Monday, August 05, 2013


click photo to enlarge
I first encountered the word "volute" when studying architectural history, in particular the Greek Ionic Order that is recognised by the large volutes that make up most of the ornamentation of the capital. The Corinthian and the Composite Orders have them too, on a lesser scale, but it is the Ionic that presents the architectural volute in all its beauty. In fact, the word "volute" comes from the Latin for "scroll", and looking at the spiral shape in the Ionic capital one can see how it might have derived from a parchment scroll seen end on.

Biologists use the word to describe the spiral shell of gastropods, in particular the genus Voluta. Violins and other stringed instruments often have a decorative volute at the top of the fingerboard near the tuning pegs, though this is also called a scroll. Guitar builders use "volute" to describe a thickening of the neck near the nut where one end of the truss rod is found, but this is an odd use of the word that doesn't respect its origins.

Today's photograph shows the wooden handrail of a Georgian staircase that terminates in a volute. It's not unusual to see a handrail of this period with a "turnout" whereby the straight line of the rail ends with a curve of approximately a quarter of a circle. However, if the client has money and pretensions then the architect can indulge himself with a volute, adding if he wants to go a step further, an ornamental finial on the centre. In the example above the expansion of the rail into a large, circular full-stop manages to be both elaborate and simple: perhaps elegant is the best word to describe it. As I processed this photograph, one that I took in the former Stamford Hotel in Stamford, Lincolnshire, it occurred to me that it might be a suitable candidate for a blue/sepia split-toning treatment. For more examples of this photographic treatment, one of that dates back to the days of chemical processing, see this promenade, this customer service centre or this House of Correction. For a view of the rest of this staircase see this post.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14.8mm (40mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/25
ISO: 1600
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On