Monday, April 18, 2011

Deceiving the eye

click photos to enlarge
The main photograph in today's entry shows the floor in the choir at Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire. In the smaller image you can see the floor in context*. The three-dimensional effect was achieved by the early eighteenth century restorers using four different colours of marble set in such a way that they suggest cubes. It is hard to imagine anything more different from the small, symmetrically patterned floor tiles that medieval builders favoured for such locations, and which came back into favour during the Victorian period. Yet, one of the marks of the styles in our great churches is that each generation tended to employ that which was fashionable at the time, and the eighteenth century loved this kind of thing.

The Arts and Crafts Movement of the second half of the nineteenth century abhorred such illusionism. They felt that flat surfaces should not be made to appear three-dimensional, that such trickery wasn't being true to either the surface or the materials. I was thinking about this as I photographed the floor, and also when I pointed my camera upwards at the underside of the crossing tower. It's something of a paradox, I thought, that from this point of view the vaulting looks very flat, linear, a touch Rococco even, and the perfectly flat floor looks like it is constructed of angular cubes. Of course, when you position yourself to one side of the crossing, as I did for my earlier photograph, the ceilings' curves, ribs and soaring arches reveal the architecture to be very sculptural. Similarly, a walk down the choir soon reveals the "blockiness" to be smooth, shiny and flawless, a tribute to the workmanship and chosen materials of three hundred years ago.

*Note: choir is used in the architectural sense to mean the place where the choir would sit and services were sung.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Main photo
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/30
ISO: 2500
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On