Most examples of wayside art that feature shapes have mainly one shape in their design,
such as a circle. Often this is used repeatedly to make a pattern or a sense of
rhythm. Sometimes, though, many different shapes are included. This church window
at Banham in Norfolk, for example, uses circles, triangles, trefoils, quatrefoils
and other shapes all in one design.
Another example of the use of many shapes can be seen in Norwich Cathedral. The
floor of the Presbytery, designed by architect Sir Arthur Blomfield and laid in 1878,
consists of pieces of different coloured stones that have been placed together to
form a style of mosaic work reminiscent of Cosmatesque Art.
Cosmatesque Art is a term given to a particularly elaborate style of cutwork set
in stone that is made up of different coloured pieces of semi-precious stones, glass,
granites and/or marbles, cut into triangles, squares and/or rectangles, and put together
to create geometric, classic or naturalistic designs such as stars and whirling discs.
Cosmatesque Art is a relatively new term referring to work produced by any artisan
who specialises in it.
It supersedes another term, Cosmati work, which was first coined by an Italian historian
at the end of the eighteenth century. This is a more specific term, referring to
work produced by seven members of an Italian family during the early Middle Ages
(among whom were two individuals called Cosmas) who collectively went by that name
- the Cosmati. Centred around Rome and spanning four generations these craftsmen
took their inspiration from both Byzantine and Islamic art (which was transmitted
via southern Italy and Sicily), and created patterns for curved as well as flat surfaces.
The earliest date for work attributed to the Cosmati family is 1190, which was executed
for a church at Fabieri by Lorenzo. The other six members of the family known to
have produced this kind of work were Jacopo the Elder, Jacopo the Younger, Cosimo,
Luca, Adeodato and Giovanni.
Cosmatesque Art has been applied mostly to ecclesiastical buildings, to cloisters,
bell towers, nave floors, pulpits, tombs, bishops’ thrones and effigies. It became
very popular and spread beyond Italy, including England. In 1268 Roman marble workers
were summoned to Westminster Abbey to build and decorate monuments to Edward the
Confessor and the family of Henry III. Two Cosmatesque pavements set in Purbeck
marble have survived there, one being the Great Pavement by the High Alter and the
other in the Sanctuary.
For a list of websites devoted to Cosmati work, go to http://www.arte.it and type
in a search for Cosmati.
Below: Two adjacent buildings in the village of Quidenham in Norfolk which have strong
geometrical shapes depicted on their outer walls. The first picture is a private
cottage and the picture below is the wall of the village hall that faces the lane.
These were originally a post-medieval timber-framed house that was re-modelled in
the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century it was divided into two cottages,
one of which was a blacksmith’s shop that later became the village post office. The
decorative patterning on the external walls that we see today, dating from the nineteenth
century, is sham timber-framing.