Friday, June 19, 2009

Devizes, Wiltshire


House of healing
This is one of the many beautiful buildings on the Market Place in Devizes, a town whose architecture – houses, churches, inns, halls, brewery – is some of the best in the region. It’s called Parnella House, was built in around 1740, and in the early-19th century was home to a surgeon, a man called W. Clare. The façade is an interesting ragbag of elements in which a pair of bays with Venetian windows are sandwiched between the formality of that ground-floor colonnade and the tiny triangular pediment at the top. An eventful frontage, then, and one which holds its own amongst the many minor architectural gems in this large market place.


And as if all that wasn’t enough, the façade also accommodates a statue of the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius (or Aesculapius, to give the Latin form of his name) above the doorway. The usual symbols of Asclepius are a pair of snakes twisted around a staff, although he sometimes also has attributes such as pine cones, or a she-goat and a dog (commemorating one myth of his upbringing that tells how he was abandoned as a baby and how a nanny goat suckled him while a dog protected him). This Asclepius carries a scroll and has one snake, curled around what looks like a young tree trunk.

There’s something rustic and not too sophisticated about this statue, exemplified in the way the god’s head seems to be propping up the keystone in the crisply cut Gibbs surround that frames his image. It’s a classical subject, but the classics were just there, part of people’s background, and Asclepius could look like you or me or a farmer from the local fields. It’s good to see him still here.

8 comments:

Vinogirl said...

Beautiful building. Passed through Devizes many times as a child on holiday, I always loved the sound of the name. Seem to remember a rather fantastic series of locks close by.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, there are 'bags' of locks at Devizes, on the Kennet and Avon Canal.

CarolineLD said...

I love the way he looks slightly distracted, as if he hasn't noticed that his scroll is unrolling and a snake is heading for his hand.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Oh, I think the snake's quite tame. But perhaps Asclepius is trying to catch the eye of the goddess Ceres, who adorns the Corn Exchange at the other end of the Market Place. They like their mythology in Devizes.

designslinger.com said...

especially like the closeup of Asclepius, morning shot?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, mid-morning, dodging shoppers, buses, and other dashing objects.

Peter Ashley said...

Ah, Devizes. Wadworth 6X.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Indeed. Long ago, in a period when pubs were full of horrid tasteless 'beers', I was lucky that someone bought me 6X for my first pint. I have maintained an affection for the stuff as a result.