Saturday, 10 December 2016

Objects of Happiness 6: Fanlight

When is a light not a light? When it's a window pane. Window panes--or "lights" arranged into a semi-circular pattern are called a "fanlight." (Fanlights are alternatively called "sunburst lights" and are known more often as "transom lights" in the USA.) They are typical of Georgian architecture, first appearing around 1714.

I adore fanlights, and I am so happy I live near Edinburgh's New Town, where they abound. The Historical House was built before 1714, so it doesn't have any. (I cannot complain, however, as we have cunning bullseye windows instead.)

The fanlight first impressed itself on my consciousness when I was three or four and living in Cambridge, UK. If I remember this correctly, my then-small family had been at an adult party in a private house. On our way out, I looked up and was entranced by the pretty window over the door.

Soon after, but now living in Canada, I spent a lot of time playing with wooden blocks. My favourite wooden blocks were a triangle with a semi-circle cut out of it and the semi-circle itself. Otherwise, it was a rather simple set of blocks: rectangles, squares, triangles, two rectangular pillars. Curious that these blocks seemed almost programmed to give a child a love for Georgian architecture. I also had plastic blocks that could be assembled into a castle with round towers, but it was too complicated for passionate love, and once pieces were lost, it could never be complete.

I am now married to a classical-architecture fiend, and as we tour churches, we debate the merits of Gothic versus Baroque. Interestingly Georgian simply doesn't enter into it, for even when B.A. was a Scots Episcopalian, he was a Scots Episcopalian of a very High Church cast. There are any number of Protestant preaching boxes still scattered across Scotland, and although (or because) Georgian, I can't imagine praying in them. A properly regulated home-life may be Georgian, but in that period True Religion--or its freedom to build churches--had pretty much fled to the Continent.

The one exception is James Smith's wonderfully clever Kirk of the Canongate in Edinburgh. James Smith was a Catholic and he built the church when there was still hope that James VII might restore Catholicism in Scotland. Thus, there was a chance the church might be used for Catholic worship, an Smith designed it--says B.A.--with that in mind. Rip out this and add that, and Bob's your uncle's popish priest.

This never happened. Instead the interiors were later thoroughly Protestantized--although later restored--and Calvinism still flourishes within its walls. Still, I am fond of the crazy Dutch-gabled thing and enjoy looking at its could-have-been-rose window from the train into town.

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