Glasgow City Chambers – Banqueting Hall
I’ve chosen Glasgow City Chambers for this exercise. I could have selected any of the interior spaces in this building as they are all uniquely beautiful, particularly the council chambers with its ornately carved wood, but I ended up opting for the Banqueting Hall which is the biggest and grandest room in the building.
It is used for civic receptions and events but can be rented out for specific occasions such as charity dinners etc. I was lucky enough to attend one of these events many years ago so I have seen the room both empty during the tour and set up for this purpose with beautiful tables and chairs.
The building, built between 1882 and 1888, has been decorated in a heavily ornamented style which reminded me of Rococo or of the French style. The rooms all seem to be decorated differently but the banqueting hall is particularly magnificent. It is a large rectangular room, 25 m long, 12 m wide and 16 m high, with a huge vaulted coffered ceiling. The coffers are decorated with ornate plaster work, some are gold on blue and others are dark brown on cream. The floral motif is echoed in the pattern on the carpet which is split into 4 parts and can be lifted to reveal a dance floor underneath (1).
The walls also have deep relief plasterwork motifs in contrasting colours to their background, often with gold embellishments. There is complicated and elaborate cornicing at the corners and junction between the walls and vaulted ceiling and the walls incorporate deep square pilasters topped with gold Corinthian style capitals.
There is wood panelling at the bottom of the pilasters continuous with the walls and then there is a section with relief plasterwork in a floral design, finished in gold. Above this, the pilasters are deeply ridged and the acanthus leaves of the capital are also painted in gold.
I was interested in whether this was typical of Victorian architecture and found the Victoria and Albert Style Guides talks about the Classical and Renaissance Revival style which occurred in Britain around this time (2). This classical style is evident in the mock columns, cornices and entablatures. The overall effect is breathtaking and actually quite intimidating in its grandeur. I can imagine that political and important visitors from far afield would be very impressed by this show of importance. While such opulence would be frowned upon in our time, such demonstrations of power and wealth were expected in past eras.
The room is lit by tall windows along the North wall of the room, three massive chandeliers and smaller wall lights. The beautiful lead glass windows have an elaborate rope-like intertwining design which I tried to make a copy of and found quite complex.
The chandeliers are made of a delicate brass metalwork and each contain fifty small lights (3). Their size and complexity fit with the decorative style of the room while the fact they were electric at a time when the city essentially used gas lighting, would have been a significant feature in their impressiveness when seen (3).
The room has a beautiful selection of painted murals in the wall spaces between the pilasters and coving designs. My sketch of the long south wall, opposite the windows, shows how the wall is segmented by the plasterwork and the murals lie between. These murals depict the history of Glasgow and were painted by members of the “Glasgow School”: John Lavery, Alexander Roche and E A Walton. Above these large murals that are each divided into triptychs by the plasterwork, are smaller murals depicting the four main Scottish rivers by William Findlay and the small panels are of various Virtues.
Roche’s Legendary Glasgow was the first mural of the three to be put in place in 1900 (4). It depicts the the finding of Queen Languoreth’s ring which is part of the legend of the bird, the tree, the fish, and the bell which features on Glasgows coat of arms. EA Walton has the central mural which is named Medieval Glasgow and depicts a medieval Glasgow Fair. Lavery’s Modern Glasgow depicts shipbuilding on the river Clyde which was the main industry in the city until relatively recently. It is uncharacteristic subject for the artist ally industrial work by the artist. It shows in detail the construction of a warship for the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Above the main murals on the South wall are smaller paintings including those representing the four rivers. These have been designed to fit in the spaces left by the plasterwork. An old photo of the hall shows the wall before the murals were commissioned.
The largest and most impressive mural in the room lies on the upper part of the East wall, high above the stage and inset into the semicircular space created by the vaulted ceiling. This mural by George Henry shows the Granting of the City Charter which occurred in 1175. This momentous occasion in Glasgow’s history was overseen by King William the Lion who granted the charter which allowed the city to hold a weekly market on Thursdays and a yearly fair which helped the city to establish commerce and trade with foreign countries (5). The Glasgow fair is still recognised as a public holiday in July which shows the importance of this event.
The murals were not painted straight onto the wall, rather they were painted on canvas using “Parrys medium” which is a composition of wax, oil of spike and copal varnish (4) which interestingly is they same method used on the murals mentioned in the course brief, by Ford Maddox Brown at Manchester town hall (6).
These murals, which dominate the room, provide a pictorial history of the main events in Glasgow’s history. In this way they are not passive inclusions, rather they have an active relationship with the space they inhabit and the people that visit. Visitors would look upon these and could learn some of the cities past in the same way that pilgrims visiting a cathedral would look upon biblical teachings in the form of murals and stain glass windows. From the its first granting of the charter through to the legend that explains the coat of arms (which is featured elsewhere in the building), the depiction of the Glasgow fair in Medieval times and how this trade has extended to make a wealthy city founded on the shipbuilding trade.
Points to consider: the integration of functional and aesthetic values; how both art and architecture manipulate the visitor; how public interiors can change the
nature of our encounter with art and graft new meanings and interpretations of history onto images (ideology and value systems).
Together, all of the interior decoration elements interact with each other within the room to impress the visiting dignitaries and impart the success in trade and culture that this city holds. It creates a sense of energy and grandeur that befits its function of entertaining. In the same way that a cathedral moves and inspires its pilgrims, this building would impress any who visited. The building is comparable to any major civic building in other cities and would have helped to placed Glasgow firmly on the political map.
Architecture and interior decoration in public buildings has a much greater purpose and effect that at first realised. Impressive murals can graft new interpretations on historical events perhaps glorifying the city’s involvement and thus can manipulate the visitors and influence they way the city and figures are regarded. These depiction could in effect, over time, become the main historical records of such events. I would imagine that the public figures who designed the interior decoration in the City Chambers had this in mind and would have had a great input in how the artists depicted the events so that Glasgow is shown in the best possible light.
1. http://www.describe-online.com/glasgow/citychambers/banquetinghall.htm, 27/03/15
2. Victoria and Albert Museum Website – http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/style-guide-classical-and-renaissance-revival/ 28/03/15
3. http://news.stv.tv/west-central/112727-city-chambers-revealed-behind-the-scenes-at-the-heart-of-glasgow/ 28/03/15
4. Spielmann, MH (ed.). (1900) A Mural Decoration by Mr. Alexander Roche, R.S.A. The Magazine of art, pp. 134-135.
5. Foreman, C. (2013) Lost Glasgow: Glasgow’s Lost Architectural Heritage. Edinburgh, Berlinn Ltd
6. Manchester City Council – http://www.manchester.gov.uk/townhall/info/8/about_the_town_hall/19/the_town_hall_murals _by_ford_madox_brown/2, 28/03/15
Word Count – 1380
This entry was updated following tutors comments July 2015