Friday, September 21, 2007

talking dirty: the Italianate segment of Victorian architecture

The quotes (in bold) and pictures below are from, unless otherwise stated.

The Breakers designed by Richard Morris Hunt, completed 1895 (Newport, Rhode Island)

The Italianate style consisted of taking Italian 16th-century style and slapping it onto 19th-century structures. O pastiche, how very Victorian! Anyone who says that post-modernism is a strictly 20th-century phenomenon is full of it.

Sir Charles Barry, most notable for his works on the Tudor and Gothic styles at the Houses of Parliament in London, was a great promoter of the style.

What a fickle guy! First he does pointy, medieval-looking things, then he does zany, pseudo-16th-century Italian things? Good gravy, mister, make up your mind!

Italianate [in America] was reinterpreted again and became an indigenous style. It is distinctive by its pronounced exaggeration of many Italian Renaissance characteristics: emphatic eaves supported by corbels, low-pitched roofs barely discernible from the ground, or even flat roofs with a wide projection. A tower is often incorporated hinting at the Italian belvedere or even campanile tower.

Er, 'corbel'?


A projection jutting out from a wall to support a structure above it. (Oxford American Dictionary)

Okay. Um, 'belvedere'?


A summerhouse or open-sided gallery, usually at rooftop level, commanding a fine view. (Thanks again, OAD)

Oh, and a 'campanile' is a bell tower, so the phrase 'campanile tower' is redundant. Nyeah nyeah, Wikipedia!

The Breakers [shown at the top], located on Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island, is a 70-room mansion designed by the architect Richard Morris Hunt for Cornelius Vanderbilt II.

SEVENTY ROOMS?! Why on earth would anyone need seventy rooms?

Constructed between 1893 and 1895, it is the epitome of the Italianate style in the United States. While to all outward appearances it is a complete Renaissance palazzo, its construction with steel trusses and no wooden parts made use of the most modern building techniques the late 19th century had to offer.

It only took two years to build a seventy-room mansion, all without 21st-century construction equipment?! This just keeps getting more and more amazing.

Key visual components of this style include:

* Low-pitched or flat roofs
* Projecting eaves supported by corbels.
* Imposing cornice structures

'Cornice'? An ornamental molding around the wall of a room just below the ceiling or a horizontal molded projection crowning a building or structure, esp. the uppermost member of the entablature of an order, surmounting the frieze. (OAD)

'Entablature'? A horizontal, continuous lintel on a classical building supported by columns or a wall, comprising the architrave, frieze, and cornice. (OAD)

I swear, I just keep feeling dumber and dumber.

A main beam resting across the tops of columns. (OAD)

A broad horizontal band of sculpted or painted decoration, esp. on a wall near the ceiling. (OAD)

Gotcha. Carry on.

* Pedimented windows and doors

The triangular upper part of the front of a building in classical style, typically surmounting a portico of columns. (OAD)

A structure consisting of a roof supported by columns at regular intervals, typically attached as a porch to a building. (OAD)

* Arch-headed, pedimented or Serlian windows with pronounced architraves and archivolts

Jesus H Christ on a Popsicle stick! 'Serlian'?
I couldn't find a proper definition for this in the OAD, but various websites describe this as an arched window with columns on either side, more or less.

And then, of course, there are 'archivolts' to contend with:
A band of molding, resembling an architrave, around the lower curve of an arch.

Is it just me, or is this getting exhausting?

* Tall first floor windows suggesting a piano nobile

OKAY, FINE, I'LL BITE: 'piano nobile'?
The main story of a large house (usually the first floor), containing the principal rooms. (OAD)

Wow, good to know. I could actually see slipping that into casual conversation: "Hey, nice piano nobile." Or: "Let me go freshen up, I'll meet you down in the piano nobile." Neato.

* Angled bay windows
* Attics with a row of awning windows between the eave brackets
* Glazed doors
* Belvedere or machiolated signorial towers

I can't find a definition of 'machiolated signorial tower.' I'm getting peeved.

* Cupolas
* Quoins

'qoin': an external angle of a wall or building. (Also quoin stone) any of the stones or bricks forming such an angle; a cornerstone. (OAD)


* Loggias

'Loggia': A gallery or room with one or more open sides, esp. one that forms part of a house and has one side open to the garden. (OAD)

* Balconies with wrought-iron railings, or Renaissance balustrading
* Balustrades concealing the roof-scpapes

Okay, this is it, and then no more: what, precisely, is a balustrade?
A railing supported by balusters-- (OAD)


A short pillar or column, typically decorative in design, in a series supporting a rail or coping. (OAD)


The top, typically sloping, course of a brick or stone wall. (OAD)

Thanks, but I wasn't asking; I've officially given up coping with all this jargon. I'm going to go lie down now, and let us never speak of this filthy Italianate business ever again. Thank you.

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