Sculpted Keystones showing Female Heads

Among the most attractive forms of sculpture found on a Keystone - the topmost block in an arch which stops the whole structure collapsing – is that of a female head. We start with the Art Nouveau Girl. Below left is a typical example: the youthful female face is symmetrical, entirely surrounded with flowing hair, itself framed by shell designs and scrolling. She has large, heavily-lidded eyes, a perfect nose, and slightly parted lips, giving her a dreamy, sensuous expression. Next, another face with the focus on the hair, here sinuously entwining itself in thick coils that descend into scrolly Acanthus leaves. Again, the design is symmetrical, and the eyes, though not so large, are given emphasis by the arched brows. Next, a particularly dreamy expression on the face of a young girl with wavy hair down the sides of her face, and knotted braids below forming almost a necklace – note how her face seems to float in the surround rather than be attached to a body. Again, large eyes, and a slight pout to the mouth. And to the right, a helmeted girl, with the profile shown here emphasising the flowing contour of the scrolling around the face – no hair in sight, but this scrolling brings it strongly to mind.

Art Nouveau girls as carved keystone heads.

This last one brings us on to our second type of classical female head keystone, which is the Classical. Below left, an example with a winged helm, sort of a female Mercury. The style is not so dissimilar from the Art Nouveau types in terms of the large eyes and symmetry, but here the moth is thinner and though still feminine, rather harder, the cheekbones a little more emphasised, the brow more modelled. Her hair is horter, and gathered up at the sides functionally, and we see her neck, with a suggestion of muscular strength. Next, a forest goddess, wearing acorn earrings, with leafy branches in her hair, and a bird at her breast. Her face is ancient Greek, her hair more Roman, and there is again a breadth to the neck indicating strength: the contour of her cheek and chin again are less soft. In the Classical face, the nose often is in the same plane as the forehead, and this is shown to good effect in the third example below, a solid female with rather plump cheeks, but the Classical style of eyes and a heaviness to the chin and hint of a solid neck, which is concealed with a charming, delicately carved necklace of flowers; a circlet of larger flowers are in her hair.

Classical female heads.

Now to warrior females with helmets (if you want full statues of warrior women, see this page). This first one below left has the Classical nose rather over-emphasised, but forgivable as the pulled-up Corinthian helmet above stretches forward like some beak which the sculptor did not wish to dominate over the face below. Above, the helmet merges with foliage into a bracket; set low on the keystone, there is no room for much neck. Next along is an unusually older woman, with lined face and fierce, frowning expression. She wears a heavy helmet with small wings, and a lion’s head in low relief above the brow. Hangings descend on each side, and there is a kerchief around her neck. Note the considerable modelling to the surface of the cheeks. Next, an Athena-like face, with tall Corinthian helmet with a downward point over the nose,, flowing locks to the sides, and a solid neck – a serious warrior, this one. Next, a rather simpler example, actually along similar lines, but with an entirely different effect given by the rounder face, bunching of the hair above the falling strands, and bulky surround of cartouche and crossed branches. Ornamental rather than warlike. Next, a somewhat blunt-featured female – perhaps due to her being carved from sandstone, not limestone – with extremely bulky helmet above coiled hair with much decoration below; the side scrolling looks almost like horns on the helmet, and at the top is a small head of Medusa. Then, far right, another scroll-sided keystone head, with the Corinthian helmet bearing upon it a snarling lion emerging from Acanthus leaves, and the face of unusual perfection, a cool, Classical beauty.

Warrior females.

More exotic, oriental types of girl are an opportunity for the artist. Below left, a sultry Asian girl with veil over her hair, diadems and beads on her forehead, and multiple necklaces around her neck ; her over-large slanted eyes dominate her face, above a small and almost sulky mouth and chin. Next, a more Indian-looking girl, with even more flamboyant ornament, including a wheel on her main necklace, a head-covering with little disks depending from it over the forehead, and flowers in her plaited hair – very un-Indian, those plaits. Next, an African girl, again with extremely dominating eyes, rather piercing here, and in her tightly curled hair are broad feathers. The style of this keystone does not allow for a neck, but there is just room for a chain necklace of interlinked baubles, and long pendant earrings. Next, another Indian style head, but here entirely subordinate to the decorative scrolling around; we still retain the long earrings and chain of beads around he neck, indicative of the exotic without overwhelming the design. Then a rather similar type, perhaps Indian, perhaps not, the head merely the centre part of an architectural cartouche with scrolling. And another Oriental girl, really sulky in expression, this one, with an almost comical droop to the lips.

Female keystone heads of Oriental and exotic type.

Headdresses allow for much extra sculpture. Below left, a bust of a woman with a backet on her head, overflowing with grapes and with other fruits piled on top; below is a wreath of flowers, and below that, a crown of coiled hair exposing her ears. On her chest is a festoon of flowers and fruits, and two mini-cornucopias. Our next girl has a carved cornucopia in her hair, along with leafy olive branches. Next, an example with the female head peering between bulrushes, and a camelia and other vegetation below. Then another floral example, with thistles in her hair, and double plaits at the sides, a most fetching combination. A rather more slender face than usual, most effective in giving this girl a sense of forcefulness. And below far right, a girl with a castle in her hair, complete with brickwork and portico.

Headdress varieties.

Female keystone heads carved wearing crowns are fairly widespread, and below are some examples. Rather a medieval maiden to the left, the crown being much more sketchy than the fine, sensitive face with its down-turned eyes. Next, a rather conventional crown on a head framed with oak leaves and wild roses. Next, a coronet of drooping feathers above a studded circlet, this girl being rather subsidiary to the surrounding ornament. And to the right, a woman whose crown on closer examination is the toothed edge of a gearwheel, most unusual, especially when contrasted with the delicate refinement of her necklace.

Female keystone heads carved with crowns.

We should mention allegorical girls, with Blind Justice as a particularly frequent example. Here are three such, very appropriate ornamentation for a court or town hall. Our examples are rather different from on another in spite of the common feature of the blindfold. She on the left is a conventional keystone. The central case is one of the smaller keystone heads, more a boss on the broad cartouche covering the whole of the face of the keystone. And she on the right is lifted to the top of a double-length keystone, to act as a bracket to the balustrade above. For full statues of Justice, see this page.

Justice carved as a keystone.

Finally, a few oddities. Below left, two examples of the female equivalent of the Hercules face wearing a lion’s head – see the lion head page for the male equivalent. The second example, rather damaged unfortunately, has the lion paws tied under the neck, and in addition, sprigs of oak leaf to either side. Next, a keystone where the female head is placed entirely above, with floral surrounds making a whole decorative scheme. The fourth example is similar in that while the head is properly emplaced upon the keystone, it is surrounded by generous crossed palm fronds, and continues upwards to larger and more flamboyant decoration. And far right, another female head placed above the keystone, with a festoon, finely sculpted, across it and hanging to each side.

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