Montpellier CaryatidsCheltenham
Montpelier Walk
Most visitors to the Gloucestershire town of Cheltenham remember three things – its beautiful late Regency/early Victorian architecture, its magnificent manicured gardens and the curious Montpellier Caryatids.
These decorative ladies are a type of column which support the architectural facades of the chic boutiques in Montpellier Walk. Dating from 1840 they are loosely based on classical models on the Acropolis in Athens.
Developed in the 1830s and 1840s, the Montpellier area of Cheltenham takes its name from the fashionable French town, which was renown at the time for being a pleasant place to live. In 19th century France the caryatid was extensively used as a form of decoration.
Montpelier Walk is one of Cheltenham’s most elegant shopping streets. It was designed by local architects R W and C Jearrad. The shop frontages are divided by a total of 32 beautiful caryatids which support the cornices.
The earliest two were made from terracotta by the London sculptor Charles Rossi and date back to 1840. A local man called Brown, who lived in Tivoli Street, used these early caryatids as patterns to create the remaining statues in stone. An additional pair was added in the 1970s.
John Charles Felix Rossi
Rossi was a very accomplished sculptor but a poor manager of money. He was apprenticed to Italian sculptor Giovanni Battista Locatelli before going to work at Coade and Seeley's artificial stone works in London.
He enrolled at the Royal Academy School and won several prizes including a travel scholarship which allowed him to study in Italy for 3 years. On his return he was modelling figures for the Derby porcelain factory but in c.1790 he went into business partnering with James Bingley, a London mason, producing work in a form of terracotta or artificial stone. They were not financially successful and Rossi lost a large amount of money through this enterprise. The partnership with Bingley was formally dissolved in December 1800.
Undaunted, Rossi started again using his own terracotta artificial stone. This time he was successful and produced the caryatids on St Pancras Church in London. After a successful career enjoying Royal patronage with work including major monuments in St Paul’s Cathedral, marrying twice and having 16 children, he died with no money to leave to his family.
R W and C Jearrad
Robert Jearrad was one of Cheltenham’s most remarkable architects. As well as designing and developing (with his London-based brother Charles) much of the town’s Lansdown area, he also invented a kind of washing machine that was intended especially for hospitals and could sterilize towels in quantity, reducing the risk of infection. The Jearrads designed several other major Cheltenham buildings, including the classical Queen’s Hotel and the gothic Christ Church with its tall tower.
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