Downtown details

One of the cool things about living in a city where many buildings are older than even your parents is the amazing display of artwork built right into the structures. The old adage "they don't make 'em like they used to" really is true when it comes to buildings in downtown Boston.

Let's go on a quick tour (you might want to stretch your neck first; many of these will require you to look up).

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      WOW WOW WOW

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      Awesome shots there.

      Ben Franklin looks like one of the skulls in the haunted mansion at Disneyland. I think his eyes fell out.

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      Cow skulls...

      The cow skull motif in building friezes is actually not uncommon in 19th century buildings. I believe the same skull image is in some interior reliefs in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, put there purposefully by Thomas Jefferson as an updating of classical frieze motifs to add things that were relevant to North America. (I recall this from tours I took as a student there; I'm looking for a web reference for this but having little luck.)

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      More cow skulls

      Found it: it's actually in one of Jefferson's Pavilions (Pav II) at the University. Here's an image of the relief.

      This discussion on Pavilion II's design says that the ornamentation follows a Roman model:

      The drawing that Jefferson prepared for Pavilion II carried the notation that the order was based on the Ionic of the Temple of the Fortuna Virilis in Rome, which was illustrated in plates in The Architecture of A. Palladio; in Four Books. One of the distinguishing features of this order is that the volutes of the capitals at the outer corners of the columns are positioned diagonally at the ends of the portico. The Temple of Fortuna Virilis has a frieze of ox skulls, putti, ribbons, and garlands festooned with fruit motifs, which were also used in Pavilion II.

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      Bucranium!

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      I gather that's what the thing is called, and apparently even today, you'll find the motif on some doors and gateways in Europe. It's apparently an ancient good luck symbol. I found this fun nugget:

      Some archaeologists have theorized that the ancient belief in the sacredness of the horned animal head -- specifially the bull's head or bucranium -- derives from its coincidental resemblance to the female human genitals, consisting of a vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.

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      Bucranium Theory

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      Just a big ol' "wow" is all I can say. I read what you posted and thought, "Yeah,sure." Then I looked again at the cow skull and it blew doors. It is amazing how much the resemblance is to what, achaeologists allege it alludes to. I love fun facts and that is a damn good one.

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