By Carter B. Horsley
Chivalry may be dead but escutcheons
If you have ever sent your
knights into battle carrying their shields with your family's
crest, or your domain's colors, then you will easily understand
escutcheons. They are nothing other than stone embodiments of
your shields, or crests.
In some Italian towns, one
can still see colorful escutcheons high on a palazzo's stuccoed
In New York, however, the preferred
color is gray, usually in limestone, or, more rarely, terracotta,
and the preferred "field" is blank more often than not.
The Metropolitan Club on the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue
and 60th Street, has three escutcheons on its side-street façade
and the center has a large "M."
Many escutcheons with rather
blank faces, however, are quite ornamental with curlicues, or
garlands, or supportive figures.
If one walks around the city's
precincts of pre-war, luxury apartment buildings, one is likely
to espy quite a few escutcheons if one is willing to crane one's
Escutcheons are merely decorative
elements meant to enliven broad expanses of facades and impart
a sense of courtliness. Stringcourses and bandcourses, of course,
horizontally enliven facades, a pre-magic-market form of brushstroking
and highlighting, but in most cases they are continuous and tend
to be placed above the "base" of a building and near
the top. They have vertical counterparts in piers and quoins,
the former usually received for the middle section of facades
and the quoins almost always exclusively are found at the corners.
The various "courses"
and piers and quoins are, of course, always tucked beneath a building's
cornice at the roofline, and these elements give accents and rhythm
and punctuation to the facades just as much as the pattern of
windows, known as fenestration.
The escutcheons are usually
brought in only in a desperate attempt to jazz up a bland or massive
façade, or merely to add an appearance of noble heritage.