Renaissance with a jump to Modernism, and an extended section on the Gothic.

It focuses predominantly on western examples, though includes three sheets of drawings of Javan, Indian and Mayan sculpture in architecture. While the two other sections of the thesis are explicitly dated, this section is not, but from the content in the Modern Architecture section (which includes Jacob Epstein's Madonna and Child in Cavendish Square, 1953), it appears that "Sculpture in Architecture" was finished after Hill's move to New Zealand in 1951.

The drawings vary in quality, with use of quick tracings, analytical diagrams, ink tracing on pencil drawings, to highly polished renderings, for example the metopes and friezes from the Parthenon. The "Modern Architecture" section includes the most photography and is explicitly critical about specific buildings and their use of sculpture, for example, the sculpture on a late 1920s block of flats in Norr Malarstrand, Stockholm is described as "poorly conceived and badly applied lacking space and proportions" (Sculpture, [74]), and contrasted with Ivar Tengbom's Enskilda Bank (also in Stockholm, 1915), where architectural sculpture "accentuates the central motif with richness of tone which in its boldness is in keeping with the architecture and the nature of the building" (Sculpture, [74]). Hill's criticism of architectural sculpture begins though with the Renaissance, and (following Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1831), appears to find fault at the point when sculpture is "treated so independently as to lose some of its monumental expression. ... Often this resulted in a loss of Architectural relationship, while in the later days of the Renaissance distortion and exaggeration were often mistaken for originality" (Sculpture, [63]). The final Modern section uses several other examples from Stockholm (including: the Humlegarden, Asplund's Woodland Crematorium, and Wejke and Odeen's Gymnastics Institute, 1947), which are all photographed, as well as tracings of non-Swedish work, such as Ronchamp and the Barcelona Pavilion.

In addition to the ambiguity re: dating, the order of the sheets is less apparent than the well-paginated Greek and Cyprian sections. Consequently the order of the Sculpture section (as it appears in the electronic form below) has been determined by the various means, namely:

  • an assumption that this is a chronological account (this is supported by the chronological sequence of the various numbering systems)
  • the three numbering systems (the red circled numbers in the Egyptian section, the draft pencil numbers, the final yellow numbers)
  • the narrative of the chronological summaries
  • the use of analytical tracings to echo another drawing, suggesting a sequence
  • the formal relationships between images.

Hill, Martin ["Byzantine Architecture in Greece and Cyprus"], (Architectural Association, School of Architecture, sub-thesis, c1950), unpublished manuscript.