Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ballflower ornament

click photo to enlarge
Symbolism has always interested me. That must account - in part - for my fascination with the history of ecclesiastical architecture. Churches are packed with symbolism and it is sometimes a real pleasure to wander around one of these old buildings decoding the fittings, furnishings and architecture, seeing how artists and craftspeople used ornament to illustrate their faith.

In Christian churches the Trinity is especially subject to symbolic representation: how else can you depict God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost as a single entity? In 2010 I photographed and wrote about a building that is almost entirely dedicated to the symbolic representation and celebration of the Trinity - Rushton Triangular Lodge. However, every church, somewhere or other builds in references to the number three because of its special significance. Three steps often lead up to the altar. The baptismal font is frequently at the top of three steps too. Windows are often split into three "lights", triangular shapes frequently feature in ornament, three-leaved foliage abounds, tracery has trefoils; I've even seen in a very modern church three vertical lines moulded into the concrete above an altar, rather like cricket wickets with the bails missing. Mind you, minimalism of that kind wasn't unknown in the eighteenth century, as this small spire at Little Gidding church in Cambridgeshire shows - notice the three rectangular holes piercing it, surely another representation of the Trinity.

In the period around 1300 to 1325 a particular form of ornament came into being that represents the Trinity. The ballflower is a three petalled flower that encloses a ball: three and one if not quite 3 in one. You can see them in their dozens edging the tracery of this chapel window (above) of the church at Ledbury, Herefordshire. Its a small thing, but heavily repeated so that cumulatively it can't be ignored. I've always been in two minds about its effectiveness as ornament because it turns elegant, smooth, curving stone into stone with an encrusted, almost organic quality. Over the years I've decided that in small doses I like it, but I'm glad it quite quickly went out of fashion.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 34.9mm (94mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/100
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation:  -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On