Sunday, February 6, 2011

Greek Keys No. 3

Photo by Barbara and René Stoeltie, from Irish Georgian, Herbert Ypma, 1998.

This beautiful space was designed in 1742 by Richard Castle, one of Ireland's greatest architects. It's central to Russborough House, a Palladian treasure and home to the first Earl of Milltown. The fanlight serves to bring light to upper floor bedrooms.

I've recreated these Greek keys, which all originated as mosaics. Of course, they would not necessarily have been in these colors.

Eric Cohler Design  |

History of Art  |  H. W. Janson, 1962
A detail of a Greek vase from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  H. W. Janson describes this as "the oldest characteristically Greek style in the fine arts, the so-called Geometric." It's 8th century B. C., which means that it was created close to the founding of the Olympic Games.


  1. Dear Mark, I have toyed on many occasion with living in a decaying Irish mansion on the west coast of Ireland. Perhaps something with several floors so that as the damp and rot descend from the roof one could progressively move down to a lower level. I reckoned that three storeys would see me out!!

  2. What an exquisite space - love the contrast of the geometric Greek key against the Georgian flourish. And of course always love learning the history!!

  3. nice! i love that you antique button of the month is also neoclassical. and can you make a post about that vitruvian wave next?

  4. Dear Edith, you are too funny! I have noticed a glut of coffee table books on grand old Irish homes, and I'm drawn to them like a magnet. And one thing that intrigues me about the houses is that so many seem to be in a state of decay that is lovingly conserved. Conserved decay - how strange!

  5. Thanks for visiting Quintessence! I'd like to quote from Herbert Ypma's chapter on Russborough House, which has been described as "Georgian Baroque":

    "According to conventional chronologies, baroque splendour had a short-lived influence in the British Isles. It was a style associated with the last of the Jacobite manarchs (James II and Queen Anne) and thus with absolutism and the worst of royal pretension. The commencement of the Hanovarian era with the reign of George I has therefore conveniently been seen to mark the termination of the baroque period. In reality, however, not only is there significant overlap, with the baroque influence lasting into the mid-18th century, but there is also the simple fact that the desire to impress, surely one of the most human desires, can never really be out of fashion. With the benefit of hindsight it becomes clear that in Georgian times the supposedly opposing qualities of extravagance and restraint often coexisted quite handsomely. This is why the seemingly contradictory term 'Georgian baroque' is such a perfect description of Russborough House in County Wicklow, whose powerful combination of strict Palladian architecture with a splendid baroque interior make this one of the finest of Ireland's grand country estates."

  6. Lynne, I wish that Russborough's vitruvian wave were not so much in shadows because it's the most elegant example of that scroll work I've seen. You're quite right, a separate posting is in order.

  7. That is wonderful the way you’ve included the old photo and close-up detail of the key design on the border, and then reproduced it. Boy I wish I knew how to do that! How do you get it so crisp and beautiful?

    Very interesting about Irish Georgian Baroque, and that is so true, there is always a human need to impress. I can see it in my neighborhood when they tear down little quaint Cape Cod homes from the 1940s and put up massive faux chateaux to replace them.

    I wish I could explain how or why this richly detailed style is beautiful in a way that equally elaborate Victorian design is not. Perhaps it is because it is in white and celadon, which prevents it from being heavy and oppressive. Looks rather like Wedgwood jasperware or perhaps a Martha Stewart wedding cake.

    To bring a French couture reference to the Greek key motif, the logo of the great designer Hubert de Givenchy (dresses on Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), is a design incorporating 4 blocky, square, upper case Gs, which essentially reads as a segment of Greek key border.

    Greek key is one of those things that is eternally elegant and visually satisfying.

  8. Mark, you know I have a huge soft spot for Greek Key design! That sofa is brilliant and I always like to see the motif used in other areas like this

  9. Fascinatins post Mark.

    The Greek Key has always held much interest to me and the history, so interesting! ( The vitruvian wave as well)

    Art by Karena

  10. Thanks for visiting, Terry, TDV, David and Karena! Thanks also for the mention of Hubert de Givenchy's logo, Terry. It's very reminiscent of David Hicks' design work with initials, which I always enjoyed.

  11. great images - everyone loves a classic greek key!