Context 143 - March 2016

C O N T E X T 1 4 3 : M A R C H 2 0 1 6 27 JONATHAN TAYLOR The taste for terracotta The widespread use of terracotta in the 19th and 20th centuries has left an onerous legacy of defects that need to be remedied and architectural features that must be protected. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, large ornate terracotta buildings with steel frames became common in theVictorian city centres of Britain and North America. Due to their scale and the problems posed by corrosion on their steel frames, this form of construction tends to overshadow the more common use of the material as solid decorative masonry units, which adorn otherwise ordinary brick buildings in almost every town that had a railway line. Terracotta literally means baked earth.The term has been used to describe a wide variety of fired clay products from flower pots to floor tiles. Architectural terracotta refers to a form of masonry made from moulded clay which is principally distinguished from brick by its larger size and finer quality.When glazed it is more correctly termed faience , but in practice architectural terracotta is often used as an umbrella term for both glazed and unglazed forms. As a material, terracotta is extremely durable. Examples have survived from Ancient Greece, and the museum at Olympia displays fragments from temples and administrative buildings constructed on the site in the 6th century BC. Here terracotta was widely used for making both roof coverings and related decorative features, such as the sima ornamentation which ran along the eaves, and even the pediments themselves. In Britain the earliest significant use of terracotta archi- tecturally was in the early 16th century when terracotta briefly became fashionable. One of the best surviving examples is Layer Marney Towers in Essex (1520–25), which is constructed of brick with carved and moulded brick ornament,with architectural terracotta details such as window frames and mullions, and parapet crestings. Other examples include a few church fittings and memorials in the east of England, and the sculpted roundels at Hampton Court, which were made for ThomasWolsey by the Florentine sculptor Giovanni Da Maiano.The fashion was influenced by the architecture of the Italian renaissance, and the most spectacular ter- racotta work of the period can be found in northern Italy. When Henry VIII broke with Rome, Italian influence in the arts and cultural expression waned rapidly, and terracotta vanished from English architecture almost as quickly as it had risen. A fashion for terracotta did not arise again until the second half of the 19th century. However, many of the technological achievements that made this possible occurred in the late 18th century, through the develop- ment of Coade stone. This was a form of terracotta developed by Eleanor Coade for the reproduction of statuary. Her Artificial Stone Manufactory was estab- lished in Lambeth in 1769. By mixing ball clays with around 30 per cent non-shrinking materials (including finely ground grog, glass, flint and sand), she found that it was possible to make relatively large sculptural pieces that remained stable when fired. A fragment of an early 5th century BC pediment from one of the treasury buildings at Olympia, Greece.The crude terracotta is faced with a fine terracotta slip and painted with an anthemion pattern (reproduced by kind permission of the Museum of Olympia). The portico of 25Wetherby Gardens, London, sculpted by its owner, JE Boehm, in 1884