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Art, Architecture, Modelling?

Something very different this week. The astonishing work of sculpting elements of historic buildings as performed by Matthew Simmonds, carving into solid stone,.

Basilica iv, carved in Carrera marble in 2010.

All the information here is gathered from the web. Rather than read this article you might prefer to go straight to Matthew's own web site. All I seek to do here is acknowlege something special and maybe unique. To recognise that the world of Miniature Buildings is so much wider than station buildings, terraced houses and Georgian rectories.

As Matthew explains in his biography page, he studied architectural stone carving at college and went on to work on the restoration of several major English national monuments, most importantly Westminster Abbey and the cathedrals of Salisbury and Ely. He moved on from there to Italy where he specialised in fine classical ornament in marble and won first prize in 1999 at the international sculpture symposium of Verona. He has exhibited in the UK, Italy, Germany, Denmark, China, the UAE, Australia and the USA.

Do take a look at his work. There are multiple pieces displayed in his gallery page. I love them and if I find out where you and I can see some of them I will let you know. For now here is just one more example; one of my favourites. It's called Chapter House, made of limestone in 2007 and just 12cm tall.

James Taylor-Foster wrote about Matthew's work, praising it highly, in an article for Archdaily , an architectural website,in 2016. He includes some quotes from Matthew himself about how the work is created.

"Most of the spaces I carve in my sculptures are not actual existing buildings. The exceptions are the elevations of real buildings in my “Elevation” series. When deciding which architectural style to be influenced by, a certain type of stone may suggest a certain style. For example, marble is suited to Classical Greek or Roman, limestone to Romanesque or Gothic."

"Also, the form of a stone can influence the structural space I want to create, and this can suggest a particular type of historical building, as with Chapter House III. Generally though, at the beginning of the process I am thinking more about the volumes I want to create than the architectural detailing. After removing the first bulk of stone I can often see things more clearly and make a decision about how to proceed."

"Carving into small internal spaces is obviously very challenging, and has necessitated developing specialised techniques and carving tools. Also, carving internal spaces means that in a way I am working with space more than with solid stone. This can be confusing when it comes to the process of removing stone, and there is a high risk of making a mistake. It is always a challenge to visualise how a piece will look before starting, particularly as I am working with natural boulders in which the sculpture is defined by the interaction between the worked surfaces and the natural form of the rock."

One of the pieces featured in James's article is a piece called 'Ringrone' carved into Faxe Limestone in 2016 and standing 61cm tall. Unlike most of the other pieces it evokes a domestic feel rather than an ecclesiastical one.


The illustrations are all Matthew's copyright and I hope he will excuse my reproduction of them here for an audience which may be a bit different to those who read sculpture and architectural journals and blogs.

You may also like to read another article about his work, featuring some large scale images at the My Modern Met website.

The immediate connection the pieces made for me was the cave temple complexes in India. They are not miniatures of course but full size buildings - or more precisely chambers - carved into the cliffside. We visited the caves at Ajanta and Ellora in 2013 and they impressed me greatly. One of the highlights of our trip. Worth a visit. Worth a journey once the present disaster is all behind us.

Just two of the caves at Ajanta and Ellora. The first showing inside one of the many chambers withits elaboarte carving and the second showing an entrance inthe cliff face. With people at the cave mouth giving an idea of the scale.

The other echo that sounded in my memory was of some architectural models I saw a few years ago at the evocative ruins of Cluny abbey in France. Much more conventional models than Matthew's dramatic carvings but something of the same stylistic feel. Monochrome and uncluttered. I will return to these and other interpretative models from cathedrals on another day.

As always, write to  MiniatureBuildings if you have something to add.

David, March 2020