Monday, November 16, 2015
At the weekend I was teaching a course about architectural ornament and the participants were amused and, I think, charmed by a number of variations on the classical orders that I showed them. I wanted to demonstrate that the orders weren’t necessarily regarded by masons, carvers, and builders as a set of hard-and-fast rules. They could be starting points on which the craftsman played variations. A particular hit was a Corinthian capital with a bird fluttering among its acanthus leaves in Birmingham. It reminded me that there are capitals featuring animal heads on a building in the High Street at Wells. They occur on the Bath stone facade of a bank of about 1880. But what kind of capitals are they? And what are the animals?
The official listing text for the building describes the capitals as “quasi-Ionic”; the text doesn’t mention the animals at all, not concerning itself with such trivialities. The Ionic element is the spirals, although there are also some acanthus leaves lurking at the back, so it might just as well be “quasi-Corinthian” I suppose. The beast is an oddity: the Resident Wise Woman suggested an attempted fox, observing that the ears seem to be turning into a leaves. A mythical beast? Or just a poorly carved one? No matter. It’s a bit of fun however you look at it.