Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Colour and capitals

I was looking out for another example of the use of colour in architecture, when I came across this in one of Cheltenham’s Regency squares. The use of a pale colour (blue, grey, buff, even orange) has always struck me as effective in this kind of architecture, especially when combined with details in low relief picked out in white. The effect, especially with blue or grey walls, is reminiscent of cameo jewellery or Wedgwood pottery.

This house is a lovely example of that effect, but as I looked more closely I was even more impressed by the classical details, particularly the Ionic pilasters. The Ionic, say the textbooks and manuals of ornament, is the order with the spiral volutes in the capital. True enough, but what wonderfully spiralling volutes these are, with their rings and rings of not-quite-parallel mouldings turning towards their centres. And that’s just the start. This Ionic pilaster has much more in the way of ornament, and it's easier to make this out if you click on the picture to enlarge it. At the top, just above the volutes is the part called the abacus, here consisting of a narrow ornamental band. Looked at closely, it reveals itself to be a band of egg-and-dart ornament – yes, it’s made up of alternating ovoid and pointed shapes. Between the two spirals (the bit called the echinus) is another row of slightly larger egg-and-dart, with a narrow band of interlace just above it. And then beneath the spirals is the band known as the necking, which is adorned with a central palmette (a motif based on fan-like palm leaves), flanked by flower-like ornaments. Just beneath these, before the flute pilaster proper begins, is yet another moulded narrow band.

The ancient Greeks, and those in later centuries who copied or adapted their designs, played countless variations on these motifs. These examples are based on the capitals on the Erechtheion (below), the glorious, asymmetrical temple on the Acropolis at Athens. This is perhaps appropriate in Cheltenham, because the town’s famous caryatids – which I’ve noticed in previous posts – also derive ultimately from this temple. It’s good to see the influence working wonders once more.

Ionic capital, the Erechtheion, Athens
Photograph by Eusebius (Guillaume Piolle), used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence

1 comment:

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

These examples illustrate the point made by J S Curl in his "Classical Architecture" that Classicism is not one style, but a whole possibility of different and diverse styles, with a certain guarantee that they will serve the function of the building, and look pleasing. Just walked past a 1960s dirty weather-stained building with the aluminium window frames bent and falling out: can't help thinking of J S Curl.