Sunday, January 04, 2009

Monday Melbourne Medievalism blogging

Gog and Magog have given me an idea. I'm going to try and keep a little Monday Melbourne Medievalism blogging routine up for a while. There are so many medievalist buildings and things in this city, but although I often notice them, it's not always easy to know what to do with them; or indeed, to say precisely what they themselves do. So I'll try and include a photo and a description, and try and analyse what I see, and try and formulate the right questions to ask. And yes, this is going to be part of my research for our Medievalism in Australian Cultural Memory project — as well as another collaborative project that is at the very embryonic stage. Any suggestions, comments on these buildings and images more than welcome!

The first example is probably a bit obvious:


This wonderful building is a local landmark around Carlton (first suburb north of the city, and the locale of the University of Melbourne), and was built in 1889 by Inskip and Robertson as the site of the Carlton Club (it's now a restaurant). Note the kangaroo gargoyles and what are described as "Florentine arches". The style is also sometimes described as Venetian gothic. (We are very quickly going to exhaust my knowledge of architectural vocabulary, I'm afraid, but there's a fuller description of the building here.)

When I say this building is a bit obvious as a choice, that's because I chose it for the front cover of this book:
The photograph was taken for the book by my friend Robert Colvin, and I love the mixture of the celestial Australian sky and these weird gargoyles. Click on them for more detail. They are kind of bearded, with kangaroo-shaped ears and haunches, though with gryphon paws. You can't see their tales* from this shot but they are big and kangaroo-like in shape, except that they curl up the back of the statues (they're not strictly gargoyles) and end in a little leonine plume. The statues are holding shields which according to the heraldica website are in an elongated Venetian shape, and are perhaps even modelled on this kind of thing (with a similar charge: the diagonal bend, though without the beards and lions of the Barbarigo coat of arms) from the Doge's palace in Venice (check out the Doge's little hat as a crest):
So, let's see. If the architectural style is labelled "florentine" or "venetian", perhaps this is rather a kind of renaissance revival, rather than a medieval one. But then "gothic" pretty much implies medievalist in architectural terms, I think; and "venetian gothic" is a recognisable term in the Melbourne context. And the idea of the kangaroo gargoyles and their shields also makes it deeply medievalist, even if that is mediated by quattrocento Venice. (I am also at the very bottom of what I hope will be a steep learning curve about Australian heraldry and its medievalism.)

Sarah Randles has a neat essay in this book about the choice of gothic as an architectural style for a number of key Australian buildings. And Brian Andrews has written a masterful book on the subject, with a special focus on ecclesiastical buildings. There are certainly some beautiful medievalist churches in Melbourne, but I'm going to try and keep my range as wide as possible. They won't all be buildings, but many of those that are going to feature on this Monday blogging will date from the second half of the nineteenth century, when Melbourne was still booming, out of control, on wealth from the gold rush of the 1850s and the "land boom" of the 1880s, when land prices rivalled those of London, as I have just read in the wonderful new book I have just bought, Andrew Brown-May and Shurlee Swain's Encyclopedia of Melbourne, which is going to be tremendously helpful for this project.

It doesn't say much more about Gog and Magog, however, and nor does it mention this building, as far as I can see so far. But for many of Melbourne's secular and civic buildings, the ornamental Gothic of their style is easy to read as an exuberant expression of conspicuous consumption. Echoing the display of the Doge's palace in Venice is a confident act of nineteenth-century admiration for that city, and a comfortable ease with heraldic display, even in the abstracted, depersonalised form of these shields.

* for tales read tails; then marvel at the number of times I read that and thought it looked a bit funny and just left it there...

4 comments:

Suse said...

This post and the last one made me smile. Back in March I photographed the Block Arcade, and the gargoyles on that Carlton building, and blogged them (great minds).

Re suggestions for buildings, I used to work in Druid House, Swanston St when RMIT used to rent a couple of floors there. It's opposite RMIT's main building, and has a lovely stone druid figure right at the top.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Oh, I missed those posts! How did that happen? Druid House is a good idea: I might need to get serious telephoto lenses for some of these buildings, though.

Jeremyinc said...

Hey I just commented on your last post too! If you ever need some pictures of the Shrine of rememberance I took a few really nice pictures. Melbourne is a great city, I just got here a few months ago but I love it. Let me know if you want those pics! (left my blog address in your last blog post)

Stephanie Trigg said...

Jeremy, glad you're enjoying Melbourne. The Shrine's an amazing structure, isn't it?