The Palace of Seton

Stonework Details of Seton Castle

Stone Details

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 decorative.

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.


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