Friday, January 20, 2012

Oriel window, Newark Castle

click photo to enlarge
"Oriel" is a word whose derivation is difficult to determine. My edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) cites a 1239 usage by Matthew Paris, "oriolum", a Latin version of, it is speculated, the medieval English and Old French "oriol", "euriel" or "oeuriel". Here it is felt to mean a porch, entrance or antechamber. There is some thought that it might derive from aureolum, through the French, and mean golden or gilded, and by extension "gilded chamber". But what agreement there is settles on a meaning that includes a portico, corridor, gallery or balcony.

My first encounter with the word is in connection with a particular type of window, specifically one that projects as a bay from an upper storey without the usual downward extension to the ground of a traditional bay window. The OED's first recorded use of this definition of the word dates from the late 1700s and is in Horace Walpole's, "The Castle of Otranto", an early Gothic novel. However, an earlier definition, of the 1400s and later, for the word "oriel" (though spelt "oryel", "oryall" etc) rather than "oriel window" is summarised thus: "A large recess with a window, of polygonal plan, projecting from the outer face of the wall of a building, usually, in an upper story, and either supported from the ground or on corbels. Formerly sometimes forming a small private apartment attached to a hall, or the like." (My emphasis.)

So, what's all this ruminating about word derivation got to do with today's photograph? Well, I was wondering just what the builders and users of this fine oriel window on the exterior wall of Newark castle called it? Will we ever know? And does anyone (apart from me) care? What we are fairly certain is that it was inserted by Bishop Thomas of Rotherham in the 1470s to light a new upper floor in a hall. The early morning sun illuminating the pseudo-vaulting of the ceiling caught my eye and I asked my ever-present photographic model - my wife - if she'd pose in the window to add some human interest and an asymmetrical note to the old weathered stone and more recent railings.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 73mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On