Thursday, September 25, 2014

Clifton, Bristol


Old orders changing

Over the years that I have been writing blog posts about England’s buildings I’ve naturally come across a huge number of buildings in the classical style, using one or more of the orders that were originally developed, as the basis of an adaptable architectural and decorative vocabulary, by the builders of ancient Greece and subsequently borrowed, adapted, and added to by later generations. On the blog in the past I’ve shared my appreciation of English versions of the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders in buildings as diverse as shops and railway stations. I’ve also come across some more unusual versions – Borromini’s baroque, inverted form of the Ionic capital, for example, and the peculiar but decorative ammonite order developed by the appropriately named architect Amon Wilds.

Strolling around Clifton one evening not long ago, I came across another, with a capital that has two rows of leaves – acanthus at the bottom, and taller leaves rising above them and curling over at the top. It does not belong to the accepted group of orders, but with its mouldings and acanthus leaves is unmistakably classical. What can it be? I took it to be a version of the Pergamene order, an uncommon order named after Pergamon in Turkey, where it’s used on the Temple of Trajan; it’s also found on the Stoa of Eumenes on the Acropolis at Athens (Eumenes was a king of Pergamon). In its rare ancient outings, this order usually has a capital with one ring of gently curving leaves; these are said by architectural writers to be like palm leaves, but, like many architectural leaves, they are very much altered and stylized.

Now I think this order is another less well known neo-classical order, the Spalatro order, derived by Robert Adam from the buildings of the emperor Diolcletian at Spalatro (now known as Split) in Croatia. This was one of the details Adam drew from Diocletian's palace, where he was also much influenced by the spatial handling of the interiors (especially the use of adjoining rectangular and semi-circular spaces). Adam published his Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in 1764, and the book helped spread these ideas. These Clifton columns, and the frieze they support with its band of swags, is very Adam-like, but presumably post-Adam in date.

Well, whatever the date, the order is decoratively used on this building, harmonizing well with the swags above it. Also these curved forms – leaves, capitals, columns, swags, and so on – help the structure turn the corner gracefully and gave masons and stone carvers an interesting opportunity to show off their skill. On a sunny evening – how classicism benefits from a dose of sun! –  they come crisply into their own.

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Too easy to walk by such a building as this without really noticing! Despite the rather awkward "mortar boards" at the top of the columns, the sweep of the curve shows a confident knowledge of Classical technique. As you imply, Classicism is a language of building rather than a single style: is there any current architect who can speak it any more?