Byzantium in Shadyside
see columns everywhere we look on the exterior of Shadyside Presbyterian
Church – as well as in the narthex and sanctuary.
Most of them serve some load-bearing function, but only as part
of the masonry members into which they are carved.
The most interesting decorative feature of the columns is the
sculpture work on the capitals. The
capital designs clearly differ from the familiar Classical orders,
although they can be traced back these sources.
the immediate precedents of Shadyside’s columns, we do well to look to
the work of H. H. Richardson. Our
designers – Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge – were the successors the
influential architect. In
fact, they completed the work at his masterpiece Allegheny County
Courthouse & Jail. It is
there that we find patterns in some column capitals which, no doubt,
influenced those on the original church and chapel buildings.
Capital at Grant Street Entrance of Allegheny County Courthouse
capitals are composed of floral patterns (that appear to be stylized
acanthus leaves), geometric figures
and scroll-like volutes. These
combinations finds precedent at the Courthouse.
There, and on
& Figural Capitals at Abbaye St-Pierre
Norman block capital column, Worcester Cathedral, England, Courtesy Sacred Destinations & Shadyside Parish Hall column
Richardsonian Romanesque mode of
Also common to the period are unadorned block or cushion capitals,
especially in Norman and northern European capitals.
Also common to the period are unadorned block or cushion capitals, especially in Norman and northern European capitals.
Corinthian capital Courtesy of Atelier Teee
Fifth Century Byzantine capital & Shadyside capital showing Corinthian influence
find origins of the relative restraint of Shadyside’s capitals, we must search
earlier architecture. As the
era we call Early Christian gave way to the Early Byzantine (roughly the
fourth century) stone carvers began to produce capitals that appear to be a
further development of the Corinthian and related Composite Capital (which until the
Renaissance was considered to be an extension of the Corinthian).
The acanthus leaves and volutes of these orders are
stylized in Byzantine work. This
shows clearly in sixth century examples from Hagia Sophia in
Capitals at Hagia Sophia Photo Courtesy erendipity!
Because the Byzantine culture persisted after the Fall of Rome, it influenced Western European architecture, especially in the Romanesque period as artistic and construction skills were revived. The Romanesque column capitals developed from the Byzantine rather than the Classical. There is disagreement among scholars as to the level of iconoclasm in the Early Church. However, by the eight century, disputes over representational art convulsed the Christendom. By Romanesque times, at least in the West, the didactic and cautionary function of pictorial carving in churches appeared to outweigh its danger of idolatry.
Illustration from Ruskin's The Stones of Venice labeled "Byzantine Capitals Convex Group" with Shadyside examples
Romanesque Revival designers, then, could learn about column capital form from the work of masters and colleagues, from observation (drawings and photos and, in some cases, European travel). One very important influence, on taste as well as design, was the work of John Ruskin. The English artist, critic and writer was widely studied. His book The Stones of Venice published drawings of examples and development of Byzantine capitals. It is not hard to see the influence in the capitals at Shadyside - one of a number of instances where Romanesque roots in Byzantium are clear.