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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope


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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Grotesques of Toronto

Medieval Romanesque and Gothic architecture was frequently decorated with fanciful carvings of human or animal figures called grotesques. In the 19th century, this historic architecture enjoyed a resurgence in popularity and many imposing civic buildings were built in the Gothic and Romanesque Revival style. Toronto has many fine examples, and they are often lovingly embellished with the most beautifully carved grotesques. On a recent trip I photographed a few.

St. James' Cathedral on King Street (built in 1853) is a beautiful example of Gothic Revival architecture, and its various arched entrances are embellished with carved heads of kings, queens and apostles. Unfortunately they were worked in soft sandstone and 150 years of Canadian weather has taken its toll on some of them:








Not too far away on King Street is the magnificent St Lawrence Hall (1850) which, although not built in the Gothic style, has some great grotesques over its entrance arches:



































The Simpson's Department Store (1895)at Yonge & Queen - now the Hudson's Bay Company's downtown store - has some great carved faces peering down at shoppers:








The mother lode of Romanesque Revival architecture in Toronto is of course the magnificent Old City Hall at Queen and Bay. Designed by architect E.J. Lennox and completed in 1899, it is covered in fantastic carved grotesques peering out from various nooks & crannies:
















































As a final treat, here are few grotesques from the Hockey Hall of Fame at Yonge and Front, a former branch of the Bank of Montreal built in 1885. Again, although it isn't built in the Gothic or Romanesque style, it is liberally embellished with carved stonework, including these great grotesques:






















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