Reconstructing and copying
For a building in Amsterdam, I am currently carving four grotesques: ferocious sandstone heads. All four are severely damaged, which was the reason for choosing to replace them. The idea behind this is that at this moment enough remains to make a reconstruction of the original, and that the remains still can be preserved. With the new heads mounted into the façade something will remain for posterity to see. This is typically a job for which a restoration sculptor really is the best choice. Alternatives, such as, for example, impregnated with acrylic resin, making a cast , or creating a 3D-print from the original, will still provide an incomplete picture of a damaged original. Reconstructing is therefore an essential part of the copying process.
Archive of images
In these cases, I will first have to find out what has been there in the past and put this back into the copy. With a permanently soft artificial clay that I can easily remove again I start remodelling the missing parts. For this, I will need reference material, and the main one is of course the parts that are still in good condition on the old heads themselves. For example, one of those is a totally weathered lion, but because what is weathered on the left is still intact on the right and vice versa, I hardly need to remodel anything on it. I will simply copy the first half, and then mirror that on the other side; that way, I can carve a complete copy. The first head unfortunately missed its entire lower jaw. It was already badly damaged, but it was so brittle that the lower half totally crumbled during disassembly. In reconstructing I therefore made use of image archives of similar heads: one inside my head, and one on photos. I have previously written a blog post about how these picture archives in your head work, which you can read here: "The statue is already in there, you just need to remove the rest ... "↑ From heads that I've copied before, I recognized the way to carve the eyebrows, or the cheeks.
My method of working
Once I've found the overall right shapes, I'll follow my usual method of copying. This can be done, for example, with a pointing machine, but in this case I found the right shape quickly with a template and a few compasses. Because ultimately it is often a matter of costs: with a pointing machine I will certainly be more accurate, but it all takes a lot longer. I will have to make suspension points, make a wooden cross for it, fine-tune all of it… by that time I will already have finished half of the precarving, if I take a different approach. That's why I transferred the outlines onto a piece of cardboard, wich I traced onto the new stone, and by placing the pieces side by side I could quickly reference its main dimensions. Read here↑ a post about copying techniques. The heads had to be copied into the same stone: Udelfanger sandstone. The stonemason provided me with four new blocks, exactly cut to size.
These heads may looke like they were finished with sharp details, but at the time, they were carved quite quickly with a toothed chisel. The tooth chisel marks can still be clearly seen on the original. That means that this should also return in the copy. If I had designed them myself I'd probably finished it all quite finely with a rasp. The chisel marks, however, do give it a lively character, which doesn't dominate at all when seen from the street: After all, they are about twelve meters high up.
Why these grotesques?
I was already wondering myself, and it's exactly the question I keep getting from visitors: "Why would anyone want to install such horrible heads on their house?’ As I went searching on the internet for the significance of these grotesques I couldn't find much at first; the German Wikipedia does mention the ‘Neidkopf‘, and describes that it is intended to keep off envy. 'Grotesque’ by the way refers to the Itailaanse word 'grotta', which means cave. It refers to a period in which it was fashionable to have a cave in your garden with all kinds of fantastic and terrifying sculptures in it.
We also know of the devils depicted on churches and the frightening temple guardians of Buddhist and Hindu temples. Apparently these have a function to keep envy and the evil eye outside the building, but intuitively I would think very differently about that myself. I'd rather just decorate my building with very positive and auspicious symbols and figures, that benefit not only its residents but also the environment. putting devils on it seems like asking for trouble; it seems to me that they rather attract more turmoil than scare it off.
On the other hand, there was the Indian saint Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He had a great affection for one of the most horrible forms of the Divine Mother: of the Godess Kali. For him she, with her belt of human arms and a necklace of human skulls, was the one who on the one hand ruthlessly exterminated all the negativity inside of him, and on the other the most tender mother he could wish for. So again it appears that all depends on our own understanding and perception.
Restoration architect: Bureau Delfgou
Restoration Stonemason: Slotboom Stonemasons