Stonework Details of Seton Castle
The elements of this part of this elevation look simple, but as with all the
other elevations, the positioning of each part has been very carefully
considered. This is particularly so in respect of the proportions (relative
dimensions) of the width to height of the recessed arch and the relationship of
the parts of the building above and below the string course.
The semicircular or lunette window, divided into three by vertical stone
mullions, is known as a Diocletian window. The name comes from the Baths of
Diocletian in Rome that this form of window is derived from. Robert Adam often
used this window type as a component of his designs. In this case the "window"
is not a window at all but a blank recess.
Blank Diocletian windows are used within arched recesses as part of the
facade design to help break up and modulate the facades of the side wings, which
otherwise would be large blank areas of stone wall.
Within the architectural vocabulary of the building, they denote that the
parts of the building they are applied to are utilitarian in function.
At the corners of the curved arcaded corridor connecting the
wings to the house are miniature bartizans. Their function is to terminate the
arcades and the arcaded loggia opposite with a visual accent.
The bartizan was originally a defensive feature of medieval
castles. They allowed defenders a better field of view for firing on an
attacking force below, while keeping them protected. Clearly this bartizan, only
about 4 feet high, has lost all practical purpose of this sort. It has become an
expression of the architectural vocabulary of the Castle Style that Adam is
using for this building. Used here it a piece of sculpture, but is not just
To the 18th Century mind these stone details, derived from
the vocabulary of medieval castles, would have "meaning", resonating with what
might be termed literary and artistic references relating to 18th Century
concepts of the Romanic, picturesque and sublime. Beyond this there is also a
subtle game being played to amuse us. Because the bartizans and machicolation
(small arches under the string course) have been scaled down so dramatically
from their normal proportions, the visitor is suddenly a giant in this
Lilliputian courtyard. Miniature archers might be expected to fire at any minute
from behind the miniature parapets in defense of the house.
Conversely the miniaturization exaggerates and enhance the
scale of the house itself which in contrast has its massive castle turrets
descending into this miniature world
It is partly on Adam's ability to imbue his designs with this
layering of meaning, that his reputation for genius rests.