An Alphabet of Allegorical Sculpture - A is for Architecture

Allegorical statues of Architecture, as opposed to statues of particular architects, not covered on this page, are generally female. There are fewer figures of Architecture than might be expected, because often it is lumped in as one of the Arts, so that we have a single allegorical girl with a variety of accoutrements, including a bit of a pillar, and that is it. Nevertheless, there are some. My personal favourite statue of Architecture is the one by F. W. Pomeroy on Vauxhall Bridge, London, a noble figure carrying in one hand a model of St Paul’s Cathedral, and in the other a pair of compasses. She is far larger than other statues of Architecture, but epitomises the main features of the allegorical type. Architecture’s two common attributes are a miniature building, or the compasses, or both, as here. She is Classically draped – no nude figures here, unlike so many of our allegorical figures – but may, as here, have her arms bare, and her feet, which may also be sandalled, or as here, concealed under her drapery, which is always long and generally heavy – Architecture has mass and weight so that light or scanty drapes would be inappropriate. She must also be dignified, so a calm pose rather than movement or gestures is indicated.

Pomeroy's statue of Architecture on Vauxhall Bridge.

Here is another typical figure, with compasses, which on their own do not suffice, so that in this case she has a rolled up plan in her other hand. This figure is not British, but was prepared for the 1893 Chicago Exhibition.

The seated figure of Architecture in a panel shown at the top of this page has a whole building behind her, simple and severely classical, and indeed where a piece of architecture is shown, it is generally Greek – the St Paul’s example above is an exception, allowable because of the importance of the building as the greatest work of the greatest British architect. The panel at the top has the compass, and the rolled up plan, and also introduces another accoutrement, the pillar, or part thereof, which the figure leans her elbow on. Here we have a column, but more usually it will be the top of the pillar, the capital, which is shown, as in the example below left, where she holds an Ionic capital. There is something awkward about such a figure, as even though she cradles the block on the crook of one arm, steadying it with the other hand, and her leg is forward as it would be when supporting a weight, there is an inherent implausibility as the weight of a piece of marble that size would be great. The example below centre, from high up on the front of the V&A, tries to overcome this by making the capital rather small, reducing the weight to perhaps a few pounds. Edouard Lanteri was the sculptor of this splendid creature.

Allegorical figures holding Ionic capitals.

I wanted to show one example of a male figure of Architecture. Here we have a medieval rather than Classical figure, but still with the long, weighty robes, and serious aspect. He carries a section of a bridge rather than a Classical building, so he represents modern Architecture.

Male figure of Architecture.

Finally, below is a figure in glazed tile, one of four large panels on the Midland Hotel in Manchester, by the sculptor Caldwell Spruce, which is Architecture with all her attributes. She is using her compasses to measure something on a scroll, which rests upon the capital of a pillar, and rests a great Palladian building upon her knee, with pillars, pediment, dome raised high with further pillars below, and lots of little statues. On the broad plinths to left and right, a Greek temple and a Roman triumphal arch nestle demurely among the foliage. At the bases of the plinths, the names of Palladio and Wren are looped with triumphal wreaths. Having covered all bases, the sculptor feels able to break at least one of our conventions for figures of Architecture, in making her drapes very light, her cloak swirling, and her upper garment off-the-shoulder so she is semi- rather than fully-draped.

Caldwell Spruce's Architecture.

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