I’m going to give a shout out to Matt Thompson whose been my ‘Project Soane buddy' for a couple of years now. He drew my attention to an interesting post on LinkedIn about the Ammonite order.
I hadn’t come across this before. It was invented by Soane’s mentor (George Dance the younger) for the Shakespeare Gallery, and picked up by a father and son team of architects in Brighton who applied it to Regency Terraces reminiscent of John Nash.
This set me off in several directions. I tidied up and fleshed out the section of my archive that deals with Dance and his Father. George the Elder started out as a Mason and rose to prominence with his design for the Mansion House which is diagonally opposite the Bank of England. He also designed a couple of churches.
Looking closely at shots of the Mansion House, taken during one of my visits to the Bank, I was struck by its relevance to the work I have been doing this past few weeks. It’s a fairly straightforward Palladian design, in a similar mode to Sampson’s original block for the Bank, also the result of a limited competition.
The more you look, the more you see. Drawing and modelling are ways of looking more closely, interrogating something that interests you. The Corinthian capitals used on the Mansion House are quite different from those found on the Bank of England, just across the road. Soane’s favourite version of the Corinthian derives from the Temple of Vesta, at Tivoli and I now find it quite easy to spot this variant wherever I see it. The leaves are very distinctive, compact and muscular. Indeed, Soane compressed the whole capital. He regarded the Tivoli order as masculine.
His version dispenses with the Cauliculus, a device that I have so far ignored in my simplified Corinthian capitals. It’s like a bouquet : leaves sprouting from a small turned vase, and curling underneath the scrolls. I decided to draw a few.
I referred to Paul Aubin’s superb book for the name which comes from the Latin word for stalk. Hence ‘cauliflower’. His version has very clean, smooth flowing leaves
While poking around in my archive folders, I came across a plaster cast from the Soane Museum. Soane accumulated hundreds of such objects and stuck them around his house so he could keep ‘taking a closer look’ It comes from the Forum in Rome,and the shape of the acanthus leaf is different yet again.
My previous efforts had been modelled at ‘any old size’ and for some reason I created my first leaflet flat on its back. This time I decided to create a leaf that would fit seamlessly into the modular system for classical columns that I have shared at a couple of BiLT conferences.
In the early stages it was looking a bit like a long necked, six winged goose, trying to take off from a lake, but I persevered. This approach of using a spline-based swept blend, cut by a void extrusion starts to develop its own logic after a while. I felt a bit like a sculptor, moulding clay. You make a few adjustments, load it back into context, stand back and view from different angles... It became an iterative design process and made me think much more deeply about the way leaves wrap around a cylinder and overlap each other to artistic effect.
My Cauliculus is very sharp and geometrical, in contrast to Paul’s, which will get incorporated into my system eventually. It's all based on interchangeable, modular parts remember. And I’m getting something that is closer to the leafy richness of true Corinthian than ever before. Far too much detail for most purposes, but we’ll ignore that for now.
Once you’ve made one, the next variant is much easier. You have to remember that the leaves are backed up against a curved surface, but as they rise higher they need to curl outwards and also turn in on themselves a little. Tricky geometry, but fascinating too.
The profile that I’m using for the swept blends, forms a subtle crease that enhances the botanical illusion, as long as you pay attention to its alignment. I’m enjoying the tension between stylised forms that derive from the techniques used, and the impression of organic complexity that can ensue. Not saying I have the balance right just yet, but questions are being asked.
So I have new capitals that combine with the shafts and bases I previously developed. These can be round or square, detached, engaged or flat pilasters. I even have a corner option. So why not try mocking up one corner of the Mansion House?
I roughed out a profile for the entablature, leaving square recesses to insert the egg and dart / leaf mouldings later. Scaled everything to dimensions estimated from Google earth. Such a lot of interesting buildings on show here. Tite’s Royal Exchange, Lutyens’ Midland Bank. Hawksmoor’s St Mary Woolnoth.
In my first render the pilasters still have the old style capital, which was never fully converted to square. My new leaves adapt more easily to turning the corner, just because the leaflets at the sides are nested components.
Not sure why I have opted for this antique photo effect (Enscape3d + PIXLR) Maybe it helps to fool the eye into treating my dramatisation as a documentary.
For my taste, the Ammonite order is too literal. Perhaps it’s OK for a theatrical setting. Maybe also for the picturesque fancies of a regency seaside resort. Theatre going and family holidays were novelties of the enlightenment middle classes. I’ve enjoyed these fresh insights into the world of Dance and Soane.