Friday, December 02, 2005

Material Values - Terracotta

The use of Terracotta (meaning 'fired earth') in buildings of the late C19th was commonplace (especially in the UK). The ubiquitous sill trim or commemoration plaque now faded and cracked still forms the background to many urban streetscapes. As a material in the late C19th it was used and marvelled at in much the same way as the glass curtain wall is today (and the glass curtain wall will have its day also). Terracotta does have an undeserved reputation for poor longevity - but (oh) when it is used in the right way it takes on an artistic quality verging on the sublime.

One of my favourite 2nd hand bookstore finds is a book entitled Terra Cotta of the Italian Renaissance (1928 The Terra Cotta Association). It is toe top full of beautiful black and white plates of C16th terracotta details in Galatrona, Bologna, Pavia, Monza, Milano and Venezia. In its intro it says ' There is much to be gained from a study of this inspirational early Italian work a more sympathetic appreciation of the true spirit of the clay medium. It is in this frank, sincere handling of material that we may recognise much of their compelling interest and dignity.'

Ubiquity? Listen to this list of artists who worked in the medium - Donatello, Bruneleschi, Alberti, Bramante, Michael Angelo and Luca della Robbia!

Longevity? Most of the C15th buildings survive to this day.

The top image is of a frieze taken from a C19th former technical school in a small town in the north of England and it has qualities which are just as profound as the work of Donatello. It is of its period and holds the cultural messages and observances of its period - it tells us so much of its originators and is articulated all the better in the terracotta medium. The building is shortly to be demolished but the frieze is to be saved (if possible) and used to commemmorate the towns past and help maintain some of its former identity. You can view the full frieze at my photo blog site here.

For a remarkable resource on Terracotta (with a US slant) try Friends of Terra Cotta

View all of my images with a terracotta theme

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